Professionals and enthusiasts from around the world completed an intensive week-long course on olive oil quality and sensory assessment.
Thirty-eight professionals and enthusiasts became olive oil sommeliers after completing a rigorous week-long course in the heart of Manhattan.
Participants from every value chain segment – producers to distributors and retailers – traveled to New York from as far as South Korea and Spain for the Olive Oil Times Education Lab’s five-day program on olive oil quality.
My objective in New York was to attain a broader, more comprehensive global perspective. I am happy to announce that I have successfully accomplished this goal.
Over the week, participants learned about olive oil quality standards and production, sensory analysis, olive oil defects and positive attributes, chemistry, olive cultivars, health benefits, culinary applications and sustainability, among many other topics.
The award-winning producer Laurence Deprez was among the attendees, who co-owns Cultura Viva with her husband, Stefano Zenezini. Their Le Clarisse brand earned a Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.See Also:31 Complete Sommelier Certification Course in London
“Our goal is to produce an exceptional extra virgin olive oil,” Deprez told Olive Oil Times. “So, we are constantly learning about olive oil, from agricultural practices to milling and selling.”
“Learning how to taste extra virgin olive oil and be able to make others appreciate it even more, seemed the right additional area of expertise to complement our knowledge,” she added.
Deprez praised the organization of the course and the knowledge of the expert panel of instructors. “I particularly loved the fact that we tasted olive oils from all over the world,” she added.
Deprez said she would use what she learned to become a “better ambassador” for her Le Clarisse brand and extra virgin olive oil.
She was far from the only one who said the quality of the instruction stood out to her. The sommelier course brought together a field of renowned experts, including NYIOOC panel leaders Carola Dummer and Antonio Lauro; master miller Pablo Voitzuk; award-winning producers Dinao and Diamantis Pierrakos, Timon and Christina Brataševec, Samir Bayraktar and Tim Balshi; chef and culinary educator Anthony Dewald; physician and author Simon Poole; and Olive Oil Times founder and NYIOOC president Curtis Cord.
“When it comes to assessing the quality of this course, a perfect score of 100 is the pinnacle,” Oleg Yakovlev, who traveled from Barcelona to attend the program, told Olive Oil Times. “Personally, I would bestow upon it a rating of 97, leaving room for potential theoretical advancements and future growth,” he added.
Yakovlev cited the presentations from award-winning miller Pablo Voitzuk as one part of the course that stood out for him.
“His profound expertise, coupled with his humble demeanor and articulate speaking style, made a lasting impact on me,” Yakovlev said. “Additionally, the incorporation of real-life cases that showcased diverse olive oil enterprises further enriched the overall learning experience.”
Yakovlev added that he plans to use what he has learned from the course in a new endeavor to become “a comprehensive source of information about olive oil.” He also plans to get involved in oleotourism in Barcelona.
“While this course is not my initial foray into studying the subject, having previously attended sessions in Spain, my objective in New York was to attain a broader, more comprehensive global perspective,” he said. “I am happy to announce that I have successfully accomplished this goal.”
Olive oil production is a noble pursuit to produce something that benefits human well-being while respecting and preserving the environment.
To that end, small-scale producer Lesley Imhof traveled to the course to learn how she could apply regenerative agricultural best practices on her five-hectare grove of formerly-abandoned centenary trees in Puglia, Italy, from which she produces olive oil.
“I enrolled in the sommelier certificate course because we are committed to producing the best quality organic extra virgin olive oil and because we believe in educating and promoting others on the virtues of olive oil consumption,” Imhof told Olive Oil Times. “I hope to use this knowledge to improve and optimize our olive oil production and to share with others our passion for what we do.”
While she said the entire course was excellent, Imhof particularly enjoyed sessions led by Dino and Diamantis Pierrakos, who produce the acclaimed Laconiko brand, and Samir Bayraktar, who traverses California’s Central Valley in a mobile mill to produce the award-winning Olive Truck extra virgin olive oils. Imhof said she would apply information gleaned at the course to continue her goal of producing high-quality organic extra virgin olive oil.
“We saw and still see the vast potential of the region and are committed to restoring a biodiverse ecosystem,” Imhof said. “It was our hope to give new life to this land.”
“In the years since we purchased the land, we have planted hundreds of new trees, including olive trees, pomegranate trees, fruit and almond trees, as well as vines which are endemic to the region, as part of our efforts to restore this vital ecosystem,” she added.
Professionals across the olive oil value chain said the course reinforced their passion for extra virgin olive oil and would help their careers.
“I decided to enroll in the course to give me a fuller understanding of the world of extra virgin olive oil,” Jay Nee told Olive Oil Times. “I am a sales director for Millpress, and about 70 percent of our business deals with green extra virgin olive oil.”
Millpress was among the winners at the 2023 NYIOOC, earning Gold Awards for its carefully-selected imported brands and oils produced by the founder Tim Balshi at his family mill, Almazaras Andres Aguilar. Balshi was among the instructors of the course.
“I loved the course; it was truly enlightening,” Nee said. “My favorite part was the passion stories of the presenters and how they are driven to impact the lives of all those who need to consume this amazing elixir.”
For Nee, a key part of the course was learning about olive oil defects and how to identify low-quality olive oils.
“It always surprises me how much bad olive oil there is,” he said. “The lack of effective oversight is a shame and frankly does a disservice to quality producers but also leaves so many people in the dark about the benefits of great extra virgin olive oil.”
“I will apply the information in my everyday dealings with the products I sell,” Nee added. “Becoming an ambassador for extra virgin olive oil is now a part of my DNA.”