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Not everything labeled ‘extra virgin’ is immaculately conceived; it seems there are some very shady customers in the olive oil trade, and the problem is spreading.

Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime And Scandalous World of Olive Oil, found that not all olive oil is as pure as they might seem and that the world of olive oil is increasingly beset with fraud and smuggling. The way I see it, is that where there is money…there is crime and olive oil is a very valuable commodity.

Gangs are being arrested in Spain, producers are being robbed at gunpoint in Italy and only a few years ago Bertolli, the biggest olive oil brand in the world, suffered a multi-million euro theft at its plant near Milan.

European legislation dictates that any oil labeled “Extra Virgin” must have been extracted from the olive by physical means, such as pressing, rather than by chemical refinement. It also has to pass a taste test conducted by EU experts. Not so in the U.S., where standards are minimal, enforcement is non-existent, and consumers are willing to pay huge prices for what they mistakenly assume is a high-quality product.

The unregulated U.S. retail market for olive oil, allows European olive growers to freely dump their crummiest-quality crops in the U.S., usually in fancy, high-priced bottles with impressive labels to attract naive buyers.

Just by coincidence, I was assigned to cover an olive oil and vinegar store that opened up in town; Gustare Oil and Vinegars. I asked the owners various questions about their new location.. but what I really wanted to hear was  their opinion on the recent scandal discovered in the olive oil world.