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UC Davis Moves Forward with Olive Oil Taste Panel

 
By Caroline J. Beck
04/15/2010

Sensory evaluation is as important as laboratory analysis in judging overall quality and determining extra virgin authenticity in olive oil. Leveraging the extraordinary expertise of educators in the sensory science discipline at University of California Davis, the UC Davis Olive Center is making inroads with a new initiative at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. The new UC Davis Olive Center Tasting Panel will give growers and marketers of olive oil an opportunity to gain deep sensory insight into their products, well beyond standard categorization.

“For years, we have heard from folks throughout the California olive oil industry that they wanted to see UC Davis set the pace for better sensory evaluation. With the new facility and our ability to tap into the knowledge-base of world-class scientists in this discipline, it seemed like a good time to launch this important venture,” said Dan Flynn, Executive Director, UC Davis Olive Center.

Headed by one of the top sensory scientists in the country, Dr. Jean-Xavier Guinard, the panel hopes to educate producers about the extent that analysis can assist in determining desirable flavor-profiles, for both single varietal and blended oils. Having studied under famed sensory-science pioneer Dr. Rose Marie Pangborn, Dr. Guinard who is a professor of sensory science in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, serves as Director of the Olive Oil Taste Panel.

While the Olive Oil Taste Panel does not plan to engage in a “seal of certification” program, it will deliver sensory evaluation according to the International Olive Council (IOC) scorecard, as well as a much more comprehensive analysis of flavor profiles. As an example and similar to sensory profiling in wine, the categorization of “fruity” will be further judged by a wide variety of flavors, aromas and tastes.

“The type of detailed information we can provide will be useful to producers who simply want to learn more about their oil, as well as those who want guidance in what kind of olive oil they can make that will have the greatest appeal to their customers,” said Flynn.

Flynn further reported that they have completed the first phase of the panel’s development with the identification of 20 members for the panel and 12 apprentices. The members have been drawn from existing olive oil taste panels like the California Olive Oil Council’s (COOC) and Paul Vossen’s Cooperative Extension Farm Advisory group. He hopes that they will start tasting oils from the most recent harvest by mid-2010 and obtain official certification of the taste panel by the International Olive Council in 2011. Flynn stated that the group is expected to announce timing for sample acceptance and yet-to-be-published fee structure in the near future.

A typical tasting session will have the panel assemble for a couple of hours at the Robert Mondavi Institute on a weekly morning and taste 10-20 oils using the official IOC scorecard for certification purposes and then an olive oil descriptive scorecard of 15-30 attributes of appearance, flavor (taste and smell) and mouthfeel. Flynn explained that the Olive Taste Panel also plans to act as a descriptive analysis panel for research projects conducted at the UC Davis, and work collaboratively with groups like those headed up by Paul Vossen, leader of the University of California Cooperative Extension Olive Oil Research Taste Panel, as well as other outside institutions. When needed, the taste panel will be called upon to taste experimental oils and provide descriptive analysis data for research projects examining the effects of various agronomical and processing factors on the sensory quality of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).