March 23, 2005
The 2005 California Olive Oil Council (COOC) membership meeting was held in Monterey this year at the Portola Plaza Hotel. At the afternoon session COOC Executive Director Patricia Darragh introduced President Bruce Golino who gave an update on the USDA proposal for new standards for olive oil. The open comment period is over and the agency will basically publish the standard as currently written. The majority of comments at this point have been positive. It is possible that pending the writing of enforcement procedures, the standards will be in force in 7-10 months. Submission for the USDA seal program will be voluntary but there will be a legal reference point for labels claiming certain grades.
Bruce updated the lawsuit pending against Napa Valley Naturals. The COOC believes they violate California SB920 for provenance. Settlement talks are proceeding.
Bruce also complemented COOC members who have helped make the Los Angeles County Fair the premier olive oil tasting event in the world with over 400 entries this year. Judging will occur in May with display of winners in September. Judges are some of the best in the world. After judging the oils there will be a special event to try to dispel the myth of Tuscan oil preeminence. All oils will compete for best oil without regard type or origin.
The COOC has instituted a consumer membership category. So far 20 members have signed up. There are 144 basic members and 132 supporting members. Members have submitted 175 oils for the seal program this year.
Neil Bloomquist updated the marketing efforts of the organization. The Brochure was the first marketing piece. A recent government grant has paid for market research and development of a 3 year marketing plan.
John Glodow representing the COOC's publicity company, went over their efforts to get California Olive Oil into the news.
Jake Lewin of the the California Certified Organic Farmers spoke to the members about the aims of his organization. Many COOC members have expressed interest in organic certification and the CCOF is one of the certifying organizations here in California under the USDA organic seal program. The CCOF certifies 75% of the organic acreage in California. Certification costs about $600 the first year for a small farm. Subsequent years are cheaper.
The question period generated some interesting comments and debate. Kathy Heberman of Carmel Valley Olive Company asked about what could be done about the olive fly which is devastating the Carmel Valley. Some growers such as the Muias had over 90% infestation with no usable crop despite aggressive fly abatement efforts. Growers in other areas reported very different experiences; they had excellent success with the recommended application of Spinosad.
Kathy also asked about any way to lower the costs of certifying oils with the COOC seal. Patricia Darragh explained that there were some exemptions/discounts for small producers.
Lewis Johnson of Butte View questioned the requirement for expensive adulteration testing for COOC seal certification. His point being that if someone were to adulterate their oil, they would not be so foolish as to submit that sample for testing. Board member Roberto Zecca had the information on how UV testing could detect seed oils and other defects. This led to a vigorous debate among the members about whether it made more sense to test submitted samples from every seal applicant or use the funds to pull samples off store shelves for random compliance and fraud testing.
Lewis also brought up the issue of flavored oils. Many producers want to sell as much California olive oil as possible and the reality is that flavored oils outsell plain extra virgin oil in many venues. He and other producers want the COOC to help promote these oils and allow pouring at COOC events such as the Fancy Food Show booth.
Michael Keller asked if you can taste defects if fly damaged olives are used to make an oil. The COOC panel felt that while a grubby taste is not obvious unless the olives are almost 100% infested, the oil would have a higher acidity and may not get the seal for that reason.
Eleanor Krause brought up the issue of whether the COOC seal could be incorporated into the label or other materials such as a neck tag instead of buying seal stickers. This led to a debate over seal colors and other design issues which then turned into a debate about whether a used by date should be on the bottle. (The current seal sticker has a date incorporated into it.)
The meeting was followed by a well attended cocktail party and silent auction. Dinner was served with new olive oil donated by members at each table. Frank Menacho's Olivas de Oro lemon olive oil complemented the fish dish and the Hebermann's Carmel Valley olive oil was perfect on the salad at this writer's table.
After dinner, awards were given to best of show winners at last year's LA county Fair. This was followed by dancing.