Monday, July 19, 2021

Dan Berger: Olive Oil Flap

 The word Champagne, legally, is capitalized because it's a placename -- the famed sparkling wine comes from that small region north of Paris. This is an example of why place-named products are unique and often lead to laws protecting their names and reputations. 

    France, home to the world's most important wine culture for hundreds of years, has dozens of placenames today that are supported by laws it sees as essential to protecting areas that are de facto brands. As a result, many of its regional names such as Chablis, Sancerre and Beaujolais cannot be used on wines made by anyone outside these districts.

    When a European wine region's name (i.e., Chianti in Italy) is synonymous with one wine type that's permitted to use that designation, the name of the primary grape (such as Sangiovese) does not need to be identified. It isn't legal to make Chianti without it.

    One reason for these regulations is that laws allowing their use can apply only to wines that conform to rigid regional regulations -- including the use of only permitted grape varieties. There are exceptions to these rules in some other countries.

    You see some California Chablis, for instance. Such terms, which have been used here for decades, appear on wines that are "grandfathered in." The U.S. government agrees that certain terms have been in use here for so long that they may continue to exist.

    Such exceptions have long riled makers of the great white wines of Chablis, for example. Chablis is a classic Burgundian district, and it has continued to oppose any out-of-region use of its name.

    With this as a backdrop, look at olive oil. A controversy has embroiled the California olive oil industry for a few years. A large company, California Olive Ranch, made a blended olive oil called Destination Series not long ago, which contained olive oils from other countries.

    Its label, however, make it look like a California oil. Other California olive oil producers, from artisans to large companies, said COR's label was deceptive.

    One reason was the brand -- California Olive Ranch. It appeared on the label with the state name in large print followed by a logo and "Olive Ranch" below the logo. It appeared similar to previous labels in which the oil was entirely from California olives.

    Other olive oil producers argued that this Destination Series product was an attempt to obfuscate because the oil was a blend containing only a small amount of California olives.

    Subsequently, COR redesigned its label, eliminating the word "Destination." The company name was still in large type at the top of the label, along with the words "Global Blend." 

    In small type at the bottom of the label it says, "A Global Blend of Oils from Argentina, Chile, Portugal, California." No percentages are listed.

    The major olive oil industry body, the Olive Oil Commission of California, opposes COR's labeling, arguing that the company's name, with "California" so prominent, makes it appear that only California olives are used.

     Among those opposing COR are larger companies such as Corto, Cobram Estate, Seko Estate, McEvoy Ranch and numerous other artisan producers.

    They support the passage of State Assembly Bill 535, which prohibits the sale of "any 'California Olive Oil' that indicates that California is the source of the oil unless 100% of that oil is derived from olives grown in California."
    Olive oil judge and writer Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne has followed this topic and recently had an article on it on She says, "AB 535 is the way to settle this." 

    Last week the Senate re-cast one key section of the bill, which now reads: "Any container of olive oil produced ... in California which contains olive oil produced from olives grown in locations other than California... and includes 'California' in any form on the (label) shall state (in a similar font size) the minimum percentage of California-grown olive oil in the container."

    Olive oil connoisseurs usually suggest that the best oils are single-sourced and blends can be unreliable.

To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



Wimpy said...

Tell it to Popeye!

Anonymous said...

Genco Imports

Anonymous said...

I think there was a similar issue about "Idaho potatoes" a while back.

Personally, I couldn't care less about any of this. I just wish that the US had not transitioned from a "manufacturing" nation to a "services" nation decades ago.

But, hey, it's made China great again. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I find this very interesting. 60 Minutes had a segment several years ago that showed where most of the "olive oil" you buy at Kroger has very little if any olive oil in it at all. The labeling laws allow them to get around it, and sell you cheap vegetable oil.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to California to legislate every jot and tittle. The next New York.

Anonymous said...

I buy only California olive oil that comes from a single California source (farm) and is sold in a glass bottle, not plastic. You are rolling the dice if you buy olive oil imported from overseas because you don't know whether it is a blend, where the olives come from, how it was processed and stored, or how long it has been sitting in a warehouse or a shipping container on a ship.

These food name disputes have been going on forever: Vidalia onions, Idaho potatoes, Georgia peaches, the names of cheeses, and so on. Originators are trying to protect their turf and reputations. Fine with me. I think it ultimately protects the consumers from unscrupulous vendors.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge difference in "good" olive oil and blended olive oils from separate sources. I'm not sure the average person knows this. And the dsiclosures on the labels are so tiny they can barely be read.
Balsamic vinegar is another one. Good balsamic vinegar tastes nothing like the junk on the grocery shelf.

Kingfish said...

OK, I'll bite. If you're going to the store, what olive oil do you recommend or what should we look for on the label?

Anonymous said...

I agree KF.

I would love to hear 11:58's recommendations as well.
I'm pretty sure federal law requires the blended OO to be notated as such.

(And while always on the label) it's always in fine print, But American marketing is very good when it comes to following the law and screwing the consumer.

Now I want some good balsamic vinegar recommendations.

Jane Senzanome said...

None on the grocery store shelf are worth a toot, alas. Order from a source like Worth every cent!

Kingfish said...

I remember an olive oil booth at Mistletoe. Some store in Ridgeland.

Anonymous said...

When buying olive oil, look for the olive branch symbol shown in the link below. This is the logo of the North American Olive Oil Association and indicates the producers that have agreed to have their oils tested. This is mainly a concern for imported oils. Read the FAQs below the list in the link for more detailed info.

California Olive Ranch has a product that 100% California olives. Just make sure you check the label and don't get the Destination/Global bottle mentioned in the article. Walmart carries it. Colavita is also a good brand.

Here is a link to the American Olive Oil Producers Association. Olive oil is produced in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

When buying olive oil always make sure you get Extra Virgin that is First Cold Pressed. It should say this on the label. If it only says Cold Pressed you are not getting what you want. Also avoid oils that just say olive oil or has pure or light on the label. Organic is more expensive obviously, but stick with Extra Virgin.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish, I believe that the shop in Ridgeland, whose oil you remember, is J. Olive.

Their oils are consistently good, and I can't find any dirt on them, in terms of fraud. They, and their parent company, seem highly-regarded. Apparently, it's real olive oil. They "Follow the Press", meaning their oils are very fresh - coming from whichever oo-producing region is pressing its olives at the moment.

That said, I do NOT know about the quality of the groves producing the olives. I don't know if the trees are traditionally grown, or if they are on "modern" plantations - subjected to herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. If somebody knows, I'd like to know - particularly if they can link to the information.

Kingfish said...

I looked at what was for sale at Kroger today. Several had "first cold pressed" on the label.

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