So… how is extra virgin olive oil made? What exactly does “extra virgin” mean? Don’t be embarrassed, we get these questions all the time. (A 2013 survey by the Olive Center at the Davis campus of the University of California found that 55 percent of consumers surveyed believed they understood the meaning of different olive oil grades – but no more than 25 percent responded correctly to statements about the grades.)
As we enter our harvest season full steam ahead and begin to press our olives into extra virgin olive oil, we thought it’d be a good a time as any to clear up any confusion about the different grades of olive oil!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the top grade of olive oil, delivering the best taste and the full health benefits of olive oil. The olives are crushed at a mill and the oil is extracted via mechanical means – versus refined oil extracted through the use of heat or chemicals. In our case, we crush our olives and run the resulting paste through a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water and sediment. Think of it as freshly pressed fruit juice. (Yes, olives are a fruit!)
And, to be truly extra virgin, the oil must pass a battery of chemical requirements (such as free fatty acid percent and peroxide levels). We adhere to the Olive Oil Commission of California standards as well as our own internal standards that we have set for ourselves to be more rigorous than others. In addition to the chemical tests, true extra virgin olive oil must pass a panel of professional tasters who detect positive attributes like olive fruitiness; the tasters must not find any taste flaws. In short, the oil must taste like olives and be of the freshest quality.
So what about all the other labels you see?
First Cold Press
An outdated, vague term used mainly for marketing purposes. It’s not a required standard. It really just means the oil underwent one phase of “separation” from the olives at the mill – versus repeated separations – and no heat was involved in extracting the oil from the olives. So why do we put “First Cold Press” on our bottles? Because so many people ask us whether our oil is first cold pressed. Ultimately, the term means the fruit of the olive was crushed just once – i.e., the “first press.”
Pure Olive Oil/Olive Oil
Oil that’s been refined to remove any defects, and with it, stripped of the health benefits that extra virgin olive oil is known for. It’s typically blended with just enough extra virgin olive oil to add flavor.
Light Olive Oil
Though it’s made to sound as if it is, “light” olive oil is not a diet product. It’s basically the same as “pure” olive oil. It’s really light in flavor or color – not calories or fat. In short, the term “light” has absolutely nothing to do with the quality or health benefits of the oil.
Pomace Olive Oil
Oil extracted from the olive pomace – the solid waste left over from the milling process. It includes olive pits, skin and flesh. The oil is made by re-milling the pomace to extract the remaining 1–5% of oil that’s left in the waste. It also can be obtained by mixing solvents into the pomace; heat is then used to extract additional oil from the pomace.
There you have it! We hope you learned a little something. We can’t wait for you to try our extra virgin olive oil!