Producers, chefs and olive oil enthusiasts prepare to gather in Paris to sample and judge some of the year's best early-harvest oils.
Olio Nuovo Days return to Paris this January for its fourth edition. Producers from around the world will submit their samples of olio nuovo to the founder of the annual event, Emmanuelle Déchelette.
We want every Parisian to be able to taste the fresh olive oil.
“I received the olio nuovo earlier this week and I’m very excited,” Déchelette told Olive Oil Times. Olio nuovo comes from the very first olive harvest of the season and is unfiltered and unracked. These oils tend to be the freshest of the season, but they also have a shorter shelf life since they are unfiltered.
Déchelette and her team will select thirty samples and invite their producers to attend and compete in the event.
“I can’t have more than thirty olive oils because I have to deal with 30 restaurants, which is a lot,” she said.
Each producer will have their oil featured in a dish cooked by a professional chef at a top-rated Parisian restaurant.
“I only choose fancy restaurants because it is important for the producers,” Déchelette said. “They want to have chefs with special skills, Michelin star chefs, such as [Julien Dumas of] Lucas Carton. All of these chefs have specialties, so when these kinds of people choose one olive oil, it means something.”
For Déchelette, this phase of the event benefits both the producers and chefs. She especially sees this as an opportunity to teach French chefs how to better utilize olive oils in their dishes.
“The main problem with chefs [here] is that they are not trained on olive oil,” she said. “They used to use very flat olive oil and now I’ve started to work with them and show them that olive oil has to give something special to what they cook.”
“It is a different approach and they like it, so now the chef won’t use one olive oil to go with everything, they use olive oil the way it has to be used, as a condiment,” she added.
Eric Briffard, the executive chef and director of culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu Institute, will return to preside over the competition and head up the jury panel for the second straight year. He embraces the event as a way for people to experience the advantages of seasonality in food; eating certain things when they are the freshest.
“I was brought up at the rhythm of nature,” he said. “By respecting seasonality, we also showcase our artisanal culinary heritage in the face of the agro-food industry that is standardizing our palates.”
During the competition phase of the event, each producer will vie for three awards: overall oil quality, best bottling and best labeling. The competition is divided into two rounds, a qualifying and final phase. The top six oils from the qualifying phase head into the final round.
Each sample of olio nuovo is assigned a number, so none of the jurors know anything about the sample which they are tasting.
“Blind tasting is primordial for the selection of a good oil, just like wine,” Briffard said. “A taster’s judgment can be prejudiced by knowing details of an oil, such as geographic origin, price or reputation.”
Last year, Japanese producer Takao Olive emerged as the surprise winner for the award for best quality; French producer Les Callis won for the best label, and Catalan producer Henri Mor took home the award for best bottling.
Along with the competition and the restaurant pairing, there is a public event known as a parcours, in which everyone can try all of these olive oils with bread in a number of bakeries around the city.
“We want every Parisian to be able to taste the fresh olive oil,” Déchelette said. “The taste is stronger, so it is easier to understand what you prefer.”
The goal of Olio Nuovo Days continues to be threefold in the eyes of Déchelette. She seeks to help consumers find great olive oil while expanding and democratizing knowledge of what makes an olive oil stand out in the first place. She also aims to promote collaboration between producers and chefs, the latter of whom she views as strong public influencers.
Olio Nuovo Days will run from January 14 to 18 and take place at the Maison Métropole, Institut des Systèmes Complexes, and bakeries and restaurants around the city.