Quest for Quality Behind an Israeli Producer's Award-Winning Results

On the banks of the Jordan River the producers of KeremZait experiment and innovate to produce outstanding olive oils.

May. 16, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Hikers explor­ing the waters-side trails of the Nahal Rosh Pina nature reserve will eas­ily spot the exten­sive olive groves that spread over the banks of the Jordan River in the south­ern Hula Valley.

It is a unique but frag­ile envi­ron­ment in the north­ern­most reaches of Israel’s Galilee region, where human farm­ing activ­i­ties have strug­gled for gen­er­a­tions to find a sus­tain­able bal­ance with nature.

You can now hear peo­ple in the streets talk about olive oil qual­ity. It is becom­ing a pop­u­lar item of dis­cus­sion, just like what hap­pened with pre­mium wines a cou­ple of decades ago.- Nimrod Azulay, co-owner, KeremZait

In the val­ley that became Israel’s first nat­ural park, wet­lands, yel­low cro­cuses, ancient olive trees, migra­tory birds, marsh ani­mals and rare water plants cohab­i­tate with his­tor­i­cal and mod­ern human farm set­tle­ments.

One of the world’s best olive oils comes from this diverse and eclec­tic land­scape. Located on the out­skirts of Mishmar HaYarden, over­look­ing the Jordan River, KeremZait earned two Gold Awards at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

See Also:Producer Profiles

While the com­pany focuses on com­bin­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy with the most up-to-date agri­cul­tural best prac­tices, its own­ers still feel a strong con­nec­tion to the land, which has been home to olives, pis­ta­chios and oak trees for the past 15,000 years.

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Nahal Rosh Pina

At that moment, tem­per­a­tures began to rise, and glac­i­ers that once cov­ered the region started to retreat. In the fol­low­ing mil­len­nia, olive trees became a steady source of fuel and food for local pop­u­la­tions.

It is a great honor to be named one of the biggest names in the olive oil indus­try,” Nimrod Azulay, KeremZait’s co-owner in charge of pro­duc­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion, told Olive Oil Times.

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It is the con­fir­ma­tion of the choices we made with our end-to-end process, which goes from olive grow­ing to press­ing and mar­ket­ing,” he added.

Azulay’s fam­ily has grown peaches in the area for many years, and in 2010 they decided to diver­sify and invest in olive grow­ing. The fam­ily expanded their orchards, plant­ing 3,000 olive trees of nine dif­fer­ent vari­eties.

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KeremZait

It has been a full-time job since then,” Azulay said. Even if, at first, it was all dif­fer­ent. We started enthu­si­as­ti­cally, grow­ing olives and pro­duc­ing our first olive oil.”

We thought it was excel­lent, as prob­a­bly hap­pens to all grow­ers when they pro­duce their first extra vir­gin olive oils,” he added. But I was get­ting deeper into olive farm­ing. I took spe­cial­ized classes on how to grow olives and how to pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil. So I under­stood that what we were doing was just plain wrong.”

As a result of the classes, Azulay over­hauled his har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion process with a novel approach to prun­ing, bet­ter knowl­edge of the ripen­ing process, a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy for pro­tect­ing the trees from pests and pathogens and best prac­tices for nur­tur­ing both the trees and the soil.

That is how we started over again, learn­ing from our mis­takes,” Azulay said. Over time, we real­ized how rel­e­vant the role of the olive oil mill is, so about five years ago, we invested in a Pieralisi mod­ern mill capa­ble of man­ag­ing up to half a ton of olives per hour.”

Managing 3,000 trees and aim­ing for high-qual­ity pro­duc­tion led Azulay’s fam­ily to make new invest­ments in machin­ery to help speed up the olive har­vest, a cru­cial moment for pro­duc­ers.

We under­stood how rel­e­vant it was to reduce as much as we could the time between the moment we har­vest our olives from the trees and the moment we process them,” Azulay said. So we pur­chased a har­vest­ing machine and we re-orga­nized our work. Today, our olives are trans­formed less than two hours after har­vest.”

After mak­ing these invest­ments and improve­ments, the fam­ily decided to mea­sure their progress and entered their oils in a few local com­pe­ti­tions.

After those good results, I decided to enter an inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion,” Azulay said. We are so happy with the 2022 NYIOOC awards because we put such an effort into the qual­ity of our extra vir­gin olive oil.”

We are not mak­ing blends, we stick to mono­va­ri­etal extra vir­gin olive oils,” he added.

While KeremZait earned its Gold Awards for their Coratina and Moresca mono­va­ri­etals, their Picholine sam­ple did not receive an award this time, the pro­ducer told Olive Oil Times.

I thought it was very good as well but, of course, it is a work in progress,” Azulay said, indi­cat­ing that he would use the results to fur­ther improve the pro­duc­tion process.

One of the rea­sons to work in that direc­tion is that the mar­ket is crowded. There is a lot of com­pe­ti­tion,” he said. Which is a good thing, but you want to stay in the front.”

The com­pany focuses its com­mer­cial­iza­tion efforts on the inter­nal Israeli mar­ket.

It is heav­ily char­ac­ter­ized by imported extra vir­gin olive oil which rep­re­sents the great­est share of olive oil that can be found here,” Azulay said. There’s very cheap olive oil on the stores’ shelves, so there is fierce com­pe­ti­tion.”

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KeremZait

To sell high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils, you have to teach cus­tomers what is good olive oil, where is the dif­fer­ence between a lower qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil and a high-end prod­uct,” he added.

Olive oil cul­ture in many coun­tries is still lag­ging and cus­tomers are often unaware of the vast dif­fer­ences in terms of health ben­e­fits and fla­vors among the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of olive oil.

They pur­chase what they believe is good,” Azulay said. Still, the olive oil cul­ture here is grow­ing, and aware­ness is grow­ing among cus­tomers. In very small steps, it is hap­pen­ing.”

What I have seen hap­pen­ing many times when cus­tomers buy high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils, they will always say that they never tasted any­thing like this,” he added. Once they taste our olive oils, they find it eas­ier to grasp the qual­ity dif­fer­ence between ours and the one they used to buy.”

Another help­ing hand for high-end pro­duc­ers and olive oil cul­ture, Azulay noted, comes from the fact that most cus­tomers, once they taste high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, do not want to go back to the pre­vi­ous qual­ity they were used to.”

It is very rare for some­one to adapt to that change once you have tasted such qual­ity prod­ucts,” he added.

Azulay has also observed how a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple are look­ing to small-scale pro­duc­ers to buy their extra vir­gin olive oils, as their aware­ness is grow­ing.

You can now hear peo­ple in the streets talk about olive oil qual­ity. It is becom­ing a pop­u­lar item of dis­cus­sion, just like what hap­pened with pre­mium wines a cou­ple of decades ago,” he con­cluded.


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