After a serious shortage in olive oil this year, prices have come down, which is good news for foodies. But gauging the quality of the product is still difficult.
Major Mediterranean producers in Spain, Italy and other countries faced shortages after the 2014 harvest because of bacteria, olive fruit fly infestation and unfavorable weather.
It forced one small local importer, Peter Pizzoferrato who owns Fresh Pressed, to increase his prices by 25 to 30 percent. Now Pizzoferrato’s prices are back down to 15 percent above pre-shortage levels.
“It wasn’t an especially abundant harvest,” he said.
Pizzoferrato imports directly from the Machiantonio family in Italy because of the high-quality oil from the family operation. He sells to about 1,000 clients spread across 20 states, but most of them are local.
Another local olive oil specialist, Cherie Morris, the owner of the Durango Olive Oil Co., was able to avoid price increases during the shortage by buying oil from California and other areas that did not suffer from the same plagues as some Mediterranean countries.
“We have not raised our prices in the two years I’ve owned the shop,” she said.
For those shopping for oil at the grocery store, a better harvest this fall is bringing average prices down in many areas, according to the International Olive Council.
But knowing what is in the bottle is more difficult. Several large companies including the manufacturer of Bertolli and Carapelli olive oil were accused of mislabeling their product this summer in a class-action lawsuit, according to Fortune.
“Everybody is calling for a little bit more control over labeling,” Pizzoferrato said.
The freshness of olive oil at the grocery store is often questionable because it can take six months to a year to even arrive in the United States and producers are not required to say when a product harvested, only a sell-by date, he said. One way to gauge a product’s quality is by scent.
“If there is no odor you need to be suspicious,” he said.
But the only way to truly protect yourself from fraud is to know your producer, and that may mean paying a bit more, he said.
“You have to be a savvy consumer,” he said.