100% Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Here's How To Recognize It
Italy is a strongly olive-growing nation and most of the Italian extra virgin olive oil comes from the south of the peninsula (85% of the total): Puglia, Calabria, Campania and Sicily. Extra virgin olive oil is an indispensable food in children's nutrition and should be introduced from the earliest stages of weaning, i.e. already around 6 months. In fact, it contributes to bone formation, to the myelination process of the brain and to growth; it is also an excellent aid for the immune system.
3 Elements to Recognize 100% Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First of all it is right to consider the fact that it is necessary to be able to recognize an olive oil and its origin. Here we see exactly how to understand if the oil we are about to buy is Italian or not.
- The label : thoroughly read the label, which may seem the most obvious thing but which is too often underestimated. Based on the current laws on the control of the oil production chain (more generally on everything related to food) producers are required to enter the country of origin of the raw material (olives in this case) and its processing, under penalty of very high fines up to the withdrawal of the product from the market and warning from the body in charge of control.
- The price : an excellent quality extra virgin olive oil costs between €8 and €12 per litre . What costs less than that is either not Italian or is mixed with oils of dubious origin!
- Sensory Evaluation : this term indicates the evaluation that would usually be done through the scent and the taste of the oil of olive. To carry it out, it will be enough to deeply smell the oil poured into a glass in minimal quantities, even if this evaluation is much more complicated and more "for experts" let's say. The same goes for the oil tasting, a good oil, especially if new oil , it will have to lightly pinch and be a little bitter .
Other aspects to understand if an Extra Virgin Olive Oil is 100% Italian
We can identify an Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil according to some guidelines, namely:
- Differences with foreign oil
- Tunisian oil
- Laws and regulations
- EEC Regulation 1531/2001
- Production differences Italy/Abroad
History of Italian Oil
The Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil is an Italian excellence recognized all over the world, thanks to its Mediterranean climate. A product that has numerous beneficial properties, which make it a fundamental element for a healthy and balanced diet. It is the precious gift of a widespread plant known all over the world as " GREEN GOLD " on our tables and which represents a symbol of Mediterranean civilization. But its history is lost over the centuries, over the millennia. It involves different spaces, peoples and cultures. It has marked the traditions and economies of entire communities.
The roots of this story are in the Middle East. The oldest oil mills have been found in Palestine, dating back to several millennia before Christ. It then spread to Egypt, Crete, Attica and throughout the Mediterranean basin thanks to the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. In fact, it was the Greeks who introduced it into Italy around 1000 BC, and the Etruscans who cultivated it and gave the name to its most precious fruit: “ ELEIVA ”, the oil.
The Romans then spread the techniques of cultivation, pressing and conservation in all the conquered countries. Over the centuries, olive groves have thus become a characteristic of our country. As evidenced by the tools and archaeological finds unearthed over the years, oil has always been present in the uses and rituals of everyday reality.
Today for us oil is above all a precious food, healthy, genuine, tasty and an inevitable condiment on all our tables typical of Mediterranean cuisine. This is where our oil comes from, a delicious taste of our present and the fruit of past experience.
In fact, Italian extra virgin olive oil retains all the ancient flavor born of remote wisdom and coming from a long history that preserves the secret of genuineness and delicacy of a pure and precious extra virgin olive oil, because the best things are always the most simple and the most natural .
Characteristics of Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Each oil is linked to its own territory, and therefore synthesizes each autochthonous cultivar (variety) of olives from which it is produced. There are hundreds of varieties of olives, which have different shapes and sizes and are characterized by a different ratio between stone and pulp and therefore by a variable average oil content. Their productivity depends on many climatic and cultural factors, which determine full production.
For Extra Virgin Olive Oil, also known as EVO oil , means an oil obtained from the pressing of olives , the fruit of the Olea Europea Leccino plant (better known as the olive tree). Extra virgin olive oil extraction processes can only take place mechanically , without the use of chemicals.
To defend against counterfeiting, the Protected Designation of Origin ( PDO ) and Protected Geographical Indication ( PGI ) brands were established, which envisage the use of traditional techniques and restrictive and severe standards (compliance with which is guaranteed by an independent body of control), with the intention of guaranteeing a superior quality product. With this guarantee it is possible to choose the real Italian extra virgin oil by tracing its true certified and high-quality origin from the first olive-growing chain.
The quality of an olive oil depends on many factors: the cultivar, the state of the olive tree and the fruit at the time of harvesting, the technology followed in production, harvesting and extraction, the storage conditions.
To obtain the maximum quality and organoleptic specificity, cutting-edge technologies are used, without forgetting local traditions and specificities.
In order to be called virgin olive oil, it must be obtained from the fruit of the olive tree only by mechanical processes, in conditions, especially in terms of temperature, which do not cause alterations to the oil. An “ extra virgin ” olive oil must have an oleic acid content (degree of acidity) of less than 0.8%.
Differences with foreign oil
What worries producers terribly is that, in the face of a poor internal harvest, there is a huge import of foreign oils and all this would cause great economic damage. Italy is still the second world producer of oil after Spain, but there are countries in great expansion such as the countries of North Africa, California, Australia, South Africa and Chile. And it is from these countries that I took the oil when it is lacking in Italy, but often the quality is not as excellent as ours and the labels printed on the bottles clearly show it.
The parliamentary document analyzes the main phenomena of crime. A disturbing collection that goes from product alterations to real sophistication. Among the most common practices is the so-called "paper oil" . These are fictitious productions of extra virgin olive oil, supported by false invoices, through which "foreign olive oils are introduced into our country which are thus included among Italian extra virgin olive oil productions and placed on the market as oils of Italian origin". It is a phenomenon that until a few years ago was close to 100-200 thousand tons per year (up to 30 percent more than real production). But which in recent times – above all thanks to the introduction of the National Agricultural Information Service – seems to have been reduced "to a few tens of thousands of tons".
Also important is the fact that the harvest is done by hand rather than with machines; usually, in our country it is done by hand. It is also true that in this way all the olives are collected and not just those that fall induced by the machine, which are the most fragile ones.
In fact, the olives are collected on nets, by beating the branches with sticks, to favor the detachment of the fruits, but there is also hand-picking with ladders, which allows you to choose only intact and ripe fruits, to obtain an oil of fragrant olive and free from unpleasant odors.
The ideal is to buy the oils where it is possible to taste them and understand their characteristics, better therefore from the olive producer directly, at the mills, the markets of Campagna Amica or specialized shops such as oil libraries.
Even when we're at the restaurant we expect the oil to be served in labeled bottles with a non-refillable cap as required by law, oil cruets are prohibited.
Counterfeit Tunisian Oil Truth or Legend
The companies that in Italy are discovered selling counterfeit extra virgin olive oils are now on the agenda, more and more often people try to sell Tunisian oil by passing it off as Italian, but between the two there is a clear qualitative difference linked to all the supply chain.
If some artisan mills still produce quality oil, large companies often take advantage of the low price of the foreign product by reselling it as community oil and passing it off, behind their label, as Italian oil. Obviously the consumer will be attracted by the low price and the false wording but will not cook with high quality Italian oil.
We are invaded by Tunisian oil, quadrupled in a few months. And Italian producers have warehouses full of unsold extra virgin olive oil. An exemplary story about how we hurt ourselves, bringing a strategic sector of the national economy to its knees. And how we fail to defend our interests in Europe. The competition's match is lost from the start: Tunisian oil costs 2 euros, Italian oil 8 euros. On the basis of a series of agreements made within the European Union with Tunisia, there are still large margins of oil that Tunisians can easily sell in our markets, recovering quotas that they have not yet fully exploited.
Two out of three bottles that end up on Italian tables contain Tunisian, Spanish and Greek oil . An absurd waste of wealth, well-being and work. A deadly blow to our agriculture, on which, among other things, many of our young people are courageously betting. In particular, then the consumer is greatly harmed, since on the Tunisian oil label it is enough to write “ blend of Community and non-Community oil ”, obviously in tiny letters. So that no one understands that they are using Tunisian oil when they think they are buying a typical product Made in Italy .
The damage to the Italian system , as Coldiretti rightly protested, is enormous . As we quadruple Tunisian oil imports, Italian growers' warehouses are full of unsold Made in Italy extra virgin olive oil product. Not only. Competition does not exist: our oil, of great quality and efficacy for the health of consumers, has high production costs, incomparable with those of Tunisian farmers. Tunisian oil, in fact, thanks to a poorly paid workforce and the absence of a series of health guarantees and controls both on the product and on the workers, paid illegally and without social security coverage, costs around 2 euros per litre. The Italian one 7 euros per litre. And so the game is lost from the start. Furthermore, with this passage a new glimmer opens up for counterfeiting which has already exceeded, in the agri-food sector alone, 60 billion euros a year , costing Italy something like 300,000 jobs .
Unfortunately, with a new community regulation, the marketing of the so-called " deodorized " oils is favored, those obtained from mixtures and sophistications of various types, to the detriment of the quality and genuineness of real extra virgin olive oil, the 'smell of oil to hide the smell of rotten olives, because too much time has passed between harvesting and processing or because they were harvested from the ground and not from the tree.
The olives must be harvested at their right moment of ripeness.
Legislation and Regulations for Oil
The result of pressing the olives is not always an impeccable oil from a qualitative point of view: there are many factors that combine to determine the unique and unrepeatable character of that oil pressed at that moment.
For this reason, the evaluation of the quality of an oil is carried out on a capillary basis on individual product lots: a sample is taken from each lot, subjected to the most stringent taste tests and examinations, and only afterwards can it be decided which of the classes defined by the community regulations the product of that pressing belongs.
The classification of oils according to strict parameters was promoted by the European Community to safeguard the high commodity value of olive oil, preventing its mixing with oils of lesser commercial value, such as pomace and seed oils, thus trying to guarantee the consumer from the dangers of fraud and adulteration.
Virgin is defined as any oil that has not been subjected to any other extraction process than the strictly mechanical one, without the use of solvents or other chemical manipulations , and which has not been mixed with oils of any other nature. To deserve the designation of extra virgin it must prove to be completely free from defects in tasting and fully compliant with the chemical-physical parameters of which one of the most important is the degree of free acidity (expressed as a percentage by weight of oleic acid).
Therefore the quality recognized to the extra virgin olive oils is the result of two different orders of investigation: on the one hand the chemical-physical analyses, aimed at ascertaining the real composition of the fatty matter and its acidity; on the other, the organoleptic examination, panel – test, which judges the oil from the point of view of its visual, olfactory and taste characteristics and evaluates its strengths and weaknesses.
EEC REGULATION 1531/2001
The production and denomination of extra virgin olive oil is controlled and protected by European legislation in art. 35 of the reg. EC 1513/2001 , which defines it as a product obtained from the first pressing of olives through mechanical processes, therefore without recourse to chemical processes or substances, in conditions that do not cause alterations to the oil and whose free acidity, expressed in oleic acid, is not higher than 0.8%.
In order to be marketed, each type of food product follows certain rules: from foods to wines, all food and wine products must comply with laws issued from time to time by the Italian State or by the European Union; these sets of rules serve to dictate good practices in both cultivation and production and bottling. There is also legislation on extra virgin olive oil , and today we will see it together.
In addition to the legislation on the commercial denomination, there is one on the classification of the different oils on an organoleptic basis, which obviously also includes the extra virgin one: it is the EEC Regulation 1531/2001 of the Council of 23 July 2001 , which came into force on 1 November 2003 , which effectively regulates all denominations of virgin, extra virgin and pomace olive oils.
In 2016, the laws already in place were joined by those contained in a new regulation, which particularly affected the labeling of extra virgin olive oil .
First you need to know that the label is one of the least static parts of the production of extra virgin olive oil : the regulations in this regard change continuously, adding and deleting obligations and wordings to be indicated on the bottle.
We can say that the olive oil label is divided into two parts : the one with mandatory indications to be reported and the one with optional information . Mandatory information is strictly regulated by both national and international regulations and ideally helps the consumer understand what he is actually buying; the optional ones, on the other hand, help producers to distinguish their products on the market based on purity and excellence.
As mentioned above, the information changes according to the regulations; from 13 December 2016, in fact, companies had to equip themselves for two changes to be reported on the label : one relating to the nutritional values (actually already contained in the community regulation 1169/2011, but whose term started from that date), the other at the minimum conservation term .
Production Differences Italy/Abroad
When it comes to oil, there is no region of origin that is better than the other. There are virtuous management techniques of the olive grove, harvesting, transformation and conservation that allow to obtain a quality product. In short, good oils are those made well. In Italy we have excellent oils and a large choice of olive varieties, a biodiversity that allows us to have more particular tastes.
The differences between the extra virgin olive oils produced in Italy and those of other countries all reside in the presence of a particular chemical heritage , consisting of a hundred molecules, possessed by the Italian product but not by the foreign one which contributes to the formation of its taste and of its organoleptic characteristics. It is, therefore, the territory that makes the difference , as evidenced by the concentration of oil production in some specific areas of Italy: Puglia is the region from which most of the olives destined for the production of oil (38%), followed by Calabria (22%), Sicily and Campania (9%) and Lazio (5%).
If in terms of volumes of olive oil production Italy does not reach the top, it is however true that speaking of quality the situation changes . No other country can boast the heritage of biodiversity, culture and certifications present in Italy.