Thursday, November 13, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Olive Oil Producer Bill Schweitzer

Bill Schweitzer, VP of Operations
Ramona Olive Oil Corporation
Bill Schweitzer, VP of Operations for Ramona Olive Oil Corporation, joins us today to answer questions about the characteristics of outstanding olive oil. Schweitzer stresses the importance of locally-produced olive oil and tells us how olive oil should taste, defines “extra virgin olive oil,” and offers tips on how to select the best olive oil. 

Schweitzer is one of the founders of the Ramona Olive Oil Corporation that uses locally grown olives to produce their olive oil in Ramona, California, available throughout the Ramona area and for shipping. For more information on Schweitzer, his company, and Ramona Gold Olive Oil, check out the article, “A New Oil Boom? Ramona Gold Leads the Way in Local Olive Oil Production” in Edible San Diego; or the company’s web page at:

Q: What should I taste in olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer: Olive oil should taste like olives. It should be fresh, herbaceous, lively and a bit peppery.  The flavors might mimic an artichoke or green, fresh cut grass. It should be pleasant and distinctive. Olive oil should never be bland. It should never have “off odors.” It should never have flavors of mustiness, rancidness or “old” anything.

Q: What does it mean for olive oil to be “extra virgin?”

Bill Schweitzer: The definition of “extra virgin olive oil” is simply, oil which has NO flavor or odor flaws and has the correct, very low, percentage of broken molecules called “free fatty acids.”

Q: How do you create extra virgin olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer: Olive oil is a strong anti-oxidant. It preserves itself in the bottle. Olives, on the other hand, are like any other fruit. Once they are picked they are subject to bruising, heat, light and air. The oil should be pressed from the fruit within 24 hours of picking. If not, the oil may pick up the flavors of the slowly fermenting fruit. Olive oil is at its absolute best the moment it comes out of the press.

Q: So, if a bottle of olive oil says it’s “extra virgin” that’s the best kind to buy?

Bill Schweitzer:  No. Fifty years ago it was hard to find olive oil at any place other than the local Italian market. Today, the shelves are full of "olive oil" choices. They come from all over the world, and many of them say "extra virgin” in large and cleverly formatted ways. The truth of the matter, according to Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller, most of the supermarket oil you can buy may have passed by an olive tree in Southern Italy while traveling from the chemical factory to a tanker ship. It's likely that the base oil was some cheaply available nut oil, chemically modified with a little olive flavor added with actual olive oil or another method. Consumer Reports did a study of numerous readily available brands and found few that could rightfully be called “Extra Virgin Olive Oil." The product in local restaurants is probably even less likely to be anything but bulk oil bought from a large importer.

Q: How do I know which olive oil to buy?

Bill Schweitzer: Here are a few tips:

(1) Look for a “pressed by” or “produced on” date. That date should be reasonable: November or December within 12 to 18 months for northern hemisphere sources and May or June for Australian oil.

(2) Look for a clear and unambiguous indication that the olives were grown by the same people who pressed the oil and put it in the bottle. “Estate grown” is usually a good clue. “Organic” is less important as a growing method, but may indicate that the trees are controlled by the bottler.

(3) If there is a choice between clear glass, dark glass or a tin container, always go for the oil that has seen the least light. Ultraviolet light is not good for those healthy molecules in the oil. The tin or dark glass make it harder to see the golden product, but they show that the producer has respect for the oil.

(4) Avoid any that says “produced in Italy” or “bottled in Italy” without the date and estate reference mentioned above. If it is actually olive oil, it still has taken too long to get from grove, to the mill, to the tanker ship, to the Italian bottler, back to a cargo ship, across the ocean through the distribution process and to that grocery shelf in front of you.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of good olive oil?

Bill Schweitzer:  Olive oil is best from someplace local. It has traveled less, it has been processed less and it has been lovingly produced by someone who knows where the trees are growing. California is emerging as a fine producer of quality oil. From north to south, from coast to desert, there are small producers who are selling quality oil in the exact flavor profile you’re looking for.  Early harvest sharp, late harvest smooth, Tuscan style, French style, whatever…someone in California is doing it and they are putting the details on their label. And here in California we are fortunate to have a significant and organized olive oil industry that is willing to put its stamp of approval on our product.  The “California Olive Oil Council (COOC)” is dedicated to improving the quality of locally grown oil, educating consumers about the importance of that quality and stamping a certificate on oil that meets those high standards.

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