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Olive oil flavor maven 

Cargill food scientist has distinctive credentials for her tasting skills 

By Jackie Renner July 12, 2016

Photos by Steve Woit

There’s one thing you’ll find at an olive oil sampling event that is absolutely vital: a spit cup. Before you say “yuck,” understand that the test to earn a coveted International Savantes “Associate Savantes” credential in olive oil requires tasting 38 different olive oils — without bread or other accompaniments.

inpage-nicole-falkNicole Falk is one of only a dozen people globally to earn an “Associate Savantes” olive oil tasting credential. Nicole Falk, who manages sensory panels for Cargill food applications in North America, passed the test last year after completing a three-day training provided by International Savantes, an independent organization that promotes excellence in the evaluation of extra virgin olive oils and their culinary use.

“I think having had this training will make me a better sensory scientist,” says Falk. “It’s also beneficial to Cargill to be able to share with our customers that we have someone with this credential and it enables us to train more internal team members in these skills.”

Cargill now markets Filippo Berio Culinary Selection®* olive oil products for the foodservice segment in North America and is building its extra virgin olive oil evaluation expertise to support the product line.

The training involved not just tasting olive oil, but covered the history of extra virgin olive oil, which is made from the olive’s first pressing. Participants learn about the differences between virgin olive oil and the extra virgin variety, and how to identify oils from different regions.

“I like the olive oils from Spain that have some sharper flavors,” Falk said. A key component of the training is perfecting basic flavor descriptors. In a blind test, participants had to identify a variety of spices from smell only. “I learned that olive oil is a lot more complicated than you might think,” Falk says, “and people in this world, like wine or chocolate connoisseurs, take it very seriously.”

In her job, Falk manages people who taste test products for Cargill. She says the ability to differentiate flavors, whether among olive oils or other products, seems to be an attribute that requires both innate ability, as well as training. She is now one of only a dozen “Associate Savantes” named globally by International Savantes since 2011. Can a taste test competition be far off?

“Nothing’s planned,” Falk says, “but it would be fun.”

*A registered trademark of Societa Per Azioni Lucchese Olli E Vini