At dinner, the consortium president hands me a
small cup of olio nuovo (first oil) from the 2005 harvest and asks me to take the first sip; it is fantastico …
and, of course, Costco’s.
After a night in beautiful Rome, I find myself due
west of Naples in the small village of Montesarchio.
It’s another early morning, and the mist is just
rising above the trees when I meet olive farmer
Fernando “Nando” Colandrea. He welcomes me with
smell of olives and I have splatters of oil all a loud “Buongiorno, Signora Costco” and a fero-over my face. It is glorious. cious bear hug.
By midmorning, farmers have delivered As we walk through his olive groves, I learn that
their day’s collection to the local coopera- his family has owned this land since the beginning
tive mill. The olives are separated from of recorded history. And, like his forefathers, Nando
debris, washed and dried, crushed into lives and breathes for his olives and the fine oil
a paste and cold-pressed of their oil. they produce.
Above: Celebrating Costco’s
first cold-pressed Tuscan
olive oil of the season are
(left to right) Massimo Neri,
president of The Olive
Growers’ Association, Pat
Volchok and Gerard Jara,
co-founder and president
of Cynara Worldwide
Sourcing, a global company
specialized in artichokes
and fresh new crop extra
virgin olive oils.
Since no heat or chemicals are used, all The olive trees and their fruit are larger here
vitamins and nutrients, including rich than in Tuscany, which makes for a mild-flavored,
antioxidants, are preserved. fruity oil that never overpowers food. This is the
This first pressing doesn’t automatically qualify olive oil of choice for milder foods such as fish or
the oil as extra virgin. To gain this superior rating, chicken, as well as many salads and pastas. It is also
the oil must have 0.8 percent acidity or less. (The a heat-stable frying oil.
lower the acidity, the higher the quality.) Costco I discover Nando’s passionate side when I
demands an even tougher standard, with a maxi- attempt to retrieve some black olives lodged in the
mum acidity of just 0.5 percent. This is achieved by dirt. He gruffly admonishes, “Don’t pick those up.
pressing only the freshest and healthiest olives. They are too ripe and may make bad oil. We only
The day’s milling and bottling is done under the want the ones we catch in the net. I stake my family’s
watchful eyes of the Consorzio dell’Olio Toscano reputation on these olives. They must be perfect.”
(Independent Association of Tuscany Olive Oil This Italian farmer is one of thousands who sell
Producers). It is their job to certify that an olive oil their small crops of olives to the mill that makes
is authentically Tuscan. All farmers are required to Costco’s Product of Italy Kirkland Signature Extra
register their land, trees and probable yield. If harvest Virgin Olive Oil. It’s important to note that labels
numbers don’t match at the time of pressing, the oil stating “IMPORTED FROM ITALY” or “PACKED IN ITALY”
is not accepted. Only oil that is irrefutably Tuscan is only mean the oil was bottled in Italy. When a label
given the blue and gold Indicazione Geografica proclaims “MADE IN ITALY” or “PRODUCT OF ITALY”
Protetta (protected geographical indication) seal. (like Costco’s), it means the olives were grown,
I’m reminded that even though Costco is the crushed and packed in Italy.
largest single buyer of cold-pressed, extra virgin At the mill, I see colossal stone olive-pressing
Tuscan olive oil in the world, only a limited amount wheels and even a maestro assaggiatore (master olive
of certified extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany can oil taster). He offers me a sumptuous lunch of fresh
be produced annually. I know many veteran Costco (made in the last hour) buffalo mozzarella, crispy
members who patiently wait for this oil’s annual Italian bread and golden threads of Costco’s all-
February warehouse arrival and load up for the year. Italian, extra virgin olive oil. It is perfetto.