Olive growers, oil producers, investment bankers, a geologist and many other professionals from across the working spectrum gathered in the Bloomsbury district of central London last week to attend the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Program.
In all, 38 successfully completed the five-day course, which 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.
I have not stopped talking to friends and family about the course since Friday.
Participants already involved in the industry said they looked forward to using the newly acquired knowledge to further improve the work they were already doing. Others said that they hoped to break into the industry and turn a hobby into a career.See Also: Olive Oil Education
“I absolutely loved the course,” Cyrine Bejaoui, a Tunisian investment banker currently living in Paris, told Olive Oil Times. “The instructors were amazingly interested in their passion and accuracy. We had speakers of an enormous variety. It gave us great insight into the olive oil world.”
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Bejaoui said that while she has lived in France for the past 18 years, her heart never fully left Tunisia and her life-long passion for olive oil has persisted.
“I will surely get more involved in the olive oil industry,” Bejaoui said. “My aim will be to educate people in France and in Tunisia about the benefits and the diversity of extra virgin olive oil.”
There were ten instructors from seven countries in London for the course including the journalist and taste panel leader Carola Dummer Medina; panel leader Antonio Lauro, agronomist and panel leader Kostas Liris; award-winning miller Pablo Voitzuk; chef Kevin O’Connor; author and physician Simon Poole; award-winning producers Karim Fitouri, Juan Ignacio and Sebastian Romero; and the program director, Curtis Cord.
Irini Tzortzoglou was another participant from the hectic world of investment banking who attended the course. Ten years ago, she retired from the profession and moved on to a second career as a chef.
“In 2019, I won Masterchef in the United Kingdom,” she told Olive Oil Times. “My success in the competition has given me a big platform from which to continue to showcase Greek produce, particularly olive oil.”
Using the ingredient in some of the Greek dishes she prepared in the competition, Tzortzoglou realized how little she actually knew about olive oil and set out to change that.
“Even though my family always produced our own olive oil and my grandfather had an oil mill now run by my cousin, I realized that I knew very little,” she said. “I will focus on olive oil this year when I am invited to cook at hotels, cruise ships and festivals and hope to continue learning and write a book more focussed on the subject.”
While many of the program’s attendees were olive oil enthusiasts planning to make the jump into the profession, others were already seasoned growers, producers and distributors looking to enrich their knowledge about the product.
“I grew up around olive oil and have learned some things, but felt I lacked a more formal or scientific understanding of the subject,” Mikael Livas, who runs the Swedish olive oil importing and distribution company, Kala and Mata, told Olive Oil Times. “I was hoping to be able to bring some new ideas and practices back to our groves in Kalamata.”
“I thought the course was excellent and kept a good pace,” he said. “Towards the end, I felt that I could taste with some degree of accuracy.”
Livas was not the only one who came to the course searching for answers to improve his olive oil production. Ali Bejhaj, a Moroccan olive farmer, also made the trip to London to improve his production techniques.
“I decided to enroll in this program because I have an olive farm and am starting to produce olive oil,” he told Olive Oil Times. “But the main reason is that I am passionate about olive oil.”
Bejhaj said he liked the way in which the course was structured, providing informative sessions with tasting instruction. “I will apply what I have learned in terms of tasting to improve the quality of our olive oil,” he said. “I thought the course was great.”
Away from the course material and tasting sessions, the program also served as an networking opportunity for everyone involved.
“I am currently not in the olive oil industry, but would like to get involved,” Andrew Hindle, a geologist, told Olive Oil Times. “I have had a dream for some time to own an olive grove and hope to do so within the next five years. It was inspiring talking to others on the course who have invested in the industry and I hope to visit several of them.”
Hindle came to the program with the aim of learning more about what factors impact olive oil quality as well as how to differentiate extra virgin olive oils.
“I found the course very inspiring. The lecturers were all very passionate about their particular areas of expertise,” he said. “It is hard to pick a favorite part of the course as all the sessions were interesting.”
“I enjoyed the tasting sessions and was amazed being able, by the end of the week, to rank extra virgin olive oils using the NYIOOC World Olive Oil competition [system] and identify defective oils,” he added. “I have not stopped talking to friends and family about the course since Friday.”
The olive oil sommeliers who successfully completed the certification course are Vibe Aas, Manel Adell, Cyrine Bejaoui, Olga Beklemisheva, Karmino Beletić, Ali Belhaj, Amelia Bilbeisi, Ziad Bilbeisi, James Borrett, Robert Curbishley, Davide D’Alia, Maria Anna Devetzoglou, Assem Elanani, Yasa Arman Eroglu, Jamil Hijazi, Andrew Hindle, John Holmes, Chris Huebner, Ole Christian Idland, Dimitra Kyriakou, Fabrizio Ladi Bucciolini, Simikka Larsen, Grant Linhares, Mikael Panagiotis Livas, Renee Lumens, Linda Marzano, Bárbara Monteiro, Carla Petschek, Veronica Puhk, Rachel Rizk, Olga Stamathioudaki, Nicolas Terranova, İlknur Türkeli Civelek, Irini Tzortzoglou, Anse van Buitenen, William van Klaveren, Michael Warden and Travis Whalen.
Registration is open for the next edition of the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification program, which will take place in New York in May. The program will return to London in January 2021.