37 Complete Olive Oil Times Sommelier Program in New York

Attendees from around the world will apply fresh knowledge on olive oil production, health benefits, culinary applications and more to their businesses and projects.

The Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Program in New York brought together professionals, enthusiasts and entrepreneurs from eleven countries,
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 2, 2024 11:54 UTC
The Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Program in New York brought together professionals, enthusiasts and entrepreneurs from eleven countries,

Extra vir­gin olive oil is among the world’s health­i­est prod­ucts, a cul­tural cor­ner­stone and a $20 bil­lion global busi­ness. Yet most buy­ers and con­sumers know very lit­tle about it.

Thirty-seven olive oil pro­duc­ers, retail­ers, enthu­si­asts and entre­pre­neurs are set­ting out to change that after com­plet­ing the week-long Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Certification Program in Manhattan.

Attendees trav­eled from around the world for the five-day course, which cov­ered olive oil sen­sory assess­ment, pro­duc­tion best prac­tices, health and nutri­tion, culi­nary appli­ca­tions and qual­ity assur­ance.

I loved the course. It exceeded my expec­ta­tions and has moti­vated me to con­tinue learn­ing.- Joe Maruca, co-owner, TRE Olive

Among them was Joe Maruca, the co-owner of TRE Olive. I have wanted to enroll for the last few years,” he said. My fam­ily has been in the olive oil indus­try for four gen­er­a­tions, and I wanted to increase my knowl­edge and advance the fam­ily busi­ness.”

The Massachusetts-based com­pany imports extra vir­gin olive oil from its ded­i­cated olive groves in Calabria. Even after win­ning the indus­try’s most cov­eted qual­ity award at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, Maruca said there is always more to learn.


TRE Olive’s Joe Maruca is an award-winning producer of Calabrian extra virgin olive oil.

I loved the course. It exceeded my expec­ta­tions and has moti­vated me to con­tinue learn­ing,” he said. If you’re not learn­ing, you’re not grow­ing.”

Maruca plans to use what he learned about the sci­ence behind olive oil’s health ben­e­fits to enlighten cus­tomers and his team. Education is the biggest take­away, and I hope to con­tinue learn­ing going for­ward,” he said.

Rafael Buchabqui, the owner of Brazil-based Azeite Torrinhas, was another pro­ducer keen to expand his knowl­edge and net­work with like-minded peo­ple in New York.


Peter Mountanos, Bastian Jordan, John Reali, Rafael Buchabqui and Joe Maruca (Photo: Peter Mountanos)

I wanted to explore this mat­ter [the olive oil world] fur­ther to learn more about my prod­uct, dis­cuss with other spe­cial­ized olive oil som­me­liers ways to improve our oils and edu­cate the peo­ple around me,” he said.

Buchabqui said work­ing to iden­tify the vast range of aro­mas and fla­vors in nearly one hun­dred olive oil sam­ples from 14 coun­tries ana­lyzed dur­ing the five-day course was inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing.

“[With this knowl­edge,] I will be more con­fi­dent dis­cussing our oils with our staff and in a bet­ter posi­tion to edu­cate peo­ple around me,” he said.

Other pro­duc­ers joined the course to gain a global per­spec­tive on the olive oil sec­tor.

I decided to take the course to learn about the per­spec­tives and opin­ions on olive oil from peo­ple in the U.S. and the Southern Hemisphere and to gain insight into the sit­u­a­tion in the U.S.,” said Bastian Jordan, the owner of Jordan Olivenöl. I aimed to use this infor­ma­tion for my per­sonal devel­op­ment in the olive oil indus­try and to make valu­able con­tacts.”

Jordan, who pro­duces olive oil on the Greek island of Lesvos and imports it to Düsseldorf in west­ern Germany, has been involved in the olive oil busi­ness for all of his pro­fes­sional life. He said he appre­ci­ated the oppor­tu­nity to meet new peo­ple and sharpen his sen­sory analy­sis skills.


Bastian Jordan at his olive groves on Lesvos

I will bring the insights back to the German Olive Oil Panel, where I am a mem­ber, to dis­cuss the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences in sen­sory eval­u­a­tions,” he said.

Along with farm­ers and millers, olive oil sales pro­fes­sion­als trav­eled to New York’s Flatiron dis­trict to learn more about extra vir­gin olive oil and its key sell­ing points – fla­vor and health.


I fell in love with extra vir­gin olive oil while work­ing in my pre­vi­ous role sell­ing O‑Med, and now I’m for­tu­nate enough to rep­re­sent [the Spanish brand] Castillo de Canena on the East Coast,” said Shea Vinson. I enrolled in the course to enhance my knowl­edge of extra vir­gin olive oil so that I could bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate its value to my dis­trib­u­tor, retail cus­tomers and end con­sumers.”

Vinson, who lives in New York City, said the course was com­pre­hen­sive, with engag­ing pre­sen­ters and essen­tial infor­ma­tion in every ses­sion.

The sen­sory assess­ment por­tion was my favorite, although the food pair­ing sec­tion was a close sec­ond,” she said.

Vinson plans to use her mas­tery to improve sales com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pass the infor­ma­tion on to cus­tomers and the gen­eral pub­lic.

I’d love to gain enough expe­ri­ence to serve on a tast­ing panel and ide­ally use what I’ve learned to curate my own retail selec­tion,” she said.

Mark Lemmens, the founder of Olicious, trav­eled to New York from the Netherlands expect­ing to expand his tast­ing hori­zons and bring a new breadth of knowl­edge to his cus­tomers in the restau­rant and retail indus­tries.


Mark Lemmens

I’ve been in olive oil for four years, and I’m on a mis­sion to edu­cate con­sumers, retail­ers and pro­fes­sion­als about the qual­ity and health ben­e­fits of olive oil,” he said. I also expected to learn more about olive vari­eties through the exten­sive tast­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties.”

Lemmens did not leave dis­ap­pointed, prais­ing the course struc­ture and the diverse range of pro­fes­sion­als who instructed each sec­tion.

It was an awe­some expe­ri­ence to be with so many peo­ple who share the same pas­sion,” he added. In par­tic­u­lar, I highly appre­ci­ated the tast­ing ses­sions as well as the more tech­ni­cal ses­sions about the olive oil pro­duc­tion process. It helped me bet­ter describe pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive attrib­utes dur­ing tast­ing.”

Lemmens said he would employ what he learned in the course to inform his clients and incor­po­rate the knowl­edge into his mas­ter­class courses.

I can inform cus­tomers bet­ter about the health ben­e­fits and how defects can occur dur­ing pro­duc­tion,” he said. As an olive oil som­me­lier, I earn more trust from pro­fes­sion­als in retail and HORECA.”

Carline Brandao Procell, owner of Bella Nonnas Olive Oil & Vinegar in Shreveport, Louisiana, attended the course to refresh her olive oil knowl­edge and pre­pare to lead some olive grove tours next year.


Carline Brandao Procell

I thought the course was extremely infor­ma­tive and cleared up some con­fu­sion on my end regard­ing the har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing aspects of the olive oil busi­ness,” she said. I espe­cially enjoyed learn­ing more about the health­ful aspects of olive oil, specif­i­cally the polyphe­nols.”

That is one aspect that I am fre­quently asked about in my store,” Procell added. I find my cus­tomers are increas­ingly try­ing to improve their health. I am for­tu­nate to be a source for them, of not only health­ful oils and bal­sam­ics but also per­ti­nent infor­ma­tion regard­ing their dietary choices.”

Procell enjoys her role as an olive oil spe­cial­ist and can now strengthen her expla­na­tions as to why cus­tomers should choose high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils.

A win­ery has sched­uled me for a food, wine and olive oil pair­ing class,” she said. One fam­ily has booked me to speak to them at their Sunday din­ner and direct them on order­ing their olive oils. Two cruise lines have asked me to lead tours in the Mediterranean for the 2025 har­vest sea­son.”

While many pro­gram atten­dees are sea­soned olive oil pro­fes­sion­als seek­ing to expand their knowl­edge, oth­ers came to indulge their pas­sion for the prod­uct and inform per­sonal projects.


Abir Ali

I am a for­mally trained archi­tect with a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary design prac­tice, so pro­fes­sion­ally, I am well out­side the indus­try,” said Abir Ali, who trav­eled to New York from Detroit.

Personally, though, olive oil is a big part of my life,” she added. My mother is Lebanese, and I was raised in a cul­ture where olives and olive oil made daily appear­ances in every­thing from food to beauty to med­i­cine.”

Ali, who grew up with her father’s olive oil-infused Pakistani cook­ing, said she enjoyed the class immensely. She specif­i­cally cited the diver­sity of her fel­low stu­dents and the instruc­tors.

The tast­ings were my favorite,” Ali said. Challenging and train­ing my sense of smell and taste was such a treat and a wel­comed break from screens and meet­ings.”

Ali plans to uti­lize what she learned in the course to curate her own tast­ing expe­ri­ence.


The next edition of the sommelier program will be in London next January.

My design work, out­side of the olive oil indus­try, revolves around build­ing lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive tables for peo­ple to meet and exchange,” she said. Now, with the knowl­edge I learned in New York – and much con­tin­ued prac­tice – I can bring peo­ple together through a crafted com­mu­nity expe­ri­ence that revolves around the beauty and power of olive oil.”

Enrollment is open for the next Olive Oil Sommelier Program in London, which will be held in January.

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