The 2021 oil season has now finished. It is therefore possible to form some considerations on the quality of the oil produced, also analysing the aspect of productivity.
The situation in Italy
In Tuscany, the oil season, which has just ended, was certainly not exceptional: production was not particularly plentiful, while the quality was fair.
If we consider the whole of Italy, it can be seen that in the central/north production suffered a decline compared to last year, while in the south the situation was better, especially in Puglia, the Italian region with the greatest production potential.
In the areas of the centre, and therefore also in Tuscany, there were at least a couple of factors that had a negative impact on productivity: the occurrence of late frosts in the month of April, which compromised or reduced flowering, and an excessive rise in temperatures accompanied by the onset of drought during the setting period.
To these two factors, already decisive, must be added a particularly hot and rainless summer that further tested the few fruits that the plants had managed to preserve, in many cases causing a drop phenomena.
The Drought however, helped to avoid the fly problem, so the oils produced were of a good quality and the yields, especially at the start of the harvest, were very good.
The quality of the oil produced in Tuscany
As every year in the CDR Chemical Lab “Francesco Bonicolini”, several samples of Tuscan oil were analysed with CDR OxiTester to study those chemical characteristics of oils that affect their quality.
Let’s examine the qualitative results of the last harvest.
The results of the analysis of the oil produced in Tuscany
Below is the table of the analyses carried out ordered according to the polyphenol content found, from the highest (superior quality) to the lowest.
As can be seen from the values shown in the table, confirming a year that at least from this point of view was positive, more than half of the samples were found to be in the high and medium-high quality range, that is, with a high value of polyphenols , low peroxides and with acidity (Free Fatty Acids) far below the limits established by law to classify an extra virgin olive oil (0.8% oleic acid).
In fact the average acidity value, calculated on roughly 20 samples, resulted in 0.12% oleic acid and only 1 sample exceeded 0.2%. Very low values were therefore found, in line with what was found in the last oil season.
The average value of polyphenols was found to be 454 mg/kg. This value is lower than that recorded last year, in which the average reached 513 mg/kg, but in any case it is such as to fall within the medium-high quality range.
The number of peroxides also recorded particularly low values, as we might have expected since the olives tended to be healthy and therefore generally without oxidative problems.
The importance of oil quality control
In the table we have highlighted a qualitative classification of the oils analysed based on the polyphenol content, a truly discriminating parameter from this point of view.
Looking at the values shown in the table, it can also be seen that all the oils analysed fall well within the parameters imposed by the legislation to classify an olive oil as extra virgin.
These considerations could lead us to believe that in years such as this, characterised by healthy olives, there is less need to carry out quality controls in oil production.
Instead, it is precisely in years like this, in which there are fewer problems to be addressed in the mill, that it is possible to work with more focus on the quality of the product. It is therefore possible to experiment with production methods that allow the obtaining of high quality oils, such as to enhance the organoleptic peculiarities that are expected from a product of excellence, exceeding those characteristics that allow an oil to be classified as extra virgin.
Carrying out analyses before the harvest, to identify the correct period of technological maturity, is already a good starting point, but the real “leap in quality” can be taken in the mill. Optimising the kneading times and temperatures in order to stress the mixture as little as possible and being able to extract the maximum content of polyphenols in the oil can truly lead to maximisation of the process, transforming a good year, from the point of view of quality, into an excellent one.
In the 2021 oil season we witnessed a production of oil that was not abundant, but of good quality due to generally healthy olives.
It is precisely in seasons which present few quality problems such as this that it is important to optimise the production methods and to check the results obtained by analysing the product to achieve excellent oil quality.
In fact, extra virgin olive oil can be an aid to the cooking of certain foods, like many other fats, or it can be a condiment that embellishes and brings unique aromas and flavours to a refined dish.