I cut short lunch today, and found myself standing at the counter of an always-busy local bread and sandwich shop, mulling what seemed like a good dozen and a half varieties of delicious-looking whole wheat loaves. The stakes were high. The occasion? I had promised my coworkers a “booth-style” tasting of a collection of extra-virgin olive oils from Tunisian olive oil producer CHO, that brought this North African country’s first branded oils to the world market two and a half years ago. While you have probably tasted Tunisian olive oil many times – as the world’s second largest net exporter of EVOO, the country’s bulk olive oils have long been rebranded or used in mixes from leading exporters Spain and Italy among others – we took a little test drive of CHO’s attractively-bottled EVOOs to give you a heads up on oils that are found in 4,000 retailers nationwide.
As my booth guests picked bread slice quarters and dipped into a selection of oils, I decided to start my taste excursion midstream, opting for the lemon-infused EVOO that gave plenty of citrus essence against a hearty, viscous golden oil. After cleansing my palate a bit with CHO’s original organic EVOO, which all agreed would make for fine cooking use, I finished my tour with the basil and garlic-infused oils. The basil was quite strong, enjoyable and definitely for the consumer with a dipping-type purpose in mind. The garlic also firmly announced its infusion and was quite tasty.
CHO is one of a growing number of producers world-wide that have been making inroads to the U.S. market; Tunisia accounts for nearly 11% of U.S. EVOO imports, behind only Spain and Italy. Nearby Morocco also registers in the top 10 suppliers of U.S.-consumed EVOO. Along with award-winning producers in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as Australia and a number of countries in and around the Mediterranean, these “second-tier” producing countries are giving an increasingly discerning American gourmet food consumer more and more EVOO choices at their local Whole Foods or specialty food shop.
Until our next selection of freshly-baked artisan bread and tasting session (unofficial word out of the newsroom has chocolate spreads leading slightly over tapenades as the next product category in the tasting booth), may all of your olive oil choices be infused with flavor and enjoyment.