Lourdes Toujas, Argentina and Isabel Mazzucchelli, Uruguay

Last week 24 International olive oil judges from five countries participated in a new extra virgin olive oil competition held in Israel.  The organizers of TerraOlivo attracted 189 entrants from fourteen countries for this event, which enabled many Israeli producers the opportunity to have their EVOOs judged against top olive oils from around the world for the first time.  Additionally, a full day of lectures, panels, and a guided tasting was offered to the public after the competition, and an awards ceremony followed by a gala dinner completed the event at the Inbal Hotel, a five star venue situated within walking distance from the old city of Jerusalem, home to thousands of years of olive oil history.

The response from both large and small extra virgin olive oil producers was encouraging.  Spain led the pack with 61 entries followed by Israel with 46.  Italian producers submitted 26 EVOOs, Portugal 14 and Argentina 13.  Chile and the USA each had 6 entries followed by Uruguay with 5. Croatia and Greece each had 3 oils submitted, South Africa and Turkey 2, and Malta and Palestine 1 oil each.  The olive oils were divided into three classes for the blind tastings:  blends, varietals and flavored oils.

The caliber of the entrants was quite high with 38 gold medals awarded; 70 oils rated high enough to earn a “Prestige Gold” award, and six garnered a “Gran Prestige Gold”.

The Best of Show went to Olearia San Giorgio Fratelli Fazari S.N.S. from Calabria.  Full results are available at the bottom of this page.

Dr. Antonio Lauro, panel leader from Italy

Israel enjoys a modest annual volume in olive oil production, similar to California’s, with less than 1 percent of the world’s production, however it is best known for its export of knowledge about optimizing crop yield via plant breeding, irrigation, and other disciplines.  It is a little known fact that Kibbutz Hatzerim pioneered the first large scale commercial drip irrigation business, and today owns and operates Netafim, the world’s leading company in water technologies intending to increase yields and improve crop production while preserving quality and quantity of water and soil fertility.

In this cultural context of optimizing land and crops, top agronomists from various farms and universities were featured speakers at this year’s conference starting with an introduction from Professor Emeritus Shimon Lavee, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) at the Volcani Center for Agricultural Research.  Professor Lavee is distinguished by his many academic and practical accomplishments and contributions in olive production, including in part the development of the Barnea and Askal varieties of olives, publishing over 150 scientific papers, serving as the Israeli delegate to the International Olive Council (IOC) and elected its president from 2000-2008.  He discussed Israel’s accomplishments over the past decades to today, remarking “we have a beginning here.”

Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón, Juror and Keynote Speaker

Ms. Mercedes Fernández Albadalejo, head of the Olive Oil Chemistry and Standards Unit of the International Olive Oil Council flew in from Madrid to make opening remarks as well, followed by the keynote lecture from historic and acclaimed producer D. Carlos Falcó y Fernández de Córdova, the Marqués de Griñón, whose oil is available in top shops worldwide, including Williams-Sonoma in the US.  The Marqués was a dynamic speaker, addressing the audience in English and delivering a very accessible and compelling overview of his personal involvement in improving polyphenol levels in olive oil on his farm via cultivar selection, harvest timing, and extraction method.  This is, of course, in response to the latest research on the role that polyphenols play in human health.  From 2001 to 2009 the Marqués has been able to improve polyphenol counts from 110 to 699 (a very high level), without sacrificing the harmony and balance of an oil.  Testing indicates that these higher polyphenol EVOOs not only enjoy superior health properties with higher flavors, but that shelf life can be extended to over 3 years

Dr. Fathi abd El-Hadi, panel leader, IsraelTwo sessions followed the lecture, the first “Olive Oil & Health” featured three international speakers, which ran concurrently with “Olive Oil Branding & Culinary”, which also featured three speakers, but was more geared to growing than branding.  Dr. Fathi abd el Hadi, founder and taste panel leader for Israel’s IOC certified tasting panel addressed new horizons for olive growing with the introduction of both new cultivars as well as the increasing use of super high density in Israel; Dr. Reuven Birger, the chief specialist on olive growing for the Israeli Olive Board addressed optimizing milling, and Dr. Antonio Lauro, a taste panel leader and olive oil consultant from Calabria talked about aromas and flavors in olive oil.

Despite the aggressive schedule, there was ample time for attendees to mingle with the speakers during breaks, lunch and a reception in the evening before the awards ceremony, and the enthusiasm for this inaugural event was palpable.  TerraOlivo 2010 closed with a gala dinner for 180 guests prepared by Inbal Hotel Executive Chef Itzik Barak, which featured olive oil on the menu from appetizers to desserts.

Mr. Moshe Spak, one of the organizers, was quite happy with the turn out and is looking forward to an even larger event next year.  The next TerraOlivo competition and conference
is tentatively scheduled for April 2011.  More information can be found on the TerraOlivo website.

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