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Most olive oil comes from Europe — where producers have had one of the worst growing seasons in 20 years — for a number of reasons.
First, last year was a bumper crop, and apparently the trees tend to get tired the following year. More importantly, the weather was lousy for olives, and great for insects like the olive fly. It lays eggs inside the fruit, the maggots dig their way out, and … yuck. There were other bugs too, and a fungus; they all had a great year. The International Olive Council projects that production will be down 27 percent worldwide. The world’s biggest producer is Spain, and production is down more than 50 percent there.
And while supplies are low, demand has grown in the past two decades. Global consumption is about 50 percent higher than in the early 1990s.
That means high prices, and a higher likelihood that more olive oil will be fake.
What gets sold as Italian extra-virgin olive oil often isn’t. It may not be Italian, may not be extra-virgin, and may not be 100 percent olive oil. A lot of oil that’s bottled in Italy actually gets imported from elsewhere, and others have reported that some bottlers adulterate the product.
Tom Mueller — who wrote an exposé on the whole setup for the New Yorker, and then a book called “Extra Virginity” — told the L.A. Times recently that anything priced under 12 bucks a liter almost certainly wouldn’t be extra-virgin Italian olive oil from this year’s harvest.
On the other hand, production doubled in Greece this year. And it almost tripled in Tunisia. So a bottle that says it came from one of those two countries is more likely to be the real thing.
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