Australia’s extra-virgins are guaranteed pure by top-flight testers. Now, the secret’s out – and everyone from California to China is beating a well-oiled path to our doorstep.
On 26 September 2014, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) brought into effect tough new grading and labelling standards for its home-grown olive oils. Under the new standards, any olive oil produced in the health-conscious mega-state labelled ‘100 percent extra-virgin’ must be guaranteed pure.
Which meant someone had to be trusted to test all those Californian oils.
Californians go Down Under to test their extra-virgins
In May 2015, after a fiercely competitive tender process, California’s olive oil experts www.cooc.com decided that the best people for the job were the AORL guys Down Under. Yes, those unassuming white-coated guys in New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ Australian Oils Research Laboratory won the prestigious and lucrative contract to test olive oil for the newly formed California Olive Oil Commission.
Belinda Taylor, DPI AORL technical manager at Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, where AORL has its HQ, said the regional Australian facility won out against larger international laboratories offering lower-priced services because it has some serious runs on the board.
“The Californian contract is a testament to the reputation DPI has earned on a global scale,” Taylor said. “Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a premium product, which must meet strict standards to be sold into that premium market, and olive oil producers must prove they meet the standards by having their oil tested by an IOC-accredited laboratory. We have achieved accreditation from the International Olive Council (IOC) for 14 consecutive years. It’s a win for the DPI, the olive industry and consumers."
Australia tests New Zealand’s virgins
The lab guys in Wagga Wagga lab aren’t just testing for purity; they’re also great at rating “sensory qualities”, and are accredited to analyse and classify oils from all over the world by smell and taste.
NSW DPI has an agreement with Olives New Zealand through its Diagnostic and Analytical Services branch to test more than 150 samples a year for ONZ’s quality assurance program.
And the guys at AORL can take a bit of credit for the exceptional quality of Australia’s extra-virgins, too, contends Ayton, who said the AORL’s long and successful history with our well-regarded olive industry includes research into improving olive-oil quality through optimally timed harvesting and irrigation management, and maintaining that quality in storage.
Tempting China’s rich to taste our top-grade virgins
Australia’s own extra-virgin olive oils are so well regarded that China’s wealthier consumers are eager to try them – and NSW DPI is set to cash in, partnering in a new research project with the Australian Olive Association (AOA) that aims to boost exports of our olive oil to China. The project is backed by Horticulture Innovation Australia’s (HIA’s) olive industry levy and the Australian Government.
“Olive oil is increasing in popularity in China and we see this as an opportunity for Australian olive oil producers to get their product into a new and growing market,” says Ayton. “The aim is to streamline the export process, making it easier and more cost-effective to export AOA-certified oil to China.”
Currently, Australia exports between 3,500 and 5,000 tonnes of olive oil annually to the United States, Asia and Europe.