This, of course, is only generally speaking. A few areas have saved themselves and are producing some relatively decent oils with low acidity (like our Olivoglio which is 0.15 & and peroxides at 2,45meo/k - so a high quality but with bigger prices this year because the yield is less than 9%).
This year's huge challenge has been a combination of a very wet and humid summer and a repetitive attack on the olives by several generations of the olive fly. Basically, any organic operation has been totally helpless against this and even the conventional olive oil makers are overwhelmed and have had little time to arm themselves against this very unpredictable situation. Very few olive oil makers in very fortunate areas will have saved themselves...
As the harvest isn't over yet (in reality it should just have started) we don't know the exact consequence of the conditions yet. Some say that we'll only have 50% of the usual amount harvested and made into olive oil in Tuscany this year. This opens doors for fraud, unfortunately, as Tuscany's oil is already a rare produce (making up only 3% of the total amount of oil made in Italy) and in these days local newspapers are reporting how the police is trying to monitor the arrival of olives and oil from other regions or countries at the olive oil mills in Tuscany.
Learn more about your oil by monitoring the following:
- Label. The origin of the olives must be on the label, so whether Italian, from the EU or from outside the EU. The latter two are usual put in very small writing, as it's not a point of pride. The "vintage" is not obligatory information, but actually quite crucial to the quality. So if you see a vintage - so produce of 2014 in this case - it means the producer is quite serious and wants to ensure the consumers that the oil is fresh. "Best before" is only an indication of when the oil was bottled (which in theory could be quite a while after making). Law is that the oil is good to sell up to 18 months after bottling.
- Price. The price of a great olive oil is high. The yield is low in a good extra virgin olive (around 10-15 % in a normal vintage). If the price of the oil you're buying is suspect, so too low, you can be quite sure that it's a oil mixed with olives or oils from different cheap locations, and the quality of it is dubious.
- Imagery. If the label displays well-known Tuscan localities or symbols or other imagery that associates the consumer to Tuscany, beware that often it's to drive us to buy without noticing where the olives or oil derives from. So look beyond the pretty picture!
- Quality. If the bottle displays an official designation of quality, such as IGP or DOP you're guaranteed of the origin of the product. It can no longer be a blend of olives or oils coming from all over. So there's more chance of getting a higher quality product as the oil has to come from olives from a specific area and the oil has to be made within the same geographical area. The vintage in the case of IGP or DOP is obligatory information on the label. If you don't have access to IGPs or DOPs, get to know the producer and the product in some other way (taste it, read about it on the net, etc.)
The olive fly is one of the most damaging elements to the production of high quality oil.
It digs a whole for its eggs to hatch
A larva will eat the olive. This will oxidise the olive and the acidity in the oil will increase. It can even give a taste of larva. Yuck!
It's possible to either spray insecticides against the fly (even if this year it would have been hard as the olive fly just kept regenerating itself) - or traps also exist to capture them.
Here the olives have shrivelled up completely, like little olive mummies. Not a good look! In fact, next thing they'll fall to the ground. These could be affected by lebbra, a fungus disease that translates to leprosy (for olives, of course).
Just a reminder of how the olives look when they are completely healthy and ready to be picked for oil (this picture is not from this year though, whereas all the others are from last week!)