From Texas to California and Oregon, 38 producers celebrated big wins at the World Olive Oil Competition despite an exceptionally tough harvest for many of them.
Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Producers from the United States once again enjoyed a strong showing at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Farmers and millers from California, Oregon and Texas combined to earn a total of 35 Gold and 33 Silver Awards from a total of 112 entries. While the number of winners and entrants was on the low end compared with recent years, the success rate was the second-highest yet, at 61 percent.
Once again, the vast majority of entrants came from California, which is responsible for nearly all olive oil production in the U.S. Even the winning oils from Oregon blended local olives with California-grown olives.See Also: The Best Olive Oils from the United States
The Olive Oil Commission of California estimated that the harvest in California would drop to below 11,5000 tons in the 2020/21 crop year as the result of many producers entering an off-year in the olive’s natural alternate bearing cycle, worker shortages caused by Covid-19 restrictions and an incredibly hot and dry year in much of the state.
Still, this did not stop 38 separate producers from having their hard work recognized by the international panel of judges.
“The California extra virgin olive oil producers are committed to crafting delicious extra virgin olive oils by adhering to best practices, and many award-winning extra virgin olive oils were produced, despite a challenging 2020 harvest,” King told Olive Oil Times.
“The exposure of award-winning California extra virgin olive oil drives increased sales,” she added.
Among the winning producers at the world’s most prestigious olive oil quality contest was California Olive Ranch (COR), the largest olive oil producer in the United States. COR earned a Gold and two Silver Awards for its Global Blend Medium, and Arbequina and Arbosana monovarietals, respectively.
“Although it was an ‘off’ year with a lower yield, our new, state-of-the-art precleaning system helped us greatly minimize foreign material and keep our quality high,” Michael Fox, the company’s CEO, told Olive Oil Times. “We also balance low crop years with harvest start times to ensure we are getting the oil at peak quality flavor.”
“Finally, as it was particularly hot this season, we shifted a greater percentage of our harvest to night-time which allowed the olives to stay cool before milling,” he added.
Fox said that he was proud that the NYIOOC judges recognized the company’s ability to craft balanced and high-quality medium oils both from local California olives as well as from a blend of oils from the company’s international growing partners.
“We know that the NYIOOC has a very tough set of judges and take great pride when we receive an NYIOOC award knowing our oils did well against other high-quality oils,” added Fox.
The satisfaction of having a year’s worth of hard work validated by the NYIOOC was a common theme for producers throughout the U.S., regardless of size.
Among the biggest winners at this year’s edition of the NYIOOC was Pasolivo, which earned five Gold Awards, the most of any U.S. producer.
“[We are] so happy and honored,” Marisa Bloch, Pasolivo’s general manager, told Olive Oil Times. “It is really amazing to work with a product from the growing season, to harvest to the oil production, to then see it win awards.”
“It is so rewarding to see that such an experienced panel of judges appreciated the quality of our oils as much as we do,” she added.
Bloch said that what sets the San Luis Obispo County-based producer apart from the competition is meticulous attention to detail and a careful process for selecting which oils to craft each year.
“One of the unique things that Pasolivo does is we harvest and mill each variety separately,” she said. “We grow 12 varieties on our property and mill each one on its own and store them in their own tank. I then taste all of the oils and come up with our blends or single variety oils for each year.”
“We always like to have a mild oil, a medium and a couple of robust [oils] that either have green and grassy notes, or are really pungent and peppery,” she added. “We also are fortunate to have our own on-site mill so that we are able to mill within hours of picking.”
California – not to mention the rest of the U.S. – is a large and unique state. The Golden State is about one-third larger than Italy and boasts plenty of diverse and unique microclimates. Producers from 20 different counties, stretching from the south of the state to the north were awarded at the 2021 NYIOOC.
In San Diego County, at the very southern end of the state, Pitchouline was awarded for the second year in a row for its organic medium blend made from Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino, Manzanillo and Pendolino olives.
“It is always a pleasure and honor to receive an NYIOOC award,” co-owner Fabien Tremoulet told Olive Oil Times. “There are many competitions but NYIOOC is really the reference in the industry… The awards are always well perceived by customers.”
Tremoulet said the secret to Pitchouline’s multiple successes in their young history is careful stewardship of the land, which later becomes apparent in the oil.
“There are so many extra virgin olive oils from all around the world with amazing attributes,” he said. “Nevertheless, we do believe that such a healthy and fine product should always be certified organic. In addition to being certified organic, we follow biodynamic farming principles. Our soil is what sets us apart.”
“I was thrilled to see that both entries got awards,” owner Giulio Zavolta told Olive Oil Times. “We have worked hard to turn around our Block X, our centennial trees were headed towards mulch as previous owners were going to pull the trees to plant almonds.”
“After rehabilitating them we began focusing on making oil and it was only in 2017 that we made our first oil,” he added. “Our goal was to show others that there is value in original California trees.”
For the producers behind Olivaia, this year’s awards at the NYIOOC come as a welcome conclusion to a trying year, though Zavolta said that he is already counting down the days to the next harvest.
“With a low amount of olives on the trees and all of our olives being hand-harvested it made for a difficult situation from a labor point of view,” he said. “Getting folks motivated to pick light set trees and arrive at an equitable picking cost was a real challenge.”
“We hope [these awards] will bring attention to our unique story and give us more of an opportunity to talk about our extra virgin olive oil and how well it pairs with food,” Zavolta added.
A little bit more than 300 kilometres north of the California border, the producers behind Durant Olive Mill celebrated yet another success at the World Olive Oil Competition.
“I was very stoked [about receiving the three Gold Awards and a Silver Award],” Paul Durant told Olive Oil Times. “As I have continued to become a better miller and understand the nuances of processing really good extra virgin olive oil, I place ever-higher expectations on myself and my milling team. Every year we should make better olive oil.”
As the largest producer in Oregon and owner of the state’s only mill, Durant is frequently asked what sets Oregonian olive oils apart from those of his southern neighbor. While he is still searching for the answer, season after season, he believes the climate plays a big part.
“I do believe the nature of our growing season has more influence than we understand,” he said. “We have cool nights. The days are much longer here in the northern latitudes than in a traditional Mediterranean climate during the summer.”
“Also, our bloom is late in spring compared to other locations, hence our ripening timeline is completely unique,” he added. “The other aspect is the oil texture or viscosity. Our Oregon-grown fruit seems to produce oil that has a more extensive mouth feel and lingers longer across the pallet than some other oils.”
For a producer based in a non-traditional olive growing region, Durant said the awards from the NYIOOC have had a significant impact on his brand over the past seven years.
“I view these awards much like I view wine scores,” he said. “All millers (or winemakers) claim to make excellent products. However, to have a high wine score or award-winning olive oil is a third-party validation of that claim.”
“I have come to appreciate that this is very important to consumers and really helps to back up what we say about care and quality of our olive oils,” Durant concluded.