Extra virgin olive oil guide

Italian olive oil is one of the best in the world: there is no doubt about that. However, the selection of Italian olive oils is enormous: so the question arises: How do I recognize good olive oil from Italy?

First of all, it must be an extra virgin olive oil. True connoisseurs of Italian olive oil know, however, that this designation is by no means sufficient, as there are also great differences in quality within the “Extra Vergine” category. In this article you will find (almost) everything you should know about Italian olive oil.

Italian Extravirgin Olive Oil: delicious on bread!

What does extra virgin olive oil mean?

Extra virgin olive oil is a very high quality olive oil: it has no deficiencies whatsoever and is produced exclusively by a mechanical process in which the olives are cold-pressed.

When referring to extra virgin olive oil, it is usually olive oil from Italy. In Europe for this grade the term "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" is used, while Spanish olive oils of this category carry the addition "Virgen Extra". The English equivalent is "Extra Virgin."

Often the two terms "extra virgin" are also written in one word, "extravergine". According to the current European classification into quality grades "extra virgin" represents the highest level of quality envisaged for olive oil.

What does "cold pressing" mean?

"Cold pressing" means that the temperature of the olive pulp, i. the mass of crushed olives, never exceeds 27 ° C during the kneading process.

By the mechanical method of cold pressing, it is possible to contain the minerals, vitamins and antioxidants contained in the olives (ie substances that protect the organism from free radicals) to conserve as much as possible in the olive oil thus obtained.

There is one key difference between cold and hot olive oil:

  • Cold pressing means the highest quality of olive oil, but a lower (quantitative) yield for the producer
  • Hot pressing means a higher (quantitative) yield for the producer, on the other hand a lower quality of the olive oil.

If the olives are processed by cold pressing, then a much larger amount of olives is needed to get a bottle of oil.

What distinguishes olive oil "extra virgin"?

Extra virgin olive oil must have well-defined chemical characteristics, most notably low acidity: it must not exceed 0,8%.

In addition, this grade requires other objectively detectable properties that affect either the flavor or the aroma of the oil.

Therefore, an extra virgin olive oil must be

  • fruity
  • bitter
  • sharp

taste or smell. If an extra virgin olive oil does not meet one or more of the criteria, this will result in a lower grade. That is why extra virgin olive oil is the very best quality Italian olive oil.

The scale of points awarded for each of the criteria ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. For example, an extra virgin olive oil can achieve the following rating: fruity 8, bitter 2, spicy 1 point (s).

; Olive oil must have a fruity taste of olives when tasting greater than O

What is oleic acid content?

The acidity of an olive oil is determined by its content of oleic acid. This, in turn, depends on the presence of free fatty acids but does not affect taste in any way. The level of free fatty acids in olive oil is indeed so low that it can not be noticed by our taste buds.

☞ One of the requirements for grading an olive oil as "extravergine" is that its acidity must be less than 0.8% .

The quality of extra virgin olive oil

Approved by Professional Examiner

To obtain the "extra virgin" label, an olive oil must be subjected to the flavor test by means of a panel. It depends on the judgment of that panel whether the tested oil meets the conditions for being classified as 'extra virgin'. For their part, the olive oil testers must have successfully passed an exam and be registered in a relevant professional register. Each Italian region has its own register of certified olive oil inspectors.

In addition, olive oil "extra virgin" may have no defects.

The cause of deficiencies of olive oil may be ...

  1. in the olives themselves, i. in their condition at the time of harvest (sound, moldy or worm-eaten taste) and in further processing (false tones due to heating) or
  2. while chopping in the oil mill (metallic notes) or
  3. during storage (earthy hue, rancidity).

Some deficiencies that are most common with olive oils can be traced back to crop failure and / or during olive processing. The following defects are expressed by easily recognizable false tones in the taste:

  • Rancid, musty or unpleasant earthy taste (caused by mold or by rancid, musty or unpleasant earthy taste (caused by mold or by remaining solids, the so-called oil sludge, ie by lack of filtration )
  • Vinegar (caused by the acetic acid produced in rotting / fermenting olives)
  • Metallic Flavors (caused by contact with metal parts in poorly cleaned oil mills or metal containers),
  • Incorrect heat due to overheating during processing and wormy taste (due to infestation of olives still hanging on the tree by the olive fruit fly laying its eggs in burst fruit)

☞: The level of acidity in an olive oil has no effect on its taste, is not detectable during tasting. The acidity is a chemical property of olive oil that can only be detected by laboratory analysis.

☞: Olives that have been stored too long after harvest start to ferment. For this reason, freshly harvested olives must be taken to the mill for further processing within a few hours.

☞: If "extra virgin" olive oil is filled in tin canisters (usually 3- or 5-liter containers), this should be of very good quality. Otherwise, there is a risk that the oil will take on a metallic taste.

Examinations and competitions around olive oil

There are a number of trade fairs, journals and competitions both in Italy and at international level, in which olive oils are tested by examiners and professional sommeliers , Native olive oils from numerous Italian producers are also tested and compared in these competitions; the best of them receive awards.

Here are some of the most important international competitions from our point of view, where the quality of olive oils is assessed:

The Gourmet r: This prestigious German gourmet magazine awards the so-called "Olio Award" every year.

International Olive Oil Award Zurich (IOOA): Every year, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) honors the best olive oils from around the world in this highly regarded competition.

Gambero Rosso: The Italian publisher known for its wine guide also publishes a corresponding yearbook for olive oils, listing the best "extra virgin" oils and giving them a detailed evaluation.

New York International Olive Oil Competition: More than 900 growers from 27 countries compete against each other in this industry's most important global competition. In 2017, Italian olive oils were awarded a total of 124 times; Italy came out of this competition as the most highly prized producer country.

Flos Olei: International Olive Oil Guide, listing the best Extra Virgin Olive Oils from different countries.

Biol International: In this international competition, the best Extra Virgin Olive Oils are specially certified organically.

Ercole Olivario: One of the oldest and most prestigious competitions in Italy.

Sol d'Oro: also counts among the world's most important international olive oil competitions. It is the prelude to the food exhibition Sol & Agrifood, which takes place every spring in parallel with the Vinitaly in Verona.

Gourmesse: The Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) has hosted the Olive Oil Award since 2001 as part of the Zurich Fair for Delicatessen and Gourmets. In this olive oil competition, the oils used are evaluated by both an expert and a consumer panel.

Slow Food: Several Olive Oils have been awarded at several Slow Food events. This internationally active movement sees itself as a counterpoint to fast food and is committed to a conscious, enjoyable diet.

☞: Unlike olive oil inspectors, olive oil sommeliers are not registered in a trade register.

Olive oil "extra virgin": Unadulterated, since no additives

Olive oil is considered genuine only if it was extracted exclusively by mechanical processes and contains no additives. Also, the authenticity is one of the criteria that must meet an extra virgin olive oil.

Complete traceability

"Traceability" means the ability to understand the entire process of creating an olive oil - from the olives to their processing to the finished oil in the bottle, Maximum traceability is ensured when implemented through a single control procedure covering the olives themselves, the location of the harvest and the individual processing steps, including bottling and packaging. As soon as there are gaps in traceability - such as the fact that growers buy their olives abroad - it will be difficult to guarantee the integrity of the olive oil concerned.

☞: Extra Virgin Olive Oils may be made from oils and olives originating in EU countries as well as non-EU countries. The exact origin of the oils used must be clearly identifiable by a reference to the label; however, there are hardly any controls on the origin of the starting materials. The mere words "extra virgin olive oil" or "extra virgin olive oil" on a label therefore do not provide sufficient information on the traceability or origin, nor on the quality of the olives used.

☞: Thanks to the project "Carta d'identità dell'olio extra vergine d'oliva" initiated by the CNN Institute in Pisa, of a kind Guarantee of origin for extra virgin olive oil, the consumer can accurately identify the place of production of the extra virgin olive oil by means of alphanumeric coding on the bottle label and a digital database. The CNR is a research facility.

☞: This site will sell only extra virgin olive oil from Italy. These always carry the corresponding Italian designation "extra vergine".

☞: The strongest possible traceability and thus certainty about their origin are offered by the extra virgin olive oils with protected designation of origin (PDO, the Italian equivalent is DOP), since these always provide proof of the cultivation region of the Olives is required.

Shop Online Extra Virgin Olive Oils of Protected Designation of Origin (DOP)

Olive oil from Italy is produced in 20 regions

There are over 500 varieties of olives in Italy. Olive oil is produced in all Italian regions. But what is the difference between olive oils from different regions of Italy? These differences are due to the varieties of olives grown in each producer region.

Indeed, Italy is the world leader when it comes to the number of olive varieties. The vast majority of olive varieties (often called "cultivar" in Italian) are grown only in a very limited area; There are only a few varieties whose distribution area covers more than one region. The oils obtained from the various olive varieties differ in their intensity and their taste.

Here are some Italian olive varieties and their production area:

  • Casaliva (around Garda Lake)
  • Taggiasca (Liguria)
  • Grignano (Veneto)
  • Itrana (Lazio)
  • Moraiolo (Tuscany)
  • Coratina ( Apulia )
  • Tonda Iblea (Sicily)

Olive oils with more or less intense flavor are produced in all Italian regions. Therefore, it is not enough to know only the region from which a particular oil comes from, but you also have to know which variety it was from.

Monocultivar Olive Oil

Olive oil "extra virgin" can be obtained from a single olive variety - in this case one speaks of single-grade olive oil or even of monocultivar. If, on the other hand, several varieties are used, it is an blend (mixture). A similar concept is known from the world of whiskey: Here you will find Single Malts and Blends.

☞: You will find the virgin olive oils "extra virgin" by using the search term Pure / Monocultivar in the search field in the left column enter.

The olive harvest in Italy

The olive harvest is typically between the beginning of October and the end of December. The right time to harvest depends on a number of factors: first, whether it's a early or late-maturing variety, on the other hand the desired quality of the oil. However, the most important factor is the climatic conditions. The harvesting period and method also have an effect on the qualitative result of the pressing and the production quantity.

The best time to start the olive harvest is generally the moment when the 50-60% color change occurs, and then the concentration of polyphenols in the olives reaches its peak. These substances contribute significantly to the taste and nutritional value of olive oil.

☞: Color change means the color change of the original green olive bowls. These first turn purple, then turn black.

Italian olive color change

What methods of olive harvesting are there?

The quality, taste, acidity and other properties of olive oil are not only determined by the period of the olive harvest - the process used to harvest them also plays an important role.

The harvesting method, in which the quality of the olives is best preserved, is the hand-picking using the traditional "brucatura" method: here, the olives are beaten shaken on the tree branches and caught in previously laid out nets.

This gentle process minimizes pressure points and other damage to the olives, which in turn would affect the quality of the oil pressed from them.

From olive to oil: this is how extra virgin olive oil is made

In the different stages of olive oil production, different extraction methods are used, each of which uses different machines and installations. The latter differ not only in their technical characteristics, but also in terms of their production capacity, their degree of mechanization, the organization of work, the qualitative and quantitative extraction results and the production costs incurred.

For almost all machine and equipment types, the extraction process can basically be divided into five consecutive phases:

  1. Preparation phase: The olives are prepared for further processing (e.g., washing).
  2. Grinding: In this processing step, the walls of the olive cells are smashed so that the liquid can escape from them. The result of milling is usually referred to by the term olive porridge (Italian: pasta d'olio).
  3. Kneading: This is a kind of "stirring" of the olive pulp which separates the emulsion of amniotic fluid and oil contained in it in order to be able to split off the oil more easily in the subsequent step. Kneading may be accompanied by so-called "hitting", which is the case only when using the horizontal centrifuging method, but less so when extracting by mechanical pressing.
  4. Extraction of olive must: In this step, the liquid components - the emulsion of amniotic fluid and oil - are separated from the solid components of the olive pulp. These press residues are referred to as olive pomace (Italian: sansa), whereas the liquid part is referred to as olive or oil must (Italian: mosto d 'olio).
  5. Splitting off the olive oil. This step requires a lot of "tact" . Failure to properly do so may result in serious quality defects in the final product. In the case of an extra virgin olive oil, this inevitably results in its being reduced to a lower class of goods.

☞: The Olive Mash consists of Olive Oil and Fruit Water as well as solid ingredients.

☞: The olive pomace is made up of the solid remnants of skins, pulp, seeds and olive pits.

Finally, the olive must contains, in addition to the emulsion of amniotic fluid and olive oil, a residual amount of suspended solids suspended in the fluid, which is called oil sludge (morchia ).

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are organic molecules that give olive oil, in addition to its special flavor stability and a range of nutrition and health valuable properties. These molecules are natural antioxidants found in olives as well as in all other plants and slowing down the aging process.

What are peroxides?

Unlike polyphenols, peroxides react with oxygen. This oxidation reaction leads to degradation processes and thus to a quality reduction.

The number of peroxides in the oil increases over time, making the oil rancid. The chemical compounds formed during this process cause an unpleasant taste and smell of the oil. Therefore, its peroxide number at the time of marketing must be as low as possible. For olive oil "extra virgin" or extra virgin olive oil, the corresponding EU directive prescribes a maximum value of 20.