Oenophiles have wine tastings. Now olive oil connoisseurs have olive oil blendings.
According to blend master Giovanni Zucchi, vice president of the 200-year-old Italian olive oil company Oleificio Zucchi, a blending is an art using the nose, the palate, and the technical knowledge combining various olive oils from different cultivars and with different origins, to harmonize their fragrances and flavors. It represents one additional step — one obviously never done at a wine tasting — that creates a brand new flavor different than the original oils from which it is made.
Zucchi is traveling with olive oil experts from his family’s company from their base in Cremona, Italy, throughout the U.S. this summer. They’ll teach introductory blending sessions to American foodies who love extra virgin olive oils (and, of course, they’ll have their product on hand). Last month, they set up a session at the elegant North End Boston restaurant Mamma Maria, where guests were taught the art of smelling, tasting, and thinking about olive oil. They were given four different oils from four different Mediterranean countries or regions, and taught to identify the difference between “fruity,” “bitter,” “spicy,” and how to find the flavors of cut green grass, artichoke, citrus fruits, almond, spices, and more in the oil. Then they were given free rein to make their own personal blend and put their name on a bottle of brand-new EVOO, or extra virgin olive oil.
What followed was a special lunch of six courses, each of which was highlighted with Zucchi oil, including the polenta cake for dessert.
We learned, through the course of the day, that Italians love their olive oil so much that they even put it in their baby food; that olive trees can live more than a thousand years, that some Italian spas use olive oil in their body treatments, and that Zucchi, which is importing oil to several stores in the Northeast, plans on bringing even more olive oil to more stores in the United States.
Having tasted — and blended — some of the delicious Zucchi oils, I would welcome that happening.