The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.
The Filippo Berio olive oil story stretches back more than 150 years, to the days of Italian unification; blossoming trade relations with the United States; and Americans’ burgeoning appreciation of “exotic” foodstuffs, nurtured, in part, by events like Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition.
For Filippo Berio – a small producer who founded his business in Lucca, in the heart of Tuscany, in 1867 – the World’s Fair exposure was a game changer: With his olive oil internationally recognized for quality, Signore Berio went on to register his trademark in the United States and launched an enduring relationship with the American palate – one that has only grown deeper and richer with the passage of time.
“This company has been part of the U.S. olive-oil market since Day 1,” explains Marco de Ceglie, CEO of Filippo Berio Olive Oil, USA. “And today, while we export our extra-virgin olive oil to more than 75 countries, our biggest market remains the United States.”
Heinen’s shoppers can find an enticing assortment of Filippo Berio olive oils on the shelf today, in a variety of sizes. Among them are Extra Virgin, Organic Extra Virgin, 100-percent Italian Organic Extra Virgin, Robusto Extra Virgin, California Extra Virgin, and Delicato Extra Virgin. For sautéing and roasting meats and vegetables, there is Filippo Berio Pure Olive Oil, and for deep-frying, stir-frying, baking, and braising, shoppers might choose Extra Light Olive Oil.
“Our relationship with Heinen’s goes back almost a decade,” says Kelly Evers, Regional Sales Manager for Filippo Berio. “Our customer base was expanding, and we wanted to be very strategic in our approach to new markets, making sure our new partners aligned with our vision. Heinen’s absolutely corresponds with that: They are a like-minded partner dedicated to quality. That’s what has played the instrumental role in our partnership.”
Consistency and quality have been at the core of the company’s success, says Marco, a 26-year veteran of the olive-oil business and current chairman of the North American Olive Oil Association, the largest association of olive oil producers and importers in the world. (One of the association’s duties is testing olive oils to determine if they are what their labels claim they are: All Filippo Berio olive oils carry the NAOOA certification seal for quality and authenticity.)
For years, Marco explains, extra-virgin olive oil was considered an “ethnic” product in the U.S. market, appealing mainly to Italian Americans. That changed dramatically in the 1970s and ’80s, as news of its health benefits became more widely understood.
The growing interest in the Mediterranean Diet – and in extra-virgin olive oil’s possible role in lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, reducing inflammation and moderating the risk of heart disease – created broad demand. The problem, Marco says, was that the product’s flavor profile – which can naturally vary, from robust and peppery to mild and slightly fruity – did not necessarily appeal to every culinary tradition. The solution? Creating a range of extra-virgin olive oils, with consistent flavor profiles, that allow consumers to match their taste preferences with the health-giving benefits of the product.
“There is no one country that produces ‘all the good oil,’” Kelly says. “So we source our olives from across the Mediterranean. Through our expert blending process, this allows us to craft truly unique and authentic flavor profiles.”
However, ensuring flavor consistency is no small feat, Marco explains; that’s where the “oil masters” come in, sensory experts who “by their nose and mouth can determine what goes into the blend.” Olives, after all, are a natural product, with flavors that vary based on factors like soil composition, rainfall, temperatures, and the particular cultivar at hand. The key, he says, is careful blending – much like in the wine industry – to ensure a reliable flavor profile year after year.
“We begin by mapping the olives that are available at harvest during any particular year, followed by going out and sampling the actual product,” Marco says. “This is an important step: We receive hundreds of samples in any given year, but our acceptance rate is only around six percent. By the end of the harvest, we have a very precise map of the flavors that will go into our blends.”
For Extra Virgin olive oils, together with cold pressing and filtering, blending guarantees our customers a consistent and high-quality product,” he adds.
Maintaining that precise flavor profile across the course of a year is yet another challenge. “Time works against olive oil,” Marco explains. “And an aggressively flavored oil in January may be mild by September. So it is a process, from month to month, and year to year, to achieve the quality and consistency we want. It’s not doable by a computer: It must be done by a human, our ‘oil masters,’ who are a key asset to our company.
“We are very proud of our blends,” Marco concludes. “And we hope to see every day on your table, a fine bottle of Filippo Berio Olive Oil!”
To learn more about Filippo Berio Olive Oil, including flavor profiles, health information, recommendations for use, and recipes, visit filippoberio.com.