For the love of olive oil

Hundreds of makers from around the world were pitted against each other in a recent tasting competition.

olive oil 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
olive oil 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a recent international competition that took place at the five-star Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, hundreds of olive oils were pitted against each other to determine which ones were the best in the world. The second annual Terra Olivo competition was a week-long event that included lectures, workshops, displays and demonstrations, in addition to the rigorous taste tests by international judges.
The event concluded with a gala dinner featuring dishes by chef Miki Shemu, Inbal executive chef Moti Bochbut and food writer Phyllis Glazer.
In the competition, more than 300 extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) from 20 countries, such as Algeria, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and the US, were evaluated by distinguished international food experts. The overall winner of the competition was Oleostepa Hojiblanca from Spain.
To underscore the quality of Israeli olive oils, 27 Israeli companies, including many boutique producers, won Prestige Gold Medals in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil category.
These included Eretz G’shur, Yad Mordechai and Zeita. The top winner from the Israeli contingent was Karmei Golan, a small olive oil producer in the North, with an oil called Koroneiki.
Relatively new on the competitive scene, there are only eight olive oil competitions a year worldwide. Chaim Gan, who helped create and develop Terra Olivo, says this competition was established to give consumers the basic knowledge and tools to select quality olive oils. The success of last year’s Terra Olivo, he says, contributed greatly to promoting Israel as one of the world’s most important olive oil production centers.
As part of the event, a three-day conference was held, bringing together growers, producers, traders, nutritionists, dieticians and the public. The lectures and workshops included such topics as the health benefits of olive oil, specifically bone health, prevention of colon cancer, regulation of gastrointestinal function, and combating diabetes and liver disease. On the industrial plane, some of the topics discussed were branding, flavored olive oils, regions, machinery and promoting women in the olive oil sector.
In one of the workshops, professional tasters demonstrated the technique of using our senses to evaluate an olive oil and what to look for. Like sampling wine, there is a series of steps to take to determine the aroma, harmony and taste of olive oil. For one thing, color is not a factor when it comes to assessing olive oil, hence the oils to be tested were presented in little cobalt blue glass cups.
The first step is to smell the oil. If the oil is cold, the molecules don’t give off an aroma, so you cup the glass in your hands to warm up the oil. Then you smell it, sniffing for such aromas as fruitiness, fresh greenness (e.g., herbs or leaves) or other positive, natural sensations.
Then to taste the oil, you take in about a tablespoonful to the entrance of your mouth, suck it in through your teeth and swirl it around with the tongue. Positive tastes can include fruity, bitter, sweet, spicy or herbal. Then you swallow the oil. What you are looking for here is pungency. It is a very important factor in olive oil, so you want to feel the heat. Once you know the process for evaluating olive oil, the formula is simple: smell + taste = flavor.
In the workshop, we tasted seven different olive oils, with a palate cleanser in between of sliced apples and little chunks of bread. As for the judges, they tasted about 24 oils a day over the course of three days.
Like grapes for wine, there are many species of olives that are used to make olive oil, and there are hundreds of EVOO on the market to choose from. As olive oil is a basic ingredient in Israeli cooking, chefs are teaching their students how to select the best oils. By the same token, efforts are being made to educate the public about how to look for more than a label that says “extra virgin olive oil.” To that end, Jerusalem’s Terra Olivo plays a major role in showcasing the culinary and nutritional value of olive oil and the benefits associated with including it in one’s diet.