When the 60 Minute special on olive oil fraud was shown on TV, I was immediately inundated with emails from past clients. To me, it is not news. I think everyone here knows that companies blend oil to create fake EVOO. I consider EVOO made from olives to oil, not blending oils. I say fake, meaning that they can alter the acidity of the oil and call an oil made by blending oils extra virgin, buying oils or even buying olives which have travelled across the seas to Italy. Today in Italy, I was looking at the labels on the bottles, now you can see more and more marked with where the olives came from; Tuscany, Italian, Mediterranean Community. Finally, more and more truth in labeling.
There is no truth in labeling laws, which let the large commercial companies get away with it.
REAL extra virgin olive oil is an act of love and passion.
First Tom Mueller’s book came out, Extra Virginity, bringing to light the fraud in the production of oil in Italy. Then in 2014, Tuscan olive trees where attached by the mosca, and we had no oil, so it was impossible to fake it, as everyone knew, and we had to buy our oil from Puglia or Sicily. There is nothing wrong with oils from other regions in Italy, each oil tends to pair with the style of cooking and the recipes.
As with Greek or Spanish oils, they are all fabulous if the olives are picked with care and processed quickly.
The fraudulent oil is not poison. BUT, if it is made with olives that were not taken care of correctly, they can go rancid easily or be rancid. Machines can create flavor profiles and they can correct flaws.
That does not make it EXTRA VIRGIN, but somehow (and that is where i think the word Mafia comes in, someone has paid someone off to allow this style of oil to be labeled EVO. In USA, it might be lobbyists, paying off some politicians to support their cause. Same thing.
What I am worried about is that the true olive farmers, making real Extra Virgin Olive oil will suffer from this in a mass panic attack.
Even in Italy, not everyone can afford REAL extra virgin olive oil. I am blessed, I live in the middle of olive groves and know hundreds of EVO producers personally and can also go to the local olive growers cooperative and buy my oil in 5 liter tins, directly from the producers.
My husband says that since Tuscan olive oil is so strong, it has always been “cut” with milder oils, like those from Puglia, without such a peppery bite for cooking oil.
In Tuscany and parts of Sicily, (Castelvetrano), olives are picked green. That means they are hard to get off the branches and are picked by hand, or using a small rake to remove them from the branches, still by hand. Manual labor costs more than machine harvested oils. When looking at prices, think about what a worker gets paid too. Add on the cost of the machines to process the oil, the bottles and labeling. To get it to America, there are import taxes and then the shops of course mark it up to sell in their shops where they have workers too. That is business.
Why do people not flinch at spending $600 for an iphone but paying for real food causes rioting and protests.
We all need a reality check. One tree gives you about 1 liter of oil. Cold pressed oil, using no heat or chemicals to extract more oil.
Olives are a fruit, squish them and you get their liquid, there is then the olive oil mass and the pit. Oil is about 14% of the weight of the olive. 100 kilos of olives give you 14 liters of oil.In the old days, the olives where actually pressed between jute layers and the pulp was then pressed and separated. Now there are state of the art machines, which crush and press the mass, without exposing it to air and then separate the pulp from liquid then centrifuge the liquid to separate the oil from the water.
Some producers sell the by-products to those who then treat the mass with heat and chemicals to extract more oil and you can do this down to what is called sansa then lamp oil. The pits can be crushed and used for fertilizer as can the leftovers from the first crushing.
In this post, I have a little video of the process, I documented when I was down in Sicily.
Americans should really question the value in cheap food. Not just olive oil, but especially chicken and meats. How the animals are raised, fed etc all contributes to our health or damages it.
In Italy our mantra is
Spend more on food and less on medicine.
More and more today I am reading about how Americans are healing themselves by changing how they eat. How cheap food can harm you and that the government allows certain chemicals to be used which in the end are harmful to us too.
There are many great places to buy REAL extra virgin olive oil, it has much more flavor so you use less. Like Chanel #5. I have several from different producers in different regions of Italy as well. It is part of a good pantry, which then makes you a GREAT cook.
We all spend money to go out and eat at great restaurants, where a dinner can cost $50 a person or more, why not spend it on quality ingredients and eat at home?
There are many with reps in USA and their line is already there, friends like Capezzana, Castello di Ama, Pruneti from Tuscany as well as a consorzium Laudemia, all estates owned by nobile families, mostly all also wine producers. But there are thousands of farmers making true extra virgin olive oil. Tree to bottle–controlling everything on site. In Sicily, I also buy a lot of oil while traveling, Olio Verde, Mandrova and from the winery I stay at, Planeta, as well as the local cooperative. There are so many great oils, I cannot list them all. Italy is full of different regions all producing great oils, Liguria, Lake Garda are another two great oils. There is no way I can know them all myself, but every trip I take to different regions, I always pick up oil to use with the regional recipes. It is all part of having a good pantry.
Do yourself a favor and invest in tasting a REAL IGP or DOP extra virgin olive oil– from anywhere in Italy.
You will thank me!