Olive Oil Harvest Project: Prelude

At an attempt to represent and give a little exposure to what many would easily overlook and not give a care in the world, I hope my venture in “a day in a life of a farmer” would bring some enlightenment if not joy. Although the harvesting process for olive oils are to be started and finished in a day’s work, in order to raise the climactic antics of this literary piece, it will be extended beyond just one day (also since I didn’t have the energy to take pictures, write, think, and work all at once). As dull as it can be, I assure you it is one of the most interesting experiences, besides puberty, that I am proud to say I’ve done something worthwhile and enjoyed. And though I have vouched to keep my blog precisely informative and less of self, keeping it unbiased, I’m hoping this “journal” project will not deter those hungry only for the knowledge, rather will in turn be knowledge.

To give a premise to this certain situation, I have just traveled to a very remote, very secluded Italian village, though small, yet typical under Italian culture (population of under 10,000). And there, followed my passion for awesome extra virgin olive oil which we here in the states had vastly misconceived. Literally digging deep within the locals hidden gem, with the language barrier to consider mind you, I realized passion could do wonders. With one highly prized locale, regionally well-known and locally adored olive oils, I had the opportunity to side with the locals and get my hands dirty. Like an investigative reporter, I made every second count.

This will be one of the stories in the life of an olive farmer in Italy…

Day 1


Pandemic Agony of Choosing Your Expensive Olive Oil (extra virgin)


Choices, the abundance of selections that creates the matter of indecision resulting in the time-consuming irrelevant afterthoughts of regrets. No matter how much we research a product and how far we are determined in finding out what we want, we are always dismayed by the small particulars. My brother once bought a port wine from a vendor online (with an actual physical store) only to find out later that it may be “fake”. And of course port wines are year specific and are better kept aged, thus the long agonizing notion of whether it’s fake or not. Furthermore, as a proficient “prosumer” as he is, exhausting all available resources (online and frequenting local vintage wine shops), some products or even vendors are truly difficult to trust.

Many of the factors, facts, and thoughts here may be coinciding with my other articles, yet this holds its own bearings due to the depth I found relatively necessary for a complete explanation. First of all, there are two different categories for differentiating a product depending on the venues: grocery stores and online stores. One is likely easier than the other, but not always would it be that way. And within the two realms, there are sub-categories; gourmet to superstores to individual sellers and national online purchasing sites. With these variables I will be splitting this report into two distinctions: Physical vs. Online stores.

(Click to skip past the topics)
Physical Stores
Online Stores

Physical stores
Less frequent and more difficult of the two are the physical stores. It may be more settling to see the physical product in hand and at a regularly frequented, reputable store. It’s also much easier to have a staff nearby who is knowledgeable enough to hand you with all your questions. But to be honest, even if we have no clue or any understandings of the criteria involved in making choices to choose a product, is it really safe to assume that ALL store clerks are certifiably entitled to provide you with the “best” selections? How often do we really ask for recommendations, especially when it comes down to a gourmet product? Or how often are we completely satisfied with our purchases? I (cynically) tend to test their wits about a certain category by giving them a brief description of what I’m looking for. Then, as they provide a few selections (most of the time are generic like, Pinot for seafood, Merlot for light meat, etc) I entrap them with a better choice to see how they react (like Amarone); whether they are dumbfounded or if they are elaborate enough to describe the difference. Like poker, you want to read your opponents, portray that you’re going for the flush or a house, but then smack ‘em with a straight flush which you hit back on the flop! Back to the story, results are developed by characterizing what we are looking for (texture, taste, main use, etc.), then like an app, the clerk/specialist shows you with what he/she calculated in their best educated guess. As human as we are, one’s opinion is never the same as another. One could favor a slightly different brand of a same product because of their personal preference (or price!) and ultimately omitting a brand you may have potentially liked. This missed exchange of chance further alters everything in light to choices. Even for those who prefers to be individualistic, uptight, or shy to request for a suggestion, they are stalled standing, comparing every little details while eliminating choices via process of elimination and yet still left standing with a couple of choices. For these people, and as for myself, whipping out our smartphone as a last resort would be the tie-breaker. Consumer reviews, reputable information, brand, and product eventually lead us to the checkout line.

But in order to cut down on time, you have to be prepared at what you are looking for. Are you using it for greasing the pan, marinading, finishing, mixing as an ingredient? For each different use, there are different results. For just frying and greasing, any will do. Corporate chain brands will likely be inexpensive and one shouldn’t bother worrying about getting the most reputable “expensive” inexpensive one; they are really all the same for this purpose.

However, when it comes down to marinading and finishing, you should be more careful. Just as if you may prefer to wear a brown belt to match with your brown business shoes (vice versa), or perhaps a nicely aged vintage port to go along for a certain occasion with a side of peccorino, salumi, and crackers and/or other delicate delights that are too difficult to savor for many common folks, or maybe just a simplicity of lime over lemon for margarita’s. You’d definitely want to look into the more expensive, perhaps an import that’s not readily available at your nearest chain grocery stores. They are few in locations just as caviar and truffles. Compared to the mass-produced varieties, they are not easy to make and definitely not the same in price. Not only is the production involved a factor, but the immediately noticeable change in your taste buds screams to you in another language. There are surprisingly just as many imports as there are mass produced oils and there are many that has its own distinct tastes. Skipping all the characteristics involved in the different tasting evoo (as I will write elsewhere), here are a few pointers to keep in mind when deciding on imports at a store:

• THOROUGHLY read the labels
• Look for the consume by date
• Make certain that it’s from that country
• Dark bottles
• Preferably in its own produced labels (to ensure that it’s been harvested/bottled in the country of origin)
• If possible, the acidity percentage (very big point)
• Types of olives and its percentage(s) (may be included in the ingredients)
• Harvest year
• Nutritional Facts
• Address and/or information of distributor/farm/where it’s imported

Yes and these are just a few pointers. It’s a medium short list to remember, but it’s highly important and greatly rewarding. Reading the label and liking the shape/style are completely different and are often taken for granted. Due to marketing techniques, the most attractive labels or the most exotic shaped would probably appeal to the common customer when endowed by choices. Like the saying goes, “don’t judge a book by its cover” it applies for evoo imports as well. If on the other hand you are exclusively thorough then your next step is to locate all the other criteria listed above.

Not many includes an expiration date, but it seems like the trend is catching on. This bit should also approximately tell you when it was harvested; if not already visible. Usually, harvesting season ranges from September til January, dependent on the olive used and the country from where it was harvested. Oils “expire” usually no more than 2 years from harvest, no exceptions. If neither the harvest year nor the expiration date is shown, choose a different one. There’s a great possibility that it’s either been bottled in the states or the dates were purposefully excluded. Make certain that it’s indefinitely import by finding where it came from. It better have a locatable address that’s obviously from that origin if “product of”, or “imported from” is missing.

Bottle itself should be VERY dark. This is the only way the rich oil could have a healthier, longer life. I’d be careful with transparent bottles since the oil is vulnerable to light and heat, which the dark bottles help reflect. However, transparent bottles don’t necessarily mean inferior oil, it just cuts down on oil life and you may experience a change in taste much sooner. Although I’m unable to determine why transparent bottles were chosen from the beginning, as for all evoo producers and experts know that the highly qualitative characteristics of a true evoo requires not just the right technique to make, but also the best and only way to conserve it for its full, healthy life span. Tin cans are also a better approach as many farmers usually shift to cans beginning from 1 liter up to 5 liters. There have been claims that tin cans tend to shorten the life of the oil if not used frequently and before the expiration date, but it’s solely dependent on how the oil was produced. For oils that were extracted without a filter, this claim may certainly have some credibility seeing that the olive residue eventually starts to accumulate on the bottom and decrease the pungent taste of the olive oil. On the other hand, tins with filtered oils wouldn’t submit to that experience.

Few of the items such as acidity percentage and the types of olives used may likely be omitted from the label since only a few actually understands how to make sense out of them. However, they are one of the very important trade offs in knowing the quality and taste. The lower the acidity the fresher and smoother the taste is (for most cases). Also the lower it is the higher the polyphenol, the chemical compound responsible for longer shelf life and higher oxidation leading to a healthy you. The acidity percentage is basically the make or break of seeing how fresh or good an oil is, which is mainly the reason many competitors would exclude that information. This is specified depending on how it was made; too much oxygen during the centrifugal stage, too much heat during the crushing, too much time between picking and extracting, bad harvest, bad olives, and the list goes on! Although according to the oils, within its lifespan the acidity shouldn’t move beyond +0.1 %. Depending on the olive(s) used for extraction, the taste differs as well. This brings a whole new topic starting with the different olives used, per country, per region. (working on it!)

Labels are eye-catching and are a very sophisticated tool in representing a product. For this purpose, many labels have been re-labeled or modified to fit within the US market or just for aesthetics. It’s appealing and if it grabs your attention, it succeeded. USDA has a set standard for what they require on labels which are just simply the “imported from” and/or “distributed by” and the nutritional facts. Besides that, everything else is up to the creative mind of the producer in ways to grab consumer attention or hide from the facts. Once again, be careful not to be mistaken by how ever its colorful labels may convey.
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Similar to that of a physical store, however there are a few more to account for. But for online purchases, your reassurances are replaced by reviews; customer and professional recommendations. Most people would factor reviews and price as their base for making a decision; perhaps a short research on the side or an extended visit to a local store for an even better comparison. So what do we do if we’re not able to compare or are rather skeptical about the reviews? Scaling down your criteria usually is an easier approach, or perhaps just simply waiting out for the price to drop, or wait for an updated review. But if either of the two options are non negotiable (review+price), then it’s best to start brushing up on your research skills.

For evoo’s, common knowledge is all that’s required for a product purchase. I’ve already laid out the basics and although some points will not be able available (harvest year, expiration date, nutritional label, any certificates or stamps/designation), you should try to exhaust enough to find them, since those are just as equally as important as others. However, kind of olive(s) used, where the product originated from, company profile, and of course recommendations and the specialty of that one product that stands out from the rest is much easier and should be readily available to any level of researchers.

You’d want to put heavy emphasis on the harvest year and expiration dates, two very important points. Better to know your product than to get jipped. Once that has been established, make sure to know where you’re buying it from. Knowing the product is one thing, but then finding a reputable, trustworthy seller is another major strain. Utilizing national outlets like amazon or ebay may be more reassuring than from getting it directly from a vendors site, but that shouldn’t count against your choices.

Anyone could create an account and hold a store, all it takes is a credit card, which in these days are easier to pass than an open book multiple choice quiz, thanks to the still mediocre economy and desperate times for banks. Thus make thorough notes to who it is you’re buying it from; reviews (if any), product (fraud), their policy in product returns and promises, and (if it’s possible) how much effort or knowledge they put in producing and bringing you the product.

With my alleged understanding of the product to this point, I’d make sure to exhaust all my options before committing to buy a gourmet evoo 3-4x the regular price. Starting with the site, whether it be national outlets or individual, I’d make sure the seller knows his doodoo. So far from my surfing, a lot of the sellers and outlets have the same repetitive jargon followed by a display of more redundancy known as FAQs. To this point, the clear line distinguishing each seller are divided by the presentation of their sites. Personally, I appreciate vendors that are able to adapt within the progression of the internet with very savvy web design. I am easily fooled by aesthetics, but that is just one way to grab attention, and for this case, it would require much backup in order to reinforce and affirm for its savvy aestheticism. And then of course there is the need for ease of shopping. The easier it is, moreover safe, the better I feel about the seller. As they may have taken the time to know their own product, it would show how much time they’ve taken to know their customers and understand how “easy” translates to productivity within the online market. I think we could all agree our life has become exponentially easier due to the many innovative technologies which also put a dent to our increasingly skinny wallet.

Every little detail will be important and any missed facts will hopefully be explained or touched on by the seller. Whether it be the production, history, their family, or arrogance, it would be nice to see all angles of facts and information that is widely universal and specifically pointed out so to show they are unbiased in their writings. For example how unfiltered processing is not wholly better than filtered processing and vice versa.

Analyzing the price and making market value comparison may be an easier approach to understand their quality or operation. Two custom screen print shirts, one by a local artist, another by a nationally supported company, the local does a completely creative approach – handcrafted, custom fonts, portion of the sales made out to another organization, and personally catered [Evan WebsterInk ;D]-, the national reuses similar designs, yet very affordable, mass produces, and less environmentally sustainable. Local printer is not as affordable, but is weighed accordingly to its specialties and individualistic creativity not commonly found.

Personally, the visual product is of the least of my concerns with information being of the utmost importance followed by prices then reviews. Prices and reviews tend to alter your opinion even if the product happens to be what you’re looking for. So to avoid such hesitation and second guessing your predetermined product, after settling with your own little research you should already have an idea as to how much it would cost, possibly understanding why it’s priced that way and what is causing the difference. Or, if you’re still scratching your head, instead of scratching, I suggest you find a nice plastered wall preferably around the corner or maybe oak, swing your head as far back as you can and swing forth, rinse and repeat until you see your medical bills and the damage you’ve caused on the wall.

And that’s it folks, the mildly brief checklist in picking out your very own gourmet guaranteed evoo.
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How Do We Measure Quality: Extra Virgin Olive Oils


Extra virgin olive oil for the purpose of my theme, the ways in defining quality is just as similar as differentiating between choices.

First, the dates. Harvest year (usually falling between Fall and Winter) and expiration dates should be enough to portray the product life, usually up to 2 years (though best if used within a year for consistency in taste and quality). With those two items already in mind when you buy your oil, you could predict how old the oil is (or how long it’s been on the shelf) and how much longer is left.

Another point would be to check which region or country it’s from. This is a whole new topic which may get a bit ugly, but in short the variable geo-climate, technique, and olives could alter the definitive quality right away. Mediterranean climates are favorable due to its abundant sun, cool climate, and the natural hilly geographical location not easily manipulated elsewhere in the world (attempts in the US and claims of similar to near perfection is debatable). Even the discussion of Italia’s best is difficult to analyze. Actually I dare you to ask any Italian where they think has the best olive oil and I guarantee every single one of them will assume their origin as the best. That’s why I wouldn’t want to start an argument siding on one over another.

When it began


It was at nice, quiet, serene, home on a 14th floor of a 25 floor apartment building, on the outskirts of a big city, not so much suburbia, but not pollutant enough either. Hear yelling across the room and I must have thought I have done something terrible. Next thing I know, my face was flooded in my own tears, stuck on a seat looking down and ahead reaching over with my mini-fork aimed at ¼ of a tomato. Still in tears, with an ugly face forced out of me, I take a bite out of the tomato chewing deliciously making sure I get every single juice out of the bite size fruit. Savoring the sweetness of the juicy tomato, I almost forgot the reality of my salted face pruning. Then I noticed I just experienced two worlds simultaneously; eating and sadness (also known as reality). But it wasn’t hardly until I decided to study abroad in Italy with the goal to stuff myself with good eats. For obvious reasons eating a certain cuisine from it’s origin is the best place to grasp the authenticity of its flavor[Authenticity, Just a Myth?]. However, on occasion we are ever more surprised by an unexpected dish; a dish we thought we knew.

But back to the story in Italy, one of the foods that surprised me the most was the taste of olive oil. I had the opportunity to take an Italian cuisine class during my term and was even more fortunate to have my instructor growing and harvesting her very own olives. It was first through helping out at her cottage (where the olives were located) did I get a chance at tasting the raw form of such a perfectly harvested young extra virgin olive oil.

Timing my visit perfectly, lunch was near and immediate (tip: always bring a big appetite to an invited eat-in). Everything on the table had had some form of olive oil mixed into it. Not only was the taste very structured and distinct, but as conversation grew I was ever more fascinated by how frequent it was used. [In Italy there’s about 12.35kg per capita in annual consumption in comparison to 0.56kg in the US]

Anything you can think of that uses cooking oil or butter, is stunningly interchangeable with olive oil. Oh yes, cakes, brownies, cookies, muffins, ANYTHING. Well maybe not butter itself (maybe?), but you get the idea.

The raw taste of recent harvest olive oils are undying. Like a taste of raw milk just milked seconds from a cow, it’s incomparable to the watered down products available at your local grocery stores. Initially I thought my host had added some sort of spices to the oil to give off the aromatic and subtlety smoothness that went unbelievably well with just a piece of lightly toasted bruschetta which was further glorified with a dash of salt. Oregano, rosemary, dill, paprika, lemon juice, anything? Nothing. Garlic? Nahda, it was just the plain yet intricate taste derived solely by the oil itself. Still in awe I didn’t let the conversation evolve away from olive oil. Locked on and bombarding with questions after curiosity, a “simple” eat in turned out to be another extra credit brownie points ;D As others’ jaws were gnawing on the food set in front of them, I kept mine closed so I could concentrate all my focus on catching every little bits of details and wavelengths. This was the very first time I gained interest in hopes of bringing a simple product back to the states; better known for its utter excess of choice…..