November marks the beginning of the Olive oil production through central and southern Italy. While Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil, there is an ongoing debate that over 60% of the extra virgin and virgin olive oils found in US grocery stores are fraudulent. Producers are either mixing poor quality olive and blended oils with extra virgin or taking odorless, flavorless oil such as sunflower and adding chlorophyll for aroma and beta carotene for flavor and labeling them as EVOO. The Italian government has been investigating seven large producers for fraud and misleading labeling. Many of these companies, while located in Italy are owned by foreign companies, and they are sitting in most American supermarkets.
Today, olive oil only has to be made in Italy to be considered Italian. Many large companies are now buying olives from Tunisia, Greece, and Turkey and pressing them in Italy. While this is allowed, the biggest problem is that olives can become rancid during transportation. Small producers and families with trees in their backyards take their crops directly to the cooperative as soon as the olives are picked. The cooperative weighs them and then adds them to the daily delivery and at the end of the day they are pressed. Boutique farms grow, pick and press their olives right on the farm. Many small farmers grow and press varietal olives separately with the characteristics of the particular type of olive. Varietals such as Moraiolo and Razzo differ in taste just as a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
How do you make sure you are getting the real olive oil? If you can’t make a trip to Italy and watch your olives being harvested and pressed, purchase from a reliable olive oil store or online directly from the farmer.
No matter where you buy your olive oil, these steps will help you avoid fraudulently adulterated olive oils: Read the label – olive trees evergreens related to the cherry family. An exceptional olive oil farmer will have a harvest date and an expiration date on the bottle. Olive oil will start to turn rancid after 18 months, forming free radicals and depleting some B vitamins and antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids and viable polyphenols removing all healthy benefits.
Make sure the olives come only from Italy and note the city it was pressed in, making sure it is a city in the olive growing region.
Taste it. Use a clear glass and hold against a white background to see gold to green color. Swirl the glass to warm up the olive oil and breathe in the bouquet. It should have a grassy and intense nose. As you sip, aerate as you would a fine wine. It should taste a little peppery, fruity and have a slight burn on the back of the tongue and throat. If tasting more than one, cleanse the palate with water and a slice of apple before continuing to the next olive oil. If it doesn’t meet the standards, take it back to where you bought it.
Consider California olive oil. Grown in similar climate conditions, these olive oils are very good. Make sure it is approved by the UC Davis Olive Center which tests for the authenticity of the product. You can also go online to buy directly from them.
October and November are the times to order your olive oil and will be shipped to you in time for the Holidays. If you happen to be in Italy during the harvest season, try the Olio Nuovo, the first EVVO meant to be enjoyed as soon as it comes out of the centrifuge. The intense flavor must be enjoyed between October and November, so it’s impossible to ship stateside. For a list of small Italian growers who press and bottle right on their farm, please contact me directly at patrice@PapaveroRentals.com