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A VINTAGE YEAR FOR HIGH QUALITY ITALIAN OLIVE OIL
The forecast for the 2009-2010 Italian olive oil season can be summarised in four words: less oil, higher quality. The fall in production in comparison to last year, estimated to be around 15% by Unaprol (Italian Olive-growers Consortium) in collaboration with AIFO (Italian Olive-pressers Association) – will be compensated by the quality of the final product, with high points of excellence evenly distributed over the country. This change in production levels is not recorded all over Italy, but is more accentuated in the central regions (-30% for Tuscany and Marche, -35% for Lazio and Umbria), while Liguria shows a clear contrast, with a 40% rise in production.
The particularly high quality of the oil produced is the result of the hot, dry summer, which has impeded the development of diseases, and a good amount of rain, which has allowed the vines to build up an adequate reserve of water.
According to ISTAT figures, there are more than 1,200,000 olive farms in Italy, which cultivate a total of 1,139,630 hectares of land. This season is an important turning point for Italian producers, who will be obliged for the first time to indicate the origin of extra virgin olive oil on the label. The measure will serve to identify genuine Made in Italy oil, and has become absolutely necessary in order to defend the high quality image of the Italian product from damage caused by imitations and fraud. Massimo Gargano, President of Unaprol, comments that "real Italian extra virgin olive oil comes in small quantities and at high quality: this is exactly why it must be protected and valorised".
The origin indicated on the label will also boost exports, which are a key market for olive growers: Italy exports 200,000 tonnes of oil every year, almost a third of total national produce. The main importer is the US, which in 2008 alone purchased 120,000 tonnes of olive oil and residues (ISTAT), followed by Germany, France, the UK, Canada and Japan. The key Italian exports are oils with quality certifications such as DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and IGP (Protected Geographical Indication). The EU has 98 certified olive oils, representing 12.5% of all food products, and oil is the fourth certified product in the EU by sector, preceded by fruit, vegetables and cereals, with 182 certifications, cheese, with 163, and fresh meat with 104 certifications. 38 Italian oils have received these certifications, representing 39% of the oils in the whole of the EU, a far larger number than in other olive growing countries such as Greece (26 certified oils) or Spain (20).