Sunday, December 18, 2011

US Regulations on EVOO

      I'm sitting here, marveling at our new green extra virgin olive oil, made from the olives that grow in our field, and I'm thinking about some recent comments online that all Mediterranean oil tastes alike. This is so not true.

       Like grapes, the taste of olives develops according to geography, soil, air, altitude, time of harvest, type of tree, and climate. So, my olives in Umbria will produce oil that tastes differently from somebody else’s in Liguria or Crete or Chile or California. 

        Unfortunately, many Americans, who often buy mass produced olive oil in the supermarket, have never had the chance to taste the really good stuff. The good news is that more olive oil specialty shops are opening across the US, as well as in France and northern Europe, making fresh oil more accessible. You'll find a whole section on tasting oils in my app, OLIVE OIL IQ.

        There's a lot of talk about fraud and certainly some of it is true. It's really important to read the labels, but it's even more essential to try the oils. Buying olive oil is a lot like buying wine -- find a label you like by trial and error. But, unlike wine, you don't want to buy "aged" olive oil  and you don't want to keep it longer than three months after you've opened it.

        In any case, when the regulations are lax, mis-labeling and fraud will seek the vacuum. In 2010, for the first time since 1948, the USDA revised its standards for olive oil, bringing them more closely in line with the standards adhered to by the International Olive Council and producers worldwide, including those in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey. (The IOC is an intergovernmental UN agency representing over 95% of world olive oil production.)

        The US is not a member of the IOC and the new US standards are voluntary, not required. The changes were requested by the US olive oil industry in an effort to create fairness in the marketplace-- their position was that because there was no precise definition for categories of olive oil in the US, unscrupulous blenders have been producing low quality olive oil and marketing it as extra virgin olive oil at a premium price.  Hopefully, these standards will make a significant difference in the quality of imported and domestic oil available to Americans. 

        My Italian husband remembers living in Denmark as a teen-ager, back when olive oil was only available in small bottles in the pharmacies. Imagine an Italian family with five children struggling to make pasta with an eyedropper of oil. Mamma mia, what a tragedy.  Today, olive oil is available everywhere, some brands better than others. Getting the best is a joint venture that includes regulations on both the sending and receiving ends of the process, as well as involved consumers who are willing to educate themselves about the product they are buying.

copyright 2011 Sharri Whiting

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