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Is Your Extra Virgin Olive Oil Really Extra Virgin?

Posted by Rick Petrocelly on

The recent 60 Minutes exposé on Mafia involvement in Italian agriculture and especially fraudulent and adulterated olive oils has generated a lot of inquiries into the difference between the Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOO) offered by The Olive Tap stores and those suspect oils sold in grocery and other retail outlets.

Firstly, we need to define Extra Virgin. It is the highest grade of Olive Oil mechanically extracted from fresh olives without the use of heat, steam or chemicals. The oil must meet certain Chemical Test parameters that vary from country to country around the world. Some country/industry standards are very liberal, while others are quite tight. Additionally Extra Virgin Olive Oils must conform to various Sensory (smell and taste) standards and not exhibit any of a well defined and established list of defects.

The Olive Tap Chemical and Sensory standards for oils we offer meet or are more stringent than all International/producer country standards by quite a large margin. Oils that would easily pass the European based International Olive Council (IOC) standards for Extra Virgin would fail The Olive Tap test. We only want to offer the very best.

Frankly, there is a huge difference between what we sell and what you can buy at other retail outlets. The Olive Tap works primarily with smaller, artisan producers from Italy and other countries, who put a premium on quality versus price. They have higher costs, and we must pay a higher price and sell at a higher price versus run-of-the-mill oils. It is the demand for cheap olive oil from uneducated, ill informed, intentionally misled and indifferent consumers that open the door to big conglomerates and shady suppliers who are all too happy to provide them with oils that can be sold inexpensively. Too many consumers make a purchase based on fancy labels and sale prices believing that they are getting real EVOO, when in fact most low priced oils are rarely if ever fresh, pure or of high quality.

The big and well known national brands have been shown to be unreliable in both freshness and purity when purchased from some of the biggest grocery store chains. These companies typically buy truckloads of oils from large factory farms and a myriad of producers, then mix all the oils up in huge vats, and then pack and ship the oils out to secondary and tertiary distributors and retailers who have no interest in controlling the various factors that can affect the quality of the oil. 

To prove this point, a major study was conducted by the University of California at Davis, a preeminent Olive Oil educational institution. This study found that brands like Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, F. Berio, Mazzola, Pompean and others, which were purchased directly from grocery store shelves and then analyzed, failed the most routine tests for Extra Virgin classification. There could have been many reasons why they failed, and in some cases might not have been the fault of the producer, but factually based on this study about 70% of oils found on grocery store shelves would fail the Extra Virgin Test. You can see the results yourself at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/files/rep...

If you value flavor and freshness along with the health benefits of premium quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil over inexpensive, mass produced grocery brands that frequently fail the most common EVOO sensory and chemical analysis, then you must be educated enough to recognize the difference between the good and the bad. Above all else, you need to purchase oil from a retailer that you trust to do all the homework necessary to be offering authentic, high quality and healthy Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

One of the first things consumers need to realize is that "The Good Stuff" alone has cost variations based on the olive varietal, harvest and production methods, weather and demand. As the 60 Minutes program explained, quality olive oil can easily cost $50.00 per gallon. Add in producer profit margins and the various costs to get the product to the consumer and it is easily to understand why Extra Virgin Olive Oils from The Olive Tap and similar retailers can cost $16.00 to $19.00 per bottle. You can't expect to pay half of what we charge and still get the same purity, freshness and quality as you would from us.

Next is how fresh is the oil you are buying, and how long it will last? We know the exact date our oils are produced, how they are stored, and how long they should last under normal circumstances. We guarantee that any EVOO we sell will be good tasting for at least 1 year from date of purchase. Purchase from a grocery store and you have no idea as to how old the oil is and how long it will last. Use by dates on most bottles are overly optimistic, and in some cases downright laughable. One of our panel members, Mario Olivi, and I have had several instances where we found oil for sale that had a far in the future listed "use by" date, but was already rancid.

Skeptical consumers often ask "how do you know your olive oils are genuine and not like those mentioned in the studies or on 60 Minutes". Frankly, it is quite easy for The Olive Tap stores to purchase very high quality Extra Virgin Olive oil that are fresh, authentic and not adulterated. It is all about Education, First Hand Knowledge of the Producer, and Utilizing 3rd Party Verification. 

  1. We know our stuff. The Olive Tap Evaluation and Tasting Panel is composed of individuals that have professional training in both Chemical and Sensory analysis, and have learned many of the subtleties of production. We have attended various courses and seminars on Olive Oil Chemical and Sensory analysis. One member of our team, Jennifer Thornton, learned production methods and EVOO quality evaluation at an artisan mill in France. So broad is her knowledge, that she has been selected to be a judge at several Olive Oil competitions.
  2. We visit our producers, and have seen the olives picked and oils made. We have traveled to California, Italy and Spain during the harvest season and have followed the process of making the very oils we purchase. We only work with millers and suppliers who convince us of their integrity and commitment to producing the absolute best oils.
  3. We get 3rd party confirmation of the quality of the oils we buy and sell, even though we personally know and trust many of our producers. All of our California producers have their oils Certified by the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) whose standards are much tighter than International standards. Most European producers must use an approved laboratory in their country to verify they meet International Olive Council (IOC) standards. In addition to the lab results they supply us, we routinely get our oils tested again by independent US based laboratories like Agbiolab and Baker Laboratories in California. And as previously mentioned, The Olive Tap standards for acceptance to be sold in our stores are tighter and less tolerant than the IOC, COOC and almost all other international standards.

To make a long story short: If you put a premium on flavor, and the healthy benefits you get from pure 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil you can't trust what you buy in a grocery store to be Extra Virgin. High quality, fresh EVOO is not cheap, and will usually cost twice as much as inferior and suspect labeled oils. 

Purchase your Extra Virgin Olive Oil from a knowledgeable source like The Olive Tap where you can first taste the oil before it is bottled and learn exactly what is in the bottle (variety or blend), where (country of origin) and when the oil was produced, and be shown proof that the oil has been tested and verified as Extra Virgin.