The early spring season at Bklyn Larder is an exciting time of year. After a long, cold winter, our chefs are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Greenmarket season and springtime veggies. Managers are busy planning spring catering events and menus, and our buyers, myself included, are tasting new items from importers and producers.
In particular, my attention turns to olive oils, and selecting what we will offer throughout the year based on tasting the recent harvest.
Now, volumes can and have been written on what makes an olive oil “extra virgin” and Novello Olive Oil vs Olio Nuovo- there are debates and scandals about lesser quality olive oils and even non-olive oils being passed off or blended to increase yield and oils from all over the world being labeled as “Tuscan” or simply “Product of Italy” olive oils, as you can see from the 3 articles below, and there is plenty more information out there on all of this:
Forbes Olive Oil Mafia Article
NY Times Article
New Yorker Article
For the sake of our tasting and selection process, we are going to skip all of that. Not because it is not important, but it is an entirely different subject matter that we address at our core philosophy and in our relationships with top quality importers and producers, and we are confident in the sources that we buy from- not just in olive oil, but in the traceability of all the products that we sell and use at Bklyn Larder.
Since olive oil is such a staple in my own personal “larder” as well as in our kitchen here and at our sister restaurant, franny’s, I’d like to cover a spectrum of flavors in my selection. While there are many more nuances and specifics, here are 4 basic categories that I always include:
Delicate & Mild: NOT to be confused with old, flavorless oils, these oils have a light and ephemeral quality and are best paired with other delicate flavors- perfect for spring peas, new lettuces and young pecorinos & other mild cheeses
Fruity & Fragrant: these oils, while remaining very low in acidity are very versatile and wonderful with savory and sweet foods. Drizzled over gelato or oranges with a touch of sea salt or with mild meats such as poultry or sautéed fish
Olive-y & Peppery: that back of the throat “burn” that can sometimes even make you cough a bit actually has a name in Italian- “pizzicante” – Tuscan olive oil producers see this as a very desirable quality- these oils are fantastic to enjoy with hearty loaves of bread, stronger flavored cheeses and also to dress hearty grains like farro & barley and even play well with roasted meats. The slightly bitter finish also pair beautifully with artichokes and cardoons.
Leafy Green & Grassy: these oils are the most flavorful and versatile- great in simple pasta dishes where the pasta is the star or with only a couple of simple flavors like anchovy, chili or garlic. The green grassy flavor is upfront and pungent when tasting them straight, but blends well with seafood, all sorts of vegetables and are essential for garnishing soups!
2015 ROUND 1 – Tasting & Selecting:
Like tasting wine, it is important to keep in mind what is known as “palate fatigue”- we can only taste so many olive oils in one session before the palate becomes saturated and it becomes impossible to taste the different nuances and subtleties between similar oils.
I always start my spring selection by tasting the oils that I still have from the previous harvest. This is a good base and starting point, as there is nothing at all wrong with these oils- the oil, unless heated or exposed to direct sunlight for extended time, is really good for 2 years from the harvest date.
Sadly, we will not be seeing the 2014 harvest of this beautiful oil due the abysmal harvest that affected central and Northern Italy (as well as Southern France)- blight and cold weather cut the yield by almost 2/3, leaving most single producers with just enough olive oil for themselves or to sell locally.
Tasting the 2013 harvest though, we are still placing this oil in the “Olive-y and Peppery” category. Strong flavors of fennel, anise & raw kale finishing with a surprising kick of green bell pepper and telicherry peppercorns- fantastic for finishing a grain salad and hearty sautéed greens!
Always a great example of the “Delicate and Mild” category, the oils from Provence (unlike their red wines!) are soft and delicate. Soft floral notes and a buttery texture (NOT to be confused with greasy) make this a lovely pairing for rich, buttery cheeses- from a decadent triple cream to a young marzolino and ideal for the upcoming bright tasting spring vegetables and even ramps and fiddleheads!
NOTE: we are still waiting to hear if we will be receiving any of the 2014 harvest
Warmer climate in the opposite hemisphere give these olives a chance to ripen and develop strong vegetal notes. The 2013 Morgenster has sweet notes of savoy cabbage and a dark green grass aroma. This oil is a blend of 14 Italian varietals planted in rich, volcanic soil giving this oil a lot of characteristic flavors reminiscent of grassy Sicilian oils. Great to drizzle on soups, cooked beans and pastas this oil is still vibrant enough to classify as “Leafy Green & Grassy”
My all time favorite oil, the Nuñez Family estate constantly produces this gem known as the “flower of the oil” with a slow gravity driven drip process through silk-like mats after the olives are gently crushed, yielding small amounts of this sweet, delicate nectar. Certainly under the “Fruity & Fragrant” category, this is an oil that wants to be drizzled on gelato, or served simply with bread as well as just about any application.
Subtle notes of stone fruit including ripe peaches make this a true stunner, and we can wait patiently for the new harvest when the 2013 harvest is still showing this well!
And… STAY TUNED FOR TASTING NOTES ON THE 2014 HARVEST SOON!