What is the difference between extra virgin olive oil and the other types? It’s not just a fancy name or a marketing ploy. There’s quite a rigorous testing process through the State of California Department of Food and Agriculture that bestows the name. These tests verify that the olives were grown and pressed according to standards that produce the best flavor and quality.
We take care in growing and harvesting our olives organically, so all we have to do is grind them and bottle the extracted oils. The “cold pressing” of olive oil is a key component of the extra virgin grading. It’s the highest quality standard, followed by virgin olive oil, and crude olive oil. Each year after our olive harvest and pressing in November, we send our oil to a lab to be certified extra virgin.
The lab performs a series of tests to determine where our oil falls on the quality spectrum. Some tests are chemical—looking for contaminants like pesticides and confirming that we haven’t refined the oil with chemicals or heat. Then, the oil undergoes a flavor and aroma test—a more subjective, but very important aspect of the extra virgin certification. Extra virgin olive oil needs a certain balance of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency—words that may not all sound positive, but are exactly the kind of complexity that olive producers are going for in their oil. The lab also looks for polyphenols, an important antioxidant found most prevalently in greener, younger olives. Polyphenols are associated with all sorts of health benefits. The higher the number, the more flavorful the oil tends to be.
We know that our production practices and pressing procedures adhere to extra virgin standards, so it’s no surprise when we get the numbers back from the lab each year confirming just that. But that’s not to say that the lab results don’t vary. Every year’s crop has its unique qualities. So it was an exciting surprise that this year’s oil has the highest polyphenol levels we’ve seen in three years!
Polyphenols reduce inflammation and soothe and protect the skin. Thanks to them, consuming olive oil lowers one’s risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's. And an olive oil-rich diet lowers blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil is even linked to reducing the risk of some types of cancers. Scientists are only beginning to understand all the benefits. Polyphenol levels decrease with age and storage, though, which is why Olio Nuovo (the oil right off the press—available now!) is so special and rich.
The flavor and aroma profile is another exciting aspect of each year’s lab results. We hold our own tasting at the farm where Chef Becky and Mario eloquently describe what we are all tasting. We like to compare their descriptors to the notes we get back from the lab’s specialist. All of them picked up on the oil’s nuttiness—a “green almond” flavor, as the lab described. Becky and Mario noted the “green apple” in addition to the “underripe banana” flavor. They also aptly named the grassy and more herbaceous notes. Then there are some hints of cinnamon and even wood. Becky and Mario take the descriptors one step further in describing the mouthfeel, too. This year’s oil is buttery and waxy in texture but mostly it has a light, uncloying mouthfeel. And it has a subtle but still there kick at the finish, the peppery burn at the back of the throat that you expect from a high-quality extra virgin Olio Nuovo. All in all, we think it’s pretty excellent. It’s rewarding to also have that external validation from the lab, and now from our customers as you try this year’s oil!
Hero image by Melissa Habegger