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  • 1The extra-virgin olive oil chainClaudio PeriUniversity of Milan, Milan, Italy


    This chapter presents the classification and commercial denomination of six olive oilcategories recognized in international law (two virgin and four refined). Extra-virginolive oil is the highest quality olive oil. The extra-virgin olive oil chain, is presentedas a sequence of five processes: (i) olive tree cultivation, (ii) olive harvesting andprocessing, (iii) oil storage, bottling and distribution, (iv) selling bottled oil and (v)oil use in culinary preparations. Processes (ii) and (iii), the subject matter of thishandbook, are further presented as a sequence of unit operations. The main stepsand conditions determining oil quality and yield are outlined.

    1.1 The legal classification and denominationof olive oils

    When talking or reading about olive oil, the first point to be clarified is the categoryof olive oil that is being discussed. Ignoring the category that the oil belongs to canbe a source of confusion and misunderstanding and can lead to mistakes in buying,tasting or using it. Figure 1.1 is a flow-chart of the classification and denomination ofthe various categories of virgin and refined olive oils as globally agreed (see CouncilRegulation (EC) No. 1234/2007 of 22 October 2007, (Single CMO Regulation),consolidated version 2013-01-26, Annex XVI).

    The six categories highlighted by the grey background are suitable for humanconsumption.

    The flow-chart starts with the olive milling process, whose products are thevirgin olive oils. Two of them, namely extra-virgin and virgin, are allowed forconsumption. The third category, lampante, becomes edible only after a physical-chemical refining process and it is called refined olive oil.

    On the other hand, the pomace, which is the solid residue from the millingprocess, still contains a small amount of olive oil that is impossible to extract bymechanical means. It can be extracted with solvents; the raw oil from this extraction

    The Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Handbook, First Edition. Edited by Claudio Peri. 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.



    The olive millingprocess

    Virgin olive oils Pomace

    1. Extra-virgin

    The solventextraction process

    2. Virgin Lampante

    The physical-chemical refining


    The physical-chemical refining


    3. Refined olive oil 4. Refined olive-pomace oil

    5. Olive oilcomposed of

    refined and virginolive oils

    6. Olive-pomace oil

    Figure 1.1 The flow-chart of virgin and refined olive oils.

    is refined with a process very similar to that applied to lampante oil. The refined oilderived from pomace is called refined olive-pomace oil.

    Both the refined olive oil and the refined olive-pomace oil can be mixed withextra-virgin or virgin olive oil in various undefined proportions in order to improvetheir flavour. These are called, respectively, olive oil composed of refined and virginolive oil and olive-pomace oil.

    Chapter 17 gives a short presentation of the refining process. It is important thatolive oil producers, retailers and consumers know the difference in technologicaland compositional terms between a virgin oil and a refined oil.

    Regarding quality, extra-virgin olive oil is higher in quality than virgin olive oiland refined olive oil is higher in quality than refined olive-pomace oil. Refinedolive oil is very mild and almost neutral in taste: it is very good for cooking, fry-ing and for preserving canned vegetables or meat or fish. Extra-virgin olive oil


    is flavourful and tasty. A picture of the culinary uses of olive oil and especiallyexcellent extra-virgin olive oils is given in Chapter 24.

    1.2 The subject of this handbook

    Focusing on extra-virgin olive oil opens a wide panorama because the oil variesdepending on cultivar, climate and soil, and the conditions of the production-extraction-storage-and-distribution process. Extra-virgin olive oils can be ofcommon or good or excellent quality. The purpose of this handbook is to discuss thetechnological and management conditions that allow an operator of the extra-virginolive oil chain to improve the quality of the product, which is finally served at theconsumers table.

    1.3 The extra-virgin olive oil chain

    The extra-virgin olive oil chain can be divided into a series of five processes:(i) olive tree cultivation, (ii) olive harvesting and milling, (iii) oil storage, bottlingand distribution, (iv) oil selling and (v) oil use in culinary preparations (Table 1.1).

    These five processes have different structural and operational requirements, dif-ferent marketing policies and different economies of scale. They are therefore usu-ally managed and owned by different companies.

    Table 1.1 The processes of the extra-virgin olive oil chain.

    Process Input Output Ownership andresponsibility

    (i)Olive tree cultivation

    Olive trees(plus soil, atmosphericconditions, machinery,services, information,work, )

    Olives Agriculturalcompanies

    (ii)Olive harvesting and


    Olives(plus the mill, services,information, work )

    Batches of oil Milling companies

    (iii)Oil storage,

    packaging anddistribution

    Batches of oil(plus packaging plantand materials, services,information, work )

    Oil in bottles orother suitablecontainers

    Packaging anddistributioncompanies

    (iv)Sale of packaged oil

    Packaged oil(plus sales facilities,services, information,work )

    Packaged oil soldto the final user

    Retail companies

    (v)Culinary use of oil

    Packaged oil(plus cooking facilities,services, information,work, )

    Oil in culinarypreparations

    Restaurants,foodservice andfamilies


    Processes (ii) and (iii) represent the core content of this handbook. There is somediscussion about process (i) in Chapters 5 (olive tree cultivars) and 7 (olive harvest-ing), whereas Chapter 24 gives some general indications about the use of extra-virginolive oil in culinary preparations.

    1.3.1 Compact versus complex chain organization

    The most compact organization of an extra-virgin olive oil chain entails a direct con-nection between only two parts (or modules): the first is represented by the producerand the second by the final consumer. In this case, which is very common in olive oilproducing regions, a producer who is responsible for the chain from the field to thepackage, sells his oil directly to the final consumer, either a family or a restaurant.This organization is typical of traditional markets in a narrow area close to produc-tion, but sometimes it is also implemented in a global market and across continents.It is common to find commercial agreements between a restaurant in Los Angelesor Tokyo and a producer in Andalusia or Tuscany.

    On the other hand, very complex chain organizations are implemented in large-scale and global businesses with multiple inputs and outputs connecting the fiveprocesses listed in Table 1.1.

    Traceability of product origin and identity is easy in the case of the compact chain,whereas it may be very difficult or impossible in complex chain organizations.

    1.3.2 The extra-virgin olive oil processes

    As chains can be considered sequences of processes, processes can similarly beconsidered as sequences of unit operations. Processes are interconnected in seriesin a chain, so unit operations are interconnected in series in a process with the outputof a unit operation being the input of the following one (Peri et al. 2004). Table 1.2presents the unit operations of processes (ii) and (iii).

    1.4 Yield and quality

    The primary objective of an extra-virgin olive oil company is to maximize oil yieldand quality. Obtaining the largest quantity of oil with a high level of quality is theultimate measure of process effectiveness and efficiency.

    Contrary to the situation with other agricultural products, yield and quality arenot competitive in extra-virgin olive oil production, but independent or concurrentparameters. Conditions determining quality losses also determine yield losses.Figure 1.2 represents the critical steps and conditions determining extra-virginolive oil yield and quality.

    The extra-virgin olive oil chain is divided into two parts. In the first part, corre-sponding to olive tree cultivation, the basic condition for success is olive integrity. If,due to climatic conditions or pest attack, olives are seriously damaged, the unavoid-able consequence is an irreversible loss of yield and quality.


    Table 1.2 The unit operations of extra-virgin olive oil processes.

    Preliminary activities Unit operation Ancillary activities

    Monitoring of olive maturity.Supply and maintenance ofharvesting nets, crates andequipment


    Storage and transportationof olives

    Mill plant maintenance,cleaning, and start trial

    Olive reception at the millplant

    Standards agreed uponbetween the olive growerand the milling company

    Visual inspection, control oforigin and olive integrity

    Decisions in case ofnonconformity to standards

    Milling batches,identification andweighing

    Record of milling batches

    Deleafing at the olive grovesite. Supply of potablewater

    Olive cleaning and washing Disposal of solid residues anddirty water

    Olive milling or pitting In case of pitting: dischargeand use of olive stones

    Olive-paste malaxation Monitoring and control of thetime-temperaturerelationship

    Solid-liquid andliquid-liquid separation


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