Jerusalem is perhaps one of the most idyllic places in the world to consider olive oil and its history. In just one visit to the ancient city, a tourist can become captivated by some of the most emblematic olive trees rooted in its soil.
Even the 12 visiting tasters at the TerraOlivo competition were in awe at the Garden of Olives in the Sanctuary Gethsemane. This is where Jesus was said to have prayed the night before he was crucified. The word Gethsemane originates from Hebrew or Aramaic for olive press.
The international tasters came from 7 countries (Italy, Peru, Greece, The United States, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey) to participate in the 7th edition of Terraolivo and quickly got to know and work as a team with the 25 Israeli tasters.
Antonio Lauro, head of the juries, spoke to Olive Oil Times on the importance of judging. “As panel members, we must never forget two things: Firstly, members are nothing more than an instrument that measures the characteristics of an olive oil. And secondly, that behind each olive oil there is a producer that has worked very hard.
Some of those producers were present in the jury. Eran Galili, from Galili Olive Oil, said he is not only a producer: With Ehud Soriano (head of judges for the Israeli National Contest) he also organizes a contest in Israel called Family Olive. It focuses on smaller family producers that simply do not have the volume to compete in larger competitions. This past March, 50 oils were presented.
Ayala Noy Meir, also a producer demonstrated that olive oil is not just an ingredient; it is a medium to bring cultures together and connects us to our past and future. She is part of the Olive Oil Without Borders project that helps bring Palestinians and Israelis together. She shared a very moving video on her project that was just recently published.
After getting to know one another, all of the tasters became very serious as they slurped, discussed and noted their marks. Around 2,800 blue tasting glasses were used to score the 627 samples from 19 different countries.
By the late afternoon on June 8th, following three long days of tasting and many more of hard work to organize the event, the much-anticipated results were in. Spain was the grand winner with more than 130 awards followed by Israel, Italy and Greece.
Many Israeli producers attended the awards ceremony to see if this year their olive oil had made the mark. Yaron Tirosh, also a panel member, was among them. His last name Tirosh, meaning fresh grape juice, demonstrates that his family has a clear history of farming. He does not have a large production but manages to cultivate Barnea, Picual and Picholine olives.
Tirosh was presented 6 awards, one being Israel Boutique Grand Champion. When OOT asked him about his biggest challenge this year, he responded that it had been a very good year with almost no issues. Unfortunately, he said next year would most likely be difficult due to a hot summer coupled by an off year for biennial production.
Masik Kibbutz Magal was awarded 13 prizes. Maya Gutman said they are a small kibbutz that produces 8 different olive oils as well as almonds. They make 6 monovarietals and 2 blends. When asked how she liked to use her olive oil, she said she uses it for everything, even in her hair when it gets dry. She recommended using the Leccino for baking, it is sweet and makes her cakes even better.
Itay Tupperberg and his three brothers are 4th-generation olive oil producers. Both of his parents passed away when they were young but his father gave them sound advice before he left: He told his sons to plant olive trees. They did and now they are winning awards like Best Israeli Koroneiki and Best Israeli Souri. Itay honors his parents with an image of his father on their bottles and of his mother on a skin cream that is available at their farm store.
We asked Shmuel Levin, 83, an Israeli who has won many awards throughout the years for Meshek Levin, what wisdom he had to offer. He said water is a big problem and is too costly in Israel. He recommended that the Israeli government begin to help the farmers because the cost of water was making it very difficult for them to subsist.
It was clear speaking to many Israeli farmers that they were having problems making ends meet, but they all agreed that opening their doors to both tourism and to local consumers is one way to have a more economically sound business, as well as transmit transparency.