“Add extra quality to your life” just ended successfully its first three-year campaign in United States financed by the EU.

CEQ Italia and QVetra!  promoted the penetration of European extra virgin olive oil in the United States through a series of training courses, staff training, dinners involving culinary schools like New York Culinary International Center.

Two non-profit consortia, passionately dedicated to raising the standards of extra virgin olive oil produced in Spain and Italy respectively, QVExtra! International and CEQ Italia, have joined forces in a special campaign to share this knowledge with chefs and consumers in the U.S. Spain and Italy. The initiative is financed with aid from the European Union, which supports ventures that promote high-quality agricultural products. The friendly competition between members of the European Union and the producers pushes all members to continue to improve and raise their standards. As part of their mission, they also educate culinary professionals and consumers about production and authenticity through a series of lectures, demonstrations, and tastings.

The Consortium to Guarantee Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (CEQ Italia) was set up in 2001 to promote the culture of quality extra virgin olive oil and improve knowledge. The 20 members agree to respect rigorous procedures during production, which are more restrictive than those required by national and European legislation. The mission of the Consortium is: to promote the culture of extra virgin olive oil and increase consumer awareness; to protect and guarantee quality by supporting research programs, quality improvement, and correct information; to promote the quality all along the production chain, integrating the know-how of the experts involved in the process, because quality can only be guaranteed where there is close cooperation between producers, bottlers, distributors and retailers;  to ensure high-quality products by respecting rigorous agricultural practices, correct physical, chemical, and organoleptic parameters, achieving standards that are stricter than those currently in force, together with other parameters not yet considered in European legislation.

nQvExtra! is a private non-profit organization whose aim is to promote competitiveness among producers of extra virgin olive oil, thus fostering a quality culture among its members and making this known to the consumer; its 44 member companies are all producers of extra virgin olive oil. QvExtra! olive oils are top of the range, rich, fruity, tangy and of exceptional quality.

QvExtra! was founded in early 2013 as a result of the work of 15 Spanish producers who were convinced of the need to promote extra virgin olive oil on both a national and international level. QvExtra! awards an international seal of quality extra virgin olive oil, which meets the chemical and sensory requirements established by the association. Each of the estates that adhere to the organization produces top-quality extra virgin olive oils following meticulous quality standards: picking olives at optimum maturity, cold extraction (Temperature< 27ºC) by mechanical means and always on the same day as harvest. In this way, all sensory and health-giving qualities are preserved and a high nutritional value is guaranteed; bottling and packaging are also carried out with great attention so that all nuances and characteristics are preserved. All the oil mills are certified according to integrated production standards, guaranteeing the highest quality extra virgin olive oils and environmental sustainability.

Most Americans already love extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for its flavor and versatility. But not all of them are aware of the range of flavors and quality that extra virgin olive oils can possess, based on how its produced and stored, the varietal of olives or where it originates. They may not know how to distinguish the best quality extra virgin olive oils (especially in an ordinary grocery store) or the best way to cook with it.  And above all, they may not know what they are missing.

This campaign held through seminars, training, tasting in Boston, Providence, and New York, discussed the production methods and standards, benefits and the role of extra virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, key elements in determining quality, how terroir influences flavor profiles, and how to cook with EVOO. Depending on the variety, the extra virgin olive oil has its own distinct character – fruity or aromatic, sweet or bitter, with a differing intensity of the spicy aftertaste. These extra virgin olive oils all have their own nuances, contrasts and flavors, but what they have in common is that their production has been closely controlled – from the flower to the bottle – with the main aim of providing the highest possible quality. Expert growers and brands were: Alfonso Fernández López from Spain, Natalia Ravida from Italy, and Luigi Caricato, oenologist, journalist, and director of OOF international magazine.

There were also cooking demonstrations as part of these seminars: Italian American Chef  Marisa Iocco; cited as “Distinguished Culinarian” (2017); named one of the best Italian chefs in America by Accademia Cucina Italiana; her Boston Spiga restaurant is named one of the “Top Ten Restaurants in America,” Esquire magazine; while Conde Nast Traveler lauded it as “One of the Top 80 Places in the World to Eat.”  Chef Marisa’s first book is “Every Menu is a Love Story – Ecco Perché Amore.”

During the interactive culinary seminars,  students and industry professionals had the opportunity to taste different EVOOs, taste dishes that the chefs prepare, and ask questions.  Activities for attendees included developing, implementing and discussing their own recipes.  In addition, they were asked to complete a true/false questionnaire to evaluate their knowledge of basic facts before and after the training.

“One of the greatest satisfactions I achieve traveling with the CEQ C-Qv Extra Consortiums over the years is to see the growing interest for quality extra virgin olive oils amongst American consumers” – comments Natalia Ravidà Spatafora, president, and owner at Ravidà Azienda Agricola in Sicily.

Year after year, they are becoming more and more discerning about choosing quality extra virgin olive oil with a growing awareness that quality goes hand in hand with great taste, flavor and, last but not least, high nutritional values.

Almost more than 1000 people involved and all gave great feedback about the seminars and training. They pointed out how their knowledge about olive oil improved and how important and essential it is to gain awareness about the olive oil world in terms of health, nutrition, and consumption. Now the two consortia are getting ready for the next round which may start in 2020.

The activities will always focus on increasing awareness of the nutritional, sensory and health benefits of extra virgin olive oils of the highest quality, in order to increase the value perceived by the final consumer. In particular, the direct focus of the program will be the intermediary operators who educate the final consumer, like restaurant managers and Ho.Re.Ca staff, importers, distributors, customer managers in gourmet stores, chefs and trainee chefs, doctors and nutritionists. Within the program, these target figures are considered the new ambassadors for high-quality extra virgin olive oil, they must be able to transfer their knowledge and explain to the people they meet the importance of the positive nutritional characteristics as well as the careful selection, use, and conservation of the product in question.

Article by Liliana Rosano

The content of this article represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission and the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA) do not accept any responsibility for and use that may be made of the information it contains.

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