Producers on Sicily and Sardinia Prevail in World Competition

Sicilian and Sardinian producers overcame the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic to craft award-winning oils once again in 2020.
Photo: Agrestis Cooperative
Jun. 29, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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Part of our con­tin­u­ing spe­cial cov­er­age of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.


Producers from around Italy cel­e­brated a record-break­ing year at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition after win­ning 211 awards, includ­ing 160 Golds.

Among the win­ners cel­e­brat­ing their suc­cess after a tough har­vest sea­son were pro­duc­ers from Italy’s two largest islands: Sicily and Sardinia.

We were delighted to learn of the Gold Award because it rep­re­sents a step for­ward in the quest for qual­ity and dis­tinc­tive­ness. It is a sure sign that we are head­ing the right way.- Salvatore Paparone, owner, Agrestis Cooperative

Producers from both regions over­came the chal­lenges of erratic weather and a mar­ket reshaped by the san­i­tary mea­sures asso­ci­ated with the Covid-19 pan­demic. However, dozens of Gold and Silver Awards con­firmed the high qual­ity of their work.

The win­ning pro­duc­ers told Olive Oil Times the high human costs of the pan­demic coun­ter­mea­sures in a sec­tor whose pri­mary oper­a­tions – grow­ing, har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing olives – often rep­re­sent joy­ful com­mu­nal activ­i­ties and events.

See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Italy

They also stressed how the effects of the chang­ing cli­mate unevenly hit the ter­ri­tory with unpre­dictable results for pro­duc­tion. Still, most of them found new oppor­tu­ni­ties in the chang­ing mar­ket sce­nario, which did not hin­der their suc­cess­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­pe­ti­tion.

The last har­vest­ing sea­son in both regions has been affected by extreme weather events and labor short­ages. In some groves, the pro­duc­tion vol­umes were also cur­tailed by the usual bien­nial off-year for many cul­ti­vars.

2020 is a year we need to put behind us for its human costs: the suf­fer­ing caused by the many months of lock­down, the stag­nant mar­kets, the night­mare of a poten­tially deadly virus and the uncer­tain­ties about the future of our activ­i­ties,” Nicola Di Genova, owner of Baglio Ingardia, told Olive Oil Times after earn­ing a Gold Award for his 29 Grand Cru IGP Sicilia.

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Photo: Baglio Ingardia

It has been awful, but as the restric­tions are now set aside, for the most part, we already had a new begin­ning, with the pro­duc­tion of top-of-class olive oils and wines,” he added. We are delighted by the Gold Award received in the first year of par­tic­i­pa­tion at the NYIOOC, which marks our first year of pro­duc­tion of the IGP Sicilia extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The focus of Baglio Ingardia’s work is mainly on select­ing and han­dling the olives, explained Di Genova. While the four dif­fer­ent Grand Cru pro­duced by Baglio Ingardia come from spe­cific sec­tions of the grove, the olives are treated the same way but har­vested at sep­a­rate times accord­ing to their dif­fer­ent stages of ripeness.

We man­u­ally select the olives, and we process them within half an hour of har­vest­ing,” Di Genova said, empha­siz­ing the spe­cial atten­tion devoted to the knead­ing process and the deploy­ment of the most recent press­ing, trans­for­ma­tion and stor­age tech­nolo­gies.

A bot­tle of our extra vir­gin olive oil rep­re­sents one year of work which some­times comes out of a dif­fi­cult har­vest,” he said. In our area, for instance, ther­mal shocks due to the chang­ing cli­mate may affect the pres­ence of pathogens such as the fruit fly or the olive moth, the attacks of which are not eas­ily diverted by our organic weapons.”

It is not easy for us farm­ers to keep the excel­lence of our prod­ucts up year after year,” Di Genova added.

With three Gold Awards for its flag­ship prod­ucts, Frantoi Cutrera, another Sicilian farmer, once again con­firmed its place among the world’s best extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers.

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Photo: Frantoi Cutrera

In 2020, dur­ing flow­er­ing, the weather has kept warm and dry, and that favored the fruit set,” Sebastiano Salafia, the fam­ily company’s mar­ket­ing direc­tor, told Olive Oil Times. Moreover, the ther­mal pro­file typ­i­cal of this area has improved the qual­ity of the olive oil.”

Primo PDO Monti Iblei is made exclu­sively from the Tonda Iblea cul­ti­var, a native tree of the Iblei moun­tains, our home,” he added. This olive tree has ancient roots since it is believed to have been imported dur­ing the Arab rule in Sicily, between the eighth and 12th cen­tury.”

The company’s grove is the liv­ing wit­nesses of the work of gen­er­a­tions of local farm­ers, with many cen­te­nary and some mil­lenary trees. The Salafia fam­ily has been car­ing for the trees for decades.

My grand­fa­ther has always invested all his ener­gies, allow­ing us to con­tinue his pas­sion and the con­nec­tion he felt with an ancient, mil­lenary cul­ture,” he said. My fam­ily and I have trea­sured the tra­di­tional grow­ing tech­niques, and we apply them increas­ingly tech­no­log­i­cally and sus­tain­ably.”

As an estab­lished high-qual­ity pro­ducer, Frantoi Cutrera expe­ri­enced all of the chal­lenges caused by the pan­demic.

It’s been a dif­fi­cult year,” Salafia said. We had to face a labor short­age dur­ing har­vest­ing and had to work with the severe lim­i­ta­tions due to the san­i­tary emer­gency rules.”

The clo­sure of the Horeca [hos­pi­tal­ity] sec­tor caused dam­age, but we feel lucky because we over­came all of these obsta­cles and had a great year for the qual­ity of our olive oil,” he added. These awards com­pen­sate all of the sac­ri­fices we endured.”

Situated 250 meters above sea level, in one of Sicily’s most famous olive grow­ing regions, Tenute Caracci struck gold for the sec­ond straight year at the NYIOOC with a PDO Valle del Belice.

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Photo: Tenute Caracci

It’s been such a joy to get the news of the Gold Award,” Mirko Caracci, the company’s owner, told Olive Oil Times. Our extra vir­gin olive oil is truly a unique prod­uct because its char­ac­ter­is­tics depend on our very spe­cial ter­roir, com­pris­ing the land, cli­mate and the ther­mal dif­fer­ences between day and night.”

The Protected Designation of Origin comes from the Belice Valley because only in this lim­ited area these con­di­tions occur and endow our olive oil with its award-win­ning traits,” he added.

Like many other pro­duc­ers across Italy, the clo­sure of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor hurt the company’s sales. However, they strength­ened their e‑commerce chan­nels, which will con­tinue to add value for the pro­duc­ers in the future.

We saw a strength­en­ing of the direct sales to the cus­tomers, who began con­sum­ing much more olive oil at home given the clo­sure of the restau­rants,” Caracci said. E‑commerce proved essen­tial in giv­ing us the pos­si­bil­ity to develop our com­pany fur­ther.”

The pro­ducer added that part of the secret to the company’s suc­cess is the com­bi­na­tion of an 80-year olive oil-pro­duc­ing tra­di­tion with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

My grand­fa­ther had a few groves with cen­tury-old olive trees, and over time he planted many oth­ers, mov­ing from self-pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion to sales,” said Caracci, who is a 30-year-old farmer with degrees in agron­omy and enol­ogy.

Thanks to my stud­ies, our com­pany takes the best from my grandfather’s meth­ods and joins them with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, with a strong focus on qual­ity and the respect of nature,” he added. My mis­sion is to give birth to top-of-class qual­ity prod­ucts while respect­ing the envi­ron­ment.”

On the other side of Sicily, the pro­duc­ers behind the Agrestis Cooperative attrib­uted the com­bi­na­tion of their cen­tury and mil­lenary olive trees and grove ele­va­tion to their suc­cess at the 2021 NYIOOC.

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Photo: Agrestis Cooperative

We were delighted to learn of the Gold Award because it rep­re­sents a step for­ward in the quest for qual­ity and dis­tinc­tive­ness,” Salvatore Paparone, the cooperative’s owner, told Olive Oil Times. It is a sure sign that we are head­ing the right way.”

The Agrestis Cooperative earned a Gold Award for its Bell’Omio Bio, an organic extra vir­gin olive oil.

Based at the foot of Monte Lauro, Agrestis oper­ates in the coun­try­side sur­round­ing Buccheri, where olive grow­ing rep­re­sents an ancient tra­di­tion and where sev­eral 2021 NYIOOC win­ners are located.

The tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tions of these mag­nif­i­cent moun­tains keep our trees strong and pro­vide us unique Tonda Iblea olives, which are native to the area and have spe­cial organolep­tic prop­er­ties,” Paparone said.

Unlike most com­pa­nies, the pro­duc­ers behind Agrestis could use the time cre­ated by the Covid-19 lock­downs to metic­u­lously har­vest and mill their olives, receiv­ing one of their best yields yet.

We are lucky to live and work here,” Paparone said. Buccheri is such a small vil­lage, sur­rounded by nature. In the first part of the pan­demic, the world stopped for the first time in decades. We had to re-orga­nize, and the past sea­son brought us one of the best yields in the his­tory of our com­pany.”

However, the san­i­tary emer­gency did not impact all local pro­duc­ers in the same way. The pro­duc­ers behind Vernèra, who are also located in Buccheri, told Olive Oil Times that the pan­demic has been and con­tin­ues to be a dis­as­ter.”

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Photo: Vernèra

Beyond all the wor­ries for the well­be­ing of our friends, we had to face a closed mar­ket,” owner Mariagrazia Spanò said.

Still, Vernèra tri­umphed at the 2021 NYIOOC with a Gold Award for the fourth time in a row for its Le Case di Lavinia brand, a monocul­ti­var Tonda Iblea.

Producing a top-qual­ity olive oil means bring­ing a niche prod­uct to the mar­ket, which if you look at its price, might not be com­pet­i­tive,” Spanò said. Extra vir­gin olive oil needs to be described to the cus­tomer, so they appre­ci­ate its story and learn about its sen­so­r­ial and nutraceu­ti­cal qual­i­ties.”

Spanò was happy to learn of the new suc­cess at the NYIOOC. The con­sis­tency with which the com­pany has per­formed at the com­pe­ti­tion gives the pro­ducer con­fi­dence that he con­tin­ues to move in the right direc­tion.

It is an honor and a plea­sure, a con­fir­ma­tion of the reli­a­bil­ity we put in our work, focus­ing on qual­ity and not quan­tity,” he said. The fourth award in a row gives us the cer­tainty that we are head­ing the right way on the path our grand­fa­thers laid out for us five gen­er­a­tions back.”

While Sicily may be more well-known for its olive oil pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­ers on Sardinia also proved their endur­ing qual­ity at the World Olive Oil Competition.

See Also: Olive Oils From Sardinia Find a Modern Audience

Accademia Olearia was among the win­ning pro­duc­ers from the sec­ond largest island in the Mediterranean. The com­pany earned a Silver Award for its Riserva del Produttore brand.

It is our flag­ship prod­uct,” Giuseppe Fois, the company’s founder, told Olive Oil Times. The birth of this prod­uct marked the begin­ning of our oper­a­tions. Therefore, it rep­re­sents the phi­los­o­phy of our com­pany: the quest for excel­lence and the val­oriza­tion of our ter­ri­tory.”

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Photo: Accademia Olearia

The Riserva del Produttore is a medium blend of Bosana and Semidana olives that pre­vi­ously won a Gold Award in 2019.

Bosana is the dom­i­nant cul­ti­var and brings its char­ac­ter­is­tics of inten­sity and rich­ness of fla­vors and tast­ing sen­sa­tions, which reflect the charm of our island,” Fois said.

Like pro­duc­ers in Sicily and the rest of Italy, Fois said that the pan­demic had a pro­found impact on Sardinia’s farm­ers. However, earn­ing the Silver Award served as an excel­lent reward for all the dif­fi­cul­ties the com­pany had to over­come and moti­vates them for future har­vests.

Participating in such a com­pe­ti­tion is always a big chal­lenge, even for estab­lished com­pa­nies that have already been rec­og­nized,” he said. That is the rea­son that it is very rel­e­vant for us to see our quest for excel­lence being con­firmed.”

The olive oil sec­tor has changed so much over the years, and many new brands com­pete on the inter­na­tional mar­ket,” Fois added. For us to par­tic­i­pate and win means to renew chal­lenge and results, a con­fir­ma­tion that our ter­ri­tory and our pas­sion may pro­mote our pro­duc­tions glob­ally.”


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