By Linda Kissam
There’s been a conspicuous amount of news lately concerning olive oil quality. Headlines tell us that extra virgin olive oil might not really be so extra virgin. Uh oh; how do we know if that expensive bottle of olive oil on our shelf has been truthful about its extra virgin standing? What’s a consumer to do? By learning a little, consumers can benefit a lot.
The logical place to start educating yourself about olive oil is to start with a personal tasting from a legitimate authority. Lucky us, we have one of the best just down the road. Seriously, all the research and reading on the Internet isn’t going to mean a thing unless you can connect what you’re being told with the actual sensory experience — the aroma and taste of olive oil. Yup, for this assignment you’ll need to unplug, get in your car and connect with SoCal olive oil master Matthew Pour in person at his trendy Newport Beach shop, Olive Oil & Beyond.
Just the fact that you get the chance to take the five-minute ferry to Balboa Island should be incentive enough to plan this outing. Take in the sights and sounds; sniff the ocean breeze as you float your way to paradise. Get off the ferry, turn right at the second street and head off to Marina Drive.
The olive oil store is set in a picturesque, upscale, small town-shopping district. I went on a weekday with friend “Adrianne.” On-street parking was a breeze. Although I was constantly distracted by all the upmarket shops, restaurants and markets surrounding our walk to the olive oil store, I eventually arrived with my credit cards intact and ready to learn about what makes this place in particular so special, and olive oil in general something to open our wallet and senses to.
Olive Oil & Beyond is unquestionably different than other olive oil stores I have visited. It’s as glossy and beautifully laid out as the others and the gift items are just as cool, but the similarity stops there. Owner Matthew Pour is intent on providing a guided educational experience based on sensory experimentation. As he succinctly puts it, “I want to raise awareness of olive oil.” He does that by offering the rarest and freshest olive oil selections in the world. “Some olive oil varieties are only found here.” He is pro small-grower production, supporting grower efforts in places such as Italy, Spain, Australia, North Africa, Chile and surprisingly California. “What I offer here is the best of the best; Mono cultivar extra virgin olive oils that are raw, unadulterated, and 100 percent first-pressed, producing the highest levels of flavor, nutrients and antioxidants.”
After 90 minutes of tasting with this expert I began to see how all the pieces fit together. Food as medicine is his mantra. He begins to connect the dots for us while suggesting various oils and vinegars to sample. He takes us from our knowledge level and builds his story from there. If he senses we are missing his point, he comes at his idea in a different way. We begin to understand the bigger picture. We learn mono cultivar extra virgin oil made by small artisan growers who are dedicated to tradition and craftsmanship from grove to bottle is the key to a healthy lifestyle. We begin to trust his vision as he explains how he visits his producers in person frequently and tastes and evaluates more than 400 different varieties/style of olive oils every season. This is a man with a passion, dedication and respect for the products he sells and the customers he takes care of.
We wanted to make sure before we left that we understood how to judge olive oil no matter where we were. We needed some tips to take with us. Matthew clarified for us, “The common olive oil belief is that golden olive oil is mild and dark green olive oil is robust. In fact, color is not an indicator of either the oil’s flavor or quality. Professional olive oil tasters sip from specially designed blue glasses that obscure the color of the oil, preventing preconceptions about the flavor.” There are normally three styles of olive oil – mild, medium and robust. “The olive variety, maturity of the olive when harvested and the particular process used to extract the oil from its fruit all influence the different styles of olive oil and quality.”
The term “Extra Virgin” describes a broad category of olive oils and should be viewed as an indicator that an olive oil meets a minimum standard – rather than as an indication of superior quality. While it is true that all high-quality olive oil is Extra Virgin, it is also true that most olive oils labeled “Extra Virgin” are not high quality. This is because the chemical and sensory parameters established for the grade are so broad that Extra Virgin includes very average and mediocre olive oils, as well as the better quality olive oils. Matthews’s best advice is to buy your olive oil from someone you trust and buy in small batches. “Olive oil is perishable and is better in every sense when it is fresh.” So in many ways we’re back to the premise of this article – taste in person to educate and educate yourself from a professional.
Plan at least an hour for your tasting experience. Matthew suggests purchasing the Moraiolo ($18) extra virgin olive oil as a first step into your olive oil journey. It’s certified organic and with same day, state-of-the-art processing of early, hand-harvested 100 percent Moraiolo olives, the result showcases intense-yet-harmonious notes of freshly cut grass, fresh herbs, and artichokes. Buttery smooth and bold, try it on bruscetta rustica with toasted bread, a rubbing of raw garlic and a sprinkling of sea salt. Also perfect as a finishing oil for grilled or roasted meats, fish, and poultry, in herb marinades or as a dressing for grilled vegetables.
Olive Oil & Beyond is located at 210 Marine Avenue, Unit A in Newport Beach. They are open Monday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Spicy Quinoa, Cucumber and Tomato Salad
Compliments of Olive Oil & Beyond
- 1 cup quinoa
- 3 cups water
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups diced cucumber
- 1 small red onion, finely minced (optional)
- 2 cups finely diced tomatoes
- 1 to 2 jalapeño or serrano peppers (to taste), seeded if desired and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry reserva vinegar
- 3 tablespoons jalapeno extra virgin olive oil
- 1 avocado, sliced, for garnish
Place the quinoa in a bowl, and cover with cold water. Let sit for five minutes. Drain through a strainer, and rinse until the water runs clear. Bring the 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt (1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon) and the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and translucent; each grain should have a little thread. Drain off the water in the pan through a strainer, and return the quinoa to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean dishtowel, replace the lid and allow to sit for 10 minutes. If making for the freezer, uncover and allow to cool, then place in plastic bags. Flatten the bags and seal.
Meanwhile, place the finely diced cucumber in a colander, and sprinkle with salt. Toss and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse the cucumber with cold water, and drain on paper towels. If using the onion, place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for five minutes, then drain, rinse with cold water and drain on paper towels.
Combine the tomatoes, chilies, cilantro, vinegar, lime juice and olive oil in a bowl. Add the cucumber and onion, season to taste with salt, and add the quinoa and cilantro. Toss together, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with sliced avocado and cilantro sprigs.