Richard Gawel on a Tear

Dec. 29, 2010
By Sarah Schwager

Recent News

By Sarah Schwager
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Buenos Aires

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 US 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.”

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