Last night we hosted Sarah Merrigan for a fantastic evening of olive oil tasting in the shop. Sarah began by telling us about her years of living and working as a chef in Barcelona, and how her love for olive oil began then and has grown over the years. She launched Sarah & Olive just a couple of months ago, and has had a great reception at markets with her small, but perfectly curated selection of olive oils. We began the evening with a traditional tasting session of 6 different oils.
We tasted the oils in the way you would do a wine tasting; take a deep sniff to capture the aroma first, then take a sip and move it around inside your mouth, letting some air in. There was some bread provided for anyone who wanted to dip, though we were advised that in a traditional tasting you would usually just sip the oil on its own (plus, the 'pairing with food' bit was yet to come!). We learned about the picual and arbequina species of olive, and tasted some single variety oils of each.
First we tried the mildest from Sarah's collection, the Cortijo Espiritu Santo Organic Arbequina, a sweet and delicate flavour with a hint of subtle spices. We could taste gentle notes of almond, fruit compote and banana. Then we tried another arbequina, a new kid on the block which has been garnering prizes all over the world since it was launched in 2018. This was the Espabila, a smooth and sweet oil with medium intensity, light bitterness and notes of banana, apple, herbs, dried fruit and almond
Next up was our first picual of the evening, the Pagos de Toral Picual, winner of numerous prizes, including the renowned Flos Olei gold medal for the world's best medium monovarietal oil. It was intensely fruity, with notes of green banana, apple and almond. Sarah pointed out the slight stingy feeling at the back of the throat, is a good sign of an early harvest oil. All of the oils we tasted were early harvests and had this slight peppery sting which gently dissipates leaving a lovely aftertaste.
Then we tried this Cortijo Espiritu Santo Organic Picual from this beautiful looking bottle. The oil was bright green in colour (almost the luminous colour of the lid!) and had an intense aroma of mature olives. We experienced notes of tomato, banana, almond and freshly cut grass from this delicious oil. Sarah tells us this is a good oil for pairing with lots of things; fish, pasta, cheese, yogurt and chocolate, believe it or not! Even on its own this oil had an exceptional balance of bitter and tangy notes, with a clean, fresh finish.
Our last two oils were very special blended oils prepared by the master blenders of the world famous Castillo de Canena. The Palacio Marques de Viana - Sublime Early Harvest Blend is a very special coupage of early harvested arbequina, piqual and royal olives. It had a fruity aroma and a complex, smooth and elegant flavour with notes of artichoke, rosemary, almond, quince, banana and apple. Last to taste was the Palacio Marques de Viana - The Palace Blend.
Yes, the Palace blend looks and tastes as fancy as it sounds! This truly unique oil was winner of a magnificent 90 points in this year's Flos Olei, so it's a big deal in the olive oil world. Specially blended to wow the most discerning olive oil connoisseur this coupage is also a blend of arbequina, picual and royal olives, this time from the very first day of harvest. Tasting notes include tomato, mint (for some), freshly cut grass, green wheat, apple, green almond, green banana and kiwi.
After tasting all 6 oils, Sarah spoiled us rotten with foodie bites she had prepared for further tasting. We tried what is often a classic breakfast in Spain, a slice of toast with oil and salt, and boy was it good! So simple yet so delicious with a good quality oil. Then we had a surprisingly delicious cup of yogurt with walnut and dried apricot, drizzled with Cortijo Espiritu Santo Organic Arbequina. The yogurt and fruit bring out the delicate flavours of the oil in a magical way, and the oil adds a creamy texture to the dish.
Sarah talked about how you don't have to do much to any fresh seasonal vegetables if you have some good quality oil to drizzle on top. These slices of toast with radish and asparagus were bursting with texture and flavour. We were also treated to the classic Catalan pan con tomate (toasted bread rubbed with fresh tomato) and some roasted baby vine tomatoes with crunchy sea salt and oil. You can easily imagine some fresh leaves from the garden tasting divine served in this manner.
Other unexpected olive oil/food pairings Sarah mentioned were chocolate and ice cream. And so we were handed a cup of Murphy's chocolate ice cream with a healthy drizzle of Pagos de Toral Picual. The coldness of the ice cream gives the oil's flavour a vibrant freshness, and the texture of the oil gives the chocolate a seriously creamy after taste. And on that delightful note, we rounded up our evening, with several bottles of oil underarm! We are extremely grateful to Sarah and her team for a fantastic evening. You can read about the health benefits of using olive oil on Sarah's blog here, and we have a small selection of her oils in stock in designist here.