Olives have been growing in California for hundreds of years. The Spanish missionaries planted olive trees throughout California in the 18th century. By the 1990’s, the founders of California Olive Ranch realized that California had the perfect Mediterranean climate for olive growing. And, right around this time, Americans were becoming very interested in olive oil, piqued by research on the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Today, there are over 75 varietals of olives grown throughout California. This diversity means there are many subtle flavor notes and taste profiles from different soils, climates, and olive cultivars. We’re proud to see how much the olive oil industry in California has matured. And it’s amazing to see the range of extra virgin olive oils available in the marketplace!
From the very beginning, California olive oil producers wanted to create a set of universal standards for how extra virgin olive oil is defined. The terminology and labels in the broader olive oil industry have long been confusing, and we wanted to make it better. Enter a number of regulating bodies, namely, the California Olive Oil Council to get everything in order! The regulation on the grading of oils (non-virgin, virgin, or extra virgin) benefits everyone. It gives producers a clear method to test and grade their product. And, the certification seal gives consumers confidence that they’re buying a genuine, high-quality product. Without an agreed-upon set of standards, labels with terms like ‘extra virgin’ begin to lose their meaning. Having a third-party certifying body is even more important due to the highly-publicized occurrences of fraudulence in the imported extra virgin olive oil industry in the last few years.
WHAT IS THE COOC
The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) is a trade organization that was established by a group of farmers in 1992. Their mission is to encourage “the consumption of certified California extra virgin olive oil through education, outreach, and communication.” The COOC certifies about 350 California-grown olive oils per year, representing 90% of all olive oil production in California. The certification and seal process are really intended to help guide consumers towards the olive oils that accurately claim to be extra virgin, and also educate them that it’s important to pay attention to the grade of an olive oil. But additionally, the certification and seal process helps make sure everyone is on the same page! Producers have a clear method to grade their oils and are able to designate their products in the marketplace.
THE CERTIFICATION PROCESS
In order to have the term ‘extra virgin’ on its label, California-produced olive oils must pass a chemical analysis and sensory evaluation (read: how it smells and tastes!). This process happens each year after harvest. Each olive oil producer will send a sample bottle of their oil to a certification body like the COOC. Other certification bodies do exist, and share many of the same standards. Testing in an approved laboratory will determine the free fatty acid (FFA) percentage, among other chemical tests. In the sensory test, an expert taste panel will ensure each oil has zero flavor or odor defects.
Any handler or miller who processes more than 5000 gallons of olive oil per year are required to submit their oil for testing. The reports are then collected by the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC). The OOCC is regulated by the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA). It was created to regulate California oil growers and millers and help the California olive oil industry and producers succeed, and to ensure that the oil is being sold as it should be.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
So, how do you put this information to use? There are few important things to know when evaluating bottles of extra virgin olive oil. The COOC Seal on the label is one of the best indications that you’re purchasing a certified, high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Other good signs of authenticity include a harvest date on the label, a single country of origin, and that the ingredients list solely extra virgin olive oil.
Our 2017 harvest extra virgin olive oil will be hitting shelves near you very soon. We hope you enjoy this year’s crop!