Enough heavenly olive oil to leave you feeling pop-eyed
YOU should be able to taste apple, artichoke, basil, rosemary, almond, ripe banana and freshly cut grass. I can detect some vague herbal, nutty, apple-like tones. There is definitely a whiff of newly mown grass. And yes, the touch of heat at the back of the throat as it goes down, and the slightly bitter aftertaste, they are there.
It is olive oil we’re talking about, not wine. I amon Martin Randall’s Gastronomic Spain tour, which includes an olive oil tasting prior to lunch at one of Madrid’s finest restaurants, El Olivo.
If you thought olive oils were olive oils, or even that extra virgin olive oils were extra virgin olive oils, you’d be wrong. Oils are not just oils.
These are Castillo de Canena oils, from 100-year-old olive trees owned by a family company with an olive-growing history going back to 1780. The name comes from the Vano family’s castle above the town of Canena, in Andalusia.
Rosa Vano, who also helps run El Olivo, tells us the excellence of the oils — Harrods of London is about to launch a selection — is the result of generations of handed-down knowledge of soils and weather and fruit-ripening.
The olives are picked from individually selected trees whose fruits have ripened to just the right extent, Vano explains. The olives are then pressed as quickly as possible and the oil stored in cellars until it is bottled, exclusively on demand, in dark glass bottles to keep out the light.
The very best of the year’s harvest is sold in numbered, limited editions.
Today we are given three oils to try, in tiny glasses which we are told to warm in our hands before drinking.
The first two are from arbequino olives, and are milder and fresher tasting than the third, which is from the picual variety. This one is quite bitter, with a stronger herbal taste and tomato ‘‘ notes’’.
This is interesting, but it is already past 2pm, and food is what I ammost interested in.
When it arrives, exquisite course follows exquisite course. Each uses one of the oils we have just tried.
Lobster gazpacho, cool, crunchy and spicy, drizzled with oil No.1 and accompanied by crusty, salty bread to dip into the extra bowls of oil on the table; lobster salad with vinaigrette (oil No.2) and fine herbs; monk fish with roasted peppers (oil No.3); and Iberian pork with wine— pig’s cheek, slowly cooked for 10 hours until meltingly tender.
Then there’s a dessert selection, including the Catalan specialty of fried custard, and an apple tart with violet and raisin ice cream, and coffee.
It is 6pm when we finish lunch. A group of men in business suits are still eating as we leave the restaurant.
Here is some more of the good oil on the good oil: olive oil is an antioxidant, a preventer of heart disease and a source of vitamins E, A, D and K. It should not be kept in tins, because the oil around the edge of the lid will spoil and contaminate the rest; it should be kept in dark glass bottles to exclude the light; it certainly should not be decanted into a nice crystal jug; and it should be kept no longer than three to four weeks after it is opened. Which means several oily bottles at the bottom of my food cupboard should have been thrown out years ago.
Martin Randall’s next Gastronomic Spain tour runs June 4-11, 2008. More: www.martinrandall.com. El Olivo restaurant, General Gallegos 1, Madrid, offers regular olive oil tastings. More: +34 91 3591535.