Nowadays we are witnessing a new trend: comparing olive oils, examining their attributes and features to rank their overall quality. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as this sort of appraisal is carried out in a straightforward and scrupulous manner.
The most common mistake, often concealing a fraudulent intent, is to compare oils belonging to different product categories. It is like comparing a luxury two-seater with a sturdy and reliable city car. It is impossible: the latter vehicle is certainly more useful in everyday life, when one has to transport passengers and luggage, but has nothing in common with the expensive sports car. This type of error is typical of whoever hasn’t got the will or patience to progress slowly, by degrees, when teaching what quality is.
An extra virgin olive oil endowed with notes of artichoke and cardoon, apple, tomato, almond or other scents, is not in the same leagues as an oil that, despite being flawless, does not possess a rich or interesting bouquet. Comparing them only makes sense if the purpose is it to educate one’s palate to discern the differences between these two oils. A commercial product of average quality can never compare to a prime extra virgin.
Some professional tasters however have started to go down this slippery slope, comparing extra virgin oils of different categories with the clear intention of belittling the unpretentious oil. Their duplicity is quite obvious.
The procedure is always the same: they go to the supermarket and purchase a reasonably-priced oil of some renowned brand, and then compare it with the best extra virgin of a producer that for some reason or another they are endorsing. Their aim is to demonstrate that the latter oil outshines by far the more popular, cheaper oil. This assessment however is neither fair nor serious.
The principle of comparing and ranking oils is not at fault, but when doing so, care should be taken to see that they belong to the same product class: commercial oil with commercial oil, premium oil with premium oil and superior oil with superior oil. This may seem obvious, but many tasters tend not to do so, with the sole purpose of deceiving the consumers and influencing their choices.
We should be aware that quality is always the result of a complex series of factors, and achieving it is like climbing a ladder. We have to proceed step by step, one rung at a time, in order to reach the top. This journey will give us the time to discover and enjoy all the subtle differences and nuances that characterise a product so simple yet so complex as olive oil.
The vision from the top is doubtlessly the best and most complete, but we must start from the bottom to truly appreciate it.