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The diffusion of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in northern Europe: an insight !

Carlo Trobia


October 17, 2012

Here is a little something I wrote in the Caribb

confusing things here. OK: this is a little something that I post in reply to an article in Dutch (I actually believe it was in Flemish. Unbelievable, but true, in 2010 there is still "Flemish", and someone uses it to write! Amazing. Links and stuff at the end of the post.

that was "The Penis Song", I'm


""Olive oil stink!", correct! The bad one does, indeed. Indeed you can tell very easily a bad oil from a good one: uncork the bottle and smell, is it sour, acidic? Please, leave that bottle on the shelf, and pass the message to the generation before yours. And I will say that trade fair are truly not the "fairest" source of information Let's therefore proceed to some basic key-points: E.V.O.O. (Extra Vergin Olive Oil in short) and butter are different kinds of "food magic", one is a purely veg juice (as you rightly mentioned), the other is a kind of extra-condensed milk (mostly its fatty part). They do different things, they taste different. Some people use it indistinctly but we state it now and forever: it is a mistake, even if you are Belgian, pun in- tended! What does the magic than consist in? Smoothing, mostly, but not exclu- sively. The fat particles cover certain receptors of our tongue and the food tastes better, but that's not it: certain minerals in these two condiments (as I would con- sider them) make them taste good together with other foods. Or do they? Olive oil tastes good on itself! Isn't that as per your article, one of the requirements for a ge- neric olive oil to be labelled "Extra virgin"? I beg your pardon, I will therefore cor- rect myself: E.V.O.O. does taste good! Meaning: a good, very good oil tastes NICE by itself! Try that with butter! Go ahead, chomp on a chunk of butter, or melt it down and sip it warm. Brrrr! Disgusting, isn't it?? BIG difference than, keep it in mind. And that partially explains the success of such a product (E.V.O.O.) in coun- tries which are strong butter producers and with a strong butter culture: E.V.O.O. tastes good! I will say extremely so, but I do admit to be partial, in this querelle. I trade and sell quality olive oil for passion, having been something completely differ- ent in a previous life. I love butter and I use it when I need it, which is: bread, butter and jam (it will NOT taste good with olive oil), when finishing a risotto, which I "started" with olive oil, by the way (so you do use butter and oil together, yes!) and in few other occasions (with anchovies, yum!) and I will never get caught without a

The diffusion of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in northern Europe: an insight !


butter "bullion" in my fridge. That said: my butter consumption is quite low com- pared to E.V.O.O. Maybe because I am Italian (but I've been living abroad for more than 10 years), most probably because I love it, certainly because I got lucky and started with the good one, I am an E.V.O.O.-centric cook. Which means that I will use E.V.O.O. for everything and anything EXCEPT few specific uses that will make me open fridge, take the bullion out and carve out a generous amount of butter. Not the other way around, and, I believe, more than marketing the goodness of the in- gredient as well as the tastiness of the food is spreading E.V.O.O. and its cuisines (Italian, southern French, Spanish, etc) north towards cold and butter producing (and consuming) countries. Because it tastes good, because it's healthier, because it's easy and quick to prepare. THOSE are the reason why it became so popular therefore fashionable, not the other way around. And thank God for that! The meat- and-potato (fried in butter, holy baloney! How about the good old beef tallow??) McDonald's style meal has enjoyed much a bigger marketing budget, believe me, and it is still losing the battle: as soon as people turn older, wealthier, more edu- cated, or a combination of those, they switch to "the healthier alternative". China, Japan are starting producing E.V.O.O., You said yourself that Australia and South Africa are already there! Humanity evolves learning about and adopting best prac- tices, not sticking to "traditions". Otherwise we would be still hanging from trees, like our ape cousins.

And now to the core business: quality. Italy is the second producer of olive oil but

the first producer of E.V.O.O., and one of the greatest importer of "olive oil", what does that mean? That we deal a lot with oil. That we consume more than we pro- duce, that we like it good (hence the greater percentage of extra-vergin produced against the total) and that we leave the production of the mostly second-rate oils,

mostly, to Spain, and for a good reason: the biggest Italian brands belong to

Bertolli, Carapelli and Sasso belong, together with Carbonell and other brands, to the SOS GROUP, actually the largest olive oil producer in the world. A quality pro- ducer? I probably cannot say so, and the März-Carapelli case certainly gives food for thought. For those who didn't follow it: the German magazine "Merum" published an article in 2005 after a joint research with De Stern and ZDF television channel about olive oil on the shelf of Germany, which resulted, in large part, of "poor or very poor" quality. In 2006 one of the producers mentioned, as Merum is proud to tell the sinner, more than the sin itself, sue the magazine and the journalist, An- dreas März, for libeling but in May 2009 the competent tribunal (Pistoia, where März, who's an olive oil producer itself, therefore knows quite a good deal about it)


The diffusion of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in northern Europe: an insight !


declare that the libeling was not there, since none of the statement printed was false! And guess what? Carapelli didn't appeal the verdict. So that's it, quite a tomb- stone on the "quality" of olive oil of big producers.

If you'd like to read more (in German):

And quality is paramount, the difference between E.V.O.O. and just an olive oil is the same between a fine wine and just some grape juice you squeezed yourself and store in a bottle to ferment, will that make a nice bottle? Will you give it to your fa- ther in law for Christmas? I guess you would not, and rightly so. Therefore: it HAS to be good, and to be good there have to be a few requirements to be followed:

1) hand picked, and at the right time. Hand picked means that you don't spoil the olive with something harder than its skin itself, "shaking" the tree been an option when the olive is quite mature, basically black, which is when will almost naturally

fall by itself. But as every olive oil producer will tell you, the longer you wait to col- lect the olives, the more oil you get, but the lowest its quality. That's why most of the quality E.V.O.O. producers pick the olives when they're still quite green, and they will not fall, even if you shake the tree with an earthquake

2) squeezed as soon as possible? Yes but with some forewords

by the olive fly, which deposit eggs which turn into larvae which feed with the pulp

that we usually squeeze to get the oil, if you squeeze too early, the larvae won't come

out of the olive and you'll squeeze it as well

seems to be leaving the olive spread on nets for 24 hours to allow pests to leave the olive and then bring them to the mill. The key factor seems to be to avoid to pile up olives in bunches which will only squash them and ferment them, causing unwanted acidity level. 3) from a small estate. There's no "boutique" in olive oil, I don't believe in it, but I believe in producers who are proud and feel strongly associated with their product, therefore, will have much more troubles sending the "wrong bottle" to the tasting panel. Yes, there's a tasting panel, as you mentioned, it is mandatory for the pro- ducer to submit a sample for qualified tasting to be able to call its oil "extra vergine", olive oil been quite unique in the market as, I believe, the only product which gets tasted before being labelled. Each olive oil. Therefore, since every pro- ducer has to send sample bottles, there's a lot of "fooling around" with all those bot-

the olive is pested


best, and most expensive solution

The diffusion of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in northern Europe: an insight !


tles! But it's quite different for small estates: their name is on the label, and they are there to be found in their estate, most of the time, therefore if you are not 100% convinced of your expensive purchase, you know where to find them! Try your luck and send an email to the brand manager in the consumer division of the Grupo SOS to complain you didn't really think his oil was that good! Good luck, and good night.

Not to mention: large estates means more time to the collect and more time to the mill, and more mills even and storage facilities in protected atmosphere for ideal preservation, and not every olive oil deserve it! Let's face it, there are a lot of olive oils which simply don't taste good enough! They're too bitter, too light, etc, though being perfectly healthy and nutritious. These oils will go feeding the production chain of generic "extra virgin" and "virgin olive oil", which are sometimes made with blends of 10-12 different oils, just to obtain a mix which is suitable for the market, meaning, which taste good enough and makes the highest possible margin, at the lowest possible cost.

With a small estate you will not be able to have all this "alchemy" going around. Two or three "cultivars" are the norm for many of the small and medium producers, even better: the DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) grants that those cultivars are the real deal, are the real "Parmigiano Reggiano" made in the area of Parma and Reggio (and few selected others), not in Germany! Or Morocco, Tunisia or Turkey, in the case of E.V.O.O. Those oils are perfectly fine, when you want to buy Turkish or Moroccan olive oil, but they sound like a cheat when you're purchasing some- thing that the marketing says: "Grown in the sun of Tuscany!"

At last, one note: there is a lot of fun in tasting olive oil (how about butter?), just like there's in tasting wine. Monocultivars are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reasons: all of the E.V.O.O.s, nowadays, tend to taste the same. Good, in

general, but quite similar. It's the market, baby! Just like a LOT of wines are tasting

similar because of Mr. Robert Parker (Oakish? Vanillish? Sweetesh?Brrr

discover what a real "olive juice" is tasting like, consumers are willing to experi- ment, and I have seen them happy, very happy of their discoveries! As I don't carry yet any monocultivar in my selection, I do a lot of tasting privately for those who would like to try. It is still a niche market, but I am pretty sure the Zinfandel "in pu- rity" is not for everyone, either!

) so to

As always, reading and growing informed is the best thing to do, there are many good publications available on the market, from true experts like Judy Ridgway,

The diffusion of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in northern Europe: an insight !


Marco Oreggia, etc. It is of paramount importance that we know more about the food we eat and how we spend our money! A concluding examples:

To hand-pick a 100 kg of olives an expert worker will have to work 10 hours (and it is hard work!!!), 10 kg being 2500 olives of medium size (4 gr) and those 100 kg can yield something like 15 liters of olive oil (but that's on the high side, quality produc- ers can get as low as 8!) in a good year. How much are you willing to pay that worker? 10 euros per hour? 15 euros per hour? Just to give you an idea, a baby- sitter can ask you easily 7-8 euros per hour, in Italy. But let's say 10 euros.

So you have a VERY good worker (100kg in 10 hours!!! 25,000 olives a day!) which work hard for little (10 euros/hour) and you get a GOOD result in your harvest, col- lecting 15 lts of olive oil from your olives, therefore spending 100 euros for 15 lts or 6,7 euros per liter

I repeat: 6,7 /lt, or 3,35 /500 ml or 5 /750 ml.

Just to pick-up the olives.

You then realize that if someone is asking 3-4 euros for a 500 ml bottle of "excel- lent" Italian extravirgin olive oil (some supermarket chain here in Holland do that) you are left wondering: "how can a bottle of oil costs less than a packet of ciga- rette???"