I’m on my way back to Tuscany to check out the state of the olive harvest in two places dear to me—my family’s own small groves near Cortona and the much grander oliveto at Villa Campestri, where we’re getting ready for the first of this season’s AmorOlio olive oil weeks (October 21st to 27th). Villa Campestri’s harvest will most likely begin during that week, while Villa Jenkins won’t start till early November when the picking crews begin to roll in from New York and points west.
Meanwhile, Teatro Naturale, the Italian on-line magazine that deals with olives and olive oil production, is reporting a huge shortfall predicted for Spanish production this year, largely because of a drought of historic proportions, especially in Andalucia where as much as 80% of Spanish oil is, or should be, produced—and Spain, in normal years, makes nearly half the olive oil in the entire world so an Andalucian dearth will be significant. With the harvest about to begin in many parts of the Mediterranean, the outlook for consumers is—not exactly grim but not exactly cheerful either. Prices, as a consequence, are expected to rise.
But don’t think you’ll beat the trend by rushing out to buy bargain-box olive oil at current prices. Any oil at suspiciously low prices is most likely old to start with and unlike wine, as I preach till I’m blue in the face, olive oil doesn’t get better with age. Au contraire, mon vieux, it gets worse, sometimes much worse. (Spanish authorities speak reassuringly of a big backlog of oil from previous harvests to which I reply: yeah, right! That oil might be good for the refinery, if that. Turn it into just plain olive oil and then talk to me about extra-virgin, the only kind of oil I’ll ever use.)
So go with the flow of fresh extra-virgin olive oil—it may be costly, but it’s worth it. (New Yorkers who are not buying no-longer-available 64-ounce diet sodas, for instance, can sink their savings into olive oil and get big health benefits thereby too.) The new crop won’t arrive on our shores for several months, maybe not until the new year, but it’s worth waiting for.
Meanwhile, the International Olive Council, supposedly set up to promote olives and their oil and once very effective at doing so, continues its incomprehensible decline. I went to their site (internationalolive.org) looking for reports on Spanish production. The statistics they offered were from the 1990-91 harvest. That, for those who have trouble with math, was 20 years ago! So much for keeping up with the market!