Kathy Patrick, owner of Meals on Heels, is a personal chef who prepares meals for daily life and special occasions in Northwest Georgia. She is a member of the U.S. Personal Chefs Association and is president of the Atlanta Chapter of the USPCA. She shares with us amazing and simple recipes with olive oil.
Kathy Patrick: As a longtime cook, I’ve loved the taste and health benefits of oils and vinegars. I’ve used them, as I’m sure you have, in salad dressings, marinades, sauces and occasionally for baking. But last summer I had my vinaigrette/marinade routine totally “shaken up” when I attended my first olive oil and vinegar tasting.
I was with a group of my fellow personal chefs at our national conference. The front table was set up with several stainless steel fustis, which are squatty containers on legs with a spigot in which olive oil is stored in bulk. One of the fustis contained oil that had been competitively judged to be the fifth best olive oil in the world. Who knows what that cost, but it was incredible! There was also a full parade of square wine-sized bottles on the table, each with a little pouring spout and a label that hinted of the bottle’s delicious content — labels like Herbs de Provence Olive Oil, Lavender Balsamic Vinegar, Blackberry Ginger Balsamic and Blood Orange Olive Oil. There were some 35 different vinegars and maybe 25 different olive oils. This looked a lot more interesting than grocery store olive oils and plain old balsamic vinegars!
Undaunted by the morning hour or the coffee we were just finishing, we chefs leaped at the chance to taste some of these wonderful sounding flavors. Our first sampling was a goat cheese appetizer topped with Ginger Pear Balsamic on crackers (recipe below). Wow! Who’d have thought of that combo? We then proceeded to taste the oils and vinegars, both individually and in combos. Keep in mind this was a group of 14 personal chefs on one side of the table and only two men offering us tastes, so the tasting started off about as organized as a litter of kittens in a pillowcase: a bit crazy. But as we learned the proper technique to taste we were then allowed to pour our own samples and take note of our favorites and our favorite combinations.
So what is the proper way to taste oils and vinegars? We tasted oils by pouring about a tablespoon into a small cup, snapping on the little lid it comes with, then swirling and rocking the cup in our hands for about 20 seconds to warm the olive oil. Warming the oil releases the aromatics in the oil. We took off the lids and raised the cups to our noses to get our first hint of the oil’s flavor. Some were “big,” meaning heavily fragrant, while others had little fragrance at all. We then tasted the oils by drawing a long loud slurp into our mouths while curling our tongues upward and taking in a big breath of air along with the sip to aerate the oil. Then we rolled the oil across our tongues to allow us to identify as many taste aspects as we could. This noisy slurping technique is known as “strepaggio” and it really helps in identifying and tasting the oil’s flavor. After swallowing some of the oils, there were many bursts of coughing — apparently a strong peppery finish is evidence of a well-made oil.
Then we moved on to tasting oil and vinegar combos using the same method of pouring a bit of each into the little cups, swirling to warm, then tasting — still with the strepaggio technique but with a little less coughing since the oils were diluted a bit. Some of the combos were:
Coconut White Balsamic and Lime Olive Oil
Chocolate Balsamic with Blood Orange Olive Oil
Cranberry Pear Balsamic with Persian Lime Olive Oil
Mango Balsamic and Basil Olive Oil
Red Apple Balsamic and Mushroom Sage Olive Oil
Grapefruit White Balsamic with Herbs de Provence Olive Oil
Needless to say there were lots more combos and some folks were mixing two vinegars with one oil and making all sorts of wonderful tastes! These oils and vinegars are great to use as simple salad dressings and marinades, but they’re also great to finish dishes, to use when roasting vegetables, in dips and appetizers and (my new favorite) in desserts. Check out the tasty recipes included here, and plan a trip an oil and vinegar store that are now in vogue. Many stores offer guided tastings, and some have chefs on site who prepare dishes using the store’s products for scheduled tastings, usually for a small fee. The stores offer oils and vinegars in two or three sizes so you can buy bigger quantities of your favorites, and they also have small gift samplers with little bottles. When you go, be sure to save room in your car for a bag, or maybe even a box, full of tasty oils and vinegars!Bon Appetit Y'all, Olive oil and vinegar reimagined Recipes from Kathy Patrick,