July 2010

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So many quips about virginity and olive oil! The UC Davis research story, released on 15 July 2010, has run throughout the country, first in USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. Other media has jumped on this “headline opportunity”.

Olive oils we all recognize as grocery store brands “imported from Italy” were found not to be of the same quality as the smaller-producer California labels. Those grocery store brands (you’d recognize the gold tins and plastic bottles), were found to have laboratory qualities which did not meet the international standards for extra virgin. For a list, see the report’s Appendix.

While it is lovely that a California university conducted research that supports the brands of California, it really supports what we knew about grocery store selections, and the purpose of our mission at Olio2go.

In the report’s conclusions, the take-away message for consumers is that the oils are indeed “olive”, albeit “refined”, and not adulterated by other oils. Lower quality (and higher acidity) oils may have been bottled, and with further exposure to heat and light, the chemical properties reached a point where they could no longer meet the standard for extra virgin. They may have met the standards (just barely!) for extra virgin when bottled, but with light and heat they have deteriorated. Is that a surprise?

Have you ever noticed how the grocery store shelves are never empty? It takes a super-sized pipeline to bottle enough olive oil to fill all of the grocery store and warehouse chains. There’s not enough high quality extra virgin olive oil to fill the pipeline. We and our artisan producers regularly run out, and when that happens we wait for the next year’s harvest.

The best advice is to know your merchant and know how your oil is stored. When you buy from Olio2go, you can be assured that your oil has been stored in the dark, in cartons, in an air conditioned warehouse. Our low acidity oils are bottled far below the possible extra virgin-to-virgin threshold, and they are warehoused in the best possible conditions. We work together with the olive oil artisans to carry the best possible oils and support the small high quality Italian producers.

Update (6 August 2010) A group of California chefs has taken this to the next level and filed suit in Orange County Superior Court. According to this AP Report, they claim false marketing and advertising using “extra virgin” on the label. How do you feel about this controversy?

Jeff’s report and photos from his recent trip to Emilia-Romagna:

Emilia-Romagna feels like two regions combined into one political unit for convenience because the geography, food, wine, and towns have a slightly different feel.  Emilia (from Piacenza to Bologna) is the classic pork and cheese region, so there is a lot of salami, prosciutto, stinco, culatello, etc. to be eaten.  The wines are the Lambrusco and Gutturnio fizzy wines that we usually think of as lesser selections, but in fact are really great if they are of good quality.  The geography is very flat. To the south lies the foothills of the Appenines, so the scenery is very pretty.  To the north is the Po River, and the landscape is very monotonous.

 Romagna is the southeast corner of the region, and includes more mountainous territory.  The food is similar, but this area is really the only olive oil producing part of the region, and so the foods tend to use more oil than in Emilia, where more butter is used.  Romagna also includes the coastal region, so there is a distinct difference in the climate for that reason, too.

In the Comacchio area, the coastal region is made up of a very large lagoon, through which the rivers meander toward the Adriatic.  Among the rivers are the Reno and parts of the Po.  This area is very flat and marshy, and Comacchio is locally famous for eels – the river banks have large nets ready to dip in for an eel harvest as the fish migrate to the Adriatic each September. Click on the photos above to see the EEL photo!

The olive producing area is centered around Brisighella and Terra del Sole, south of Faenza.  Brisighella is a very scenic hill town much like one would find in Tuscany.  Terra del Sole is a Medieval planned community, and a spa town abuts it to the south.  The Terra di Brisighella is the DOP for this area. 

We drove up to La Pennita late in the day.  That was when we got caught in the terrible hail storm. The Alina is 100% Nostrana di Brisighella olives.  Stay tuned as we will try to get this for Olio2go.

We discovered Squacquerone cheese in Brisighella, which was eaten with Gnocco Fritto – little fried puffed breads – molto delizioso!  I’m going to try to make some of that.  We also had the local artichokes – a small purple type that is cut down to the small heart and marinated and/or fried.  The local wines are Sangiovese di Romagna – very inexpensive and very good. 

As far as the cities, we enjoyed Bologna but lost interest after a couple of days.  If you do go, you should read John Grisham’s The Broker while there.  Bologna was a little gritty and filled with tourists and students.  Milan – we had a hard time finding things to do there.  (Other than the fashion sites?) Parma was a different story – we enjoyed the feel of the city and the things to do.  It was a lot less touristy and much more livable.  I would compare it to Verona in terms of a place I could live.

Parma is also where CIBUS is held – the Italian version of Fancy Food Show. 

We rented a car twice with Maggiore (part of National) and the prices were pretty inexpensive relative to Avis – it was about E70 per day for a decent sized car.  We took the train from Milan to Bologna and from Bologna to Parma, and it was an inexpensive, fast, and very easy way to go.  The  current value of the dollar made everything on the trip seem a lot less expensive.  Our meals all seemed much cheaper than in the recent past.   (Ed. Note:  Check back for next month’s Rome report).