When the Los Angeles Times reported in July that approximately two-thirds of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) sold in California grocery stores isn’t so virgin after all, and that the problem comes from imported olive oils, I dashed to my pantry, flung open the door, and sighed. My EVOO bottle was on the list of claims-to-be-extra-virgin-but-don't-believe-it olive oil. The alleged EVOO from Italy in my pantry apparently shacked up with cheaper canola, seed or nut oils—thereby losing any hint of virginity. Shame on my olive oil, and shame on Italy.
Double shame on me. One, the report went on to say, “No such mixing was found in the recent tests of products produced in California…” and, two, the nearby foodie-town-in-training, Paso Robles, CA, is home to over two dozen olive farms that co-habit with the burgeoning world-class local vineyards. Why did I not buy local? I preach it, so my bargain EVOO shopping vs. quality EVOO shopping was about to change.
Last week, I slipped into the 7th Annual Olive Festival in Paso Robles, and it was a voyage into the new world of an ancient food. Mostly family-owned farmers/producers poured samples of their oils for visitors to taste. Vendors supplied bread for dipping—but I watched as the purists went directly for the straight on sipping. Without a clue as to how oils are tasted, I chose the purist route.