`Richard Gawel on a Tear - Olive Oil Times

Richard Gawel on a Tear

Dec. 29, 2010
Sarah Schwager

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Richard Gawel

Australian extra vir­gin olive oil tast­ing panel leader and blog­ger Richard Gawel is well known around the indus­try for not being afraid to speak his mind. And this was cer­tainly the case speak­ing recently with Olive Oil Times.

Sometimes I go to the super­mar­ket and pull the stuff off the shelf and taste them and think this is just garbage’ and won­der what the hell pol­i­cy­mak­ers around the world are doing,” Dr. Gawel said about the qual­ity of some so-called EVOOs. If they think these olive oils are good they’ve got rocks in their heads.”

They’re prob­a­bly see­ing all these com­ments and think­ing who is this guy?’- Richard Gawel

A lit­tle known fact, the olive oil expert actu­ally started off as a sci­en­tific sta­tis­ti­cian, design­ing tri­als and ana­lyz­ing results. This undoubt­edly explains his obses­sion with data when writ­ing his olive oil blog Slick Extra Virgin.

He then worked as a wine lec­turer, before being tapped by the Australian Olive Oil Association in 1997 to head up an olive oil tast­ing panel. He ran that panel for eight years before decid­ing to give it up and start out as a self-employed olive oil con­sul­tant, while still chair­ing a num­ber of olive oil shows. He now works in wine research, pri­mar­ily with white wine phe­no­lics, and lives in Adelaide with his wife, two young teenagers, a dog, and a cat he doesn’t like.

None of which has sub­dued his blog posts, his par­tial­ity to com­ment on olive oil mis­in­for­ma­tion he sees on the Internet, his role in chair­ing olive oil shows, includ­ing the cov­eted Australian National Olive Oil Show, or his Twitter updates on all things EVOO.


Dr. Gawel said despite many peo­ple tran­si­tion­ing from the wine indus­try to the olive oil indus­try, the two are very dis­tinct. With wine, you’ve got so many dif­fer­ent vari­eties and dif­fer­ent alco­hol lev­els. Understanding the intri­ca­cies of each one is a lifetime’s work,” he said. With olive oil the dif­fer­ences are more sub­tle because you’re basi­cally assess­ing fruit juice, but when you get 50 oils in a show and you’ve got to work out which is the best one that’s actu­ally pretty chal­leng­ing.”

Born and bred in Adelaide, it is a far cry from the places tra­di­tion­ally asso­ci­ated with pro­duc­ing olive oil experts. If you asked some­one in the olive oil world where would be the most remote place, I reckon Adelaide, Melbourne or Hobart, Australia would get pretty close,” Dr. Gawel said.

And so the Internet tends to be his out­let to the world of olive oil. Known to be out­spo­ken, Dr. Gawel said he is just say­ing what he thinks, and what most peo­ple are too afraid to say. Not hav­ing any major com­mer­cial ties to a par­tic­u­lar olive oil com­pany cer­tainly helps.

I do a lit­tle bit of work for one com­pany or the other here or there but I make so lit­tle out of it I wouldn’t sell my soul for it,” he said. Why would I want to bull­shit for that amount of money? That’s the other good thing about being mil­lions of miles from nowhere. They’re prob­a­bly see­ing all these com­ments writ­ten by me and think­ing who is this guy? Oh, he’s just Australian, don’t worry, he’s a nobody’.”

But his opin­ions are cer­tainly not going ignored.

One issue Dr. Gawel has stayed on top of is the qual­ity of European EVOOs and mis­la­bel­ing. He said the indus­try world­wide needs to look at the qual­ity of olive oil being pre­sented to the mass mar­ket and was glad that Andalusia’s con­sumer pro­tec­tion author­i­ties had the guts” to go out and test oils all over Spain, dis­cov­er­ing that half of them weren’t actu­ally extra vir­gin.

Dr. Gawel believes the U.S. stan­dards have a long way to go. They aren’t much dif­fer­ent from the IOC (International Olive Oil Council) stan­dards, in fact there’s very lit­tle dif­fer­ence. If you actu­ally read the fine print, they’re just as con­fus­ing as they’ve ever been, and in fact, you can have a blended refined olive oil and call it a num­ber of dif­fer­ent things under the cur­rent stan­dards. The def­i­n­i­tion of a good set of stan­dards is that one oil should only fall into one cat­e­gory. I haven’t seen the new Australian stan­dards but I hope they’re a hell of a lot bet­ter. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

Dr. Gawel said a major change in the indus­try is the con­tin­u­ally improv­ing qual­ity of olive oils by the big pro­duc­ers forc­ing the small arti­san high-end pro­duc­ers out of the mar­ket. In the past, high vol­ume oils that you find in super­mar­kets around the world have gen­er­ally been pretty low qual­ity. But I think things are going to change really soon if you look at the big pro­duc­ers in Chile, here in Australia – Boundary Bend and the likes – and in California. For the first time ever we’re going to see really sound, fresh, good qual­ity olive oils hit­ting super­mar­ket shelves at super­mar­ket prices.”

Many of the big­ger pro­duc­ers are now turn­ing olives into qual­ity oils as soon as they have been har­vested, some­thing a small pro­ducer could only dream of. Dr. Gawel said in these oils they are find­ing free fatty acid­ity lev­els (an impor­tant indi­ca­tor of an olive oil’s qual­ity) of 0.1 and 0.15, low per­ox­ides and they are fresh and fruity.

Richard Gawel said an issue that is not being widely talked about is the reduc­tion in con­sump­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil, and olive oil in gen­eral, in Europe. If you look at Spain, Italy and par­tic­u­larly in Greece, the per capita con­sump­tion has fallen sig­nif­i­cantly in the last 10 years. The IOC doesn’t ever talk about this because they don’t actu­ally want any­one to talk about it.”

He said annual per capita con­sump­tion in Greece has fallen from some­thing like 28 to 21 liters in the last 10 years. That’s a hell of a lot of olive oil. You’ve got to ask the ques­tion, why aren’t peo­ple in Europe eat­ing as much olive oil as they used to?’ In every other coun­try around the world – the US, Australia, Germany and Britain – con­sump­tion is either sta­ble or increas­ing”

In Europe, they’re doing pro­mo­tional pushes into India and China, which is great. If you get peo­ple in China to eat even one drop of olive oil a year each we’d all be wealthy but it’s a long haul to do that.”

Dr. Gawel is cer­tainly doing his part to help keep the wine and olive oil indus­tries mov­ing. As part of his job he tastes wine just about every day, and he tastes more than 500 olive oils a year. And that’s just his day job.

At home, he said one of his kids really likes EVOO and puts it on every­thing, while the other doesn’t care less”. That’s kids for you,” he said.

Even despite the huge num­ber of oils that have touched his palate, his appetite for tast­ing good qual­ity olive oils has not dimin­ished. It would be nice to see a few more super-duper fresh European oils that we could try, but again Australia is a bit out of the way,” Dr. Gawel said.

But he said one of the best things about the Australian indus­try is its abil­ity to exper­i­ment and try new blends with its diverse vari­eties and styles of olive oils, which range from the Tuscan styles to Spanish and Greek vari­eties, and with green olives, mid-range, and riper olives.

It is very open-minded about what con­sti­tutes good olive oils here. Some of the com­bi­na­tions you won’t find any­where else in the world. We get a few dog oils here from Australian pro­duc­ers on super­mar­ket shelves but I think the main thing is that the prob­lem isn’t sys­temic. What I’ve found is that Australian oils on Australian super­mar­ket shelves are really good qual­ity and pretty con­sis­tent, apart from the odd one.”

Between his var­i­ous olive oil and wine com­mit­ments, Dr. Gawel also man­ages to ded­i­cate time to some of his other pas­sions which often find their way into his Twitter feed (@oliveoilguy) such as human rights. As a mem­ber of Amnesty International, he said he feels priv­i­leged liv­ing in a coun­try where you can actu­ally say what you think and not get in prison for it”.

When he has the time to go fly fish­ing he also writes about that. That’s a pretty self-indul­gent thing to do,” he said. A keen gar­dener, his toma­toes might also get a men­tion, mostly to taunt” the neigh­bors. I love cricket. My American friends think that’s the fun­ni­est thing in the world, how any­one could sit in front of the tele­vi­sion for five days and watch a draw,” he said.

And I’ve always loved AFL (Australian Football League). I’m a strong sup­porter of the Melbourne Football Club (known as The Demons). I’m a keen cyclist when I’m not get­ting hit by cars, which I’ve been a few times and been in the hos­pi­tal. I think that cyclists get a bit of a hard time, we don’t get looked after that well. But apart from cycling and fish­ing and watch­ing cricket that’s about my life really.”

As for a Sunday, he will tend his gar­den, go for a ride on his bike if he feels game, write his blog, have some mates around for a few beers, and spend some time with his kids.

A lot of peo­ple think my Sundays might be wasted but I’ve never seen them as being wasted,” he said.

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