`Talking Olive Oil with Der Feinschmecker Food Editor Kersten Wetenkamp - Olive Oil Times

Talking Olive Oil with Der Feinschmecker Food Editor Kersten Wetenkamp

Aug. 24, 2011
Julie Butler

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The Olio Awards guide pub­lished each June by Germany’s top gas­tro­nom­i­cal mag­a­zine, Der Feinschmecker, is one of the indus­try’s most rig­or­ous reviews. Not only is it highly influ­en­tial in Germany, it is an impor­tant ref­er­ence in Greece and Italy.

From his native Hamburg, the guide’s founder, Kersten Wetenkamp, shares his reflec­tion on the qual­ity – and lack of it – this year. Read on to find out what he found excel­lent, dis­ap­point­ing and plain mediocre.

Olive Oil Times: Why do you pro­duce the guide?

Wetenkamp: Freshly cut grass, chives, sliced​tomato, basil leaves, green apples, almonds, rose­mary leaves and arti­choke hearts com­bined with the flesh of unripe bananas – that’s one way to describe the smell and taste of one of the best Sicilian olive oils pro­duced by Tenuta Orto!

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Top olive oils like these offer unfor­get­table bursts of plea­sure for the nose and palate and leave you want­ing more. It’s the ninth year that we have pro­duced the guide and it is these moments of hap­pi­ness that drive us each time to under­take such a huge orga­ni­za­tional effort.

How was it pre­pared?

First, let­ters were sent to more than 2000 olive oil pro­duc­ers in more than 20 coun­tries. By the February 28 dead­line, more than 750 olive oils from 13 coun­tries had been entered. These were sub­mit­ted to one week of blind taste tests by a 14-mem­ber inter­na­tional jury.

Our nine Olio Awards then went to the three top oils in each of the fol­low­ing cat­e­gories: intensely fruity, medium fruity and light fruity. Der Feinschmecker pub­lished the names of these win­ners and the top 50 oils in a spe­cial issue on olive oil in June and we have a search­able list of the top 200 online.

Please tell us about the jury

I was very happy to have what was our most inter­na­tional judg­ing panel so far. For the first time, we had experts not just from north­ern and south­ern Italy, Spain and Greece, but also from the U.S. and France.

I am also very pleased that we are main­tain­ing a high stan­dard when it comes to eval­u­at­ing the oils. In this, I think we are equal to the Marco Oreggia Flos Olei guide and maybe bet­ter than most other com­pe­ti­tions, from what I’ve been told.

And how were the oils this year?

The rich selec­tion of gourmet olive oils was much cause for cel­e­bra­tion, even if the past year had its down­falls. And it was also inter­est­ing to see that some bio­log­i­cal olive oils are now among the best. It’s a good sign to see the focus on sen­sory qual­ity and eco­log­i­cal pro­duc­tion.

Spain

Spanish pro­duc­ers are so excel­lent now that no inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion could be with­out them as they suc­cess­fully com­bine the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and a lot of know-how.

This year the Melgarejo fam­i­ly’s Aceites Campoliva, from Andalusia, was the only com­pany world­wide with four oils in our top 200 and three in the top 50. It also had two in our top ten and was the most suc­cess­ful pro­ducer over­all.

The Melgarejos’ close asso­ci­a­tion with the University of Jaén in research on their Picual vari­ety has paid off hand­somely and their Hojiblanca oil is sim­ply fab­u­lous.

As hap­pens every year, pro­duc­ers such as Manuel Montes Marin, Iber, Marques de Griñón and Almazaras de la Subbética were also among the best.

Italy

From 50 best oils world­wide, Italy had 31. There is no chang­ing the dom­i­nant role it plays in inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

Cutrera, Terre di Shemir, Mandranova, Giancarlo Giannini, Argei, Librandi, Cetrone, Americo Qutrociocchi, Comincioli and Madoanna delle Vittorie are con­sis­tent pro­duc­ers of the best qual­ity, regard­less of weather chaos and good or bad har­vest con­di­tions.

Sicily’s dom­i­nance this year seems to be due to good cli­matic con­di­tions — espe­cially in the moun­tain region of Chiaramonte Gulfi north of Ragusa. At that alti­tude the win­ter was cold and damp, so the olives ripened per­fectly and were able to develop fruit. But I believe the main rea­son is the high stan­dard of know-how, early har­vest­ing and ensur­ing that there is less than four hours between har­vest­ing and press­ing the olives.

Between Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio in cen­tral Italy, a rainy sum­mer and vio­lent storms affected the quan­tity and qual­ity of the olives. Producers usu­ally accus­tomed to suc­cess, such as the Tuscans Giorgio Franci, Barone Ricasoli, Sonnino and Castello di Ama, did not achieve their usual inten­sity and abun­dance of fla­vors.

France, Portugal, Slovenia and Croatia

I was very glad to see new names with extremely excel­lent qual­ity in both coun­tries, such as the Monacs in Provence (Nectar de Soleil), and in Portugal, Domaine Salvator, and Victor Guedes. It’s pleas­ing to see that Portugal seems to have over­come a long dry spell and returned to mak­ing excel­lent olive oil. We also saw a remark­able qual­ity in Slovenia and Croatia.

Greece

The biggest dis­ap­point­ment this year was the absence of good Greek oil. Unfortunately, there was­n’t a Greek olive oil among our top 50 olive oils. A lot of the Greek oils were sim­ply defec­tive. Among them was Terra Creta, one of our for­mer Olio Award win­ners.

I think the Greek pro­duc­ers suf­fered a lot from hot win­ter weather and maybe too dry a sea­son over­all in 2010. When I was in Crete in December it felt like sum­mer, with tem­per­a­tures of 22 – 25 degrees Celsius (71.6 – 77°F). Producers told us that this leads to higher oil acid­ity, which is bad for qual­ity, and prob­lems with the olive fly, espe­cially in the lower regions. The olives ripened too early and thus suf­fered from insect infes­ta­tion.

Climate change threat­ens us,” com­plained George Dimitriades, head of Biolea estate in west Crete, which pro­duces organic olive oil.

It seemed strange that we received about 50 oils from Greece, which is num­ber three in terms of world­wide pro­duc­tion, yet we got 100 oils from France, the fifth-biggest pro­ducer! And it was inter­est­ing to see that among the best Greek pro­duc­ers were two guys from Germany — Bastian Jordan and Ulrich Meyn from 5Nostimo.

The United States

We had 35 Californian olive oils entered but the over­all stan­dard was very mediocre. Perhaps it was due to weather con­di­tions. Only one pro­ducer made it into our top 50, Sierra d’Oro, which is a con­sis­tently high-qual­ity oil.

Other Disappointments?

Turkey, North Africa, Australia: such a dis­ap­point­ment! Political dis­as­ter in Tunisia, Morocco, Syria. Bad qual­ity in Turkey, I don’t know why.

In writ­ing about the Olio Awards recently you called for bet­ter qual­ity con­trol in the olive oil indus­try. What prompted this?

The olive oil mar­ket remains in a des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, not only in Germany but also inter­na­tion­ally. Inferior qual­ity olive oil con­tin­ues to be sold – often at bar­gain-base­ment prices of less than three euros per half-liter bot­tle – as extra vir­gin.”

And there are no guar­an­tees the ori­gin of the olives. Even if the E.U. reg­u­la­tion requires a clear indi­ca­tion of this, it is often forged to allow dis­counted prices. After all, olives from Northern Africa and the Middle East are even cheaper than those from Italy and Spain.

Notwithstanding E.U. reg­u­la­tions, the sit­u­a­tion remains as dire as it was five years when together with Merum (a wine and olive oil mag­a­zine), we pub­lished an olive man­i­festo” call­ing for a bet­ter method of qual­ity assur­ance.

If the pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tions from the Mediterranean coun­tries came together to agree on strict qual­ity stan­dards and the enforce­ment, or at least close mon­i­tor­ing, of oil qual­ity – such as the German wine­mak­ing coop­er­a­tives did – it would be a dream come true for us at Der Feinschmecker.

Olive Oil Times: Thank you for your time.

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