I was at this International Olive Oil Conference a few weeks ago and watched with fascination as Chef Daniel Patterson from the James Beard Award nominated restaurant Coi used olive oil “powder” on his dish, wow’ing the crowd with his gastronomical creativity! I rolled my eyes a bit, the way most food scientists do when we see a white table cloth chef impressing the masses with the very same ingredients that those masses misunderstand on their retail labels… It’s not fair really, that Chef Daniel gets to use olive oil powder and foams and is hailed a hero, while some poor manufacturer who does the same-is treated like they are the reason mad cow exists!
But… I digressed slightly- I really want to talk about olive oil. Not the stuff I apparently thought was olive oil in the Safeway bottle at the supermarket, and not even the slightly more expensive brands next to the Safeway bottles but specifically, olive oil that has been classified as Super Premium Olive Oil by the TRE-E Association. TheTRE-E association was founded on July 21 2004 by thirteen olive oil producers with the following objectives:
- Define olive oil excellence in a way that gives the concept a clear definition, something that can be shared, measured, and verified. “Super Premium” describes olive oil that meets that definition
- Define the technical and managerial conditions necessary for the production of super-premium olive oil
- Pioneer new and innovative marketing techniques for these oils to develop their commercial potential
In order for an olive oil to be TRE-E (which means three E’s in Italian; Ethnics, Excellence and Economy) it must adhere to many rules and regulations and proof of documentation, all of which are written in the TRE-E model. Any olive oil producer in the world can be given a TRE-E Super Premium Selection Seal of Excellence as long as they conform to all of the detailed points listed in the TRE-E model booklet! I won’t list them all here, but you can find them on their website http://www.tre-e.org/syw/bin/home.asp.
And since I come from a technical world, I was drawn to some of the very specific measurable analytical standards that define the Super Premium oils which include the levels of free acidity, peroxide values, and U.V. absorption. The Analytical standards also include sensory evaluation –which is done by panel of highly trained experts.
Before you hop on a plane to Italy to get your hands on some of this amazing (and it really was truly amazing oils. I am not a highly trained panel expert but I could taste all those buttery, silky, suave, peppery, fruity, green grass, almond, herbacious flavors in there) super premium products… I can tell you …don’t! Turns out several California brands have passed the Premium Test and you can lower your carbon footprint in the world, be more local and buy it from the good ole USA. Now, if you are reading this blog in Italy or Greece, then of course it makes sense to buy from the producer nearest you. When it comes to olive oil, the fresher, the younger, the most recently pressed is best and in general, as I learned at this conference, its best to buy it as local as possible!
While companies like Clos Pepe Estate in CA have the super premium product available, sometimes it makes more sense (especially for food service) to buy something slightly more economical-but still excellent quality. California Olive Ranch is America’s largest grower and processor of olive oil. They make products for both food service and retail and their website is great! There is technical olive oil data in there, recipes galore from famous chefs, a blog for chefs and another blog for consumers. I almost forgot that I was on a commercial site, so engrossed I became in their highly educational and entertaining website!
I left the International Conference an enlightened Culinologist. The scientist in me was excited to learn about how olive oil is manufactured, analytical definitions, and sensory analysis while the culinarian in me got to indulge in Ajo Blanco Gazpacho (Spanish olive oil), Xinomizithra Cheesecake drizzled with Greek olive oil, smoked trout (California olive oil) and Orecchiette Pasta (Italian olive oil). The food was … sublime, the olive oils divine … or, more specifically.. green, fruity, cut grass cinnamon, tomato leaf artichoke.