Tasting Olive Oil

38 Complete Sommelier Program in London

A diverse, international group of professionals gathered in central London to for a comprehensive five-day program on olive oil quality.

Jan. 29, 2020
By Daniel Dawson

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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.- Andrew Hin­dle, geol­o­gist

Par­tic­i­pants applauded the pro­gram — which is jointly pro­duced by the Olive Oil Times Edu­ca­tion Lab and the Inter­na­tional Culi­nary Cen­ter — for the breadth and qual­ity of its con­tent.

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 more: 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.”


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.

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