Victorian Growers Become Olive Oil 'Sommeliers' After Trip Abroad to Consult the Experts

The word sommelier is often associated with fine wine, but did you know that it can also be used when talking about olive oil?

Central Victorian growers Milly Byrne and Julie Howard are olive oil sommeliers and just like their counterparts in wine they can assess its quality, chemistry and flavour.

After receiving a Young Farmers Scholarship from the Victorian Government in 2018, Ms Byrne, along with Mrs Howard, travelled to Europe to learn the art.

"We decided we would either going to go to Greece or Spain because they're the experts — they've had olives since before 800BC," Ms Byrne said.

The trip didn't disappoint.

"When we did our research, we discovered that yes, there was an equivalent reality with olive oil as there is with wine," Mrs Howard said.

'Identify the characteristics'

Over the course of a week the pair learnt to identify the characteristics and types of olive oil, its flavours and what kinds of food you can pair it with.

"We learnt when to identify that olive oil is off and what they call 'lampante', which means the oil is only fit for lighting a lamp, not for eating," Mrs Howard said.

She said extra virgin was pressed, plain olive juice, whereas virgin was mixed or slightly damaged.

Mrs Howard said the flavour of olive oil depends on where and when the fruit was harvested.

"A lot of growers pick them very green and so you'll get very pungent, spicy flavours, which can also indicate polyphenol, that can show health benefits," she said.

"They can also take on fruity flavours — it could smell like apricots, it could smell like bananas or green tomatoes.

"The whole idea is to taste the freshest olive oil and to know how to identify it with your nose, using your sensory responses.

"And then your palate, which includes your tongue, your taste buds, the side of your tongue and the retro nasal down the back — you need lots of practice." More