17 Apr Why Real EVOO Isn’t Cheap (and Why It Shouldn’t Be)
Real extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) isn’t cheap. And, it shouldn’t be, because producing the real deal — high-quality EVOO that is bright, spicy and pungent — is difficult, time-consuming and costly. When you taste a real, quality EVOO, you immediately know the difference. Cheap EVOO is an oxymoron. It’s either not extra virgin (despite the label), or it’s illegally blended with seed oils (that are extracted with solvents) or old olive oil, or both.
So why is it so hard to produce EVOO? Here are some reasons:
- Defects – In addition to a specified chemical profile, EVOO cannot have any defects. No musty, fusty, vinegary, metallic or rancid flavors allowed. This means that the producer must maintain rigorous standards in harvesting, milling and storage of the oil.
- Hand harvesting – Those gorgeous, old olive trees must be harvested by hand. Such a lovely tradition. The olive harvest is my favorite time of the year. However, is extremely time consuming.
- Difficulties of consistent harvesting – Alternate-year bearing, bad weather, poor harvests, all contribute to difficulties. Of the over 1500 varieties of olive trees (the vast majority of which are located in Italy), many bear fruit only every other year. If the weather doesn’t cooperate in a “bearing” year, the olive farmer could go several years without a sellable harvest.
- Expensive milling – High-quality EVOO is no longer pressed or milled using traditional methods. Using granite millstones and fiber mats that are reused over and over again, is no longer acceptable. These methods expose the olives to oxygen throughout the entire milling process, can’t control excess heat, and lead to oxidation and rancidity. New milling machinery that protects the olives from oxygen and maintains low milling temperatures are expensive but are becoming the norm for high-quality EVOOs.
- Timing – Milling must occur within several hours of harvesting the olives. This prevents the olives from fermenting, which leads to a number of significant defects in the olive oil.
- Living food – Because EVOO is simply the fresh juice of the olive, it does not have a long shelf life. Well-produced oil can last up to two years if stored unopened in a cool, dark place. It is best used within a year.
Real EVOO from producers who use only high-quality fruit and maintain strict control over harvesting, milling and storage is extremely healthy. Defective olive oil is not.
To ensure that the extra virgin olive oil you are buying is the real thing –
- KNOW YOUR PRODUCER. If that’s not possible, buy your olive oil from a trusted importer with personal relationships with their producers.
- Check the HARVEST date. A “best by” date is better than no date at all. However, it often is based upon when the oil was bottled, not when it was harvested and pressed. If the oil is two years old, it is likely at the end of its shelf life.
- Expect to pay a realistic price. When the oil is cheap, it’s not likely extra virgin, and it is almost certainly rancid and/or adulterated.
- Taste your olive oil without any food. You should look for it to taste and smell fresh. Certainly not “buttery”, which is rancidity. And, it should not leave a greasy feeling on your lips. Pungency and bitterness are what you should look for, while it should finish with a good, strong cough.