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37 Complete Sommelier Program in London

Olive oil professionals and enthusiasts from 17 countries gathered in central London as the prestigious program made its European debut.

Jan. 29, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

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Olive oil pro­fes­sion­als and enthu­si­asts from all over the world gath­ered in London last week for that city’s first Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Program.

The six-day course, which was held in the Bloomsbury dis­trict of cen­tral London, focussed on olive oil qual­ity assess­ment, cul­ti­va­tion and his­tory, har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion, health ben­e­fits, chem­istry, regions and cul­ti­vars, stan­dards and grades, culi­nary appli­ca­tions and con­sumer edu­ca­tion.

It’s not just about how to appre­ci­ate a good extra virgin olive oil. Through good agri­cul­tural prac­tices, we are restor­ing the ecosys­tem.- Diane Yang

Participants widely hailed the pro­gram, which is jointly pro­duced by the Olive Oil Times Education Lab and the International Culinary Center, as a suc­cess and many said they were look­ing for­ward to apply­ing their newly acquired knowl­edge once they returned to work.

“The course was fan­tas­tic,” Margot Bowen, an olive oil pro­ducer at Ultima Pietra, told Olive Oil Times. “My favorite part was the com­par­a­tive blind tast­ings led by inter­na­tional judges to under­stand what they seek in an award-win­ning olive oil.”

See more: Olive Oil Education

Bowen, who recently began to grow and har­vest olives in Tuscany as well as import and sell the result­ing oils in Chicago, said she learned a lot about the nuances of olive oil pro­duc­tion from some of the industry’s most suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­als.

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She will take what she has learned and apply it to her own pro­duc­tion process in order to con­tinue improv­ing her oils. In 2017, Bowen’s Ultima Pietra won Gold at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

“I was inspired by the detailed dis­cus­sion of bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples as they apply to olive oil pro­duc­tion, and hope to go beyond organic farm­ing to apply bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples on our own prop­erty,” she said.

Instructors for the London course included NYIOOC judg­ing panel mem­bers Carola Dummer Medina, Kostas Liris and Antonio G. Lauro; culi­nary instruc­tor Perola Polillo; ole­ol­o­gist Nicholas Coleman; author and physi­cian Simon Poole; and the award-win­ning pro­duc­ers Karim Fitouri, Lucia Games, Sebastian Romero and Juan Ignacio. Olive Oil Times pub­lisher and NYIOOC pres­i­dent Curtis Cord is the pro­gram’s direc­tor.

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Monika Solińska is the founder of EVOO Premium, a Polish online extra virgin olive oil bou­tique. She also came to the course look­ing to grow her pro­fes­sional port­fo­lio and acquire a deeper under­stand­ing of olive oil.

“I’d like to be a pro­fes­sional importer and dis­trib­u­tor who is reli­able and trust­wor­thy, who knows what she is talk­ing about and who shares her knowl­edge and olive oil expe­ri­ence with others,” she told Olive Oil Times. “The olive oil som­me­lier cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course is a nat­ural con­se­quence of my devel­op­ment and my olive oil pas­sion.”

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For Solińska, the course was the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of author­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion, hands-on learn­ing and pro­fes­sional net­work­ing.

“I like the whole con­cept of the course as a com­pre­hen­sive and prac­ti­cal source of infor­ma­tion about olive oil,” she said. “My favorite part [was] the great people, my class­mates and the amaz­ing lec­tur­ers from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and regions.”

She plans to use her new knowl­edge and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions to host her own tast­ing panels in Poland as well as inform Polish con­sumers about the health ben­e­fits of olive oil. Olive oil con­sump­tion grew by 12 per­cent in Poland over the first half of the decade, accord­ing to a study from ICEX, Spain’s Institute for Foreign Trade. Solinka sees that the market is trend­ing upward and wants to take advan­tage of it.

“My idea is to offer a unique selec­tion of the best olive oils in the world,” she said. “I’d like to be the best in Poland.”

Not every­one who attended the course was already an olive oil pro­fes­sional. Several of the atten­dees were olive oil hob­by­ists grow­ing olive trees in their spare time.

Diane Yang is an econ­o­mist who works for a South American exporter. However, she is work­ing on a career tran­si­tion into olive oil and signed on to the course to increase her knowl­edge and help jump-start her new career.

“I work in the export busi­ness. I don’t want to just work on a dif­fer­ent prod­uct. I would like to acquire some exper­tise and be more tech­ni­cal about olive oils,” she told Olive Oil Times. “The olive oil som­me­lier cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course is exactly what I was look­ing for.”

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“The course exceeded my expec­ta­tions,” she said. “It’s not just about how to appre­ci­ate a good extra virgin olive oil. Through good agri­cul­tural prac­tices, we are restor­ing the ecosys­tem.”

Yang believes that every­one has the abil­ity to act as a brand ambas­sador for olive oil. She plans to start small, with tast­ings for her chil­dren in her own kitchen. From there, she hopes to increase her scope and work on pro­mot­ing olive oil in China, where Yang was born and in which olive oil con­sump­tion is rapidly grow­ing.

“I have my eyes on Chinese con­sumers,” she said. “Cooking with extra virgin olive oil isn’t much of a Chinese con­cept. I would like to do some­thing to intro­duce this wonder into Chinese cui­sine.”

Hilda Damasi was another par­tic­i­pant who is in the middle of a career tran­si­tion. Damasi works in IT sales at a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion based in Singapore and also owns 200 olive trees in Turkey from which she har­vests olives and pro­duces olive oil.

“I loved the course and learned a lot,” she told Olive Oil Times. “I’m def­i­nitely chang­ing my har­vest­ing prac­tices and will pay more atten­tion to the mill I use,” she said. “Hopefully in my next career, I’m an olive oil baroness.”

Damasi also said that the course caused her to think about tast­ing olive oil in ways she had not pre­vi­ously and allowed her to net­work with fellow stu­dents and instruc­tors. She will use her newly acquired knowl­edge to improve her cul­ti­va­tion and har­vest­ing tech­niques as she plans on making her tran­si­tion into full-time olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Jacqueline Lane was another attendee who came to the pro­gram look­ing to increase her olive oil knowl­edge and improve her pro­duc­tion tech­niques. Lane pre­vi­ously worked in the luxury goods indus­try, but has been grow­ing olives and pro­duc­ing La Bandiera olive oil in Tuscany for the past decade.

Lane’s brand was awarded a Best in Class at the 2016 NYIOOC, an achieve­ment she is deter­mined to repeat.

“My knowl­edge of oils from other parts of the world was not exten­sive, so I enrolled for the som­me­lier course,” she told Olive Oil Times. “It was so inter­est­ing to learn about other regions, olive vari­eties and gain a thor­ough knowl­edge of what to look for and avoid in pre­mium olive oils.”

“I am always sur­prised when I hear about the fraud­u­lent activ­ity going on in the world of olive oil and feel deter­mined to become an edu­ca­tor,” she said.

To that end, Lane will use her newly acquired knowl­edge to teach con­sumers about olive oil pro­duc­tion and hopes to give them all the tools they need to make an informed deci­sion when pur­chas­ing olive oil.

“One of the main things I learned from the course is how impor­tant it is to spread the word about the dif­fer­ence between a pre­mium extra virgin olive oil and the rest,” she said.

“The health ben­e­fits of a pre­mium extra virgin olive oil far out­weigh those of other oils and con­sumers should have all this infor­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips when select­ing an olive oil,” Lane added. “They should know all about the pro­ducer and the prove­nance of the olive oil.”

The olive oil som­me­liers who suc­cess­fully com­pleted the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course are: Mohammad Al-Tawaha, Nico Boudouvas, Margot Bowen, Luca Centaro, Steven Chappell, Mohamed Amine Chourou, Lauren Clancy, Carina Hultin Dahlmann, Hilda Dimasi, Sevtap Erden Kabatas, Marios Fotiadis, Virginie Gallet, Armelle Greco, Melissa Halpert, Howard Hecht, Katerina Jensen, Colin Keil, Jacqueline Lane, Astrid Liakou, Deborah MacMillan, Barbra Martire, Ghada Mhirsi, Rudolf Nemetschke, Belinda Richardson, Louisa Sherman, Abdelmajid Slama, Monika Solinska, Carrie Stewart, Giuseppe Tedone, Steve Toueg, Giuseppe Viani, Natalie Wheen, Ali Yalcin, Lequn Yang, Robert Younes, Eddy Younes and Ayachi Zemmel.

Registration is open for the next edi­tion of the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification pro­gram, which will take place in New York City from May 13 to 18. The pro­gram will return to London in January 2020.