Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Some countries succeed in a profitable valorisation of their productions, others not
Going back well before the classical ancient civilizations, the production of olive oil around the Mediterranean basin was one of the most amazing and oldest traditions of the Mediterranean Sea (Mare Nostrum). In the twentieth century, olive oil came out of its traditional context to:
- reach new cultural territories (South America, Africa and Oceania),
- improve yields and processing (new cultivation processes, introduction of continuous pressing, storage under controlled atmosphere and temperature) and, consequently, achieve extremely low acidity levels,
- develop its consumption areas, northern Europe, the Americas and now Asia, taking benefit of its gastronomic and healthy qualities, thus allowing its consumption to triple-fold in a mere 40 years.
Despite everything in its favour, olive oil persists as just a fatty substance that is consumed by a very small part of the world, thus keeping remarkable development opportunities despite a high-cost price.
The International Olive Oil Council, under the influence of Spain (the largest producer in the world, by far) and Italy (for a long time the world's largest trader) has developed standards favouring modern olive growing with extremely low levels of acidity.
Thus, olive oils of traditional manufacture are neglected and their acceptance lowers as it requires a real learning of their clearly marked taste. These oils has been known as “black fruity” oils in France, "Kabyle" oils in Algeria with a laid-back character which is unbearable to Europeans as the taste of resin in Greek wines is for those who are not used to it. There are still some traditional oils from Morocco, Tunisia, Sinai (the peninsula in Egypt) and probably many countries in the Middle East. These increasingly rare traditional oils are often overvalued by local amateurs who agree to pay for them much more than standard extra virgin oils.
In France, processes favouring an appropriate control over fermentation make it possible to market the oils with controlled black fruitiness within the framework of rigorous Geographical Indications.
A country like Algeria has an exciting duality in the same context.
On the one hand, Algeria maintains a significant production of olive oil with a traditional taste, mainly in Kabylia. This typicity is unfortunately very often only the consequence of badly controlled practices which give an irregular result. Despite this, even with a high acidity level and a sometimes very marked idle taste, the Algerian amateurs of Kabyle origin seek this oil which they pay at a high price.
The official Algerian olive-growing authorities, listening to the principles which were decreed to them during their studies abroad and which they are reminded of at the COIL where they sit, cannot help but have a confused feeling of "shame" before this which they consider being the remains of a somewhat obscurantist technological past.
At the same time, Algeria has one of the most important production potentials in the world. Its interior irrigable plateaus are particularly suitable for a modern orchard. Olive production is easier to export in the form of oil than fresh fruit or vegetables, which require logistics that are far from existing. This oil, to position itself in the international market, as premium extra virgin oil, will paradoxically be much cheaper than traditional oil and therefore supposes the introduction of advanced mechanization of the crop.
Another interesting example is that of Tunisia, which has radically chosen to completely abandon its traditional tastes to produce olive oil that can be easily exported to Italy. Traditional consumers find themselves, almost in secret, in some dilapidated mills where they can satisfy their passion. We find this same duality to our knowledge in all the countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
All in all, these traditional oils, sometimes too far from the norms, deserve the attention that all ancient productions require, with their assertive typicity and always strange taste for those who have not taken the time to recognize them. This is what AVPA wants to do by modulating its categories of olive oil as follows:
1. Extra Virgin Oils
a. Green: Intense, Medium, Light
b. Ripe: Intense, Medium, Light
2. Traditional oil
c. Cooked Olives