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Help me solve an olive oil mystery

  • v

As a first generation Italian American who loves to cook, I use copious amounts of extra virgin olive oil in my cooking. After trying many brands, I have become strongly brand loyal to Frantoia. Unfortunately, it has gotten increasingly expensive, but since my mother taught me never to skimp on food, I continue to buy it, even though a big bottle is now $22 at Fairway, $12 for a small bottle. (I joined the Park Slope Food Coop for a month and the only reason I was sad to quit was that Frantoia was $16 a bottle there. Still not worth the headache, but I had to think about it.)

Yesterday I was at Trader Joe's and paid $4.99 for a small bottle of Monte Pollino di Trappeto Gold Selection Extra Virgin Olive Oil to bring to work (for my salads. Salad dressings are just vile.) When I put it in my desk next to my nearly empty small bottle of Frantoia, I realized that they were in the exact same bottle. I mean exact. And the bottle is someone distictive, with an olive motif etched in the glass (I'm sure this was subconsiously part of the reason I originally bought it, but I didn't expect it to be the exact bottle.) Then I looked at the details and both of them were packed by Pemiati Oleifici Barbera. I haven't tried the Trader Joe's bottle, but the color of both of them is exactly the same. Could it be that I have found a glorious loophole? This would be incredibly exciting, but at the same time a little depressing that my beloved Frantoia would be sticking it to me in such a cruel way. Then again, what else can you expect from Sicilians? (Joke. I am Sicilian, so I can make it.)

I don't imagine anyone would really know the answer to this, but I was so excited about my discovery, I wanted to share. of course, that will probably cause of run on the Monte Pollino oil but who cares since Trader Joes will probably discontinue it and break my heart anyway, as that rascal Joe has a history of doing.

So what do you think? Have I stumbled upon a goldmine, or am I no richer than I was yesterday?

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  1. Certainly do look the same.

    1. You won't know until you taste it. We've been buying FCP EVOO at TJ's for years. It makes such sense, and tastes so good.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gio

        On vvv03's suggestion, I just tried the Monte Pollini. It's perfectly fine -- green olive oil tasting -- but for my money, the Martini from Sicily at TJs has more of that beautiful green olive aroma and flavor, and is much cheaper. Still glad I tried it.
        Didn't see the Frantoio/a there at the store. I don't use these olive oils as finishing oils, just a bit when sauteing or making my (food processor) Caesar dressing. I like a VERY green olive oil (not nuovo with a bite, however) for finishing.

      2. " I wanted to share. of course, that will probably cause of run on the Monte Pollino oil but who cares since Trader Joes will probably discontinue it and break my heart anyway, as that rascal Joe has a history of doing. "

        Very funny and sadly true.

        Sometimes companies just have too much of something on stock and will unload some on a discount store like Trader Joe's (sorry, I still consider it that). So it might indeed be a short-time thing.

        Thanks for the tip. I'll look for it.

        1. "This would be incredibly exciting, but at the same time a little depressing that my beloved Frantoia would be sticking it to me in such a cruel way."
          Don't blame Frantonia (or Pemiati)...
          I'm not familiar with Fairway, me being on the West Coast, but looks like they're fairly upscale and only have four stores. On a higher-end olive oil, they're probably making a lot of money - maybe 40-50%. Because they only have 4 stores, they're probably being supplied by a wholesaler who's making 15-25%. The wholesaler in turn is probably buying from an importer who's making anywhere from 10-20%.
          Compare that to a discounter like Trader Joe's with something on the order of 300 stores - they're probably importing it themselves and could be paying pretty close to the same amount as the importer supplying Fairway.
          That's if it turns out to be the same oil in the bottle. It could, as rworange points out, be excess oil they put into a secondary label, or it could be oil that QC rejected for the Frantonia label...

          1 Reply
          1. re: David Carlson

            While I'm sure your numbers regarding markups are accurate, Fairway is actually somewhat discounted as compared to other gourmet stores (like Zabar's or Citarella). The real evidence of what it costs was the Park Slope Food Coop price of $16 (and change). PSFC only marks up 21%. Without actually doing the arithmetic, I'd say that makes a large bottle wholesale at around $12 or $13. We're now getting a little closer to the cost of the Trader Joe's olive oil. I'll report back on this thread after I've tried it.

          2. I visited an olive oil processing and packaging factory about a year ago. They processed and packaged 5 different grades of olive oil. Just 5. Yet they were packaging the product for, oh, I would say, judging by the variety of bottles and labels and the comments of my guide, well over 25 brands. And, yes, the top grade - extra virgin - was one of those. So it would come as no surprise to me that one could get the exact same oil from different bottles... and at remarkably different prices.
            BTW, while at the factory, I tried to note the different brand names... my guide, while not exactly hustling me out of the area, wasn't exactly 'forthcoming"...
            I'm just puttin' 2 and 2 together...

            1. I have been loving that Monte Pollino years--I'm hoping such longevity (and deliciousness) from TJs means it will stick around.

              Were it to not, I have to wonder, how long will bottled olive oil last and how to store it, as I will need to stock up!

              6 Replies
              1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                The flavor of olive oil starts to degrade the minute it's pressed. This is why I go to great lengths to buy new oils every six months. That said, if your bottle is unopened and stored in a cool, dark place, it should be okay for a year or so.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Thank you. I know it's very perishable. I do love M.P.!

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    What are peoples thoughts on refrigerating finishing type olive oil to help retain freshness? I buy mine by the quart in a refillable wide mouth canning jar with a tight seal as it takes me several months to go through it. I can just spoon it out of the wide mouth jar, so that works for me. The lady at the olive oil press where I get the oil made a face and told me I should not refrigerate it last time I was there. I'm a science- type so asked her why . . . but, no compelling answer was supplied . . . anyone??

                    1. re: vday

                      I've never tried this, but olive oil is obviously influenced by temperature, high, or low. I think you should try a side-by-side taste test with the same oil held at room temp and in the fridge. I'm curious as to how this would turn out, but not willing to sacrifice any of my fine oils to find out.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        do a taste test. it's easy and cheap. the fridge oil will come back to room temp pretty quickly.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Yes, it melts readily at room temp . . . I have not noticed any change for the worse in the taste of the refrigerated oil. Think I will just keep it there, as I can't find any reason why it might be a problem . . .

                2. It maybe a temporary gold mine. The dollar tumbled against the Euro last year and some European foodmakers have been trying to soften the impact of the effective price increase on this side of the pond. (Much as egg vendors in the US waited until this month - after the holiday baking season - to pass on their increased costs...)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Karl S

                    Funny that you should mention eggs. I noticed that the very same carton of eggs went up one whole dollar in price between November and December. This was a local convenience store (Manhattan). I chalked it up to Holiday greed.

                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      No. It's fuel-related issues (ethanol, cost of shipping). The egg industry and stores had actually delayed passing the price increases along for many months. In Boston markets, they waited until after the holidays for the most part.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Thanks- at my store, it happened right as I was doing shopping for holiday baking. It wasn't a big deal in the large scheme of things, but I certainly noticed.

                  2. I, too, am a big fan of the Frantoia. I have never seen or used the TJ bottle, but have noticed at least two other brands of olive oil in that same distinctive bottle. Curious, I checked out the producers: none other than Barbera. I was not surprised, considering that they are one of the largest (if not THE largest) olive oil producers in Sicily. My guess is that they supply several other distributors with oil from their estates. Alas, this does not necessarily mean that the product is the same- various olive combinations, tree locations, and methods used will produce different tasting oils. I actually consider Frantoia to be a pretty good value, considering the large bottle of delicious, fresh unfiltered goodness that you get. There are plenty of brands out there that cost way more and don't taste as good, IMO.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      From a business, not food, standpoint, it is very possible the company that manufactures and sells the packaging supplies (bottles, labels) sells to more than one olive oil manufacturer. In other words, the packaging is cheap and unimgainative, not your oil.

                      1. re: devin8351

                        I thought of this too. But all of the brands that I have seen in this bottle also contain olive oil produced by the Barbera company.

                    2. In his book "Olives," Mort Rosenblum revealed that since Italy has branded itself as the world's olive oil capital, it imports olives and oils from Greece, Spain, etc and bottles them. So your "Bottled in Italy" might therefore not mean "Grown in Italy." Add to all that squirrely weather around the Mediterranean last year with poor olive crops -- and you have another reason prices have risen. And then there;s the miserable dollar. So in addition to grade, retail prices probably reflect when and at what cost the importer contracted to purchase the oil (Trader Joe's has great buying power) and when the oil was bottled. The miserable state of the dollar vs the Euro might have an impact too. In this case, I wouldn't attribute every price increase just to markups at retail.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ClaireWalter

                        Barbera not only produces a range of oils undre its own labels, at varying price points (the Primagoccia is the least expensive), but also packs for a number of private labels, including Fairway and Coluccio in New York. While not everything it packs is estate grown, it's all Sicilian, and all very good. It's on their site: www.oliobarbera.com.

                        1. re: obob96

                          Thanks, obob. That is just what I suspected. I believe that Coluccio is one og the brands that I had seen in that tell-tale bottle. My favorite is the Frantoia, though.

                          1. re: vvvindaloo

                            I tried the Coluccio brand and didn't find it as good as Frantoia, either.

                      2. Hi Paula,
                        there are several online vendors who carry olive oil from Monte Pollino (both the Contadino and Trappeto varieties). I've never had the one from Trader Joe's, but I know that there is definitely plenty of oil from Provincia di Trapani to be had here in the US :)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                          Here's one!

                          (thanks, cheese boy, for linking this site to another thread)

                          1. re: vvvindaloo

                            I buy both these oils direct from the importer(Lettieri & Co. Brisbane Ca. www.lettieri.com) It's the same bottle but different oils $10.99 for the Monte Pollino di Trappeto $15.99 for the Frantoia 1litre . which is much more intense and is worth the extra $5 See image.

                            1. re: ro001da

                              Do they sell direct to consumers? This apparently is the oil used by Eric Ripert chosen on his show by blind taste test (they also use Sitia in their kitchen apparently)

                        2. Read an fascinating book "Extra Virginity" byTom Mueller. It exposes the crooks in the olive oil game. Basically, there are dealers who buy entire tanker loads of sesame oil from Liberia and Morocco for five cents a gallon, ship it to Italy where it is clarified and chemicals added to make it taste like olive oil. It is then put in Liter bottles labeled Made In Italy and put on the open market for $5 to $20 a liter.
                          The book is a real eye opener. The fact is, you have absolutely no idea what you are buying. It could be anything that tastes kind of like olive oil.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tedteren

                            You want greed?
                            I know someone who sells 'fresh roasted/ground' coffee beans.
                            He's been BSing the public at a FM that he indeed "roasts the beans"......which he doesn't b/c he has NO ******* coffee roaster!
                            He buys the roasted coffee beans from a local roaster and 're-brands' them'.
                            OK. So what?
                            The beans are the dirt cheapest/nastiest beans available.
                            There are two other coffee beans roasters at the market who actually buy quality beans and roast them and will grind them for you to order.
                            Ya. So what?!
                            The dude who buys the cheapest already roasted beans God knows from where/when CHARGES TWO DOLLARS MORE FOR THE SAME AMOUNT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                            "They must be the best! Look at what he charges for them".
                            Think about this when considering OO.

                            1. re: tedteren

                              I never buy Italian or the other Euro oils, too much fraud in the production (many add too much regular olive oil to evoo). Try Apollo Olive Oil in CA or Grumpy Goats, in CA, and Calolea in CA many others in CA

                            2. That's what Trader Joe's does: find a product they like, and a maker they can deal with to provide a guaranteed quantity at a set price, packaged with the Trader Joe's label. The maker's name is usually kept completely off the label, thus helping to protect the price level of their branded product.