Antonio G. Lauro leads a session on olive oil sensory assessment in San Francisco

Twenty-seven olive oil enthu­si­asts and pro­fes­sion­als have com­pleted the ninth edi­tion of the six-day Olive Oil Sommelier Certificate Program in San Francisco pro­duced by the Olive Oil Times Education Lab.

Attendees from nine dif­fer­ent coun­tries across four con­ti­nents gath­ered in San Francisco’s Marina District to learn about a wide array of olive oil-related top­ics, rang­ing from how to assess olive oil qual­ity to the best olive cul­ti­va­tion, har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion prac­tices. Olive oil health ben­e­fits, chem­istry and stan­dards, among many other top­ics, were also cov­ered.

“I was amazed at the amount of infor­ma­tion con­veyed to us in a rel­a­tively short amount of time,” Marci Weidemiller, an olive oil retailer and writer from Venice, Florida, told Olive Oil Times. “The instruc­tors shared equally from their heads and their hearts, and that pas­sion [was] very con­ta­gious.”

Having now been armed with this knowl­edge, we are sure to make bet­ter deci­sions.- Yiannis Assimakopoulos, aspir­ing olive oil pro­ducer

Equipped with new knowl­edge of olive cul­ti­va­tion, oil pro­duc­tion and chem­istry, Weidemiller said she planned on expand­ing olive oil tast­ings at her retail store.

“Showing that we are will­ing to invest our time, energy and money into expand­ing our knowl­edge demon­strates our ded­i­ca­tion to our staff, our cus­tomers and sets us apart from our com­peti­tors,” she said.

While Weidemiller is already in the process of writ­ing a book about olive oil enti­tled Sacred Fruit, she said she was sur­prised to learn about the nuances of detect­ing defects in olive oils and what those defects mean about spe­cific fail­ures in the pro­duc­tion process.

See more: Olive Oil Education

“[Learning about] the abil­ity to pin­point spe­cific, often solv­able prob­lems by iden­ti­fy­ing defects [sur­prised me],” she said. “Rather than just being lumped together as ‘bad,’ there is a sec­ond-chance oppor­tu­nity to learn, cor­rect and hope­fully improve future pro­duc­tion.”

Patrik Rozina, a Croatian olive oil pro­ducer at Dimnik Estate, was among those in atten­dance who was look­ing for tips to help improve his future pro­duc­tion.

After earn­ing Gold and Silver Awards at the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, Rozina told Olive Oil Times he wanted to learn more about global olive oil trends.

“The course was very well orga­nized with a lot of pro­fes­sion­als from the olive sec­tor,” he said. “My favorite part was all of the tech­ni­cal pre­sen­ta­tions. I have a good knowl­edge of the olive oil pro­duc­tion process, so the sur­prise for me was more on the tast­ing part, where they taught me a lot.”

Rozina will take what he learned and apply it to the com­ing har­vest in Croatia. Looking for­ward to NYIOOC 2020, Rozina said wants to get every pos­si­ble advan­tage that he can.

Just like at the eight pre­vi­ous edi­tions of the course, atten­dees came from a wide array of back­grounds and dis­ci­plines, each look­ing to learn some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent.

Xueqi Li, the assis­tant direc­tor of the UC Davis Olive Center, spends her days con­duct­ing research on olive oil qual­ity and authen­tic­ity as well as coor­di­nat­ing short courses about olive cul­ti­va­tion, tast­ing and milling.

She told Olive Oil Times that she had long wanted to attend the course and looked for­ward to gain­ing a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what is hap­pen­ing in the olive oil world as well as meet­ing other olive oil pro­fes­sion­als.

“I was impressed by how diverse peo­ples’ back­grounds were and how much we could learn from each other by just talk­ing about olive oil,” she said. “My favorite parts were being able to taste so many award-win­ning olive oils from dif­fer­ent regions, how thor­ough and resource­ful the instruc­tors were, and my class­mates.”

Li spends a lot of time as a researcher ana­lyz­ing the chem­i­cal pro­files of the same olive oils vari­etals from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. She said that being able to taste them brings her under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ences in their chem­i­cal pro­files full cir­cle.

“I under­stand how sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent their chem­i­cal pro­files could be some­times,” she said. “However, being able to taste them side by side helps greatly in terms of under­stand­ing the whole pic­ture of a spe­cific vari­ety.”

Tim Hughes, the food­ser­vice sales direc­tor at Millpress Imports, also came to the course look­ing to learn more about the finer points of olive oil qual­ity in order to share solid knowl­edge with clients.

“I took this course to give me a stronger sense of why this food is so impor­tant,” he told Olive Oil Times. “It was amaz­ing to be able to lis­ten and learn from such an accom­plished panel of teach­ers and judges. They under­stand the busi­ness, the qual­ity of the prod­uct needed, and how to make it from har­vest to bot­tle. ”

Hughes said that he is a chef at heart and has worked as one for more than two decades. He will use what he learned in the course to con­tinue edu­cat­ing his clients, many of whom are also chefs, about how they should be using and cook­ing with extra vir­gin olive oil.

“This will help me tremen­dously in work­ing with own­ers and chefs to intro­duce them to a very high-qual­ity prod­uct and edu­cat­ing them on how to pur­chase, store and use extra vir­gin olive oil,” he said.

“What sur­prised me was how del­i­cate the process is from har­vest to pantry,” he added. “The olive is such a com­plex fruit and if it is not taken care of it can fall apart very quickly leav­ing a poten­tial crop in jeop­ardy.”

While many atten­dees of the course were vet­er­ans in the field of olive oil pro­duc­tion, retail­ing or research, Yiannis Assimakopoulos came to the course to get his olive oil career started.

“For the past few years, I have been acquir­ing land in the Greek coun­try­side with the aim of cre­at­ing a farm­ing estate for our fam­ily and future gen­er­a­tions,” he told Olive Oil Times. “The olive oil som­me­lier cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course was the ideal choice as it exten­sively cov­ered top­ics such as olive oil qual­ity and stan­dards, farm­ing and har­vest best prac­tices, chem­istry and defects, advance milling and recent inno­va­tions.”

Assimakopoulos added that he was impressed with the depth, pas­sion and orga­ni­za­tion of the course. He plans to apply all that he learned to start a fam­ily tra­di­tion of olive oil pro­duc­tion — one that he hopes will bear fruit.

“Having now been armed with this knowl­edge, we are sure to make bet­ter deci­sions when pro­ceed­ing with our fam­i­ly’s dream of our olive estate,” he said.

The next Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Course will be in London. Registration is open through the Olive Oil Times Education Lab web­site.



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