This is part two of our interview with Perry Rea, owner of Queen Creek Olive Mill. Today, the certified olive oil sommelier explains the differences between good and bad extra virgin olive oil and gives us advice on how pick good oil. If you missed part one, in which we learned how the mill makes Arizona's only EVOO, you can read it here.
Perry Rea and his wife, Brenda, are both certified olive oil sommeliers through the International Olive Oil Council. The title comes upon completition of a course that covers, among other things, how to detect the multitude of defects that can be present in EVOO.
"It's really easy to recognize the good parts of oilve oil," Rea says. "It's harder to understand the defects."
To be true "extra virgin" olive oil, oil can't contain any defects. Defects can fall under either the chemical category or sensory -- and while chemical attributes can be verified by third-party certification, sensory defects can often only be detected by professionals like Rea.
Good olive oil will have the following three qualities: fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency, each of which is rated on a scale from one to 10. But if it also contains musty, vinegary, muddy, or any of a number of other negative flavors, the oil cannot technically be classified as EVOO. Extra virgin is the highest classification of olive oil, which also means it's the most expensive type. Chemically, EVOO can't contain more than 0.8 grams of oleic acid per 100 grams. The lower the adicity, the fresher the oil.
And even among true EVOO, there's room for plenty of variance in flavor. Olives picked earlier in the season, when the fruit is green ripe, produce oils that usually is decribed as grassy, bitter, and peppery. Oil made from late-picked olives is often described as buttery and fruity.
"Different profiles of oil should be used in different dishes," Rea says.
For example, Rea says he prefers more robust oil, but each of the Queen Creek Olive Mill's signature oils serves a specific purpose in the kitchen. The signature Deilcate EVOO, made from well-ripened fruit produces a buttery, smooth, and quite fruity oil that's best with fish, cheese, and on salads. On the other end of the spectrum Queen Creek's Robust oil, made from less ripe fruit, gives flavors such as grass, apple, and lots of pepper. Because of its strong flavor, it's best suited for heavier dishes such as with red meat or grilling vegetables.
The signature Balanced oil combines the benefits of both the Delicate and Robust oils to offer a fruity flavor and some peppery notes that makes it well-suited for everyday cooking, sauteing vegetables, or on pasta.
So when you're at the grocery store, how do you know if you're picking the right EVOO? Unfortunately, Rea says it's nearly impossible to know. Much of the oil in grocery stores could have been sitting on trains, boats, or shelves for months before it makes it to your house and many company's don't go through the process of chemical -- let alone sensory -- evaluation. His best advice is simple, if a bit difficult to follow:
"When you're going to by extra virgin olive oil, just buy it from someone who you know made it."
For Rea, whose parents were first-generation Italian immigrants, olive oil has always been a big part of family cooking, and these days, several of his five kids are involved in the business. And things are still far from done developing at the mill. Just this season Rea's planted a quarter acre of garlic, with plans to host a first annual garlic festival this fall. He wants to build more outdoor seating at the mill and is getting ready to launch a new line of barbecue soon.
"I think I'll be 90 by the time everything is ready," he says.
How did you get into the olive oil business? I was born in Detroit and grew up in London, Ontario, Canada. I was involved in a family business that manufactured automotive parts. When my father retired, I moved the business to Detroit and moved my family along with it. When the business was sold, my wife and I were looking for a change of lifestyle. While visiting Arizona, we noticed the abundance of olive trees growing in Phoenix. Over a glass of wine or two, my wife came up with the idea of making olive oil in Arizona. I tell people I went from motor oil to olive oil.
The biggest misconception about olive oil is: The misclassification of true EVOO. Also, color has nothing to do with the quality of EVOO. The color is dependent on the variety of olives used in the process.
The best way to select olive oil is to: Taste it and look for a bottling date. Freshness is the key!
Three things everyone should know about Queen Creek Olive Mill: 1. We are the only producer of EVOO in Arizona, making us truly local. 2. In our quest to be as sustainable as possible, we produce our oil with a zero carbon footprint as we generate enough energy from our solar panels to power our new 2 1/2 ton per hour olive mill. 3. We are one of the top five "foodie" destinations in Arizona.
Great olive oil should be: Fresh, unadulterated, minimally processed and extra virgin.
The hardest part about becoming an olive oil sommelier was: The distraction of everything else going on around me. I was at the ALMA School of International Cuisine in Colorno just outside of Parma, Italy. It is located in the region of Emilia-Romagna where they make prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar.
Olive oil is not like wine because: it does not get better with age!
Your favorite way to use/eat olive oil: A pasta dish that I grew up with simple and delicious especially when you use fresh EVOO. Aglio, olio e pepperoncino. garlic, oil, and hot chili flakes.
What do you think will be the next big thing to hit the olive oil industry?: Most likely an increase in the production of EVOO, planting of more trees in North America and the public recognition of good certified EVOO.
What's next for Queen Creek Olive Mill? Expanding our partnership with more local growers, planting more trees in Queen Creek, expanding our olivespa concept to include more Home and Body products and strategically locating more of our retail stores (Queen Creek Olive Mill Oils & Olives) in Arizona.
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