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An Extra Virgin Olive Oil Handbook

By Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne
Jun. 9, 2014 12:37 UTC

The sub­ject of olive oil qual­ity – in par­tic­u­lar that of extra vir­gin olive oil – has been the topic of much dis­cus­sion recently. A new book, The Extra Virgin Olive Oil Handbook edited by Claudio Peri and pub­lished by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. is a wel­come resource for any­one who has been fol­low­ing the olive oil qual­ity con­ver­sa­tion, par­tic­u­larly those in the indus­try who are look­ing for prac­ti­cal infor­ma­tion to help them to pro­duce, pro­mote, buy or sell high qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

Professor emer­i­tus of food tech­nol­ogy at the University of Milan, Claudio Peri’s name may be famil­iar to read­ers as the founder of Association 3E, the olive oil qual­ity group that was behind the inno­v­a­tive Beyond Extra Virgin con­fer­ences from 2007 to 2011. Although Association 3E no longer exists, this exper­i­ment in super-pre­mium olive oil qual­ity pro­duc­tion and pro­mo­tion was an impor­tant prov­ing ground for many of the con­cepts in the book.

This book fills a gap that exists in the cur­rent library of English-lan­guage olive oil resources. Although there are numer­ous books avail­able on grow­ing olives, and on cook­ing with olive oil, there is a dearth of prac­ti­cal mate­r­ial on the mak­ing of olive oil. The Extra Virgin Olive Oil Handbook sets out to be an acces­si­ble guide for peo­ple in the extra vir­gin olive oil chain: pro­duc­ers, dis­trib­u­tors, buy­ers, retail­ers and chefs.

The book is in three sec­tions: The prod­uct, the process and the process con­trol sys­tem. The chap­ters are authored by dif­fer­ent peo­ple – mostly Italian experts – but there is con­sis­tency in the tone and depth of the mate­r­ial through­out the book. Dr. Peri is a fre­quent co-author of chap­ters, as well as the edi­tor, and the book is cohe­sive and read­able, some­thing that is not always the case when a book has so many authors.

Part I: The prod­uct” cov­ers olive oil def­i­n­i­tions, stan­dards, com­po­si­tion and cul­ti­vars. The mate­r­ial on olive oil com­po­si­tion and nutri­tional prop­er­ties is a con­cise and com­pre­hen­si­ble descrip­tion of what makes up extra vir­gin olive oil. A rudi­men­tary back­ground in olive oil chem­istry is impor­tant to under­stand­ing issues of olive oil qual­ity, and this chap­ter does a good job of pro­vid­ing that foun­da­tion. The pit­fall of Too Much Information is quite well avoided; the authors accept that they are not pro­vid­ing a defin­i­tive trea­tise on olive oil chem­istry but rather a primer to help the layper­son under­stand the rest of the book.

Claudio Peri

A chap­ter on the role of oxy­gen and water in olive oil pro­cess­ing is fas­ci­nat­ing, set­ting the stage for the upcom­ing chap­ters on malax­a­tion, sep­a­ra­tion, fil­tra­tion and stor­age. The John Wooden mantra bal­ance is every­thing” is cited here to illu­mi­nate the rela­tion­ship between oxy­gen, water and olive oil qual­ity.

The chap­ter on sen­sory eval­u­a­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil is a good intro­duc­tion to the topic, out­lin­ing offi­cial IOC/EC meth­ods and func­tions, but also touch­ing on the vocab­u­lary and uses of descrip­tive analy­sis. It is descrip­tive analy­sis that can help buy­ers find the right oil for their pur­poses, and for the culi­nary com­mu­nity to bet­ter describe dishes. A chap­ter at the end of the book on culi­nary uses of extra vir­gin olive oil con­tin­ues the explo­ration of this cru­cial inter­ac­tion of olive oil and food.

Part II: The process” cov­ers the mak­ing of olive oil from har­vest to milling to pack­ag­ing. The infor­ma­tion about the process is well-bal­anced: con­cise and com­pre­hen­si­ble, but not over sim­pli­fied. A good exam­ple of this is the dis­cus­sion of the time-tem­per­a­ture rela­tion­ship. Although the eas­i­est thing to say is always have the short­est pos­si­ble time between har­vest and milling,” an under­stand­ing of the impor­tance of the tem­per­a­ture of the fruit and envi­ron­ment helps a pro­ducer know whether they are in a three-alarm fire sit­u­a­tion or not. The abil­ity to make smart deci­sions about crit­i­cal points in the pro­duc­tion process can be the dif­fer­ence not only between excel­lent olive oil and ordi­nary olive oil, but also between mak­ing a profit or not.

The descrip­tion of the milling process – clean­ing, grind­ing, malax­a­tion, sep­a­ra­tion – looks at the dif­fer­ent steps and their effects on the prod­uct. The dif­fer­ences between var­i­ous options like disc or ham­mer mills, de-stoned or intact olives, two-phase or three-phase decanters, etc., are well explained. Post-milling steps like fil­tra­tion, stor­age and pack­ag­ing are also cov­ered in a thor­ough fash­ion.

Part III: The process con­trol sys­tem” is where it all comes together. The chap­ter on process man­age­ment sys­tems looks at inte­grat­ing var­i­ous goals and con­di­tions for the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil in a man­age­ment scheme, and uses risk analy­sis for iden­ti­fy­ing crit­i­cal points.

Product trace­abil­ity and process cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is addressed in sep­a­rate chap­ters, and so are hygiene man­age­ment and food safety sys­tems (HMS and HACCP). Chapters on olive mill waste and by-prod­ucts, and life-cycle assess­ment, look at the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of olive oil pro­duc­tion and trade.

The pro­duc­tion cost of extra vir­gin olive oil is dis­sected in its own chap­ter. It pro­vides a frame­work that will allow a pro­ducer, or would-be pro­ducer, to cal­cu­late their own real costs by walk­ing them step-by-step through the process. Finally, an appen­dix pro­vides use­ful infor­ma­tion such as weight to vol­ume con­ver­sion tables and infor­ma­tion on den­sity, con­cen­tra­tion, yield, vis­cos­ity, minor com­po­nents of olive oil and smoke points.

There are parts of this book that will prob­a­bly stir con­tro­versy. As any­one who has been in the indus­try for any time at all knows, it is easy to get find peo­ple with widely diver­gent opin­ions about olive oil. The omis­sion of PPP and DAGs in the dis­cus­sion of olive oil stan­dards, for exam­ple, is notable, espe­cially given their impor­tance in recent stan­dards and estab­lished retail para­me­ters. But over­all the book does an excel­lent job of pre­sent­ing a com­pre­hen­sive guide to extra vir­gin olive oil in clear, under­stand­able lan­guage. It pro­vides a good foun­da­tion for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil. This book will be a valu­able resource for any­one who wants to improve their pro­duc­tion and han­dling or sim­ply to bet­ter under­stand this com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing food.

The Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Handbook, edited by Claudio Peri


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