From improving farming techniques to educating co-workers and customers, these new olive oil sommeliers return home to apply and share their new-found knowledge.
A diverse group of 31 olive oil industry professionals and enthusiasts, hailing from as far away as Greece, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Australia, Turkey and Taiwan, gathered in New York City to attend the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification program at the International Culinary Center in partnership with the Olive Oil Times Education Lab.
Very instructive, good topics, well structured and excellent speakers. I should have taken this course five years ago
The course lasted six days, covering the production, quality management and advanced sensory assessment of olive oil. Among the instructors were: sensory scientist Gary Beauchamp; agronomist Liliana Scarafia; NYIOOC judge and agronomist, Kostas Liris; California Miller of the Year and NYIOOC panel member, Pablo Voitzuk; international panel leader and consultant, Antonio G. Lauro; Chilean taste panel leader and NYIOOC judge, Carol Dummer Medina; Brazilian chef and olive oil sommelier, Perola Polillo; oleologist Nicholas Coleman; Spanish olive oil educator and judging panel member, Alexis Kerner; and Olive Oil Times publisher, NYIOOC president and program director, Curtis Cord.
See more: Register for the September course in Campbell, CA
The participants in the course had their own reasons for attending and plan to apply their newly acquired knowledge in a myriad of different ways. However, one thing they all had in common was how impressed they were with the quality of the content and the knowledge of the panel.
“I thought it was excellent,” said Jacqueline Tyburski, a digital marketing strategist for a software and services company in Portland, Oregon.
“The quality and range of instruction were at a level that far surpassed my expectations. The program was very balanced and in depth, with a real emphasis on training a new community of empowered, knowledgeable, and passionate olive oil experts.”
Tyburski said that with this new body of knowledge, she hopes to educate chefs and consumers about the healthy qualities of olive oil while importing extra virgin olive oils to sell on her e‑commerce website.
“I hope to be an active and contributing member of the olive oil community, educating markets, chefs, and consumers,” she said. “I’d also like to evolve my e‑commerce site to be a place of education, community building and interaction.”
Elaine Belanger owns a food manufacturing company in Quebec that specializes in making extra virgin olive oil. She agreed that the course was complete, praising the science-based lectures as interactive and informative.
Belanger decided to take the course in order to improve her knowledge about olive oil science. She plans to apply what she has learned when selecting extra virgin olive oils to import.
“The fact that the course is given by professionals from different origins including old and new producing countries is very appealing,” she said. “It gives a more complete and objective understanding of the olive and olive oil world.”
Demosthenis Chronis is a molecular biology researcher and an olive oil producer from Sparta, Greece. He also joined the course looking for some olive oil science and production insights. He plans to use what he knows to retool his production line and said he aspires to one day be standing on the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition podium. He viewed this opportunity as a crucial step in that process.
“[I will apply what I have learned by] going back to our production pipeline from cultivation all the way to bottling,” he said. “We can fine-tune some things so we get a better quality olive oil and, hopefully, an award-winning extra virgin olive oil.”
Chronis said one thing that really stuck with him from the course was how different climates change the flavors of oil produced from the same variety of olives in the same way.
“For example, a Spanish cultivar, which is produced the same way in Spain, California and Latin America will have a completely different taste and aroma, depending on where the olives were grown,” he said. The group tasted more than 100 oils from 25 countries to illustrate that point.
“This is very interesting, showing clearly that the sensory part of the olive oil depends not just the cultivar and the way you produce it, but also the microclimate of the place that the olive trees grow.”
Willem Voorvaart, a Dutch financial investor and part-time farmer who splits his time between London and France, was also surprised by what he learned at the course. He thought that it was “very, very good” and enjoyed meeting other olive oil enthusiasts.
“I should have taken [this course] five years ago. Very instructive, good topics, well structured and excellent speakers,” he said. “The interesting thing was that all of the speakers were excellent, [which is] quite rare.”
He originally joined the course looking for ways to improve his organic olive farming techniques but also learned several new things about the olive oil market that he did not know.
“I set up a new organic farm from scratch 12 years ago, and had quite a lot to learn about organic farming,” Voorvaart said. “Now that after 12 years of hard labor we are producing extra virgin olive oil and now the question is, how do we go on to make a world-class olive oil?”
Voorvaart used the event as a networking opportunity and said he has already made arrangements with some of the instructors. He also found a potential investment opportunity of which he had not previously been aware.
“The other thing that surprised me is that the Turkish olive sector is growing rapidly,” he said. I will go over to Turkey in September to have a look and see if there are any opportunities out there.”
Lin Angie, a sales and marketing representative from Taipei, Taiwan, thought the course was “fantastic” and was looking for business opportunities as well. She frequently cooks with olive oil at home and was surprised by how distinct many of the 150 different olive oils she tried during the course were.
“There’s a new trend that people in my country have started to use olive oil more and more,” Angie said. “I would like to learn about olive oil in a more professional way and look for opportunities to start my own business.”
Miller Resor and Adam Jenschke are both American farmers who came to the course looking for knowledge to improve their new olive groves. Resor grows olives along with a variety of other crops in California’s central valley. For him, olives are a relatively new crop.
“I decided to take the course because our family grows olives just east of Bakersfield, California on the banks of the Kern River,” Resor said. He wants to use his knowledge from the course to improve the family’s olive growing and oil production techniques.
“We are currently building a storage facility to rack, bottle and label our oil. I plan to continue to seek guidance from the olive oil community about how best to store, rack, filter, bottle and label olive oils. I also plan to work with an agronomist this fall to analyze our harvesting strategy.”
Jenschke, on the other hand, came to the course looking for insights on how to begin successfully cultivating and processing olives on his farm in the Texas hill country. He thought the course was “fantastic” and found the information on every step of the process to be very helpful.
“I will apply what I learned from the very start of the process to the very end,” he said. “From soil preparations to selecting bottle types and everything in between, truly, every facet of the process was covered [at the course].”
However, not everyone who came to the course was looking for professional tips. Some came purely out of their enthusiasm for and interest in olive oil.
One such individual is Ann Bartyzel who works in the insurance industry in New York. Ever since she volunteered at a local soup kitchen, food has shaped Bartyzel’s worldview.
“I volunteered for a few years at a soup kitchen that was highly focused on quality and freshness,” Bartyzel said. “The chef there had a huge influence on me and since then I have been on the lookout for food-related courses and ways to challenge myself.”
She did not know very much about olive oil before attending the course and said she was surprised by what she learned and tasted.
“The course was eye-opening and led by inspiring experts,” Bartyzel said. “I was surprised by how much my taste buds learned in only a few days.”
The next Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Course will be offered September 10 – 15, 2018 at the International Culinary Center’s Campbell, California campus. Registration is online via the Olive Oil Times Education Lab website.