The time we tasted 10 olive oils in my in-laws’ dining room in Spain

The time we tasted 10 olive oils in my in-laws’ dining room in Spain

Looking for a challenge? Convince your father-in-law that the new-to-your Spanish olive oil he’s been drinking by the liter since childhood is actually extraordinarily special. And that you may be a crazy, unemployed wild-haired gringo, but this is very, very real.
by Andrew Benin

I’m going to try to tell this in story format. So we have mist – a super misty valley and a one-lane road and an Opel Corsa (that’s a car, with a stick shift). I’m driving it, and the windows are down, and suddenly I am just smacked in the face with the smell. Picual and arbequina trees as far as the eye can see. (We’re in Spain – I forgot to say that.)

I drive down muddy country roads to private farms and cooperatives where I – repeatedly – get stuck, but it’s worth it because I meet the wizard of olive oil in Spain, who can taste any oil and tell you when it was harvested, if it is blended, its varietal, and its age.

I drive back to Cadiz and unload obscene amounts of olive oil (there’s a reason I kept getting stuck, and it’s not all the Opel’s fault) right onto my in-laws’ big wooden table. I cube bread. I cut granny smith apples as palate cleansers. I look for 35 spoons – seven each for five people because this is going to be professional, damnit – and realize NO ONE has 35 spoons. I resolve to wash spoons halfway through. I allow jamon because we may be professional, but we are also hungry.

I fidget.

I am in love. I am on fire. I am a crazy prophet, wild-haired and ready.

“At least there is jamon,” my brother-in-law muses, as he, my wife, her mother and father sit around the table. My father-in-law eyes me with deep, deep skepticism. It’s not just the tasting. It’s more fundamental. Why did his daughter marry this idiot?

I can take it. I have oil from Cadiz, from Sevilla, from Jaen, from Almeria, from Granada. I know it’s special.

I fill his spoon. The spicy drizzle hits his lips. He goes back for seconds, and thirds. They all do. They are genuinely shocked that oil from their single province can showcase so many nuances and differences. My father-in-law’s face relaxes. Jamon forgotten, he’s brainstorming food pairings.

Spoons now dirtied, we slurp from bottles. Over a single hour, I see olive oil transform from a commodity my in-laws have enjoyed their whole lives into, maybe not liquid gold, but something really special. And in the back of my head, I know this is my most difficult, most important sale.

And while I didn’t have any doubt about the olive oil (It’s like bringing someone a 36-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma. If they don’t like it, they’re the problem.), it was incredible to see them smitten at first slurp. They got it. And around that table it hit home. We are actually going to do this thing. And it’s going to be awesome.