The 2nd Cretan Olive Oil Competition took place March 19 to 20 in Rethymno, Crete. Organized by the Agronutritional Partnership of the Region of Crete and the Prefecture of Crete in cooperation with a number of prominent Cretan organizations involved with olive oil, the competition awarded prizes for the best standardized Cretan conventional and organic extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) from the 2015-16 production season.

For conventional EVOO, the highest honor, the Gold ELEA (or “olive”), was awarded to Liokarpi PDO, a Koroneiki monovarietal from Emmanouil Protogerakis Sons. The Silver ELEA went to Omega, a Koroneiki/Tsounati blend from Kardia Food. And the Bronze ELEA was won by Toplou Sitia, a Koroneiki from Biokalliergites Sitias.

For organic EVOO, the Gold ELEA was again awarded to Emmanouil Protogerakis Sons for another Koroneiki, Liokarpi Bio, while Kardia Food captured both the Silver ELEA, for Kardia Tsounati, and the Bronze ELEA, for Kardia Koroneiki.

This year’s double Gold ELEA winner, Emmanouil Protogerakis Sons of Vori in south central Crete, is continuing a family tradition of dedication to high quality EVOO that began in 1930, when Evangelos Protogerakis founded the first olive oil factory in Kamares, Heraklion prefecture. After continuous upgrading and modernization of the production and storage facilities, the company is now run by brothers Vangelis and Michalis Protogerakis, grandsons of the founder. This winner of multiple awards, including two at BIOL international competitions, exports to Germany and the USA.

Kardia Food, winner of both of this year’s Silver ELEA awards and one of the bronze ELEA prizes, aims for “flawless taste” while “transforming the unique aura and the manifold flavors of Crete into masterful food accessible to as many people as possible.” According to managing director Babis Doukakis, olives near the village of Episkopi in north central Crete are processed within a few hours at the unusually low temperature of 20 degrees Celsius—a rarity, especially in Greece. The result: EVOOs with low acidity and high polyphenol content, especially for their Tsounati, which also won a gold award at the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC).

The Cretan Olive Oil Competition’s two-stage evaluation process, with a chemical evaluation and a blind organoleptic test (for taste and odor), used the same statistical method as the International Olive Council’s (IOC) Mario Solinas competition. Most of the 71 samples came from the Koroneiki olives common in Crete. The competition was coordinated by Eleftheria Germanaki, the panel supervisor at the Rethymno organoleptic laboratory, a judge for numerous international competitions, and a panel leader at the 2015 NYIOOC.

Italian agronomist, olive oil cultivation expert, consultant, internationally recognized judge, and 2014 NYIOOC panel leader Giuseppe Antonio Lauro was one of the two panel supervisors for this competition. He praised the professionalism of the judges, emphasizing that the results of the taste tests presented a very small standard deviation.

The competition’s other panel leader was Effie Christopoulou, a panel supervisor and recognized chemical and organoleptic trainer of the IOC and chemical expert for the EU and the IOC. One of the pioneers of the organoleptic method back in 1982, Christopoulou tasted many excellent EVOOs at this competition, noting hints of fresh grass and artichoke among the most memorable flavors in the Cretan oils.

The awards were presented by the governor of Crete, Stavros Arnaoutakis, the president of the Agronutritional Partnership of the Region of Crete, Manolis Chnaris, and the mayor of Rethymno and president of the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities (SEDIK), Giorgos Marinakis. Before the awards were announced, Governor Arnaoutakis emphasized the importance of taking advantage of the brand name of “Crete” to promote high quality standardized Cretan products, since this could help Cretans emerge from the economic crisis.

Mayor Marinakis stressed the importance of both residents and tourists using local products rather than imports, linking agricultural production to tourism while striving for excellent quality rather than a low price. Agronutritional Partnership president Chnaris similarly urged Cretans to aim to make the island a “gastronomic destination” for tourists, based on the famous Cretan diet and the olive oil central to it.

Giuseppe Antonio Lauro discussed marketing strategies, then Effie Christopoulou explained the blind tasting process used for the judging of the samples received (21 organic, 50 conventional). The nine Greek judges from the four regions of Crete and the two foreign judges followed Mario Solinas criteria in two stages of tastings. Christopoulou explained that the judges were so impressed by the improved quality of this year’s samples and the very slight differences among the best oils that they went on to award fifteen honorable mentions in addition to gold, silver, and bronze awards.

Those high quality Cretan EVOOs deserved more than just six awards. Competition organizers hope to both inspire Cretan producers to continue aiming for excellence and highlight the wonderful taste and health benefits that Cretan EVOOs can offer the world.

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