Is Your Olive Oil Made in California? It Should Be. Here’s the Surprising Reason

What could be more authentic than pure Italian extra virgin olive oil? Turns out, a lot. You might want to start equating EVOO with surfboards and Hollywood, because the best EVOO you can get is likely made in California.

Photo: Shutterstock / Angel Simon
Photo: Shutterstock / Angel Simon

I’ll admit, I thought I knew my oils. I loved dunking fresh bread in Olive Oil Dip using expensive Italian EVOO. It wasn’t until I tried pure EVOO at Trattore Farms in California’s Dry Creek Valley that I realized I’d been duped the whole time. Trattore’s EVOO was fresh and vibrant and tasted amazing—like none I’d ever had. Why?

Let’s Start with What True EVOO Is

True EVOO is produced by manually pressing olives to extract the oil (think of a giant juicer). Real EVOO should not have any additives or use heat or chemicals in the extraction process. It must meet chemical standards for acidity and sensory standards for flavor. Other types of olive oil, such as virgin, pure and light, have lower quality standards than extra virgin.

Italian EVOO Is Probably Not from Italy (If It Is Olive Oil at All)

Olive oil is more expensive and more time-consuming to produce than other vegetable oils. There’s a lot of money to be saved by cutting corners and a lot to be made by issuing fraudulent claims. Olive oil expert and journalist Tom Mueller recently told CBS News that 75 to 80 percent of EVOO sold in the U.S. does not meet the legal EVOO grades.

International EVOO grades are set by an international council, but they are notoriously tough to police. The most common types of Italian EVOO frauds come from mixing it with lower-quality North African and Mediterranean oils, or subbing in old olive oil or sunflower oil and a few other ingredients to simulate EVOO. Yep, your favorite expensive Italian EVOO might not even be olive oil at all. Granted, some Italian olive oil companies are legit, but it’s hard to tell.

So, Why California?

In 1998, the California Olive Oil Council, or COOC, established its Seal Certification Program. All members of the COOC must comply with stringent standards for handling of the olives and EVOO, and the oil itself is laboratory tested and evaluated by an expert sensory panel. The COOC is a trade association that polices itself, so you can bet it makes sure everyone is behaving.

EVOO is best when it is first pressed. Unlike wine, the fresher it is, the better. Because of proximity, you can get California EVOO to your table much faster than you can get an import. Plus, the longer that imported EVOO sits on a boat or a store shelf, the more potential it has to go bad and the more likely that it contains preservatives to keep it stable.

So What Can You Do?

  • Check labels. If an EVOO label doesn’t include “harvested by” an estate or a specific mill of origin, skip it. “Best by” and “bottled on” dates don’t mean much.

  • Look for the COOC seal. Or look for EVOO made in Australia and Chile. Both regions have strict standards, too.

  • Trust your senses. If it smells bad, it’ll taste bad. If the consistency is greasy or off-putting, it’s probably subpar.

All of this have you thinking about the other oils in your pantry? Find out all you need to know about the most common cooking oils right here.