The first day of the New York International Olive Oil Competition kicked off this morning, April 16th, 2013, at the International Culinary Center where a packed house listened closely to seminars led by leading experts and educators of the olive oil industry. Tucked out of sight, an expert tasting panel spent the day evaluating some 700 entries in search of the very best olive oils in the world.

“What’s the big deal about olive oil?” asked Curtis Cord, publisher of the Olive Oil Times and host of the competition. “It’s one of the healthiest foods on our planet.” Cord noted that Americans still lag far behind other countries in olive oil consumption. “Olive oil enhances and elevates the tastes of foods by amplifying their flavors. So what are most people missing?”

Today’s audience included olive oil producers, retailers, culinary and food industry professionals, students and journalists. However, the unifying passion of attendees was to understand quality olive oil — from its health benefits, to the production process, to tasting for defects, and knowing what to look for on the shelf — and to give it the exposure it deserves.

“Olive oil doesn’t communicate to the average American, so a competition like this exposes the product,” said Steve Jenkins of Fairway Market. “What goes on in your kitchen? The most important ingredient in your kitchen is olive oil,” Jenkins said, “because it makes food taste good while making you healthier.”

The groundbreaking event aims to shed light on these arguments in a market where education is of utmost importance. “Olive oil is timeless, it’s not a fad,” said John Sessler, Chairman of the North American Olive Oil Association. “People spend thousands of dollars on wine, but they don’t understand you should pay for good olive oil. It shouldn’t be a crazy idea.”

An extra virgin olive oil, its identity concealed, is poured for judging at the New York International Olive Oil Competition

Alexandra Marinakos, a second generation Greek who moved to Athens 27 years ago, is competing with her olive oil from Crete this year. Her small team of four people have devoted themselves to showing the world their monocultivar Koroneiki “Daniolo” olive oil. Marinakos said, “One step at a time we’ve been growing. We’re meeting all of these people who appreciate the art of olive oil.” Greece is known for its culture and traditions, but Marinakos hopes that one day the olive oil of Greece will raise its profile in the world.

“We all have the love,” she said, “the intention was ‘let’s show them what good olive oiltastes like.’” And this competition could do just that.

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