I just read a great article in the New Yorker magazine that uncovers some of the widespread fraud in the olive oil business in Italy. It was about time people started talking about it in North America. I think it is just the tip of the iceberg but nonetheless it is a good call for consumers to be vigilant when purchasing olive oil. It really is necessary that we demand transparency and quality. It is also time to support farmers directly and make sure they are being paid fairly for their products. Cheap oil, can’t be good oil!Take a look at my olive oil buyers guide to see how you can try to protect yourself from olive oil fraud.
It is the consumer’s right to know how the product they are purchasing is produced; this goes for olive oil as well. When you buy a bottle of olive oil at the supermarket there is little indication on the bottle or the shelf of how the oil was produced or about who did all the work to turn olives into oil. Making olive oil is a year-long agricultural process that requires the attention of farmers, extra labour for harvesting and pruning as well as the people working in the mill.
Although there are few issues around fair trade in Italy it is something that needs to be considered nonetheless. Are farms getting their fair share of the profits? This is particularly important for small-scale farmers who have a hard time competing in the global market. When my mother and I started to import olive oil from Italy we wanted to make sure we were giving back to local communities and encouraging the continuation of agricultural practices and traditions.
Buying direct from the producer and selling direct to the client is one way in which we keep the cost of our oil reasonable. However, quality comes from careful labour, passion and expertise, which have their price. Generally these are not values espoused by industrial production.
As you may know, I am not a big fan of certifications and although Amelia Oil may not be certified fair trade, we are proud to be a part of sustainable, local agriculture in Italy.
Who came up with this silly classification in the first place? No, it does not have to do with the olives’ moral integrity, but it does take into consideration other virtues. What sets extra virgins apart from other types olive oil is mainly their low acidity (0.8% oleic acid or less). Amelia Oil was closer to 0.4% last year. Extra virgin olive oil is obtained from olives and it is not chemically altered in any way. Low acidity is what makes extra virgin olive oil so palatable and it should never taste greasy or bitter. Acidity this low can only be obtained from the first pressing of the olives. Other grades of olive oil can be chemically altered using solvents and may be obtained from the second pressing of the pits and pulp.
For more on the different classifications of olive oil grades, take a look at the Olive Oil Source site.
Next, I will try to dispel some of the myths about cold pressing and filtering.