While the olive trees are flowering, the job of the Blendmaster seems delightfully bucolic. They’ll take walks through olive groves during visits to producers, keep tabs on the health of oncoming fruit, and watch the weather — all in the hope of successfully predicting the health of that year’s crop. (Of course, like any other profession, there’s plenty of office work, all of it decidedly less bucolic.) But then the first olives are almost ripe, things kick into high gear.
For the five months of harvest, Blendmasters are on the road visiting farmers and millers. They travel the whole of southern Europe, usually in the company of agents, seeking out the flavors and other properties they’ll need to create delicious and consistent blends.
In any given day, they’ll visit a few different properties, talking with the proprietors, sharing a history of the season and harvest, and often sharing a meal. Then there is the tasting — a stressful event for everyone concerned, because the fate of liter upon liter of oil now rests on the perception of a single taste, now being warmed in the palm of the Blendmaster’s hand. But no final decisions will be made on that day; a few samples will be taken back to the lab for analysis and tasting under different conditions, and price is never discussed until later.
Blendmasters can (and do) take reams of tasting notes throughout the process, but all that information just serves to remind them of the perceived aroma and taste, which they have stored away somewhere in their heads. When it’s time to blend, they pull from this mental library of thousands of oils to create the blend they’re after. It’s an astounding mental achievement.
On top of that, a Blendmaster must keep track of more prosaic things, such as availability, delivery schedules, and cost. If one of these practical reasons prevents an oil from making it into the mix, then the entire recipe must be reworked, with the desired final product recreated from the thousands of oils stored away in the Blendmaster’s memory.