Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Olive oil producers in California celebrated a record year at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Forty-one farmers and millers from the Golden State, which is responsible for virtually all olive oil production in the United States, combined to earn a record-high 88 of the industry’s most coveted quality awards.
Of these, 52 awards were won by members of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), a trade association that represents more than 300 growers and producers.
Shaana Rahman, the president of the group’s board of directors and co-owner of Boccabella Farms, told Olive Oil Times that the state’s growing success in the competition may be partially attributed to its exceptionally high standards for extra virgin olive oil production.See Also:Best Olive Oils From the U.S.
Most of the world adheres to the extra virgin olive oil definition set out in the Codex Alimentarius, which stipulates its free fatty acid content expressed as oleic acid must be less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams.
In California, the free fatty acid content is limited to 0.5 grams per 100 grams, the strictest olive oil quality standard in the world.
“When California olive oil producers can compete with and shine amidst international olive oil producers, it tells us that California’s standard for extra virgin olive… has had the direct effect of making olive oil produced in California, not only some of the finest in the world but also a product that consumers can trust,” Rahman said.
However, she also believes California’s record success at the world’s largest olive oil quality competition can be attributed to a bountiful harvest, skilled millers and better infrastructure.
“Luckily, crop volumes were good in 2021 and based on accounts from COOC members, the quality of the olives harvested was exceptional,” Rahman said.
“Great looking fruit, strict adherence to COOC’s rigorous standards to meet certification, skilled olive oil millers and proper post-production handling all directly led to 24 of our members winning a total of 52 awards,” she added.
Rahman and Boccabella Farms earned three Gold Awards at the competition. She said that sustained success at the NYIOOC is especially gratifying for small producers.
“As small producers, doing everything from maintaining the orchard to putting labels on our bottles, it is really gratifying to have our olive oil recognized in such a competitive judging process,” she said.
“We put such a tremendous amount of time and effort into crafting our olive oil, tasting and testing it at every step of the process, that intuitively we know when we have an award-winning olive oil,” Rahman added. “But we have an unspoken pact that we won’t say that out loud, lest we ‘jinx’ it.”
Three more of the 52 awards earned by COOC members went to Pamela and Stuart Marvel, co-owners of Grumpy Goats Farm.
“Stuart and I couldn’t agree on a name for our farm and fussed and fussed over it until we hit on naming it after ourselves: the grumpy old goats,” Marvel told Olive Oil Times.
Situated in Capay, California, just outside the state capital, Grumpy Goats Farm earned two Gold Awards and a Silver Award. Marvel said the awards continue to validate their efforts to produce high-quality olive oil.
“To get such recognition from the renowned NYIOOC was a huge confirmation to us that we continue somehow to do the right things – or enough of them – to produce good oil,” she said. “We have a multitude of repeat customers that we attribute to the notoriety that NYIOOC competitions have given us.”
Marvel attributed their success to hard work and astute decision-making. “We try to give our trees what they need to grow well and make key decisions at the right time during the harvest, milling and bottling cycles,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that a tight labor market in the previous harvest presented quite a challenge. Meanwhile, the state’s ongoing drought has made producing olive oil increasingly challenging over the years.
While about half of this year’s winning producers from California are members of the COOC, plenty of other producers in California celebrated NYIOOC success as well.
Teresa Hernando, the general manager of The Olive Press, was “very honored” to receive three Silver Awards at the competition.
“Guests love to see that we have participated in the NYIOOC, and we do post the awards on our bottles,” she told Olive Oil Times.
The Olive Press has participated in all 10 editions of the NYIOOC, and Hernando acknowledged that each harvest comes with a unique set of challenges. 2021 was no exception.
“Our main challenge last year was very low yields when milling,” she said. “The average is 38 gallons (173 liters) of oil per ton of olives, but last year we were milling 28 gallons (127 liters) per ton.”
While this challenge was not felt by producers universally in the 2021/22 crop year, it may be a more widespread reality in the coming harvest.
According to preliminary data from the Olive Oil Commission of California, the state will produce 1.8 million gallons (8.2 million liters) of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year, down from the three million gallons (14 million liters) produced in the previous one.