Even if the tradition of olive oil is ancient, extra virgin olive oil, contrary to what you might think, is in reality a relatively recent product. The phrase “extra virgin olive oil” came about as late as 1960 with Italian Law no. 1407. Naturally extra virgin olive oil existed as a product before this time, but there were no regulations officially recognising its quality, establishing those characteristics that an oil must have to fall within such a prestigious category.
The real jump in quality, however, came about just over 30 years ago, with the EEC regulation (no. 2568) of 1991. This stated that “verification by national authorities or their representatives of the organoleptic characteristics of virgin oils shall be effected by tasting panels approved by the Member States”. In practice, it set out (for the first and, up to now, the only time in the world) that the categorisation of a product depends on its flavour and its aromas, and that the assessment must be performed by experts with specific skills. In practice, it is blendmasters that are given this task.
There is another important subject related to this category and is often controversial: origin. It is not well known, but in reality Italy does not produce enough extra virgin olive oil for its annual requirements. We are talking about just 400 thousand tonnes compared to the consumption of 600 thousand and export of 400 thousand. For this reason, the use of oil coming from outside Italy, as well as being lawful, is also a real necessity. To think that Italian extra virgin olive oil is for some reason intrinsically better than any oil from outside the country is a prejudice which is often unfounded. There are good and bad oils, and this is the only difference that should be used to judge the choice of one product over another. Or the creation of a high quality blend of extra virgin olive oils.
As always, it is essential to ensure transparency in relation to the consumer on the origin of what they are buying. But this is the golden rule that should be applied to any field, and which surely deserves a separate discussion.