The biggest challenge for the small artisan producer is the large scale fraud in the olive oil business in the US. Up until recently the US did not have any labeling laws in regard to extra virgin olive oil. Even now there are only two states with laws pending that are barely enforceable. Most of the olive oil sold in the US is similar to white bread in which all the nutrients are removed and the product is chemically treated to allow longevity during mass production and large scale transportation. This is not extra virgin olive oil. Real extra virgin olive oil is necessarily a fresh product loaded with anti-oxidants. It is a product that does not lend itself to mass production. Therefore real extra virgin olive oil is expensive when compared to ‘white bread’ olive oil.
Italy exports 4 times more oil then it actually produces and yet this oil makes it into the US with the ‘From Italy’ moniker. Italy imports massive quantities of olive oil from all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean and bottles it and then ships it to the US. This is nothing new and has been going on for over 50 years. It only became an issue in the US when in the early 1990′s California started making real extra virgin olive oil and noticed it could not compete with the $10/gallon ‘extra virgin olive oil’ from Italy. Gradually the truth began to emerge. One of the best articles on this topic is the New Yorker article ‘Slippery Business.’ I recommend it highly.