Olive Oil Buyer’s Guide: Anatomy of a Great Label

Have you ever wondered what all the different things on an olive oil bottle mean? It’s common for shoppers to wonder which names, words, and features they should look for depending on the type of olive oil they want. Fortunately, a few tips can help you understand what different parts of a label refer to and how they can inform your selection.

To help guide you through these tips, let’s take a look at a great olive oil label and a great olive oil!

This is Primo Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva (Extra Virgin Olive Oil), and the label indicates that Frantoi Cutrera has been producing olive oil since 1906. The producer is Frantoi Cutrera, and the brand is Primo. And on the bottle, the label is written in Italian, English, and French, for sales within the European Union and English-speaking countries.

Let’s analyze this bottle from the very well-regarded Frantoi Cutrera. The hanging neck tag is the first feature to attract your attention, right?

Red catches your eye to emphasize that this is the new harvest oil and that Frantoi Cutrera has been named the Best Oil Mill of the Year, by the notable guide, Gambero Rosso. This is the 100th prize received by Frantoi Cutrera. On the back of the tag, there’s an extensive list of 40 awards received by Cutrera in the past nine years! These are indicators that you’re getting an olive oil from a well-established and respected producer.

Cutrera has designed a signature bottle with Frantoi Cutrera pressed into the glass. That’s unique in our line.

The orange and yellow symbol is the EU’s symbol of authenticity: Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP, also called PDO in Europe). There are approximately 30 DOP regions for Italian olive oil. On this bottle, the designation is noted as D.O.P. Monti Iblei Gulfi, and the corresponding green and gold neckband signifies the Consorzio di Tutela Dell’Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva – certifying the oil as DOP to the consortium’s regional standards. (Until recent years, the DOP symbol was blue and yellow). This area is in southeastern Sicily.

Each DOP region has its own standard reflecting the best qualities of the customs of the region. For this region that this bottle of olive oil originates from, some of the DOP standards include:

  • Fatty acid and polyphenol content: The certified oil must have a free fatty acid level no greater than 0.5% and the polyphenol levels must be greater than 150 ppm.
  • Olive cultivar: Certified oils from this region must also be 90% or greater from Tonda Iblea variety olives, which are native to Sicily.
  • Bottle numbering: The neck tag has a traceable number that is specific to each bottle. For this bottle, the number is CC 900234.

Below the DOP symbol, it is noted as a Product of Italy. This may seem a little obvious for an Italian extra virgin olive oil, of course, but don’t read too much into it. Unfortunately, oil delivered to Italy by tanker, and bottled in Italy, will also say Product of Italy. Therefore, you don’t want to rely solely on this detail to get an authentic Italian olive oil.

Fortunately, the DOP symbol provides assurances that the olives were grown, pressed, and bottled in a very small geographic area. In fact, the DOP regions are what we might recognize as the size of a county, or perhaps, Rhode Island.

This label also indicates that the oil has been “cold extracted.” Unfortunately, this label for olive oil being cold pressed is becoming a misnomer, as the extraction process has transitioned from stone pressing in an open environment to centrifugal crushing in a closed system. The process is monitored so the heat produced from friction is kept at a minimum. If excessive heat is involved, the acidity level rises.

With extra virgin olive oil, the lower the acidity level, the better. The international standard is for the acidity level to be below 0.8%. Top-quality premium extra virgin oils such as Primo have levels below 0.25%. Looking at the acidity level can give you a better idea of whether the proper temperatures were maintained in the oil’s production.

As for how much olive oil is contained, refer to the lower edge of the front label, which indicates that the volume is 0.75 liters on the left (noted with the EU “e”) and 25.4 fluid ounces on the lower right edge.

The Back Label

The back label includes more details on this oil, as well as the nutrition facts required by the FDA. In this case, the back label notes that the oil is produced primarily from the local olive variety “Tonda Iblea” and that it is produced directly and solely from olives by means of mechanical process. In comparison, lower grades of olive oil are produced by chemical extraction with solvents. Those lower grades are: pure, light, olive oil, and pomace.

As you continue to read the label, you will find details on the regulations for certification within Italy. The business address, web address, telephone number, and email address are also noted on the label. There’s no hiding where this oil originated, which is good for shoppers who want to get the real thing!

Lastly, we need to look at the product dating and numbering. Lot numbers are required by the FDA. Exceeding this requirement, Cutrera has chosen to indicate the harvest year and best-by date. We support producers who exceed the minimum standards since it ensures a higher level of quality for the customer.

A further note on bottle dates: We track these very carefully. Occasionally, there will be a late bottling of oil. Let’s say there’s a 2020 oil bottled (from tank to bottle) in mid-2021. That producer can place a best-by date of mid 2023 on the label. To us, that’s still a 2020 oil, not to be sold past December 2022. With careful inventory controls, we sell out long before that date. Our employees often take these bottles home, and top-quality oils that have been properly stored are still full of flavor beyond those printed dates. But we don’t sell them to you. Look carefully at the picture and you will see this is a 2021 harvest oil (noted as 11/12) with a best-by date of November 2023.

This bottle, sealed in Italy, arrives at your table with the same authentic integrity that it possessed when it left Frantoi Cutrera. The labeling carries forth the authenticity. But what can you learn about the characteristics of Cutrera Selections? We enthusiastically invite you to visit our description and give them a try!

To get the freshest Italian extra virgin olive oil, buy from a retailer who imports often and warehouses well. Olio2go’s extra virgin olive oil is stored in the dark, in the box, in a temperature-controlled warehouse to maintain quality and freshness. Choose a vendor/retailer with strict quality controls and good inventory systems.