New York Eschews Blue Glasses in Favor of Plastic Cups

Curtis Cord and Gino CellettiNew York International Olive Oil Competition president, Curtis Cord (center) and chief judge, Gino Celletti (right)

In the spring of 2011, in San Martino Italy, a panel of judges were about halfway through assessing fifty extra virgin olive oils entered in a competition called “Estrascape,” which rates producers on the quality of their oils, as well as the sustainability of their farms.

Among the judges were Gino Celletti, the well-known olive oil expert, and Curtis Cord, the publisher of Olive Oil Times.

“Suddenly the judges started rejecting every olive oil that was placed before them,” Cord remembers. “There was this strange run of around a dozen oils in a row that made the judges wince, before striking the score sheet with a big ‘X’ to indicate the oil was defective and disqualified.”

“Then Dr. Celletti put down his cobalt blue tasting glass and looked over at me with a knowing grin,” Cord recalls.”These oils are not defective,” Celletti told him. “What we are tasting is detergent.”

The other judges started sniffing their glasses again, holding them up to the light. Celletti was right. The chief judge was called over and went to the back room to inspect the glasses that had been cleaned, and there he found, sure enough, a faint white residue of cleaning detergent at the bottom of every glass in the batch that had just been washed.

The decision was made to start the process over again, retaste the oils, and clean and dry every glass by hand.

Cord had been, until that moment, putting off a plan to organize an international olive oil competition in New York. “I could not imagine finding the right person to be my chief judge — the one who would execute the fairest competition in the world. But there he was sitting next to me in San Martino. I knew it immediately.”

“I asked Gino right there if he would be the capo panel of the New York International Olive Oil Competition. He responded immediately: ‘Yes, I will.'”

According to the International Olive Oil Council, an official sensory analysis of olive oil requires a standard glass that has to match specific characteristics. The olive oil tasting glass standard, set in 1987, prescribes the glass for use in the “organoleptic analysis of edible oils.”

Olive Oil Tasting Glass

The standard also goes on to prescribe the process to clean the glasses before each use.

The glasses shall be cleaned using unperfumed soap or detergent and shall then be rinsed repeatedly until the cleaning agent has been totally eliminated. The final rinse shall be with distilled water, after which the glasses shall be left to drain and then dried in a desiccation stove. Before use, each glass shall be smelled to ensure that no extraneous odour is present.

The problem is that olive oil competitions are held in hotels, conference centers and commercial buildings where the quality of the cleaning equipment can vary, and competition organizers are not always able to ensure the IOC guidelines are followed.

“It was not the first time I had seen this problem,” said Celletti, who has judged olive oil competitions throughout the world. “The glasses are a problem. Almost no one washes them according to the standard and too often we have to contend with fragrances other than the oil — and the oil deserves our undivided attention.”

As the New York competition approached, and Celletti was assembling his team to analyze an unprecedented seven hundred entries, he phoned Cord to discuss the first item on his list of judging supplies: five thousand plastic cups with lids. No blue glasses.

“With the plastic cups I know what we are working with,” Celletti said. “They will not add fragrance or taste. They are more hygienic. They will not condense and concentrate the aroma as well as the glass, it is true. But my New York panel is the best in the world and they don’t need the assistance of a glass as much as they must have an absolutely clean container. I believe the glass should no longer be used in major competitions.”

“I had 600 certified blue glasses in New York standing by,” Cord said, “and I watched the judging closely. I am convinced Gino’s decision to use plastic cups enabled the judges to do a better job.”

“We got some calls, especially when the New York Times featured a picture of the judges sniffing from the plastic cups,” Cord added. “People wanted to know why we didn’t use the official glasses. But the New York International Olive Oil Competition is not about doing what has always been done before. It is about doing things the best way possible and giving the world’s best olive oil producers the fairness and recognition they deserve.”

The winning oils are presented on the website

More articles on: , , , ,

This article was last updated January 13, 2015 - 4:20 PM (GMT-5)

  • David

    It may be true that detergents need to be cleaned out very carefully of the blue tasting glasses, but how can judges be expected to judge out of plastic cups? Firstly, plastic (especially the thin type) can impart a taste and if not washed after production it is also possible that residues and dusts from the production process can be present. Secondly, it seems wrong to ignore one of the main functions of the blue glass, which is to hide the colour of the oil, a factor which has been proven to subconsciously affect the judging of the olive oil, while in fact the colour has no relationship with the quality? I think plastic cups are a step too far, too quickly. Here is an idea, just wash and dry the blue glasses properly!!!

  • Juan

    Correct. I am glad you have explained this. I have judged many competitions and the glasses are very often not cleaned. The Solo plastic cups impart no flavor or fragrance whatsoever. The glasses standard is ok for small tastings but not practical and, yes, unfair, for big competitions where there will be many washings.

  • alberto

    I agree Dr. Celletti. No man knows this like him.

    • IHM

      Actually it is quite simple, buy more glasses for the competition and don’t re use any of them. Rinse them before use but use them straight out of the box and wash them after the competition. If you need 1000 glasses , then 1000 glasses it should be. Why compromise with plastic cups, you can’t heat it up properly nor can you capture the volatiles correctly.

      • Robert in DC

        Not quite. Then you are trusting the wash by the glass manufacturer and the cleanliness of the packing material. I have seen new glasses arrive straight from the blower covered with dust. A simple rinse would be insufficient to guarantee cleanliness, not to mention the cost-prohibitiveness of your solution.

  • Sarah Keene

    I have a set of the blue glasses (bought them on this site in fact). They are quite small with a very narrow rim and therefore quite difficult, almost impossible, to wipe completely clean. For a competition with so many oils to taste I can see why their use could undermine the judging fairness.

  • Fay Kelly

    Never store EVOO in plastic containers – but use plastic containers to taste and judge it??? Is it just me? Is this making sense to everyone else?

    • Erik Stanton

      Those are different issues. Concerns over leaching and UV protection would not apply when the oil sits just minutes in the plastic tasting cup.