A meeting of the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC) was held on May 3 in Woodland. There are several committees within the commission including the Grades and Standards Committee and I attended as a member of that panel. This is not a particularly pleasant undertaking as, to attend, I have a 6 hour trip each way but it is worth it to be part of the valuable work the commission is doing. I should probably give a little background into the commission as surprisingly few people in the industry are aware of it and what role it plays. Unlike the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), the Olive Oil Commission falls under the purview of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and membership is mandatory by law for producers of 5,000 gallons or more annually. There is no conflict of interest in their testing processes either in that membership isn't optional and the OOCC does not engage in product promotion or marketing.
What makes the OOCC and their work so unique is the manner in which testing and compliance are carried out. The OOCC standard provides stringent product specifications for California olive oils with rigorous sampling methodology and testing required from third-party testing labs. Furthermore, the OOCC is a mandatory government program. Through the OOCC, the California Department of Food and Agriculture oversees the verification of California olive oil quality.
But back to the 5/3 meeting, while there was a lot of discussion about the scientific aspects of grades and labeling, what really struck me was a discussion about this years mandatory sampling and testing results. Without going into a detailed breakdown of the numbers of samples taken, test results, etc., the bottom line is that, if you buy Californian olive oil, you can count on the quality of oil being what is written on the label, and as those of us in the industry know, this is definitely not the case around the world.
Perhaps more surprising to me is that as of the date of the meeting, 25% of the producers required to participate in the program had not paid their dues. The expense is $.15/gal., hardly an onerous fee and yet the results the commission is getting are fabulous for these producers. We have seen demand for Californian extra virgin olive oil outstrip supply several years in a row now and prices have gone up about 10% per year for the last three years. To shirk one's responsibility to help fund these phenomenal results is unconscionable. One last comment on this, the fact that there is such unbiased comprehensive testing and policing of quality for Californian olive oils is why we, at The Olive Oil Source, try to offer them as much as possible. No one else in the world is doing this.
I'd like to thank Boundary Bend and Cobram Estates for hosting these meetings and furthering the great work being done by the commission.