How to Drink Oil & Impress Friends

 November 18, 2012

It’s olive oil season in Sicily!

A few years ago Giuseppe Rosso, an award-winning producer, taught me the proper way to sample oil.

Giuseppe Rosso, Villa Zottopera, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giuseppe Rosso stands in his ancient olive grove in Chiaramonte Gulfi

We were at Villa Zottopera, his family’s 18th-century masseria in southern Sicily.

Villa Zottopera in Chiaramonte Gulfi, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The entrance to Villa Zottopera

Villa Zottopera, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Villa Zottopera is an agriturismo–B&B!!!

The old estate in Chiaramonte Gulfi has thousands of twisted trees. He handed me a tiny cupful of green liquid flecked with gold.

“Hold it tightly in your hands, and do like this.”

Rosso, a non-stop talker with a twinkle in his eye, rubbed the bottom of the glass back and forth against the palm of his hand, as if preparing a magic potion. “The oil must be at body temperature. Now sniff it deeply, toss it behind your bottom lip, and watch me.”

He drained his glass, then made like a human vacuum cleaner, sucking the oil back through his bottom teeth with a big whoosh. I followed suit.

“Now wait.” He went silent for a moment to let me concentrate.

The oil had a bracing effect, tingling my tongue before trickling down the throat in a fruity-pungent sizzle.

I half-coughed.

“What do you taste?” Rosso quizzed. “Tell me what you taste.”

“Pepper.  Sunshine. Grass. . . . Nature!”

My answer was much too generic for him. Did I taste the profumo of almonds, the piccante of tomato leaves??

Uh, no. But I knew delizioso when I tasted it.

Ogghiu comuni sana ogni duluri, Sicilians say. Plain oil heals every pain.


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26 comments to How to Drink Oil & Impress Friends

  • Josephine

    I remember my mother-in-law, Giuseppina, making a delicious salad with oranges, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fresh garlic and absolutely the most delicious Ragusano olive oil. She had a rather large ceramic giarra in her pantry closet which she had filled once a year with the liquid gold. Everything tasted so rich and good especially with the fresh bread that was baked in the panificio across the piazza.

    • Jann

      Oh, my–great sounding salad, Jo!!! I will try this combination. Thank you. I have a few of those old ceramic giarre that used to hold oil. They’re so pretty.

  • Jann, to me, olive oil is a main staple in my home. I refuse to cook without it. When I’m home alone, a simple dinner of olive oil, crusty bread, a sliced tomato and a few slices of “chorizo” makes for a fabulous meal. I’ll never forget a Sophia Loren interview I read some time ago where the interviewer asked her how she kept so well and she replied, “Olive oil–on the inside and the outside.” My mother swears that olive oil is the cure for everything. Dry hair, dry skin, bruises, rashes? Olive oil! hee hee! I think I should start rubbing my knee with it! ha! 🙂

  • Anitre

    I wish I knew about this back in October when we were tasting the first pressings in our region. Thanks for the tip. I usually just sniff and dunk bread in the oil. That seems to work for me, too. Grazie, Jann.

    • Jann

      🙂 And was the bread you dunked sprinkled with oregano? That seems to be a rule, too, though how strict a rule I’m not sure. Thanks for commenting, Anitre!

  • Hi Jann,

    I would like to thank Sam for his comment on cleaning my hands after painting. I will give it a go. My girlfriend uses olive oil as a moisturizer and has the most goregeous skin. She will be seventy two and looks fifty. Might I add that she is of Italian heritage. Smart people.

    Vicki Carol

    • Jann

      Thanks for this reminder, Vicki–yes, it’s great as a moisturizer. And I’ve even heard of using it as a “conditioner” for your hair, though I for one am scared to do this–I think I’d end up with a greasy mess…

  • You can’t help but be swept up by the passion and pride of Sicily, Jann. I could feel the vibe just reading this post. It’s so true though. Oil tasting is the new black. And I love the sound of the B&B…did you stay the night? x

    • Jann

      Janine, yes I stayed the night. When I went to visit all the little courtyard rooms were full, so I was allowed to stay in the main “noble” house. 🙂

  • Ciao Jann

    although I’m Sicilian I lernt how to taste olive oil professionally.. Yes, the first time it sounds quite strange and funny ,too. I was excited about that so I convinced some American travel agencies I work with, to introduce the visit of an Olive oil farm and olive tasting! it’s always a great experience….My first time the olive oil to me tasted of cherry tomato and artichokes…it’s possible, I lernt, as in the surroundings of the farm I visited , there were crops of these vegetables..
    I’ve never bought a bottle of olive oil at the supermarket. Every year my dad buys a very good olive oil from a producer he knows near Noto and we share .
    I never use any other kind of olive oil…..also for frying.
    Do you know how to prepare an olives salad???

  • Sam

    Here’s a hot tip for all of you olive oil fans: if you’re painting with oil paints, nothing cleans the paint from your hands better than
    olive oil! And it smells good too.

  • haha, love this! Especially when he says, “Now sniff it deeply, toss it behind your bottom lip …” Ah, you have the life there, Jann. Life, life, and double life!

    • Jann

      Sicilians have a passionate approach to the little things in life. Which is what I love. Thanks for your comment, Solid Gold.

  • Ian Henry

    Hi jan sorry for not been back to you sooner, as you know been picking olives, now back in the uk, the olive oil this year is a massive crop and the quality is apparently the best for 50 years, according to those that know better than me.
    You are right the pepper taste from the chiarmonte area is special, back for the new year if you are about.
    Hope you are well love Ian & Jenny

    • Jann

      I’m so happy for you, Ian! You must be exhausted harvesting all those little things, and hauling them to the press. But how lovely your oil must be. Mmmmmmm. Yes, I’ll be there to see in the new year, so till then!

  • “Pepper. Sunshine. Grass. . . . Nature!”

    I Loooooove your answer, Jann. Xxxx

  • Nancy

    Jann, when we were in Tuscany a few years ago we stopped at a small Agriturismo near the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Since she spoke no English and we spoke no Italian she told us with her sign language that she had no bread for us to taste the oil. She then offered us a shot glass of oil to drink. I thought she was nuts but to be polite I took a tiny sip. Needless to say, it was delicious and I drank it all. I hope to get back to that Agriturismo some day as we loved the wine we brought home from there as well. The oil ‘from’ Italy tastes so much better than the oil ‘imported’ from Italy.

    • Jann

      🙂 Nancy, that’s funny. Yes, I think it comes as a shock to a lot of us where we’re offered a shot glass of oil for the first time. Many Sicilians drink a whole cup of it every morning, in place of OJ, and they swear that’s what keeps them young. You’re so right about the oil IN Italy tasting nothing like the imported stuff (in fact, I’ve read that the imported stuff is mixed with oil from other countries, and who knows what else.)

  • pepper sunshine and grass sounds perfect to me!! x

    • Jann

      Ciao Lisa–someday I hope my palate will grow sophisticated enough so I can say, si si! assolutamente I taste almonds and tomatoes in this oil. Till then it’s all pepper and grass to me.

  • Terry Comparetta Wagner

    I adore tasting oil form Sicily! There is a shop not too far form me that only sells oils imported from Italy and Sicily – wonderful! My husband always says he’ll come back in an hour! Lol

    • Jann

      Terry, an hour is a long time to be tasting oil! The first time my husband went to an olive oil tasting at a shop in Sicily, he drank down a little cup and said, “This is a very strange wine.” He’d never heard of such a thing as olive oil tasting. He’s wiser now!

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