California extra virgin olive oil is the best agricultural product in America that you are not buying. No doubt that California olive farmers are talented, but a lot of the credit needs to be shared with the California Olive Oil Council. The Council grades and certifies olive oils produced within the state and awards the use of its “Certified Extra Virgin” trademark to products that meet strict acidity and ultraviolet absorbency standards.
This privately operated grading and certification regime is the best insurance you, as a consumer, have against the rampant fraud permeating the international olive oil trade. Almost all of the imported olive oil you buy in the United States is no where near “extra virgin”. Tom Mueller, author of “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”, is the last word on the subject of olive oil fraud. (Buy that book). The ambition of the Olive Oil Council is to help domestic olive growers and consumers distinguish California oils from the criminally adulterated products on your supermarket shelves. I’ll bet that because of the objective quality standards they apply to oils produced in the region, in 10 years, California will do for the global olive oil trade what they once did to wine.
Up until now, the work of rehabilitating the reputation of the “extra virgin” label against adulterated imports has been assumed entirely by the Council, a nonprofit corporation. The latest Farm Bill sought to create a nationwide, federally sponsored “marketing order” for olive oil. A marketing order establishes standardized quality characteristics for agricultural products, and they are each regulated by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The marketing order for olive oil would also have meant a modest tax to fund the interdiction and inspection of the imported foreign sludge. Two congressmen from New York, however, opposed the provision.
The ironic bit about this New York Post piece about the collapse of the olive oil marketing order in Congress is the alliance of the various lawmakers of “Mediterranean stock” that shot it down. I take it that these lawmakers were convened ostensibly because of their constituents’ cultural affinity for olive oil. None of them stopped to think that a more stringent inspection regime would help ensure they purchase legitimate extra virgin olive oil like Nonna used to have, instead of the adulterated biodiesel coming out of Spain and North Africa. I guess some people don’t mind being lied to so long as the lies are cheaper than the truth.