What’s Wrong With Infused Olive Oil?

At Calivirgin our line of flavor crushed olive oils is very extensive and one comment I routinely hear from consumers when they stop by our booth or in a store is, “Oh, they have infused olive oils!” and this is one time that the customer is not always right! At Calivirgin we do not make or sell infused olive oils. Again, “At Calivirgin we do not make or sell infused olive oils!” Ha! I have a large smile on my face as I write this because if we have said this once we have said it a thousand times. I wrote a blog entry a couple of years ago explaining the difference between infused olive oils and olive oils made by crushing fresh produce and herbs by way of the agrumato method. I will not rehash that post but I will try to explain why there is a difference in the finished product. Infusing olive oils is easy.

10's of thousands of pounds of fresh California Jalapenos are used to make our Hot Virgin Jalapeno and Jalapeno-Garlic oil

10’s of thousands of pounds of fresh California Jalapenos are used to make our Hot Virgin Jalapeno and Jalapeno-Garlic oil

Anyone can take regular oil and pour essence or flavoring into it or dump a large tea bag type vessel of dehydrated dried herbs into a container of oil and flavor it. It’s so easy you can even do it yourself at home. Making infused oils like this is very cheap to do, there isn’t much labor involved, and if you sell all of the oil you made you can simply make another batch at any given time and viola’! You now have flavored olive oil that sells for far more than the regular oil would by only adding a few pennies worth of flavoring to it. It may be a great business model but can it compete on taste? Not really. Traditionally flavored olive oils have been made using substandard quality olives.  When I first started making flavors I had many people in the industry asking why we were wasting great fruit (when I say fruit I mean olives) on flavored oils.  I guess it is our companies yearning to produce the highest quality and healthiest product we can and to put our name on something we can be proud of.  Many companies will wait until late harvest when all of the olives have turned black producing a very mild or even bland tasting oil so their flavoring comes through.

Fresh Garlic crushed together for our Guilty Garlic olive oil.  Check out the impressive 2000 lb sacks!

Fresh Garlic crushed together for our Guilty Garlic olive oil. Check out the impressive 2000 lb sacks!

This is also an easy way of taking sub par olive oil or oil with taste defects, masking it with flavor and turning it into an oil the average consumer will pay top dollar for.  In waiting this long to harvest the olives; the phenols and other healthy aspects of the olive oil are reduced but more oil is made.  At Calivirgin we like to think quality is better than quantity.  We harvest our flavors at the beginning of the season when the fruit is at optimum maturity; the same time as when we harvest olives for our mono-varieites such as our arbequina evoo. There is a reason why U.S. olive oil competitions are now starting to judge flavor crushed olive oils separate from infused olive oils. There is a reason why our full line of flavored olive oils at Calivirgin have all won medals year after year at all of the major U.S. olive oil competitions that allow flavored oils to be judged, and there is a reason why at Calivirgin we spend thousands of dollars on locally sourced or high quality fresh produce to crush with our olives to make our flavored oils. I could pour chili oil into olive oil and it will make spicy oil but you would not taste the fresh green jalapeno flavor come through or even taste the olive oil like in our bottle of Hot Virgin Jalapeno. Yes, olive oil has a taste, and you should taste the produce as well as taste the olive oil when it comes to these types of oils. If you wanted chili oil then buy chili oil; it’s cheaper!
The reason most companies do not make their flavored oils this way is because of a few factors. One is cost. Buying tons of quality produce all at harvest time is a large expense that most companies would rather not bear. Sourcing and scheduling all the different herbs, vegetables and citrus we use for our flavors is not an easy task either. Coordinating

Limes used to make a lime flavored olive oil

Limes used to make a lime flavored olive oil

Local fresh basil leaves for our Bountiful Basil olive oil

Local fresh basil leaves for our Bountiful Basil olive oil

for the flavored oils is one of the most stressful parts of our harvest; after flavors are done we can seem to coast the rest of harvest making unflavored regular extra virgin olive oil. Another factor is the fact that flavor profiles of olives will change slightly from year to year as well as with the produce. It is a challenge every year to produce consistent tasting flavored oils with so many variables in the equation but a challenge I feel we have succeeded in tremendously.  As Miller I have found the nature of these flavored oils to be somewhat of a moving target. Olive oils crushed with peppers or chilies tend to get spicier with age (4-5 months) and the citrus oils tend to mellow out after a few months. Making sure every bottle tastes the same year in and year out isn’t easy but I think we have some of the most consistent oils on the market today. Finally and probably the largest challenge for producers; the equipment and olive mill. If a company doesn’t have their own equipment they will be hard pressed to talk a miller or mill into wanting to mess with making flavored oil for them. Running strong flavors like fresh garlic or jalapenos or even rosemary through your hammer mill, malaxers and centrifuges creates the potential for crossover flavors. It is imperative that you get all of one flavor out of the machines before you move on to the next one. Same goes for your transfer pumps, stainless or IBC tote containers that hold the finished oils and anything else the oils come in contact with. Cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. Since we do not filter our olive oil at

My sister Gina and I admiring the fresh basil leaves delivered for harvest

My sister Gina and I admiring the fresh basil leaves delivered for harvest

Calivirgin, after the oil has been extracted there tends to be much more sediment than with regular olive oil. We almost always rack two to three times and in some cases more. All of this adds to the labor included in making the perfect flavored olive oil.
The largest problem we have here at Calivirgin is deciding how much to make of each flavor. Our goal is to sell out of all of our oil each year with no carryover of oil into the next year. New oil is good; old oil is bad. It is with this mentality that we ultimately sell out of certain flavors early each year. Since we can’t make a batch of flavored oil on the fly at any point in the season the trick is to make enough of each flavor to meet the demand without having too much excess creating the problem of having old oil. We sell to many companies who either sell our oil in their fusti refillable bottle type stores or who private label the oil under their own label for resale. Even though we have tripled production of certain flavors every year it is inevitable that we get complaints from vendors who didn’t commit to pre-ordering oil at harvest time who are upset that we are out of our popular flavors going into the holidays and before the next seasons harvest. It is always nice to sell out but we always feel bad bearing bad news when someone orders oil we no longer have.
At Calivirgin we are very proud of the quality flavored olive oils our attention to detail and persistence produces and and we think the fact that our seven flavors have won 64 medals the past two years entering in only four of the main U.S. olive oil competitions including best of class, best of show and a silver SOFI award should prove that flavor crushed olive oils are superior to infused oils but don’t take our word for it; try a bottle for yourself and find out!!

UPDATE 4/24/2014 : This year was the first year that the Napa Valley Olive Oil Competition judged flavored olive oils separately into two categories: oils crushed using fresh produce and oils infused with flavoring. Calivirgin collected 9 medals in this 2014 competition (3 Gold, 5 Silver, 1 Bronze) but a very interesting thing happened. I noticed that for the first time there were very few flavored entries into the entire competition. Very few flavored olive oils are made by crushing fresh produce with olives so I expected there wouldn’t be many in this category but what really sparked my interest was very few oils were entered into the “infused” category when normally there are many.  I believe companies didn’t want to directly promote they simply “infused” their oils and didn’t use fresh produce. They have been implying that this is how their oils were made for years. It will be interesting if competitions continue to split the flavors. I could see them mixing them all back up because less entries means less exorbitant entry fees but that is another topic in itself!

UPDATE 10/1/2014 :  Award count for 2014 for “flavored oils only” was 1 Best of Show, 4 Best of Class, 12 Gold Medals, 9 Silver and 4 Bronze over only four competitions which allow flavored oils to be judged.

 

Ciao – Mike Coldani

 

 

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Flavored Olive Oils, Infused Olive Oils, Crushed Olive Oils . . . What’s The Difference?

Generally speaking, flavored olive oils are oils made from olives with the health benefits and characteristics of olive oil combined with ingredient(s) other than olives which give the resulting olive oil an additional flavor.  Olive oil purists may balk at the idea of a flavored olive oil and I personally feel they do not replace the use and taste of a fresh extra virgin oil seconds after it has been milled; however they do offer a plethora of creative culinary uses beyond just dipping bread.  Many people use the term “infused” oil when talking about all flavored oils.  Consequently, many people do not realize that there are a few different ways to accomplish the task of flavoring an olive oil and that the end results are not all entirely the same.

Some Calivirgin Flavors

Infusing olive oil is achieved by adding an extract or flavoring to oil that has already been processed/milled. This method is relatively easy to do but sometimes the results are lacking.  I find that some infused oils taste artificial.  For the same reason that Grape soda doesn’t taste like fresh grapes, many infused citrus or herb flavored oils from extract tend to have an artificial taste.

The other way to “infuse” olive oil is to submerge your ingredients in the oil for a length of time until it imparts a subtle flavor to the oil.  The two tribulations with this method are the flavors can often be very subtle and you need to make sure the ingredients you add do not contain any moisture.  For this reason it is recommended to use dried herbs or produce.  An example would be the bottle of olive oil you see with fresh pieces of garlic

or herbs floating in it.  This may be fine for one or two days but the moisture in the produce can cause botulism to occur and make the consumer sick or even be fatal.

It is for these reasons that our Calivirgin flavored olive oils have all been made using a third and more labor intensive approach.  We add fresh produce and herbs  right on top of the fresh olives so that they are all crushed and processed together.   Some people call this method simply “fused” instead of infused while others refer to it as the agrumato method.  A growing term in popularity and the one used on our Calivirgin flavors is crushed.  We are essentially using the same process, settings and procedure we use for our extra virgin oil by crushing the produce and olives together.  The oil in the olives and produce are released in this process before going through a centrifuge and finisher which remove all water content and solids leaving a very aromatic and tasty natural flavored olive oil with nothing except exactly that in the bottle; oil.  This process creates some of the best tasting flavored olive oils so you have to ask yourself, “Why doesn’t every company use this method?”  Simply . . . because it is a pain.  Everything a flavor touches has to be addressed before a different oil comes in contact with it.  Cleaning out processing equipment between and after each flavor in order to not have

Fresh produce & fresh olives about to be crushed together

any crossover flavoring takes a lot of time.   This applies to cleaning bottling machines as well.  You also have to store each flavor in its own individual container which takes up room and  I also find that because of the added produce there tends to be more sediment than with plain olive oil so I need to rack it many more times than normal.  This means using transfer pumps which means cleaning transfer pumps multiple times.  It is very time consuming and most companies would rather not mess with it but I think the finished product is often exceptional in taste.  Chefs and home foodies alike enjoy creatively using these flavors as ingredients or finish oils over their dishes.  Believe me!  I understand why most companies don’t crush their flavors but sometimes a little more work pays off and here at Coldani Olive Ranch we feel our flight of Calivirgin Crushed Flavored Oils are something to be desired.

-Author Mike Coldani