Fairs, Competitions

Ayvalik’s Olive Oil Prodigy

Tasting olive oil makes Suzan Kantarci Savas happy. Such joy will serve her well in New York this April when she returns with her colleagues to taste over 900 samples in the world's largest olive oil competition.

Suzan Kantarci Savas (Photo: NYIOOC)
Nov. 2, 2016
By Olive Oil Times Staff
Suzan Kantarci Savas (Photo: NYIOOC)

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Suzan Kantarci Savas views each sample of olive oil she is about to taste as the begin­ning of a jour­ney. The oppor­tu­nity to peer into the ded­i­ca­tion of its pro­ducer and the cul­ture behind it makes her happy, she says. And her enthu­si­asm is felt by every­one else in the room.

Kantarci Savas (31) is the youngest member of the elite panel of judges for the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC), the largest and most pres­ti­gious olive oil com­pe­ti­tion in the world. She serves among renowned experts from 9 coun­tries who ana­lyze entries each year to deter­mine the year’s best olive oils.

Behind this young woman, there is great pro­fes­sion­al­ism that will be very useful in the olive oil indus­try in Turkey.- Antonio G. Lauro

NYIOOC President Curtis Cord recruited Kantarci Savas, who was just 29 at the time, when he was look­ing for a pro­fes­sional taster to rep­re­sent Turkey on his 2015 panel. “Suzan was a prodigy with out­stand­ing cre­den­tials for her young age,” Cord noted. “And she clearly had a rare pas­sion for her craft that was imme­di­ately evi­dent to her col­leagues on the panel.”

NYIOOC Panel Leader Antonio G. Lauro con­curred: “I have been able to appre­ci­ate Suzan’s safety and great sen­si­tiv­ity in assess­ing the qual­ity of olive oils, always unhur­ried and deci­sive with her use of descrip­tors. My ini­tial sur­prise was that Suzi (as we lov­ingly call her) reached sim­i­lar con­clu­sions to those of the more expe­ri­enced judges.”

“We don’t speak only about the qual­ity of olive oils in the com­pe­ti­tion, rather there is always a dis­cus­sion about pos­si­ble tech­no­log­i­cal or agro­nomic causes of the out­comes. Behind this young Turkish woman, there is great pro­fes­sion­al­ism that will be very useful in the olive oil indus­try in Turkey,” Lauro said.

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Kantarci Savas grew up in Ayvalik, Turkey’s famed olive-pro­duc­ing region that has inspired artists for cen­turies with its nat­ural beauty. Nevertheless, she set­tled on the decid­edly left-brain study of num­bers, earn­ing a mas­ter’s degree in sta­tis­tics (she is cur­rently a PhD can­di­date in the Statistics Department at Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir).

Suzan Kantarci Savas

In 2007, Kantarci Savas attended the har­vest fes­ti­val orga­nized by the Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce and it was there, talk­ing with Selim Kantarcı and Mustafa Tan, that her inspi­ra­tion was sparked and she began to apply her sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis to research on olive cul­ti­va­tion and oil pro­duc­tion. The title of her master’s thesis was: “Multi-Expert Decision-Making by Using 2 Tuple Fuzzy Linguistic Representation and its Application to Olive Oil Sensory Evaluation.”

She stud­ied with Efendi Nasiboğlu for sev­eral years and assisted panel leader, Ummuhan Tibet, at Turkey’s National Olive Oil Council.

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In 2011, she caught the eye of admin­is­tra­tors at the International Olive Oil Council who awarded her a schol­ar­ship for a uni­ver­sity course in the organolep­tic assess­ment of virgin olive oil at the University of Jaén (Spain), rep­re­sent­ing the National Olive and Olive Oil Council of Turkey.

It was in Jaén that Kantarci Savas learned to explore much more than an olive oil’s pun­gency or bit­ter­ness: “People don’t just taste olive oil, they also dis­cover them­selves,” she said.

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These days, she is work­ing on a book about olive oil with recipes from the regional cui­sine of Ayvalik passed down through her family, and she is prepar­ing for her third trip to New York this April to join her col­leagues from around the world at the 2017 NYIOOC.

“Her young age does­n’t deceive us,” Lauro con­cluded. “With Suzan the dis­cus­sion of olive oil is always at the high­est level.”