i got this email and i'm inclined to think it's right. the olive oil i get from sam's club doesn't taste or smell like olive oil. what do you all think?
Italy and U.S. Battle Olive Oil Fraud:
Are the â€śExtra Virginsâ€ť Even â€śVirginsâ€ť At All?
By the Wayâ€¦
Whatâ€™s In Your Cupboard?
By Nancy Loseke
Filed: January 27, 2009
Italy now has food police. And Iâ€™m not talking about the infuriating squad of nutritional Nazis who discourage the enjoyment of just about any food you can think of. No, these guys are for real. Itâ€™s probable they even have badges.
In October, twenty members of a task force graduated from a special course sponsored by Italyâ€™s National Olive Association. Like the
ĂĽber-serious â€śdonâ€™t-even-think-of-petting-meâ€ť luggage-sniffing canines at airport Customs, the Italian food carabinieri have been trained to smell and taste the difference between an extra-virgin olive oil and a fakeâ€”one extended by soybean or rapeseed oil, for exampleâ€”and like wine geeks, can even pin down an oilâ€™s geographical origins.
Italy, long thought to be the source of the worldâ€™s best olive oils, lost considerable face in the international community when it was reported that some of the countryâ€™s leading producers of olive oil were perpetrating fraud on consumers there and abroad.
Most damning was an article by investigative reporter Tom Mueller in the August 13, 2007, issue of The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mueller
) . Mueller charged that only 40 per cent of olive oil sold as â€śextra-virginâ€ť actually met the standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC), the Madrid-based organization founded in 1959 to â€śdefend and protectâ€ť olive trees and olive oilâ€”and by extension, olive and olive oil consumers.
Muellerâ€™s bold, pull-no-punches exposĂ© scandalized the olive oil world, and was presumably one of the compelling catalysts for the Italian governmentâ€™s decision in late 2007 to adopt new labeling laws. Now, labels must declare where the oil was produced, right down to which farm and which press. They must also give a precise breakdown of the oils used if the bottle contains a blend.
Thatâ€™s the good news.
The bad news is that the European Union has already challenged the new law. The E.U. wants compliance to be voluntary. (Under E.U. rules, olive oil may be sold as Italian even if it contains only a small percentage of Italian oil.) Self-policingâ€”especially in an industry with ties to organized crimeâ€”sounds like an impotent solution to a widespread problem.
To its credit, Italy persists in bringing olive oil villains to justice. Last March, in a sting called â€śGolden Oil,â€ť undercover police arrested 23 people and shut down 85 farms. Weeks later, 25,000 liters of suspect oil (much of it destined for the U.S. and German market) were seized. The suspectsâ€”40 of them from nine provinces in northern and southern Italyâ€”were accused of cutting olive oil with sunflower and soybean oil and selling it as extra-virgin.
â€śItâ€™s a con, pure and simple, like selling Gucci which isnâ€™t Gucci, or a Rolex which isnâ€™t a Rolex,â€ť said Massimo Gargano, head of Unaprol, the Italian olive producersâ€™ association.
Governments are getting interested, here and abroad. But itâ€™s too early for consumers to let their guard down. For one thing, the U.S. never joined the International Olive Council, meaning America has always been a dumping ground for olive oils that couldnâ€™t meet the Councilâ€™s rigorous standards. For another, know that the phrase â€śBottled in Italyâ€ť means just that.
The weasel word, of course, is â€śbottled.â€ť Yes, the oils may have been â€śbottledâ€ť in Italy, but in all likelihood, the biggest proportion of the oils are from Spain, Greece, and the Middle East, brought through Italian ports on tankers. I am not saying oils from these other countries are necessarily badâ€”all of the aforementioned countries are capable of producing exemplary oilsâ€”but if you are buying an oil with a bucolic Italian scene on the labelâ€”Italian oil is what you should get. What would be so wrong with that?
Specifically, look for oils that say, â€ś100% Prodotto Italianoâ€ť. Which means, â€ś100% Product of Italyâ€ť. And look for a â€śuse byâ€ť date that will give you a clue as to when the oil was bottled.
Sensitized to olive oil fraud and adulteration, two forward-thinking American states, California and Connecticut, passed legislation late last year that forces producers and importers to conform to standards similar to the ones dictated by the IOC.
Their motivation was not strictly economic: Olive oil that is cut with nut or seed oils, especially when their presence is not listed on the label, can cause potentially fatal reactions in people with nut allergies. (In one of the most famous and tragic cases of olive oil adulteration, more than 450 Spaniards were killed or disabled by ingesting aniline-laced rapeseed oil that was being sold as olive oil for cooking.)
Similar laws are under consideration in other states. Fingers crossed that the USDA will ultimately take the reins and protect the other 48 states in the Union.
In the meantime, what can you personally do to avoid wasting money on counterfeit or subpar olive oils?
Freshness, of course, is critically important. Experts judge it to account for more than 80 per cent of an oilâ€™s flavor. Believe me, in the great olive-growing regions of the world, the locals are wild about it. Fresh-pressed oils are insanely bright-tasting and flavorful.
Case in pointâ€¦
A few weeks ago, I took a marvelous bottle of just-pressed Sicilian oil to my favorite hairdresser, Italian-born Gino. (Gino wears red-framed eyeglasses and used to do David Bowieâ€™s locks. I figure if he can do â€śZiggy Stardustâ€™sâ€ť hair, he can probably coax the 53 strands I have on my head into a style. But I digress.) At any rate, Ginoâ€™s brother from Rome visited over the holidays, and was astounded, Gino said, by the quality of the olive oil I gave Gino. â€śWhere did you get this wonderful oil?â€ť implored his brother. â€śIt tastes like it shouldâ€¦like olives.â€ť
Now, I happen to have a secret source. And I havenâ€™t shared it with Gino, because then heâ€™d probably plumb it himself and stop giving me free bottles of premium shampoo. But I will share my source with you.
If youâ€™re truly interested in putting olive oils of unimpeachable quality on your table, you have a couple of options.
You could, of course, press your own olives if you are lucky enough to live in an olive-friendly state like California, Texas, or Arizona. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds! A snazzy little unit for home use called First Pressâ„˘ sells for around $3000 (plus shipping and handling). It has a 4-1/2 gallon capacity, a press that can deliver 20 tons of pressure, and even comes with a dozen bottles and corks. (Hmmmâ€¦thatâ€™s about $250 a bottle, not including the olives.) First Pressâ„˘ is available from a California company called The Olive Oil Source (1-805-688-1014). Proprietor Shawn Addison told me this week heâ€™s sold dozens and gets inquiries from all over the world.
Or, hereâ€™s anotherâ€”and way more practicalâ€”option that is guaranteed to revamp and invigorate your olive oil life: Follow up on the information Iâ€™m about to give youâ€”my secret source for fresh-pressed olive oil. Youâ€™ll never look back, never browse supermarket selections of olive oil again, never wonder if youâ€™re going to be wasting money on oils the rest of the world would reject.
And now, click here if you want to significantly improve your olive oil life!
In a few days, Iâ€™ll be roaming via rental car Spainâ€™s Iberian Plain in search of phenomenal olive oil from the recently completed harvest. Iâ€™ll report my finds here next month.