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Non-Italian Italian Olive Oil

There is a small scandal on the Italian olive oil scene these days.

Through a quirk in the way Europe’s olive oil labeling laws are written, the “Product of” label signifies the location of the bottler — not the source of the olives themselves. And the Italian olive oil companies have used this loophole their advantage. In fact, much of the mass produced “Italian” olive oil is made from either Spanish or Turkish olives. This makes a lot of sense to anyone who has ever driven through Andalusia in southern Spain, where you can drive for hundreds of miles and see nothing but millions of olive trees. While there is a big push within Spain to increase international brand awareness of Spanish olive oil, they are still a large exporter of unprocessed olives.

Italy, on the other hand, doesn’t even have enough olive trees to support its own domestic consumption — let alone a major oil export market.

The scandal has been interesting to watch, as spokespeople for the large olive oil companies have publicly defended their olive import practices. The head of one hundred+ year-old Italian olive oil company (he’s a minor royal) went to great pains to explain in a newspaper article why it is the Italian “blending” expertise that make non-Italian Italian olive oil so great. Our view is that if you extended this logic to wine, the great champagne houses of France and the Napa and Sonoma wineries could buy all of their grapes from Modesto, and make up the difference with their great skill at blending.

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