60 Minutes (CBS news show) revealed the infiltration of the Mafia in the legitimate business of Italy’s food supply chain. It is estimated that over 350,000 farmers and producers are involved in some capacity of fraud which includes farmland as well as food production, sales and marketing. “Agro-Mafia” is the term used to describe the corruption that exists in the Italian specialties of olive oil, cheese and even wine.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the primary target for the Mafia’s “made in Italy” scams because “Liquid Gold” (EVOO) has a market price 30-50% more than olive oil. Phoney extra virgin oil is easily made by adulterating olive oil with canola or sunflower oil. The Carabinieri, Italy’s state police, conducted tests of olive oil and more than half the bottles were tainted. The International Olive Council (IOC) publishes standards for different grades of olive oil- extra virgin, virgin, etc. But USA does not follow IOC standards and the FDA (US) has adopted regulations which are ambiguous and thus unenforceable. So, it’s no surprise that much of EVOO sold in America is fraudulent!
Lacking stricter regulations from FDA to improve labeling, use these guidelines to select extra virgin olive oil.
- Look for “country of origin” (often omitted) and the terms “made in Italy” and “produced(bottled) in Italy” are MEANINGLESS
- Select 100% extra virgin olive oil made from Italian or Spanish olives
- Avoid oil in clear containers (light degrades EVOO)
- Avoid old product – not older than two harvests (current year -2)
- If you can do a taste test, the taste and smell is like raw olives – grassy, clean.
I purchased these bottles at a local market. All bottles were labeled extra virgin olive oil with origins from Italy, Spain, California and Tunisia. In a blind taste test with friends, everyone isolated one as very different using descriptors such as “oily, greasy and weak”. This was DeCecco, a popular brand, which had the appearance of “made in Italy” (front label) until the small print on back label identified the source as “TN” (Tunisia).
I hope this diversion into olive oil provides the knowledge to select quality products – 100% extra virgin olive oil is a healthy specialty food to be appreciated by all!
Cheers, Bob the WineGuy
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