At Crazy Pizza Marylebone, we take an Olive Oil Tasting Masterclass, hosted by connoisseur Marie Cheong-Thong.

Have you ever been to an olive oil tasting?

This was my first, and I learnt so much so that I will never look at a supermarket olive oil the same way again, whether it is extra virgin, virgin or unfiltered extra virgin olive oil.

The Olive Oil Tasting Masterclass took place at the renowned Crazy Pizza Marylebone. It was exclusively for press for Crazy Pizza to showcase what exciting events the venue can organise on request.

The event was run by the olive oil connoisseur Marie Cheong-Thong. Born in Malaysia, Marie Cheong-Thong has a passion for food and drink.

She is an epicurean. She travels the world to interview producers, sample, discover new ingredients and research indigenous dishes and drinks. So far she has been to over 30 countries.

She has always been passionate about olive oil but her professional fascination really began much later in life. While she has a few favourite olive oils herself, she is knowledgeable about all types, colours, styles, varieties and qualities.

She taught, judged and presented the subject. She also studied under the Maestro D’Olio Fausto Borelli in Tuscany.

Marie started the masterclass with explaining to us the differences between extra virgin cold pressed, virgin and pomace or refined olive oil. She stressed that acidity (oleic acid) levels are very important when choosing the oil. It is measured in percentage per 100ml of oil.

She also pointed out that production extra virgin olive oil is what should be drizzled on food,  while supermarket virgin olive oil should be used in cooking.

Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is less than 0.8 percent, while pomace can be as high as 3 percent. While the acidity does not affect the flavour much, it is related to olive oil’s health benefits. Oxidation increases with the temperature and length of production methods.

For example, during production of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, the temperature should not exceed 27 centigrade. The longer the production and extraction method, the more the oil oxidises.

Unfiltered extra virgin olive oil by Caroli is harvested and processed within a day and bottled after 7 days. The olives are hand picked, put in a mill to crush and grind the fruit the same day.

Then the oil spends 7 days in stainless steel tanks. After seven days the tank is opened, the top layer, which is made up of cloudy and unfiltered oil, gets collected and bottled. After another seven days the cloudiness sinks to the bottom of the tank. 

This olive oil is a rare find due to its small scale production and short season. It is made from first or early harvest fresh olives and has a short shelf life.

It was one of my favourites that evening. It smelled and tasted of fresh olives, green tomato, green apple and grass, with a hint of silver birch leaves.

Marie also taught us the proper way to sample olive oils. First: pour a tablespoon of olive oil into, ideally, a glass cup. There are proper olive oil tasting cups available to purchase with glass lids. 

Second: place the cup in a palm and cover with the other or the glass lid. Twirl it a little bit to warm it up and then smell. I felt like I was at a wine tasting, the sampling procedure was so very similar.

We snacked on delicious green olives as palate cleanser, and proceeded to our next oil – Crazy Virgin olive oil by Crazy Pizza. The olive oil is prepared specifically for the restaurants in Italy.

It was light and fruity. It had fresh ripe tomato, basil, lemon and pine nut notes. It paired perfectly with the Crazy Pizza’s renowned thin focaccia and a glass of Ai Galli prosecco.

I realised why focaccia was so popular at Crazy Pizza. It had a unique texture, thin, warm, and crisp, yet soft on the inside.

We also sampled Castillo de Canena made from Picual olives. It is a single origin Spanish extra virgin olive oil. Most Spanish olive oils are made from this olive variety.

It is slightly dense and rich compared to the two Italian ones we sampled. It leaves that mild olive oil stinging sensation on the back of the throat.

That was the perfect moment to learn about what gives the olive oil that unique bitter taste. It is phenolics, explained Marie. Phenolic compounds (oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol) are responsible for that bitter, punchy and distinct olive aroma.

When the olive oil is filtered and diluted with solvents it loses the phenolics and consequently its health benefits. The solvents range from water to other oils and sometimes even charcoal. Pomes olive oil has high acidity levels, up to 3 percent. 

Crazy Pizza makes their pizzas in the authentic Italian manner: thin and skinny, minimum dough and guilt free but with a generous amount of toppings.

We paired our flavoursome oils with some of their delectable pizzas: vegan Pomodoro (tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and basil), Margherita (tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and basil), Ventricina (tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and spicy salami) and Rustica (tomato sauce, grilled peppers, aubergine and courgette).

So next time you’re buying olive oil, don’t reach for the cheapest. Instead take the time to choose the oil that suits your personal food ‘engine’.

Caroli unfiltered extra virgin olive limited stock at Tacco Deli, Fulham.

Castillo de Canena Picual extra virgin olive oil is available from Waitrose.