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.