Opinions

California's Olive Oil Time Warp

Thanks to their new self-imposed regulations, California olive oil producers are already partying like it's 2015.

Oct. 10, 2014
By Curtis Cord

Recent News

Samoa might get to cel­e­brate the New Year before the rest of the world, thanks to its posi­tion along the Inter­na­tional Date Line, but Cal­i­for­nia olive oil pro­duc­ers have the tiny island nation beat — along with their Euro­pean com­peti­tors.

Cal­i­for­nia pro­duc­ers have just enti­tled them­selves to call the olives they are har­vest­ing right now part of their 2015 har­vest,” ring­ing in the new year on their bot­tle labels before every­one else.

California’s own Grade and Label­ing Stan­dards for Olive Oil, recently imple­mented by the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Food and Agri­cul­ture gives them the green light: Because the har­vest typ­i­cally runs from Octo­ber through Jan­u­ary,” the new rules say, the 2014 – 2015 har­vest sea­son is deemed to be the 2015 har­vest.”

So if you think you knew every­thing to look for on an olive oil label, here’s one more thing to remem­ber: If a bot­tle from Cal­i­for­nia indi­cates a sin­gle-year har­vest date of 2015, the olives were most likely har­vested in 2014.

In fact, there has been a trend in olive oil pro­duc­tion toward ear­lier har­vests, which makes the new sim­pli­fi­ca­tion even fur­ther from the truth.

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A scan of one hun­dred Span­ish, Ital­ian and Greek olive oils that dis­played har­vest dates found not even one that used only the sec­ond year of the har­vest sea­son. Instead, most referred to the sea­son itself, such as 2013/14,” or by the spe­cific month (or months) and year, like Octo­ber-Novem­ber, 2013.”

The imported oils that did indi­cate only a sin­gle year as the har­vest date, in every case, used the first year of the sea­son. In other words, olives har­vested in Octo­ber, 2013 bore the date 2013.” In Cal­i­for­nia, that would be called 2014.”

Of course, a 2014 har­vest date on a bot­tle of Cal­i­forn­ian EVOO looks a lot bet­ter than the 2013 har­vest date on that Ital­ian label, even though they are equally fresh. But that’s the point.

Bot­tles of Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch (COR) extra vir­gin olive oil on store shelves this week indi­cated only a sin­gle har­vest year: 2014. But in fact, the oils were not made from olives har­vested in 2014 at all, but in Octo­ber and early Novem­ber, 2013.

The oil made from olives har­vested in 2013 was released in 2014, a COR rep­re­sen­ta­tive explained. That’s why it bears the 2014 har­vest.

Yeah, that’s what we used to call the bot­tling date.

California’s trim­ming of the date that used to be seen as the most reli­able indi­ca­tor of an olive oil’s true age will likely cause Euro­pean pro­duc­ers who have used more accu­rate har­vest date indi­ca­tions to start dumb­ing-down their labels to appear as fresh as their Golden State rivals.

The largest Amer­i­can olive oil com­pany, Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch, says on its web­site you should know how fresh your olive oil is, that’s why every bot­tle of our olive oil dis­plays the har­vest date.”

Right. Just remem­ber to sub­tract a year, and you’ll be good.



Update: Shortly after this arti­cle was pub­lished, the Cal­i­for­nia stan­dards were changed. Now, the date on Cal­i­for­nia labels accu­rately state the har­vest year as the first year of the har­vest sea­son, as is com­mon around the world.


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