Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm has high expectations for all his products. So when he told me he was unusually excited about his new 2013 vintage olive oil, that got my attention. He sent me the 2012 and 2013 to compare side by side, and by good fortune I had another bottle of 2012 I’d opened almost a year ago and put aside in a dark place. Most experts advise putting oil in a dark container but Al sells his in a clear untinted bottle because “people want to see the oil”. So I was curious how that bottle had aged, and frankly whether it was still good. (This is not an approved practice; Frog Hollow’s website recommends you transfer the oil to a metal container if you’re going to keep it for some time.)
And the results? For me the 2013 Frog Hollow Tuscan Style extra virgin olive oil was about as good as it gets, with the grassy and herbaceous notes I prize in a dipping or salad oil. I definitely liked it more more than the 2012, because the 2013 had more flavor within the same flavor profile. The 2012 seemed more peppery, but I think that’s because the other notes were subdued so the pepperiness stood out. And that old bottle of 2012? It was neither rancid nor musky and seemed more peppery yet, maybe because of attrition of the other flavors. But it was still an oil I’d be proud to serve and dip with my bread.
While we’re on the topic, what do people really mean when they compliment an olive oil as “grassy”? Grass itself doesn’t have much of an aroma and tastes like, well, grass. The term “grassy” really describes the aroma of a new mown lawn or freshly cut hay field–sensory memes that bring to mind warm summer days and the satisfaction of completing a job, as well as the actual aromas. That aroma, and its taste equivalent, includes sweetness, a floral note, an herbal undertone and a peppery finish–balanced in a way that is complex enough to be a complete flavor experience when served with bread or dressing a salad. I’ve recently had some highly praised oils which were overwhelmingly peppery–Picual, Barnea and Picholine from the Saratoga Olive Oil Company being examples–to the extent they burn the throat and can even induce coughing. That’s pretty hard core. I’d use such oils sparingly with other strong flavors, such as the black raspberry ice cream I wrote about a while back.
While I was at it, I tasted the Frog Hollow oils alongside my everyday EVOO, from California Olive Ranch. It has a completely different flavor profile which I’ll call “olive-y” in that it tastes like eating an olive. The vegetal notes are strong and the pepperiness and grassiness and floralness are reduced. I definitely prefer the Frog Hollows but those are $20 for 375 ml compared to the California Olive Ranch which fluctuates in price but is usually under $20 a liter. If you go through lots of olive oil as we do, you can use that for cooking and save the good stuff for salads and dipping.
Frog Hollow olive oil is available through their website as well as at the Ferry Plaza store in San Francisco. Currently there’s no distinction between the 2012 and 2013 vintages so you might be better off to call in your order just to be safe. Ask for the “olio nuovo” to get the 2013, or order a bottle of each vintage and do your own taste test.