The UC Davis Olive Oil Taste Panel, assembled a year ago, recently received official certification from the International Olive Council, making it the only such accredited panel in North America and one of only 47 certified panels worldwide.

The UC Davis panel, which includes 19 members and 12 apprentices, will launch a fee-based service in 2011 for producers, retailers and importers. In addition to “extra virgin” certification for oils that are free of defects and have the desirable fruity, bitter or pungent attributes, the service will provide a detailed sensory profile of the oils. The panel also will conduct research on the sensory characteristics of olive oil.

“UC Davis wants to do for olive oil what the university did for wine,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center within the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. “This certification is a giant step in that direction.”

The panel was trained and is being directed by Professor Jean-Xavier Guinard, a sensory scientist in UC Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology. The panel includes experienced tasters who have served on the California Olive Oil Council Panel and/or on a panel led by Paul Vossen, University of California farm advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties.

“Accreditation is extremely important in that it allows UC Davis to provide a much needed certification resource to the U.S. olive oil industry,” Guinard said. “It also makes us official participants in the process of improving olive oil quality and consumption through research and consumer education.”