Posted on August 14, 2013
Fortunately for foodies, not all olive oil is produced industrially; some of the best gourmet olive oils in the world that are made in Spain as well as in Italy, the US and other countries are made by small-mid size producers that put a lot of passion to create a premium quality product.
As it happens with wine, there are two very different worlds in olive oil, no matter the olive tree cultivar or the country of origin: a) the industrial massive production of olive oil that can achieve extra virgin quality (up to 0.8% free acidity) and that is the norm for "supermarket extra virgin olive oil"; and b) the premium/gourmet olive oil (up to 0.2% free acidity), state-grown, early harvested for maximum polyphenol content in the olive, harvested by hand, processed using state of the art olive oil technology within a few hours from the harvest moment, stored in stainless steel tanks at controlled constant temperature and out of contact with oxygen or light -to prevent the premature oxidation of the oil-, bottled in origin in dark glass airtight containers just when the purchase order arrives to the producer and finally transported and stored up to the final purchase by the consumer away from extreme heat or light conditions.
Wine lovers know very well that in order to produce a Parker 96 or higher the process has to very technical but also very artisan, with a lot of human intervention and labor. Much different than what it requires to produce a cheap wine. Both wine types are produced from grapes, but each one of them belong to a very different world; I would say opposite worlds.
As in wine, with olive oil we are here in front of two opposite business strategies: price leader vs. differentiation. The massive industrial production of olive oil seeks to achieve the extra virgin level by economies of scale in the farm, in the processing plant and in the supermarket distribution chain. The artisan-like small-mid size production for premium/gourmet olive oil seeks differentiation by a combination of factors: geographical identity, cultivar or blend used in making the oil, achieving the highest standards of quality (0.1% free acidity or even lower, high polyphenol content, balanced organoleptic tasting and zero defects), brand and brand image, association of product with the people who produce it, certified appellation d'origin, organic certification, sponsorship by some of the world best renowned chefs and having obtained the top awards in renowned international olive oil competitions.
For those interested in understanding further the magic world of "premium/gourmet olive" oil and its differences with "supermarket olive oil" we recommend the reading of the book "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil" by Tom Mueller (Apr 8, 2013). A final word, if you are looking in olive oil a natural source of wonderful flavor enhancer and at the same time a healthy food ingredient go only for the "premium/gourmet" type; forget the "supermarket" type.