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A Taste For Learning (part one)

September 15, 2015

Happy New Year! For those who missed out on their daily dose of Fussy yesterday, I was out in Schenectady celebrating the Jewish New Year the way my people have done for centuries: sitting in synagogue. At least the night before we had roast chicken and challah accompanied by apples with honey.

Who can say what 5776 has in store for us. Well, I know that next week the FLB will take another day off on Yom Kippur. I can’t say I’m thrilled about that, but it’s part of the process.

I’m much more excited about the quickly approaching Tour de Cider Donut. Plus soon there’s going to be another Throw Down Thursday barista competition, The Food Pantries of the Capital Region is going to have their Harvest Evening Celebration, The second annual Enchanted City festival is coming, Troy’s restaurant week is here, Wednesday Tavern Noodle reopens for a limited time, and it seems like the fun just won’t stop. I didn’t even mention the Yelp Elite event at 9 Miles East Farm, which is going to be awesome too.

But that stuff can wait for later. 5775 went out with a bang, and I want to share with you the details of a unique tasting experience that I lucked into this past weekend.

Once, with a bunch of friends, I decided to conduct an olive oil tasting at home. Somewhere, I have the notes from the double blind trials. But for the most part, we were evaluating everyday olive oils, including a couple from Trader Joe’s and one from Adventure in Food Trading. That was one of those posts I always wanted to write, but never quite got around to completing.

Structured tastings are a methodology for learning about food and flavor that I have endorsed for many many years. Even before writing the blog, it was a blind tasting that convinced my in-laws that they could tell the difference between cheap plonk and better versions of classic wine varietals.

This past weekend, I was treated to an olive oil tasting dinner.

It began with three olive oils presented in three separate cups. We warmed the cups in our hands, sniffed them, tasted them while aerating the oil through our lips, and tasted them again on the exhale after the swallow. No bread. Just a bunch of eager food lovers slurping down straight fat.

That would have been interesting on its own. The first oil was a delicate and buttery one from California. Olive oil number two came from Greece, and was more herbaceous and a bit astringent. The third oil was intense, as this pungent Spanish oil offered the aroma of green tomato and the back of throat heat of crushed red pepper flakes.

I’ve come across pungent oils like the second and third in tastings before and been turned off by these more potent bottlings. Most recently this happened at an Italian imports store out in rural Pennsylvania. The shopkeeper insisted that despite my initial impressions, these oils went great with food. But at over $30 a bottle, I chose not to give them a chance.

Well, the tasting dinner only started with the olive oils in their liquid form. From there it got even more interesting, as I would finally have the opportunity to see how these oils changed as they were paired with foods.

The first course was three separate aiolis. Each made with one of the three oils. In this dish, the Greek olive oil really made its mark.

Course number two was a trio of pea pestos. With the garlic in the pesto and the intensity of the cheese, that robust Spanish oil was the best at standing up to the robust flavors.

Course number three was a spicy stew of tomatoes, sausage, and mussels, served three times. That too benefitted from the most pungent of the oils. This course also helped to dispel the rumor that good olive oils shouldn’t be used in cooking, because its presence was still clearly there in the dish.

Course number four was six squares of olive oil cake (two from each oil), and it was here where the buttery California oil really worked its subtle wonder on the dish. The cake gained complexity and aroma from the oil which was remained present, but never overwhelming. The Greek oil also worked well, but was a bit more over the top.

Oh, and I almost forgot. To make the tasting even more fun, there were beer pairings. New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA went with the first two courses. And the brewery’s Monkey King Saison went with course number three. There was a brilliant pairing for the olive oil cake too, but I failed to write it down. Maybe Deanna Fox would remember.


This was a mind expanding experience. And this was just a taste of what the minds behind the Longhouse Food Revival cook up for guests at their annual festival. It killed me that I was going to miss the dumpling rolling, noodle pulling, and live fire-roasting on Saturday. But I had a tasting date at the Hudson Valley Wine, Food, and Craft Beer Festival.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some more tasting notes, and things I learned from my few hours in Rhinebeck.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2015 10:18 am

    At Longhouse last year, there was an olive oil tasting where I learned SO much, but this year’s experience, paired with food and having the oil prepped and used in various ways, totally changed my thinking on the matter, and I want to explore the subject in more depth.

    For instance, of the three oils we were able to taste, the Greek oil was my favorite experience on its own, in raw form. But in the aioli, I liked the Spanish blend best. And in baking (in the form of a semolina olive oil cake), I preferred the California oil, which had buttery, yeasty notes in raw form.

    As to the beer, we also had a Trippel Ale, which was one of the better beers I’ve had in a long time (but not available out here… yet) and an oatmeal stout.

    Thanks for being my date for the evening!

  2. Rabbi Don Cashman permalink
    September 16, 2015 9:00 am

    L’shanah tovah to the Fussies.
    This oil program would be a great Hanukkah activity!

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