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It is not uncommon to see olive oil labels that boast the terms “Extra Virgin”, “Cold Pressed”, and “First Press”, but what does it really mean?
Today, the vast majority of olive oil is made with modern equipment by crushing olives into a paste and then extracting the oil from this paste without the use of chemicals, solvents or excessive heat. It’s a single, continuous process, so the term “first press” is essentially obsolete.
To be certified “Extra Virgin” by the California Olive Oil Council, the olive oil must have an acidity level, in terms of oleic free fatty acid, of not more than 0.5% and pass a sensory analysis to ascertain that the oil qualifies as free of defects. If excessive heat was used to extract the oil during pressing, it would degrade the flavor and the resulting oil would not get by the taste panel. Therefore, the term “cold press” is also out-of-date.
Unfortunately, even if your olive oil bottle is labeled as "Extra Virgin", there is a strong chance that the contents may not be what it claims. A 2010 study by UC Davis concluded that more than two-thirds of imported oils did not meet the legal standard. A follow-up test in 2011 used a larger number of samples for more consistency and found that the top-selling imported brands failed a staggering seventy-three percent of the time. For those seeking the health benefits found in extra virgin olive oil, this misrepresentation is extremely troubling.
As a consumer, how do you know if you’re purchasing a quality product? Some producers sell their olive oil directly at the local farmer’s market, but usually for a premium price. There is also an independently owned national chain of sorts, with oil and vinegar dispensed from large stainless-steel tanks, but these are all supplied by the same importer/distributor.
At the Montello Tasting Room, all our olive oils are sourced through partnerships with award winning California producers that have had their oil certified extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council. To help keep it fresh longer, they are bottled in tinted glass and stored in a cool, dark place to cut down on light exposure. Each bottle has also been labeled with the harvest date, not an arbitrary "best before" date, so you can see when the oil was made; the fresher the better!