Spring is a time of year when new products and initiatives prompt us to also examine the health of the extravirgin olive oil sector. Rankings, competitions and industry publications help to create a picture of the situation. Considerable political, media and market attention is focused on quality Italian extra virgin olive oil, but it is not always directed in the right direction to effectively promote the product.
It is a complex sector. Those involved have very disparate interests and objectives: they range from large companies to bottlers, cooperatives to oil millers, down to small growers who cultivate their own olives and take them to be crushed by others.
For many years Slow Food has not supported specific industries so much as promoted a distinct production approach—one which tends to control the production chain, observes environmental sustainability and focuses on the local area. We strongly advocate that Italian extra virgin oil must meet specific traceability and genuineness criteria if it is to be an internationally successful exponent of Italian excellence.
The most important issue that is often raised is that it is difficult to ascertain accurate information on the origin of extra virgin oil reaching the market. But it is not so much a question of the actual origin so much as difficulty in finding any mention of the cultivars used, the production methods or the nutritional levels: the labels are too often vague or deliberately misleading. It is all information that consumers are justifiably demanding.
This situation cannot be resolved by just one of the parties, but must involve everyone: political authorities must stipulate precise regulations to safeguard the parameters indicated above, while producers are responsible for providing consumers with the information they expect to find when they wish to make a discerning purchase.
These objectives were discussed during the national presentation of the Guida agli extravergini (Guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oil) by Slow Food Editore, at the conclusion of an ambitious olive oil event held yesterday and Friday in Faenza and Brisighella. For two days Romagna became a center for extra virgin olive oil, celebrating its key figures—the producers—and confirming the strong interest in the issues facing this sector.
First printed in La Stampa on April 24 2007
Adapted by Ronnie Richards