Olive oil cocktails are a thing now — have you noticed the trend? It makes a lot of sense to add fruity, aromatic extra virgin olive oil to elevate drinks to new heights, just as EVOO adds magic to our favorite foods.
But I’ve never been a big fan of complicated cocktails that mask the taste of the liquor. I haven’t ordered a Tequila Sunrise since the ’80s. I order top-shelf liquor and keep my drinks simple so I can enjoy the taste of a fine whiskey, gin, tequila or vodka.
To me, the best way to kill a martini is to add vermouth. For years, my go-to martini has been this: really cold vodka. Olives on the side.
Then, people started talking about an olive oil martini and the sky opened. I know how monovarietal extra virgin olive oils can bring out flavors in foods — not mask them — and certain cultivars, among the thousands nature has bestowed us, offer limitless pairing possibilities.
This isn’t jelly-coating vodka with the sugary nectar of this or that. This isn’t the dreaded dirty martini — the utterly senseless act, in my opinion, of pouring the mystery brine from the olive jar to muddy the drink, literally. Pairing a really good EVOO with a really good vodka was different, and worthy of my investigation.
I oversee a climate-controlled vault containing the largest collection of olive oils in the world — 900 brands from 27 countries — one of the perks of organizing the New York International Olive Oil Competition. The collection also serves as a sample library for the olive oil sommelier program that I run at the International Culinary Center. So I have the olive oil part of the drink covered.
For years, the mark of a good vodka was “smoothness” or the lack of flavor. So when I was perusing the top shelf of the vodka section of my local liquor store, finding a vodka to stand up to such a selection of olive oils felt a little hopeless, until I saw three bottles from Poland.
Potato, wheat, rye.
It turns out there’s a family in Krzesk who thinks about the ingredients in vodka the same way olive oil producers consider the cultivars for their EVOOs. The Dorda family, makers of Chopin, use fresh, local ingredients, copper stills and traditional techniques to reveal the unique flavors in each of its three products — not conceal them.
I tasted each of the three Chopin vodkas at room temperature and noticed their distinct flavors that were unlike any vodkas I’d tasted before. These had more character and complexity. I repeated the tastings.
Chopin Potato: earthy and creamy taste with a viscous texture and heavy mouthfeel.
Chopin Rye: lighter than potato, with a spicy bite and a peppery flavor.
Chopin Wheat: the lightest and the sweetest of the three. A good “summer vodka” with a very pleasant floral aroma.
In theory, I might pair a peppery Spanish Picual EVOO with the potato for a fruity, spicy contrast. I’d go with a delicate Arbequina to bring an unexpected body to the lightness of the rye. And I’d try a medium Arbosana to add a slightly nutty fruitiness to the wheat’s floral tones.
Shaking the vodka and EVOO together seemed like sacrilege to me — like putting a good steak and horseradish in a blender and eating it with a spoon.
The right way to make an olive oil martini would mean respecting the ingredients and the hard work of the producers behind them.
I, therefore, offer my idea of the perfect olive oil martini, three ways. I tried them, and they worked. The oils I chose were among the 463 award winners at this year’s NYIOOC, many of which you can find in the Best Olive Oils Marketplace.
With the first sips, you will taste the vodka ingredient as the aromas of the EVOO are revealed from its unbroken reservoir at the top. As you work your way through the drink, the EVOO will find its way to your mouth for an unexpected, delightful result. The last sip may well be EVOO only — a dessert of pure fruit juice to punctuate the whole experience.
Olives on the side.