`Córdoba Recap: Voices for Olive Oil Quality

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Córdoba Recap: Voices for Olive Oil Quality

Jun. 12, 2011
Curtis Cord

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Clau­dio Peri, a food tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Milan and cre­ator of Associ­tion 3E wel­comed par­tic­i­pants to the fifth edi­tion of the Beyond Extra Vir­gin con­fer­ence (BEV5) in Cór­doba , Spain and intro­duced the first speaker, author Tom Mueller. After explain­ing for so many years what Asso­ci­a­tion 3E is and does, or would like to do,” Peri said, I needed — we needed — to know what other informed, inde­pen­dent per­sons think of us.“

Such a need for affir­ma­tion might seem sur­pris­ing for a man described as a vision­ary and trail­blazer by the olive oil cognoscente who gath­ered for the inter­na­tional con­gress he founded. But while there’s no doubt Peri, along with Culi­nary Insti­tute of Amer­i­ca’s strat­egy direc­tor Greg Drescher and Tus­can olive oil resort owner Paolo Pasquali, can fill a room with an impres­sive assort­ment of indus­try and gov­ern­ment lumi­nar­ies, how 3E will actu­ally reach its goal of estab­lish­ing a higher bench­mark for olive oil qual­ity, and what the group’s ulti­mate aims are for doing so, remain unclear.

For the grow­ing num­ber of those who view the clas­si­fi­ca­tion Extra Vir­gin not as the top, but as a base­line, the idea of estab­lish­ing higher vol­un­tary stan­dards and a com­mon lan­guage asso­ci­ated with what 3E calls Super Pre­mium” olive oils is an attrac­tive propo­si­tion. But after seven years and five con­fer­ences, the group has yet to dis­close a plan for get­ting 3E cer­ti­fied olive oils beyond a few places includ­ing the Oleote­cas at Pasqual­i’s Villa Campestri and the CIA’s Grey­stone cam­pus in Napa Val­ley.

The Cór­doba event was set high on a hill­top with views of end­less fields of sun­flow­ers. A gala din­ner hit an emo­tional tone that suited its dra­matic cas­tle court­yard set­ting with a poetry read­ing by Peri, every bit the pro­fes­sor, before Fla­menco and fine din­ing car­ried the for­tu­nate guests late into the morn­ing hours.

More reserved, on the other hand, were the speak­ers dur­ing the ses­sions who were well aware of the mixed crowd they were play­ing to, includ­ing New and Old World pro­duc­ers, civil ser­vants, researchers, bot­tlers, mar­keters and jour­nal­ists. It was no won­der most pre­sen­ters kept it close to the mid­dle ground and few ques­tions were asked of them after­ward. In fact, ques­tions were not often invited, and one might have expected more inter­ac­tiv­ity at an event that openly acknowl­edged the com­plex­i­ties of the tasks ahead.

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Lis­ten to the open­ing remarks by Span­ish Envi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Rosa Aguilar:

Inter­pro­fe­sional del Aceite de Oliva Español pres­i­dent Pedro Barato Triguero, whose diverse orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sents those respon­si­ble for nearly half of the world’s olive oil, crafted an elo­quent open­ing that began by describ­ing what he called the two chap­ters of Span­ish olive oil.

Spain’s absence at the 1956 sign­ing of the Treaty of Rome kept the coun­try and its man­u­fac­tur­ers turned inward, Triguero explained. Thirty years later, as part of the Euro­pean Union, Spain was forced to com­pete with a new set of rules while other Euro­pean coun­tries were already used to for­eign mar­kets and trade.

This late start would in part explain why Span­ish Olive Oil” was never pro­moted as such (to the cha­grin of a few con­fer­ence atten­dees who objected to that fact), like those Made in Italy,” Greece and, now, Amer­ica, Aus­tralia, Chile and Argentina.

Lis­ten to the open­ing address by Inter­pro­fe­sional del Aceite de Oliva Español pres­i­dent Pedro Barato Triguero:

Triguero said since join­ing the Euro­pean Union in 1986 the Span­ish olive oil sec­tor has car­ried out a mas­sive restruc­tur­ing and taken big steps toward pro­duc­tion excel­lence to make up for lost time. Since 1986 pro­duc­tion has tripled (from 493,000 tons in 1986 to 1.4 mil­lion tons this year) while the num­ber of olive oil mills was reduced by half over the period. Call­ing qual­ity the only pos­si­ble path in the long term,” Triguero warned that achiev­ing excel­lence would be a sus­tained process, not a quick fix.

Author Tom Mueller, whose sear­ing 2007 expose of olive oil fraud still rever­ber­ates in the indus­try, and whose very name on the con­fer­ence pro­gram may well have kept a few brand name big­wigs in their Andalu­sian offices, was the first speaker.

Despite a forth­com­ing and highly antic­i­pated book titled Extra Vir­gin­ity” that will report­edly uncover more naugh­ti­ness, Mueller’s speech was politely con­fined to call­ing for a com­mon lan­guage for excel­lence. Extra Vir­gin has no mean­ing,” he said, rea­son­ing that Peri, Drescher and Pasquali, who all only recently became involved with olive oil, might be bet­ter qual­i­fied to draft the new lan­guage than indus­try insid­ers.

Lis­ten to Clau­dio Per­i’s open­ing remarks and Tom Mueller’s address here:

Inter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Jean-Louis Bar­jol, just months into his new appoint­ment, is a friendly and capa­ble man already held in high regard, even by a group with such dis­parate inter­ests. And it’s that dis­par­ity, he admit­ted in an ear­lier meet­ing, that can some­times keep ini­tia­tives grounded.

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