My love affair with “liquid gold” started a few years back when I was bitten by the extra virgin olive oil bug. Ever since opening up my own olive oil and balsamic vinegar gourmet company, I’m continually asked what is extra virgin olive oil? What makes olive oil extra virgin? Why can’t it be just virgin...or just olive oil?
Well to make olive oil extra virgin or as insiders call it EVOO, it's all about timing and temperature. Once the olive is picked from the tree the clock is ticking. The faster a farmer can get the olive from the tree to the olive press the better; usually within ten hours is best. The longer you wait the more acidic the olives becomes. Really good extra virgin olive oil is like fruit juice; it’s simply squeezed from the fruit of the olive and nothing is done to the oil. There’s no processing on any level whatsoever.
For olive oil to be considered extra virgin it has to meet some technical parameters. The first is the acidity level. This test measures the level of free fatty acids in the olive oil. Free fatty acids are released when fat molecules start to deteriorate and so a measure of their presence gives a good indication of the state of the olive oil. In Europe, the free fatty acid or acidity level must be below 0.08. In California they are a bit stricter with their EVOO having to be 0.05 acidity level or below to be called extra virgin olive oil. The lower the acidity level, the better the oil.
Perhaps even more important than the acidity level is the result of the Peroxide test. This measures the degree of oxidation of the oil so far. The closer the result is to the limit of “20”, the shorter the shelf life of the olive oil.
You might’ve heard terms like “First Pressed” and “Cold-Pressed”, which are standards that need to be followed to make olive oil truly extra virgin. First pressed means just that, the first and only pressing of the olives. Many producers will go back and re-press the same olives two, three or even four times to squeeze every ounce of oil they can out of the olives. Doing this creates a low quality olive oil.
Cold-pressed means that as the olives are being pressed the temperature must be kept cold and constant not to damage the olives. If not properly controlled, the heat created during the pressing could destroy any chances of the oil coming out extra virgin.
I hope this article shed some light on what EVOO really is. Once you taste real extra virgin olive oil it’s impossible to go back to the supermarket again.