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Faros Estate | Ol-eve.com

Olive Grove. Photo courtesy of ol-eve(CC No Derivatives)

     Quick! What is the first country you think of when someone says extra virgin olive oil? Most people will respond Italy. Others may have said Spain and for those who are Greek mythology enthusiasts, perhaps the country with arguably the oldest democracy came to mind. (It’s Greece :D) 

     It isn’t even really questionable why any of these would pop up in your head, as all these countries have a long-standing history when it comes to producing extra virgin olive oil. They’ve been doing it the longest, so therefore, they must produce the best. 

     Many customers talk of their Euro-trips, groves they visited, and oils they tasted and often scoff at American made virgin olive oil for the very reasons mentioned above. For wine growers in California who have been in the business long enough, this is a very familiar problem. 

     Well for starters, olive oil production did not start in either of the aforementioned regions (estimates are modern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon) and the longer one is in the game, the more problems one is bound to face, especially when volume production goes up. 

     The adulteration of extra virgin olive oil goes back, literally, thousands of years during the reign of the Roman Empire and has been steadily keeping up with the times.

“The earliest written mention of olive oil, on cuneiform tablets at Ebla in the twenty-fourth century B.C., describes teams of inspectors who toured olive mills on behalf of the king, looking for fraudulent practices…amphora fragments bear, tituli picti, stamped inscriptions or handwritten notes in black or red ink that record information such as the locality where the oil was produced, the name of the producer, the weight and quality of the oil when the amphora was sealed, and the name of the merchant who imported it, the name of the imperial functionary who confirmed this information when the amphora was reopened at its destination in Rome, and so on.”

      Recently there has been a mass awareness of the falsification of olive oil, particularly in Italy as consumption around the world increases annually. 

     It is for this reason, we have other several customers who won’t even taste European oils. 

     On the other hand,  extra virgin olive oil made in America has its beginnings in the mid 19th century when Spanish missionary priests inevitably planted the ‘mission’ varietal along the coast of California. The first commercial mill was established in 1871 and because it was difficult to compete with the European market, they and their followers eventually focused on the table fruit olive (think pizza) and used the leftovers to produce oil. 

     Recent years though has opened up the doors again for commercially accepted olive oil from the region as people are choosing extra virgin olive oil as the healthier fat alternative, and backed by the population of the U.S, the industry is growing rather quickly. In response, the state of California has created evaluation standards that exceed that of the European Union and have many programs to promote and support domestic growers and distributors. 

“The new standards include more precise methods for testing adulteration, known as PPP and DAGs, and the banning of misleading marketing terms for refined oils such as “light” and “pure.” The benchmark for free fatty acidity (FFA) is set to 0.5 percent, below the international standard of 0.8 percent.”

**the lower the FFA, the higher quality the oil     

     So which is better? Olive oil from countries that have produced it the longest, but also flood the market with cheap imitations more so than any other region of the world? 

                                                                                                        or 

     Do we trust American olive oil as a homegrown achievement that uses foresighted knowledge to limit the quantity of poorly produced oil? 

     As with many aspects of life, the answer isn’t so black and white. The short answer is both can be readily fine. 

Photo courtesy of cheeseslave(CC Attribution)

     Olive trees do not grow in any climate and prefer short, mild winters and long dry summers. Keeping that in mind, the fact that the land can even grow the tree is a good sign. (I’ve never seen an olive tree in North Carolina, have you?)

     The actual production of olive oil is a delicate and skilled process that anyone, anywhere can learn and succeed at. So in short, 

The quality of the oil is entirely dependent on the skill of the grower. 

     Knowledgeable and dedicated growers exist all over the world, in both Europe and America and beyond. In fact, these two areas have one major problem. 

They both lie in the Northern Hemisphere, and olive oil is only produced once a year. 

     So then what’s the solution? As a storefront that guarantees to its customers to keep quality controlled olive oil year-round, we will source some of our products from South America six months after the Northern American harvest. With inverse seasons, this promises that we’ll deliver a product worthy of your home. Alongside that, each oil must pass a quality and chemical analysis test before it is ever put on the shelves.

     The next time you hear of your friends boasting about visiting an Italian olive grove, let them taste a California Arbequina. An acquaintance is distressed by European oils, give them a tablespoon of a Greek Koroneiki and spread the word that the quality of the oil is entirely dependent on the grower. 

FUN FACTS

  • The Yocha Dehe have produced California olive oil for about 5 years and have their product in over 200 restaurants and won both national and international awards. (As of this writing, we carry their Arbequina) 
  • During the largest olive oil competition in the world, located in NY, the best Northern Hemisphere monovarietal winner was Japanese grower Toyohiro Takao for his Mission and Lucca varieties. (2015)
  • BIODIVERSITY! Meaning that the flavor will be swayed by the soil in which is grown. What that means to you, is that an Arbequina from Spain will taste different than an Arbequina from California, even though they may be from the same cultivar. 

Matthew 

The Olive Tap, Ballantyne

REFERENCE LINKS

Olive Oil’s Dark Side

California Approves Olive Oil Standards

Olive Oil: History, Production, and Characteristics of the World’s Classic Oils

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: American vs European

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