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.”

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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.


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