Bringing Olive Oil Culture to Bulgaria

How an olive oil hobbyist turned certified sommelier is parlaying a passion into a career in education and beyond.

Anna Petkova at the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certification Program in September, 2018
By Daniel Dawson
Nov. 27, 2018 10:20 UTC
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Anna Petkova at the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certification Program in September, 2018

Annie Petkova is tak­ing the plunge. After leav­ing her job in mar­ket­ing at the food behe­moth, Nestlé, she is ded­i­cat­ing her­self full-time to her new startup, My Pure Olive.

My idea is to edu­cate Bulgarians about olive oil and to really enhance the cul­ture of olive oil in Bulgaria,” Petkova told Olive Oil Times. For them to know the dif­fer­ence between the types of olive oils.”

I want to illus­trate that olive oil is not just for bread and salad. This is mostly the per­cep­tion in Bulgaria.- Annie Petkova, My Pure Olive

However, Petkova’s deci­sion to change the tra­jec­tory of her career is not some­thing that hap­pened overnight.

This started about 12 years ago when I was work­ing in Moscow,” she said. I used to have an Italian boss and this is the moment when I started tast­ing olive oils, which were not super­mar­ket olive oils. In a way, this changed my per­cep­tion of olive oil and it cre­ated inter­est.”

Petkova hopes to use fla­vor to pique the inter­est of her fel­low Bulgarians and par­lay her new pas­sion into a sus­tain­able busi­ness endeavor.

She held her first olive oil tast­ing class at a Bulgarian wine forum last Sunday. The par­tic­i­pants tasted olive oils from Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, all of which are already being imported.

We [did] a lit­tle jour­ney in the Mediterranean basin,” she said.

Petkova’s deci­sion to ulti­mately leave her job work­ing both in pre­mium choco­late and break­fast cereal at Nestlé also started with a jour­ney in the Mediterranean basin.

Nine years after first tast­ing those olive oils with her boss in Moscow, she went to Portugal in order to do a pro­fes­sional wine tast­ing. Along with olive oil, Petkova is a wine enthu­si­ast with a WSET level two tast­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The trig­ger was in Portugal,” she said. I was near Porto, in the Douro Valley, doing some pro­fes­sional wine and olive oil tast­ing.”

I thought, why not look for fur­ther infor­ma­tion and learn more about olive oil because it was really an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence?” she added.

This brought her to Italy, on the banks of Lake Garda, where she par­tic­i­pated in a tast­ing course. One of the instruc­tors on the course was Antonio Giuseppe Lauro, a judge for the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

By this point, Petkova had already decided to leave Nestlé and use what she had learned there about the mar­ket­ing side of the food indus­try as well as the over­all busi­ness model to strike out on her own.

Until two or three years ago, olive oil had been mostly a hobby of mine – try­ing dif­fer­ent oils and also olives,” she said. Then I really came to the moment when I wanted to be more focused and become an olive oil pro­fes­sional. There is a spe­cial emo­tion and energy that I feel with this tree.”

Upon com­ple­tion of the class in Italy, Petkova wanted to con­tinue expand­ing her knowl­edge and brain­storm, how exactly, to find her niche in the olive oil world. Lauro rec­om­mended that Petkova take the Olive Oil Times Education Lab som­me­lier cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course in New York last May.

What changed with the som­me­lier course was it gave me more breadth and also the vision about the olive oil world as well as a lot of inspi­ra­tion,” she said. The course unlocked this project [My Pure Olive] and I decided really to go for it. To build an edu­ca­tional plat­form even with­out a com­mer­cial dimen­sion in the begin­ning, really just to increase edu­ca­tion.”

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Petkova’s blog along with her most recent mas­ter­class is where she is begin­ning to lay the ground­work of her edu­ca­tional plat­form. Along with the olive oil tast­ing, she spent a lot of time last Sunday explain­ing some basic olive oil knowl­edge.

Olive oil is not widely used in Bulgaria, with oilseeds, such as canola and sun­flower, dom­i­nat­ing the coun­try’s domes­tic cook­ing oils mar­ket.

In Bulgaria, unfor­tu­nately, we are not grow­ing olive trees for oil or table olive pro­duc­tion. It is mainly for dec­o­ra­tive pur­poses,” she said. Although the coun­try is a neigh­bor to Turkey and Greece, so there are some areas where there might be an option for grow­ing olives.”

However, the cli­mate here is more severe, with colder win­ters and later frosts,” she added. Which might be why nobody has the courage to do this kind of thing.”

Petkova also used the course to dis­pel some com­monly held, but incor­rect, beliefs about cook­ing with olive oil that have taken hold in Bulgaria.

There are also some taboos around olive oil, that for instance, we can­not cook with it because it becomes poi­so­nous,” she said.

Petkova used a food pair­ing ses­sion to help drive the point home that olive oil is a healthy and sta­ble fat for cook­ing. She also ded­i­cates a lot of space on her blog to food pair­ing recipes, which she believes is the best way to get peo­ple inter­ested in and inter­act­ing with olive oil.

I want to illus­trate that olive oil is not just for bread and salad,” she said. This is mostly the per­cep­tion in Bulgaria.”

For now, Petkova wants to help the Bulgarian pub­lic become more aware of olive oils that are already being imported into the coun­try. For this, she will work with many of the same importers that were at the wine forum.

The idea is to demon­strate oils which are already imported in Bulgaria,” she said. Then I will also work with the importers in order to cre­ate aware­ness and more knowl­edge and to increase the pur­chase rate.”

Petkova believes that once more Bulgarians dis­cover how high-qual­ity olive oils taste, demand for them will increase.

The sit­u­a­tion in Bulgaria is talk­ing about the qual­ity of olive oil,” she said. We don’t have much inter­est to buy qual­ity or pre­mium oils yet in the coun­try.”

But when there is that inter­est, Petkova and My Pure Olive can take yet another plunge from an edu­ca­tional plat­form into a com­mer­cial one.


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