In light of 60 Minutes Jan. 3rd story on olive oil fraud in Italy we've received a lot of questions on how consumers can be sure that what they're buying is an authentic extra virgin olive oil and not one of the fakes that are being produced and exported world wide by the agromafia in Italy. Here are some tips to help ensure that what you're buying is a true extra virgin.
1. Look for the city or area of production on the label; usually the back label. It will often say "produced and bottled by: (name of producer and their location or address) or at the bare minimum it will have the producers name and address. It is not enough to just say "product of Italy". This could mean that the bottle contains olive oil that was produced in another country and shipped to Italy and bottled there.
2. Always look for a harvest date on the bottle. Good producers will list the date the olives were harvested. In Italian it will say "Raccolta (harvest or crop)" followed by the date. Only buy oil within 18 months of the date of harvest. The fresher the better! Don't buy oil that only lists a "best by" date. This means nothing as you don't know when the olives were harvested. They could have been harvested 4 years ago in which case the oil will be rancid.
3. Price matters. Producing good quality, authentic extra virgin olive oil is not cheap! The average price for a good bottle of evoo in today's market is between $30 - 40.00. There are exceptions (our Forcella Organic is $24) but remember they are exceptions. So why can supermarkets sell oil for $12.00 a bottle? Unfortunately that's a false market price as it's likely they are not true extra virgins. They are most often inferior oils that are being illegally labelled and sold as extra virgin.
4. D.O.P certification. You will sometimes see olive oils with a D.O.P. stamp on the label. D.O.P stands for "Denominazione di Originie Protetta" or "Protected Designation of Origin". This ensures that a product is entirely produced in a given territory, from the origin of its raw materials through to the final production process. Note; not all true extra virgin oils will carry this designation as producers have to apply to be certified D.O.P. and the process can be timely as well as costly. We know many producers of great oils that don't bother getting D.O.P. certified because of the extra hassle. Remember even if the label says D.O.P. you still want to make sure that the harvest date is no more than 18 months old.
5. Only buy oil sold in dark glass bottles or stainless steel containers. Never buy oil in clear glass or plastic bottles as light deteriorates the quality of the oil and turns it rancid. If the oil is in a clear glass or plastic bottle it's most likely not a true extra virgin. This being said, there are a few producers of good quality extra virgin that still use clear bottles. However the bottle is most often packaged inside a box for retail sale. This ensures that it is not exposed to light while sitting on store shelves. If you purchase one of these, I encourage you to protect the oil by keeping the bottle stored in the box at home as well. This will help maximize the life of your oil.
6. Always buy your evoo from an educated, trusted retailer. A good retailer of premium extra virgin olive oils should have some education in olive oil so ask them where they trained or how they obtained their expertise. They should have good knowledge of each of their products along with knowledge of the producers and the harvest dates. Ideally they should personally know the producers and have visited their farms to see the growing, harvesting and producing processes first hand. Most importantly, a good retailer will only carry fresh oils from caring producers who pour their souls into creating good quality oil!
We'd love to hear your thoughts or questions on these tips!