In F. Oliver’s ongoing effort to make our staff the most knowledgeable resources available, Stacey Mrva, our Rochester store manager, attended class at the UC Davis Olive Center. I interviewed her when she returned and asked her to share some of her experience.

Stacey, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Tell me about the class you attended in California.

The title of the class was, “Sensory Evaluation of Olive Oil,” and it’s presented by the University of California at Davis Olive Oil Center. The class focused on evaluating olive oils – through the senses, chemistry, and by understanding the policies under which olive oil is produced and marketed.

It was great, it really taught me how to evaluate olive oils. We sampled dozens of oils and learned how to evaluate based on smell and taste. We learned the characteristics of great oils and how to taste all kinds of defects. I knew a lot about what makes a great olive oil from working at F. Oliver’s but there are so many different ways an olive oil can display defects. Just when I thought I was getting it, they’d throw something new at us. It was exhilarating.

What are common defects in olive oil and how can you tell?

The two most common defects are rancid and fusty. Oils become rancid when they’re not stored properly – when they’ve been exposed to heat or light. The odor and flavor are like bad walnuts or Play-Doh, or crayons. Not that I really know what Play-Doh and crayons taste like! Fustiness is caused by olives that have begun to ferment.because they weren’t stored properly before crushing. The best example of fustiness is the taste of a brown, mushy table olive.

What’s really interesting is that rancidness and fustiness are not as uncommon as you’d think. Many supermarket olive oils display these characteristics. Many people haven’t tasted truly fresh olive oil and think that the rancid or fusty oil is extra-virgin olive oil. And that’s just one of the misconceptions that we in the U. S. have.

What are some other misconceptions?

Let’s see – light oil has less fat and fewer calories. That extra-virgin olive oil has a low smoke point. That cooking olive oil releases free radicals. There are a bunch more but those are the ones that stood out for me.

Ok, set me straight.

Light oil refers to olive oil that has been refined – a process using solvents and high heat. Producers do this to remove the bad taste of poor quality olives, to blend oils from different sources, and even to include oils that did not come from olives.

Smoke point is really interesting. The lower the acidity of an oil, the higher the smoke point. EVOO acidity is measured by free fatty acidity or FFA. Some artisanal EVOOs have an FFA as low as .07 but most quality EVOOs come in around .2 – this gives them a smoke point of about 380 degrees F. This is just below canola oil.

As far as releasing free radicals – any heating process will do this. What is different about a high-quality EVOO is that the high polyphenol counts protect the body from free radicals. Other oils do not have this property.

UC Davis Olive Center grounds

Why UC Davis? What is the Olive Center?

It’s a great place, really vibrant and the staff is amazingly accomplished and very cool. They are a self-funded, university/industry group that wants to do for olives what UC Davis did for wine. They run classes, the like the one I went to, they publish research, they have olive groves and sell olive-based products. There are over 60 faculty members, researchers, and farmers associated with the center.

Who attended the training?

It was a great mix of people – farmers, olive oil importers, store owners and managers, and one woman who just loved olive oil. It was a great group of people.

Thanks Stacey! If you want to learn more, check out or stop by one of our stores in Rochester, Canandaigua, or Ithaca.