At the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) last week, 200 producers, retailers, distributors, chefs and journalists gathered in New York City to taste hundreds of award-winning extra-virgin olive oils and celebrate the year’s best olive oils and the people who make them.
Producers cheered as they collected their hard-won trophies, and one thing became especially clear during the evening: there are more high-quality olive oil than ever before.
This is the beginning of the sea change we have been waiting for. There are now more top quality olive oils from more places than ever before.
At the event, which one attendee called “olive oil’s Grammy Awards,” 463 oils were named the world’s best by a panel of expert judges from around the world, 149 more than last year.
The overall success rate rose sharply from 38 percent last year to 51 percent this year, and there were more first-time contestants than ever before. Curtis Cord, founder of the NYIOOC and the publisher of Olive Oil Times said, “This is the beginning of the sea change we have been waiting for. Our judging panel’s meticulous analysis has exposed a clear upward trend in quality.”
See more: The World's Best Olive Oils for 2017
This success comes at the price of intense discipline and exacting effort. “It’s a whole lot of hard work and a lot of effort to make something that tastes as good as really good extra-virgin tastes,” says Alex Buli, whose Buli olive oil was presented with a Gold Award. Buli is an aromatic blend of Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino and Moraiolo olives. “Like with any agricultural product, you’re always at the mercy of factors that are outside your control, whether it’s the weather or pests,” Buli added.
Buli grew up in New York — he didn’t fall in love with olive oil until later in life. “It’s my father who made this happen,” he explained. “My grandmother, his mother, is from Tuscany. We got our farm about 30 kilometers east of Siena about ten years ago. It already had about 300 olive trees.” The grove’s location atop a hill meant a wonderful breeze. Many neighboring farms had a tough harvest this year because of the invasive olive fruit fly, but the Buli’s trees were spared. “We’re very fortunate,” said Buli.
Making extra-virgin olive oil is not for the faint of heart. “Anyone who has ever visited an olive grove or witnessed the production of high-quality olive oil knows the painstaking work, the everyday challenges, and the countless decisions that go into making this product,” Cord told the crowd at the NYIOOC press conference.
“You’ll need the perfect soil and cultivars, ones that thrive in your microclimate, the trees will take years before they bear fruit…you’ll need some rain but not too much, you’ll need to harvest olives at just the right time.” From heat waves to pests to milling to equipment to bottling, there are countless details and obstacles on the way to creating a wonderful olive oil. The work is demanding and relentless.
See more: Buy This Year's Award-Winning Oils
910 producers — more than ever before — submitted oils to the NYIOOC, despite a difficult harvest season that resulted in a 30-percent drop in global production. Olive oils from 20 countries received awards, up from last year’s 15, including powerhouses like Italy, Spain and Greece, and countries including Slovenia, South Africa, Croatia, Uruguay, Morocco, Brazil, and China.
“There are now more top-quality olive oils from more places than at any other time,” Cord announced. “The data from four days of tastings by the world’s most experienced panel of sensory panelists overwhelming proves that efforts to make great olive oil around the world are paying off. Producers in every region have answered our call and lifted their game.”
As customers learn more, they appreciate and demeaned higher quality olive oil. Standards are rising, and producers are rising to the challenge. “It’s an honor to give olive oil the prestige it deserves,” said Rose Malindretos.
Malindretos represents Olivier & Co, a French brand that works directly with producers to source olive oils from all over the Mediterranean. This year, their brands took home a Gold Award with their Monva — a robust Picual from the Sierra Magina natural reserve in Spain, and a Silver for its Azienda Agricola Mascio blend (Last year their Il Fornacino Tuscan oil received a Gold Award.)
“As a brand, we’ve been in the US since 2000, and we’re one of the first to really give olive oil the traceability it deserves. Olive oil has been around for thousands of years and it’s finally getting the respect and credibility it deserves,” Malindretos said.
Buli’s oil was among the first-time submissions, and he was excited by the good news and the comradery at the NYIOOC.
“It’s an honor to be in the company of so many great producers who share the same passion,” Buli said. Perhaps we have even more incredible oils and award-winning producers to look forward to next year.