Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Evil EVOO: Olive oil lawsuits in OC, Calif., mislabeling

Olives in olive oil
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EVOO – the trendy word used by foodies and TV food superstars to mean extra virgin olive oil. It’s like four syllables are just way to much to mouth so people have to resort to text-message-like speak. I have always thought that term – extra virgin olive oil — superfluous. You’re either a virgin or you’re not.

However, according to my Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion, EVOO is the cold-pressed result of the first pressing of olives. It’s considered the finest and fruitiest of olive oils and therefore the most expensive with 1 percent acidity. EVOO can range from champagne in color to greenish golden to bright green. The deeper the color the more intense the flavor.

On the other hand, virgin olive oil (Is it called VOO?) is also first pressed (but is it cold pressed?) and has a slightly higher acidity from 1 to 3 percent.

Background aside some restaurants, chefs, and cooks (who probably have Sub-Zero appliances) have filed a complaint against some OC Calif. stores because although they paid for EVOO, they received inferior products. The lawsuits were filed against Gelson’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Bristol Farms, and others but not Trader Joe’s or Costco as their olive oil products are not adulterated. The 11th commandment: Thou shall not commit adulterated olive oil.

Last year I edited a brochure for an olive oil company and learned a thing or two about olive oil.

  • Like chocolate, a single varietal is best. The olives should come from one place whether it’s Greece, Spain, Italy, or California or other parts of the world known for its olives. Not only should it come from one country but from one estate in one region.
  • Olives should be handpicked and pressed on the very same day.
  • Bottles should be dark because light bottles cause the oil’s nutrients to break down.
  • Every bottle should have an expiration date.

I guess we’re on a slippery slope here but I’m glad someone is minding the store or in this case, stores.

I’m looking at my bottle of EVOO from Trader Joe’s. I always buy the same kind – Trader Giotto’s – cold pressed, packed in Italy. Without another thought, I just assume between the Giotto and the packed in Italy that my EVOO is Italian. I assumed incorrectly. On the back of the bottle in hard to read font stamped near the bottom is, “with oils of Italy, Spain, Greece, and Tunisa.” I’m not faulting the quality just having an observation as Trader Joe’s is not part of the lawsuit.

There is also some code – “(CE) ITA/087 – F1/09” on the label.   If you work at Trader Joe’s or profess to be an olive oil savant, please post a comment as to what this code means.

You can read the LA Times article here.

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