Judges tasting olive oil at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. | Credit: Erik Freeland
Time is the big enemy of good olive oil, and green is good. Those are two of the takeaways from the largest international competition of extra-virgin olive oil ever held in the United States, which took place in New York over the past three days.
A total of 653 olive oils from 22 countries were entered in the event and were ranked in a blind tasting by a panel of judges. It was organized by Olive Oil Times, an independent online newsletter in Rhode Island, and its publisher, Curtis Cord, an olive oil aficionado. It was sponsored by the International Culinary Center in SoHo, where most of the event was held, and Fairway Market, which also held tastings.
Along with the competition, there were a number of seminars on topics like the health benefits of olive oil, international trade, cultivation and how to evaluate oils.
At some of the seminars, speakers explained that oils pressed from green olives, which are not fully ripe, make for better oils. The green olives are usually bitter and pungent, two characteristics, along with a fruitiness, that connoisseurs seek in a fine olive oil. Some oils that are mellow and sweet can also be considered of good quality, but might not be as high in antioxidants. It can depend on the variety of olives used.
Dr. Gino Celletti, chairman of the Monocultivar Olive Oil Council, which is dedicated to assuring quality in olive oils, was the head judge. He said he was surprised at the number of defective oils in the competition.
“There were 379, about 58 percent,” he said. “That’s much more than usual. About 200 of them had muddy sediment and some rancidity.” “Offensive” was one of the milder terms he used to describe them. He went on to say that such conditions take two years to develop indicating that many of the oils were not fresh.
Freshness, he said, is paramount. So one has to wonder why a producer would enter an oil in the competition if it was not the latest, freshest sample. “They simply may not know they have bad oil,” Dr. Celletti said.
There were 15 judges from 10 countries, including Japan, which had entered one olive oil. Most of the judges had academic affiliations. The entries were divided into Northern and Southern Hemisphere categories. The distinction was important because Southern Hemisphere oils from a given vintage are harvested six months earlier than the northern oil.
Whether or not they were single variety or a blend was another classification, as was whether or not they were organic. They were also grouped according to style: robust, medium and delicate. An entry fee of $200 was charged for each oil.
The results of the rankings were announced at a news conference and dinner at the International Culinary Center on Thursday evening. Italy, which had the most oils in the competition, came away with 19 high-scoring oils, for the most entries to be rated 9.0 or higher. Spain had six with at least 9.0. There were two winning American oils, Pacific Sun Eva’s Blend and Gallo Family North Coast Blend.
Many of the winning oils will be sold in coming weeks at Fairway.
But even before you buy a bottle of olive oil, there’s one tip from Dr. Celletti that’s worth remembering: avoid unfiltered olive oils. Unfiltered may sound more natural, but it can degrade the quality of an oil. “Unfiltered goes bad faster,” he said.
Photo by iloveaceite