Why be picky about the origins of your olive oil?
For centuries, the cultivation of the olive has played a significant role in the economy, society, and diet of Mediterranean people. In fact, the oil that comes from pressing the olive -- olive oil -- was so valuable to Mediterranean culture that the Greek poet Homer called it “liquid gold.” Today, this relationship has changed little, and in no country is that demonstrated better than in Italy. Italians' love affair with olive oil continues to transcend the economic and commercial aspects of the olive trade as olive oil remains an essential part of the country’s traditions.
It is because of this respect for olive oil that Italy, along with many other European countries, maintains strict standards for olive oil production as a way of guaranteeing quality for its consumers. It is important to Italians to protect these long-cherished practices that have become an integral part of their diet.
The International Olive Council (IOC), formerly known as the International Olive Oil Council, is the world’s only intergovernmental organization in the field of olive oil. With over 98% of the world's producers as members, the IOC contributes to the sustainable and responsible development of olive growing, establishes and maintains product trade standards which are recognized internationally, and works towards quality improvement for the olive and olive oil industries.
Surprisingly, the United States is not a member of the IOC. In fact, the US is the only major oil-producing or oil-consuming country that does not adhere to IOC standards. In the US, olive oil is given labels like “fancy,” “choice,” and “standard.” These terms were established by the USDA in 1948 and haven’t changed since. Therefore, terms like “extra virgin” have no real meaning in US food labeling laws. US companies producing olive oil can use the term “extra virgin” freely on their labels (even if it is false or misleading) and have no real consequences.
On the other hand, extra virgin olive oil coming from a country like Italy, which has adopted the standards of the IOC, is guaranteed for its quality and taste. According to standards published by the IOC, olive oil must be obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree and must not be mixed with oils of any other kind, like seed or nut. In addition, neither solvents nor reesterification processes (which alter the glyceride structure) must be used in production. For olive oil to qualify as virgin or extra virgin, it must meet even stricter specifications: for example, extra virgin olive oil must have no more than 0.8% acidity.
Many Italian olive oils adhere to even higher standards of quality than required by the IOC. The Italian IGP (Italian: Indicazione Geografica Protetta) seal is a label given by an official consortium of regional olive farmers. For example, the consortium controlling the IGP label distribution in the region of Tuscany is called Consorzio per la Tutela dell’Olio Extravergine di Oliva Toscano IGP. This label ensures that the olives are picked from, and that the extra-virgin olive oil is made and bottled in, established regions in Tuscany. The label also ensures that the olive oil never exceeds 0.6% acidity (a stricter standard than that of the IOC) and that the growing and picking methods adhere to traditions and standards set by the council. A bottle of olive oil with the IGP quality seal comes with an individual number on the bottle that can actually be tracked online to guarantee origin: http://www.oliotoscanoigp.it/ita/tracciabilita.html
Choosing an olive oil imported from Italy, with the IGP quality seal from Tuscany, guarantees not only IOC quality, but also the high standards set by the Tuscan Olive Oil Consortium. Consumers are guaranteed the taste of an olive oil produced within a specific region, and with methods that have been tried and tested by Tuscans for centuries.
Tuscan olive oil has its own specific characteristics: the color is green to golden yellow with chromatic tones that change over time; the scent fruity with strong tones of almond, artichoke, ripened fruit, and green leaf; and new olive oil has an almost spicy finish that tickles the throat.
While consumption of olive oil in the United States has seen a significant increase in the past few years, consumers are having trouble finding their bearings in a crowded and confusing marketplace filled with unknown foreign importers and unregulated US olive oil producers. For those looking for a quality olive oil, it can be difficult to tell the difference between products of genuine high quality and specialty products of a lower standard which may be posing as the genuine article.
Consumers should look for olive oils imported from IOC member countries to guarantee that they receive the best quality and the most genuine product available. Olive oil importers like Oliva Toscana, an American online retail company offering oils from Tuscany, has made olive oil selection easier for the consumer by providing the quality standards for which the IOC is known and for which Italy is loved.
Article by Oliva Toscana LLC. With Oliva Toscana, whether you purchase the Tuscan extra virgin olive oil in the chianti-style bottle or the twin oil and vinegar set, you are guaranteed that all of Oliva Toscana's oil is of IOC quality. Oliva Toscana also offers Casale Toscano, an extra virgin olive oil of both IOC and IGP quality. These and other products can be found at Oliva's webstore, http://olivatoscana.gourmetfoodmall.com.