An Education in Olive Oil

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At last night's olive oil tasting on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel, Bill Sanders, of Tunisian Olive Oil, began by noting the three-step process.

Sanders poured small cups of Riviere d'Or and handed them out.

First, a swirl and then a sniff to detect the fruity aroma.

Next, you sip it to taste for bitterness.

Finally, it's a suck through the teeth to get a note of pepper.

That direct slug of olive oil was ... oily, but Sanders had made his point.

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Sanders also noted the bottle's "harvest date," important for knowing how fresh the oil is. Basically, Sanders said that a bottle of oil should be used within 30 days of purchase, maybe 60, or it will probably go rancid. (That's where the sniffing comes in too. A whiff of nail polish or paint thinner means it's time to toss it.)

And, he added that cheaper is never better — nothing under $6.99. The higher the price the more healthy polyphenols. Of domestic brands he recommends Newman's Own.

Also attending the tasting were neighbors and friends Terri Murphy and Elizabeth Novick.

"It's like how you don't know bad wine until you have good wine," Murphy said of olive oil.

When asked how she came to have so much olive oil knowledge, Murphy explained, "I'm Italian."

Both Murphy and Novick travel extensively and have tasted a lot of olive oils. Murphy's favorite is Argan from Morocco. Novick said that whenever she sees a new brand at Schnucks she'll give it a try.

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