The #1 question I get is, "what makes an oil "extra-virgin"? There are many posts online that outline the requirements for "extra-virgin" status, and it can get detailed and lengthy, but it's worth knowing what you're buying and why "extra-virgin olive oil" comes at a premium price.
It comes down to one simple concept: purety. Extra-Virgin olive oils are free of chemical and sensory defects. Identifying those defects can be difficult to the untrained taste bud, which is why producers rely on a certified lab to conduct chemical analysis on the oil, and a trained tasting panel to determine if any sensory defects are present. If the oil meet or exceeds the parameters set, the oil qualifies as "extra-virgin".
Let's take a closer look at what this really means.
Chemical Analsyis: Olive oils are tested for Free-Fatty Acid (FFA) content. Why is this important? A low FFA number equates to a) properly handled olives prior to milling, b) olives of sound quality and free of pests (ie. olive fly), c) good milling technique and d) proper storage of the oil. The threhold set are as follows:
* International level is 0.08%.
* California level is 0.05%
Olive oils with a FFA at or below the below thresholds qualify as "extra-virgin".
Sensory Analysis: Sensory analysis, in my opinion, is the most important measure of a quality oil. Olive oils samples are sent to a certified sensory panel, who then conduct a blind taste test of the oil. There can be zero detectable defects in the oil. Additionally, the panel ranks the "positive" attributes of the oil on a number scale. The three positive attributes are Fruitiness, Pungency and Bitterness.
A failure in either the Chemical or Sensory test will not allow an olive oil to be called "extra-virgin". Based on the scores of the FFA, the oil will received a designation of "Virgin" or simply, "Olive Oil".
When purchasing olive oil, look for a certified seal (such as the COOC: California Olive Oil Council") or ask the producer to show their results from sensory and chemical analysis. To see Olio De Nardi's results, click here.