Jan
11

The Quality Olive Oil Challenge: Musings on the CIA/UC Davis Olive Center Seminar

One of the problems faced by quality olive oil producers and their supporters is that a lot of time is spent preaching to the choir. We have conferences, symposia, seminars and short courses, with audiences consisting mostly of olive oil producers, an occasional chef, and some miscellaneous academics, scientists, writers and other olive oil partisans. There are a lot of excellent presentations, creative ideas and energetic exchanges.  But at the end, it seems like there is never enough meaningful progress outside of this group of olive oil fanatics.

The upcoming class co-presented by the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis Olive Center holds the promise of something new. This seminar grew out of a desire to capitalize on two things: one was the NASFT Fancy Food Show being in town, and with it a slew of great olive oil producers, and a huge gathering of specialty food buyers. The other was the presence of Tom Mueller on his Extra Virginity book tour.

Tom’s book has done exactly what we all hoped it would: it has ignited a firestorm of spirited discussion about the quality and benefits of olive oil. It has also had an equally anticipated, but more unsettling, effect of causing something approaching panic among people who buy olive oil. This is most obvious in consumers; the Internet is rife with hand wringing over their soiled extra virgins. But rumor has it that a far less public bout of consciousness-raising is taking place: in the offices of the people who do the buying at the wholesale level.

Enter Olive Oil Flavor & Quality: Next Generation Benchmarks for Specialty Retail,  Supermarkets & Foodservice

There is an old saw among quality-oriented olive oil producers: Making great olive oil isn’t that difficult, it’s selling it at a profit that is hard. The truth of that became very obvious as I worked with the dedicated producers and scientists of Association 3E in its drive to establish a global standard for Super-Premium olive oil and to carve out a niche in the market. The problem faced by these producers is emblematic of the challenge of all honest, quality-oriented olive oil producers: they just cannot compete against the tide of mislabeled industrial junk that also sports a jaunty “extra virgin” label.

This class is groundbreaking because of who will be in the audience. These are the people who make the decisions that affect the decisions of others. The class is sold out—a very good sign. As Dick Neilsen of McEvoy Ranch always said, “The most important people to reach with education are the people who choose what goes on the shelves.”

This seminar is a wonderful opportunity for us to reach a much broader congregation, to preach beyond the choir. The topic for the panel and my presentation is Olive Oil Excellence: The Road to Super-Premium. I have posed for the panelists three primary objectives; indeed, they are what I see as key goals for the entire day.

First, to leave the audience with a solid grasp—in information and sensory experience—of olive oil quality. Second, to give them an understanding of why good quality extra virgin olive oil costs more than most people are used to paying. And finally, to capture the audience’s imagination, pique their curiosity and share some of our passion, so that they are willing to pay more for a truly excellent olive oil.

I’ll be tweeting from the seminar @CalAthena, along with Tom Mueller @extravirginity, Liz Tagami @LizTagami, Paul Miller @PMillerOZ, Deborah Rogers @OliveQueen, Curtis Cord @oliveoilvoice and lots of other favorite olive oil peeps. Follow @CalAthena around 9 am for the seminar hashtag!

Comments

  1. Okay! @LizTagami standing by for seminar hashtag!!

    • Thank you, Liz; I know you’ll be a diligent tweeter! I was surprised by what hard work it was to come up with those pithy little distillations…
      As the man said, “I apologize for the length of this missive; it would have been shorter, but I was pressed for time.” How true!

  2. Alexandra, Any word on whether there will be a repeat seminar or classes in conjunction with the much larger, Summer Fancy Food show, this year in DC, June 17-19?

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