Dec 102014

virginBloomberg Businessweek says Sir Richard “the blonde knight” Branson and his Virgin Group are aggressive defenders of their US trademarking. If you’re doing or wish to do business in the US and want to use the word “virgin” in any of your products or materials then expect to hear from Sir Richard’s legal counsel.

And, guess what! I think this might be a good thing.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had occasion to join in on some marvelous olive oil conversations with folks that run the gamut (I’m fighting the urge to type gamete but you may not find it as funny as I do) of the international olive oil trade. At some point there’s always a moan session (not the fun kind) 😉 involving real business threats and random jackassery. The subject of everyone-and-their-brother purveyors of human digestible fats using the terms “virgin” or “cold-pressed” makes these people crazy. Since I am an enthusiast of anything olive and conduct olive research I don’t get bent out of shape about the loose usage of those highly-coveted modifiers. So, when I saw the article about Richard Branson’s fight to be the only “virgin” in town I had to put what that meant to the olive oil industry into context.

In the article, past midway, there is a reference to a Chilean company using the term extra virgin for a vinegar product they wanted to sell in the US. Sir Richard’s legal team filed against them and the Chilean’s gave up. This made me very curious so I thought about what I know about food-oil processing and regulations. I don’t believe Virgin Group has gone after the US Department of Agriculture for their show-piece olive oil standards and I don’t believe they will. I know how seed oils, canola, walnut, peanut, etc. are produced and using any term which includes a form of “virgin” in it is a big stretch. I have seen cold-pressed on coconut oil jars but admit to having no idea how coconut oil is made and don’t care enough to do an internet search to find out. I ask myself – does this mean that olive oil producers, wholesalers, and retailers can expect Sir Richard and his merry legal band to charge to their rescue and take on those companies who violate “virgin.” One can only hope.

Now, as far as cold-pressed is concerned, unless some wealthy influencer latches on to cold-pressed as their business name, for example, Cold-Pressed Records, Cold-Pressed Mobile, or perhaps Cold-Pressed Outer Space (a fictional container storage for space travelers – think Aliens) then I think the olive oil world influencers will just need to depend on themselves and their enthusiast buddies to educate consumers about what it means to be a delicious and nutritious “virgin” olive oil.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Mar 062013

I’m not sure I believe this story in United Kingdom publication The Daily Mail. I met several Spanish extra virgin olive oil producers recently and they had excellent 2012 crops. Is this a ploy by ‘Big Olive Oil’ to increase prices in the UK?


Spain is not the only producer of olive oil, but it has been the most abundant for several decades. There are many countries that produce fantastic evoo. I can name a few off the top of my head – the United States of America, South Africa, Australia, Greece, Tunisia, Chile, Argentina, … You can even buy many of your favorite extra virgin olive oils online.

So don’t give up on extra virgin olive oil in your recipes just yet.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Nov 132012

The International Olive Council awarded a perfect score to the olive oil taste testers (sensory panel) at the Australian Oils Research Laboratory in Wagga Wagga, Australia.

This is quite a big deal. People who ‘taste’ olive oil for a living must be able to make very subtle distinctions among the flavors and sensations present in olive oil, and this is very difficult to do.

This past July I attended the introduction to olive oil tasting and the master-level sensory evaluation courses at the University of California at Davis. The auditorium full of students, including me, spent days listening to lectures, taking notes, and tasting many olive oils. The lectures were in Italian and were translated by Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers Fine Wine and Gourmet Foods Italian Grocery Store in Sacramento, California.

Until I took these courses, I had no idea how tough it is to correctly evaluate olive oils. The main things that a sensory panel are looking for are defects in the oils. The defects are a very specific list. Here are some of the more common defects and a link to the list from the Olive Oil Times: Fusty, Musty, Muddy Sediment, Winey-Vinegary, Metallic, and Rancid. There are other defects which are less common but problematic none-the-less.

So why is it that defects are what a sensory panel is really looking for? As our Italian teachers told us, if there is a defect then there is no point in continuing a sensory evaluation. The oil can never be designated as a virgin olive oil and must be sent for refining to be used as a lower grade oil know as lampante (lamp oil) or tossed out.

While you are looking at the link above provided by the Olive Oil Times, take note of the positive attributes. Maybe you have noticed some of these when you taste your extra virgin olive oil. If you haven’t, give it a try, and don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t distinguish the flavors because it is very difficult to do. People who taste-test olive oil professionally take continuous courses to stay on track. I was only moderately good at this and will never sit on a sensory panel. One thing I can do, is tell that there is a defect present, I’m just not good at identifying the defect.

Many congratulations to the Wagga Wagga sensory panel on a perfect score. You have Olive Crazy’s deep admiration.

Wagga sensory panel obtains perfect score in olive oil test | Southern Cross

May the sun shine through your branches.

Nov 142011

My thirteen year old giggles whenever I talk about virgin or extra virgin olive oil. Last night at dinner he informed his Dad and I that he was ready for “the sex talk”. Here is a cute video where the simple question, “Mummy what does virgin mean,” goes a bit overboard.

It’s an easy mistake to make.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jun 012011

When people buy olive oil they want to know the quality of the oil they are actually paying for. Consumers want real standards, not marketing baloney dressed up to look like standards.

This month, Australia and New Zealand begin putting olive oil standards into place. Now consumers in those two countries don’t have to scratch their heads and wonder what “light” or “pure” olive oil means. “Light” and “pure” are fake marketing terms that mean absolutely nothing, at least when it comes to olive oil. The terms that do mean something are: Extra Virgin, Virgin, Refined, and Pomace. There are variations on these, but the terms actually mean something.

When I wrote the article Olive Oil Standards Get a Facelift, I was talking about the U.S. standards, which are very lame. The U.S. has lots of work to do when it comes to recognizing that their olive oil industry is a liquid gold mine, and that strong consumer and grower protection standards will protect the U.S. olive and olive oil industry, but that’s a story for another day. Bravo to Australia and New Zealand for thinking ahead.

The International Olive Council isn’t happy about the new AU/NZ standards, ’cause they’re busy trying to protect the exports of their few original member countries whose government-subsidized olive oil pricing structures are going away. The IOC is big on quality, but not when it comes to their core membership, and when their member countries’ Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) gets “busted” in lab and sensory testing the IOC Executive Director (the latest is Jean-Louis Barjol of France) pitches a fit and blames the countries who are looking out for their consumers.

Australia and New Zealand may not be doing it exactly “like it has always been done”, but they are doing what is right for their consumers.

May the sun shine through your branches.