` Córdoba Recap: Voices for Olive Oil Quality - Olive Oil Times

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.

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.

Barjol said dur­ing his brief address that olive oil pack­ag­ing should pro­vide more infor­ma­tion to make an oil more sin­gu­lar, so the con­sumer knows what they’re buy­ing,” includ­ing, he added, food-pair­ing sug­ges­tions. Better label infor­ma­tion should be a pri­or­ity for the sec­tor,” Barjol declared, because we have to under­line not just the fla­vor pro­file, but the use of the olive oil. The objec­tive is for the con­sumer to make informed choices.”

The IOC direc­tor invited coun­tries who were not mem­bers of the inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tion to come in.” Earlier, Barjol said he would pro­pose the imple­men­ta­tion of a sep­a­rate Mario Salinas Quality Award for pro­duc­ers in the Southern Hemisphere so they would not have to enter the pres­ti­gious IOC com­pe­ti­tion with olive oil that had been stored for months.

Excerpt of address by Jean-Louis Barjol and the begin­ning of the ses­sion on mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion mod­er­ated by Rocio Alberdi of ICEX:

Tom Mueller on how to get to American con­sumers:

Dan Flynn, whose Davis Olive Center has put out head­line-grab­bing reports crit­i­cal of European olive oils and which gar­nered crit­i­cism in return for what some viewed as their selec­tive mes­sages and aggres­sive tone, pre­sented mod­ern meth­ods used by the American high-den­sity pro­ducer California Olive Ranch to illus­trate that it was pos­si­ble to make qual­ity olive oil on a large scale.

Perhaps the pre­sen­ta­tions that got closer to the heart of the mat­ter were those by the CIA’s Greg Drescher, Marie Jose San Roman and the other chefs who urged atten­dees to iden­tify, apply and pro­mote extra vir­gin olive oil char­ac­ter­is­tics in foods and on menus.

Adding value through the sup­ply chain was the over­rid­ing mes­sage, and it just might be the only thing that can save a way of life for farm­ers and pro­duc­ers of olive oil every­where. If only the eye-open­ing (and mouth-water­ing) culi­nary demon­stra­tions could have been in front of a large group of food­ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als and influ­en­tial chefs, they might have truly made the world a bet­ter place.

Aris Kefalogiannis is the founder and chief exec­u­tive of Gaea, the vice-chair­man of the Greek olive oil asso­ci­a­tion SEVITEL, and the entre­pre­neur behind the ground­break­ing part­ner­ship with the Kritsa Cooerative that lets Cretan farm­ers and pro­duc­ers con­cen­trate on qual­ity instead of mar­ket­ing. Clearly one of those peo­ple inca­pable of doing any­thing halfway (he’s also an Olympic water polo cham­pion), Kefalogiannis will orga­nize next year’s con­fer­ence (BEV6) in Greece, where once again the group will take steps to advance the 3E mis­sion.

Showing col­leagues pho­tos of the final touches of a new Gaea culi­nary facil­ity that will pre­sum­ably present 3E-cer­ti­fied oils and pro­vide instruc­tion on their appli­ca­tions Kefalogiannis, who just might be the Mediterranean’s great­est olive oil mar­keter at the moment, showed that side and pos­si­bly a peek at a more prac­ti­cal moti­va­tion behind 3E when he exclaimed to other 3E orga­niz­ers, We need to get sales­peo­ple out in the mar­ket… or there won’t be a (BEV) seven.”

Outside on the ter­race over­look­ing Cordoba, I chat­ted with the renowned chef and a pre­sen­ter that day, Paul Bartolotta, who pon­dered how much he enjoyed the fla­vor of sesame as he snacked on seeded crack­ers left out by the cater­ers between ses­sions.

Bartolotta, who is my pick for the per­fect celebrity chef spokesper­son for olive oil in the United States, has a group of restau­rants in Milwaukee but lives in Las Vegas near his name­sake restau­rant at the Wynn.

We talked about his fish tank — one of just a hand­ful in the world — where lan­goustines are kept alive until just before being served to his guests.

But it was pure Milwaukee, when Bartolotta finally cut through the pro­to­col and cau­tion that abounded that day and said, I’m sick of all the shit. I just want them to make good olive oil.”

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