Last year was a remarkable year in the olive oil industry--drought and disease created significant issues for producers throughout the mediterranean, but primarily in Italy. With supplies down and fraudulent oils up, many buyers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil moved away from Italian olive oils. One of the largest buyers in the world of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Costco Wholesale, announced last year that they were switching from an Italian source of EVOO to a Greek source. This was a huge development in the industry, which essentially acknowledged that Greek sources were more reliable than the Italian sources.
After about a year, Costco decided to switch back. In an article from industry publication Olive Oil Times, the reasons for this switch are implied, but we'll make it clear--sales and profitability. Despite professional olive oil buyers preferring the Greek oil, the decision to move back to the source was made because sales lagged and consumer feedback indicated a "perception" that Italian EVOO is the highest quality.
Excellent EVOO is made throughout the world, including many Italian oils. However, Italian oils in the United States have been consistently flagged as fraudulent, with the largest brands undergoing consumer lawsuits, including a recently certified class action suit. There's no doubt that Costco will go above and beyond to verify the authenticity of it's oil, but the troubling development is the decision to switch back because of a "perception".
We've always felt that one of our biggest roles as an Extra Virgin Olive Oil producer selling in the United States in education. Consumers in the US understand that quality EVOO makes a significant difference in taste and health benefits, but there are still misperceptions about what constitutes a quality oil. As we discussed in a blog post earlier this year about fraudulent olive oil, there are several ways to help identify authentic EVOO--you should be able to easily determine the source of the oil and the harvest date. If those two items are missing, obscured, or confusing, there's probably a reason. Good producers have nothing to hide, which is why we post our annual chemical analysis reports right here on our blog.
Perceptions about country of origin should be left behind as a determining factor in olive oil quality. The perceptions are artifacts of an era when consumers lacked access to information and have been perpetuated through misleading and fraudulent marketing. Hopefully, our little helps add a little information to fill the knowledge gap to eliminate the misperceptions. Feel free to contact us with any questions, concerns, or thoughts.
Each harvest season brings with it the hope of something new or unexpected. Our baseline of expectations is fairly high, since even the lowest quality oils in our region in Greece are among the best in the world. We started planning for this season's harvest as soon as last year's ended. The plan was to begin our harvest even earlier, with the expectation that harvesting the olives earlier, while still completely green and unripe, would yield a different and exciting flavor profile.
Mother Nature had a different plan in store for us, however. Even before we arrived in the village, we'd heard reports that the harvest yield would be lower (olives peak every other year and this was an "off" year). In addition, family members tending to the trees told us about the pervasive presence of the dreaded "olive fruit fly", which decimated crops in other parts of Europe in previous seasons.
The situation as we arrived was as difficult as we've ever seen. In fact, most of the old-timers couldn't recall conditions this bad in decades. The fruit fly had impacted trees wide and far. There was a glimmer of hope--many of the trees in our fields were not impacted. In addition, starting our harvest earlier allowed us to select the best quality fruit before the damage from the fly had set in.
So, we set off. I took on the role of screening the trees before the harvest crew came through to pick the olives. Carefully, and branch-by-branch, I plucked any damaged fruit from the tree and discarded it. This process reduced our crop by more than 20%, but left only the best-quality olives for our oil. On November 9, we took our first batch of olives to the factory, with great anticipation of the resulting oil. After the hour-long process for the oil extraction, we tasted the season's very first oil. Green. Fruity. Peppery. Fresh. Amazing. Despite an incredibly low yield of 7.5:1 (7 lbs. of olives for 1 lb. of oil), we were thrilled with the output.
We continued on for nine more days--our fingers crossed every day for sunshine. At the end, we'd harvested roughly 12,000 lbs. of olives and made about a ton of oil.
Our plan wasn't supposed to end at this stage, however. Like every year, I was supposed to come back in February to help finish up the harvest and also select the best batches from those produced throughout the season. It quickly became clear that there would be no February trip. By the end of our November harvest, many of the trees were succumbing to the fruit fly damage; the olives falling to the ground. Based on our observations and experience, there will be no harvest beyond the middle of December.
Despite the disappointment with the situation, we counted ourselves in the fortunate category. Had we waited until later in November (like normal) to begin our harvest, we would have had next to nothing. Our plan had worked in our favor in a different way. Thankful was our only sentiment. And, more than ever, we couldn't wait for the next harvest season to begin.
Of course, the practical outcome of all this is that there will be a whole lot less Spartan Oil for 2017. The quality of our oil is amazing, despite the conditions. We're excited for you to try it. The first bottles of this harvest will be available in late winter/early spring.
And, there are many more details. You can find some photos and videos on our Flickr page and also on our Facebook page. If you are interested, just shoot me an email and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
Here are our 2016 chemical analysis reports. A note about the "note" column. The acronyms USDA and COOC stand for US Department of Agriculture and California Olive Oil Council, respectively. Those standards are the most stringent in the United States and among the most stringent in the world.
Our new Founder's Reserve blend has been a huge hit and the requests for refill packs have been streaming in. Well, we're happy to announce that, starting today, refill packs are now available in our Founder's Reserve blend.
You can find them as an option on our Refill Pack page by selecting "Founder's Reserve" from the "Select Type" option.
Pricing is $22 for the refill and the bottle remains at $26.
We're tinkerers here at Spartan Oil. Based on the great feedback from our customers over the past year-and-a-half, major changes aren't part of our plan. But, we're always looking for a new ideas and little improvements.
A little tinkering turned into our newest Spartan Oil product line: Spartan Oil Founder's Reserve. Featuring oil from three hand-selected batches out of hundreds produced during the harvest season, this product is remarkable for it's intensely clean and fruity taste.
But, that's not all. We've added something very rare and unique to our offering. Wild olive oil. Never heard of it? There's probably a reason. Wild olive trees have been neglected by producers for decades. Difficult to harvest with a low yield, they are treated as nuisance rather than opportunity by most. However, researchers have recently become more interested in wild olives because of the quality of oil that they produce. The leading edge is where we like to be, so we're thrilled to announce the exclusive availability of 300 bottles of Spartan Oil Founder's Reserve, Batch π. The addition of the wild olive oil adds an unusual sweetness to the flavor profile.
"An economical version of MP costs $746.46 more per year while providing fewer servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains."
Last year, two dedicated and talented researchers in Greece developed a revolutionary testing system for quickly and efficiently testing olive oil polyphenol content in the field. After working through a number of obstacles to bring this test to market, they succeeded in getting it ready for the 2015-2015 harvest season. The Aristoleo kit first became available in October, 2015.
This development is exciting for at least two reasons. First, it's a great example of innovation and development that continues to happen in Greece. There are still talented and dedicated individuals in Greece that continue to thrive despite a challenging economic environment. Second, this is an invaluable tool for producers to quickly compare polyphenol content between batches of oil.
We're always looking for ways to improve our product and we put this tool to use this harvest season. Combined with taste evaluations and chemical analyses, we used the test results to help select particular batches for a new olive oil blend we're developing. Our Founder's Reserve edition will contain oil from only three batches out of dozens that we evaluated. We also used this test on our "regular" Spartan Oil product as a way to affirm the quality of that blend.
While these test results do not produce definitive values, they are effective in allowing for near real-time decisions on batch selection and production adjustments. Although olive oil has been produced for centuries, researchers are only now starting to understand the science behind its many health benefits. It's an exciting time to be a new company in the olive oil industry and we're looking forward to the next developments in this great journey.