`Kersten Wetenkamp, Der Feinschmecker's Olive Oil Connoisseur - Olive Oil Times

Kersten Wetenkamp, Der Feinschmecker's Olive Oil Connoisseur

Feb. 8, 2011
Julie Butler

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By Julie Butler
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Barcelona

February 4th was the 2011 clos­ing date for entries for one of the world’s most influ­en­tial olive oil guides, pub­lished annu­ally by Germany’s top gas­tro­nom­i­cal mag­a­zine, Der Feinschmecker (lit­er­ally The Gourmet”). This year, 800 oils were entered for inclu­sion in the Olio Awards guide, which will come out this June. Kersten Wetenkamp has been the mag­a­zine’s food and wine edi­tor for a decade and since 2003 has over­seen the guide. From his native Hamburg, he tells us about the ardu­ous selec­tion process and trends he sees in the olive oil sector.

How did you get started in gourmet writing?
I had always wanted to write about cul­ture (lit­er­a­ture, movies) but good food and wine has always been impor­tant in my fam­ily. My mother gave cook­ing-lessons in a school, so there was a good level of cui­sine at home. During my jour­nal­ism stud­ies in Hamburg, I took the oppor­tu­nity to do two-months’ work expe­ri­ence at Der Feinschmecker and this turned out to be very enjoy­able and fun (we had wine tast­ings every day!). I started my edi­tor’s job in 2000 after four year’s edit­ing an eco­nom­ics and IT magazine.

What inspired the olive oil guide?
We started it in 2003 because there was noth­ing like it in the mar­ket. It was a pio­neer­ing work. Who knew about olive oil at that time? There were very few experts in Germany so we invited them from Italy, Greece and Spain to come to Hamburg and taste olive oils. We had a data­base with sev­eral hun­dred food retail­ers and we asked every­body to send us olive oil. In the end, we were aston­ished to see thou­sands of olive oil bot­tles in our office!

Please tell us about the selec­tion process and the role the guide plays.
The process is very sim­ple. Anyone who wants to can enter but they must pay 29 euros per oil, due to the high cost of the tast­ing. We han­dle about 900 olive oils from nearly every pro­ducer coun­try. Herb-infused oils are not per­mit­ted, and from the begin­ning the pro­duc­er’s name has had to appear on the bot­tle or we won’t accept the oil. Biological and DOP olive oils are the excep­tions to this rule. I believe our sen­sory analy­sis is one of the most rig­or­ous in the world. In the end, only 200 – 250 will make it to pub­li­ca­tion. Our guide is pri­mar­ily impor­tant for the German mar­ket, where it plays a key role for pro­duc­ers who depend more or less on the German retail­ers. Many Greek and Italian pro­duc­ers also pay great atten­tion to our guide.

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What trends have you noticed?
The great­est change I have seen is with the image of Spanish oils. When we began, there was a real prej­u­dice about Spanish olive oils — that they were for quan­tity but not qual­ity. Indeed, around 2003, Spanish oils were rarely seen in German super­mar­kets, except for anony­mous” indus­trial prod­ucts labeled Made in Spain” that were prob­a­bly a mix of Greek, Spanish and African oils.

I wrote an arti­cle in WirtschaftsWoche, a German busi­ness mag­a­zine, about the lack of qual­ity-con­scious­ness in Spain, com­pared with the con­sis­tently high qual­ity of New World oils from coun­tries like Australia and the USA. This made the Spanish Chamber of Commerce really angry. But since then, things have changed rad­i­cally and Spanish olive oil pro­duc­ers are now among the very best in our com­pe­ti­tion. It seems that the pro­duc­ers see their niche, their cor­ner in the mar­ket in Germany. In what is quite a rev­o­lu­tion, they now put the pro­duc­er’s name on the label.

Secondly, there is a trend towards trace­abil­ity, as we have seen in Crete, where pro­duc­ers give a cer­tain trans­parency to their prod­uct, to let cus­tomers trace the source of the olives through to the bot­tling date. Slowly, this will be printed on more and more labels thanks to demand from the media and customers.

Thirdly, eco­log­i­cal pro­duc­tion is still demanded in Germany and there will be more and more oils with the eco-label. Does this make sense? I am not sure, but that’s the mar­ket. Finally, in Italy we are see­ing more and more pro­duc­ers remov­ing the stones before press­ing their olives. These spe­cial new oils, denoc­ci­o­lato or snoc­ci­o­lato, are some­times good (well-bal­anced) and some­times not (unbal­anced). Consequently, these oils tend to have a more bit­ter, stronger taste and a higher level of polyphe­nols. In Germany, olive oil con­sump­tion is grow­ing rapidly and the trend is towards increas­ing inter­est in quality.

You are edit­ing a book due out in 2011, what is it about?
It’s a man­u­script by Toledo’s Carlos Falco about his expe­ri­ence with the most mod­ern olive mill in the world, includ­ing his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tuscany’s Marco Mugelli, one of the globe’s lead­ing olive oil experts. The result­ing oil, Marques de Griñon, is one of the best. The book is being released by Der Feinschmecker’s pub­lisher, Hoffmann and Campe, and in both German and English. It’s about the his­tory and ben­e­fits of olive oil pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. But even more inter­est­ing, it will include the per­sonal view of this great wine and olive oil pio­neer. It’s aimed at a gen­eral read­er­ship in Germany and wider Europe.

How do you use olive oil?
I use olive oil every day, mostly in the evening with dishes, on bread, bruschetta, sal­ads and fish. I am con­scious of try­ing to eat health­ily and try to fol­low a Cretan diet, with a lot of seafood and fruits and veg­eta­bles. On week­ends, I always use a lot of olive oil for frying.

Der Feinschmecker Olio Awards guide

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