Others Factors Versus Only “First Cold Press” Are Key When Picking Olive Oil

A topic we get asked a lot about about is the term “first cold press.” You see it on bottles of extra virgin olive oil, including our own. Large olive oil producers overseas also bill their oil as first cold press. But there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the term. We’ll do our best to clear it up.

The term first cold press has taken on new meaning these days.  To be sure, it isn’t an official designation for olive oil, like “extra virgin.” Nor is it always an indicator of a good olive oil, one that is truly extra virgin and free of defects. Instead, you need to look at other factors, like the date the olives were harvested or official extra virgin certification.

The term first cold press originally referred to when, a half a century ago, hydraulic presses were used to make olive oil. After the first pressing of the olives, which yielded the best oil, the miller doused the “spent” olive paste with hot water and re-pressed it. That second pressing produced inferior oil.

That description is outdated today, however. Most commercial extra virgin olive oil around the globe is made through centrifugation – not pressing. For example: We crush our olives and process the resulting paste in a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water and sediment.

So why do we put “First Cold Press” on our bottles? Because so many people ask us  whether our oil is first cold pressed.

For us, the term means the fruit of the olive was crushed just once – i.e., the “first press.”

The “cold” refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it’s crushed. We don’t use heat or chemicals to extract the oil. That’s because the temperature during production shouldn’t be too warm. Otherwise, the oil’s quality suffers.

Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel notes 28 to 30 degrees Celsius (82.4 to 86 Fahrenheit) is “ideal, with 32 C (89.6 F) being the upper end of the temperature range used by most producers who are interested in quality.”

Lower quality oils – those that aren’t classified as extra virgin – typically are crushed multiple times and at higher temperatures to extract more oil from the fruit. The resulting oil is much lower in quality.

“Nowadays, extra virgin olive oil is ‘first-pressed’ and ‘cold-pressed’ by definition,” olive oil aficionado Tom Mueller writes in his fine book Extra Virginity (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012).

It’s worth noting, however, that “First Cold Press” doesn’t always ensure good quality. A case in point: The University of California at Davis has determined in two reports that much of the so-called “extra virgin” olive oil imported into this country isn’t true extra virgin – even when billed as “First Cold Press.”(Click here to read the 2011 study.)

Consumer Reports recently echoed those results. (Click here to see the Consumer Reports press release.)

Instead, look for the following:

  • Certification – On the back of the bottle you’ll see that our oil is “certified extra virgin” by the California Olive Oil Council, meaning the oil has been officially tested and contains no defects.
  • Harvest Date – On the back you’ll also see the date when the olives were harvested.
  • Best By Date – Beneath the harvest date you’ll see the “best by” date for when the oil should be consumed, typically two years after bottling.
  • Dark Glass  – You want your oil to come in a dark bottle – ours is green – to shield it from light, an enemy of olive oil.
  • Country of Origin – Just one! Multiple countries should sound alarm bells about the oil’s quality.

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch