Award-winning Greek producers discuss their reactions to the New York International Olive Oil Competition results and their efforts to produce the best olive oils in the world.
Watching the broadcast of the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) results live at 2 a.m. Greek time, Vitsentzos Kornaros heard that Chrisopigi PDO Sitia Kritis won a coveted Best in Class award. Too excited to sleep, he wanted to wake everyone he knew to share the news.
There is no secret to what we do. There is no place for compromise. We search for perfection in every single part of the process.
Their winning secret? “We believe in our product, and we work very hard to be so good. We care for our olive trees with love and knowledge that enriches them in every way. We participate in and supervise all levels” of production in eastern Crete. “This means that we know what our product needs so as to provide it at the right time.” Kornaros hopes this award will make Chrisopigi, which means “fountain of gold,” “more recognizable worldwide,” said Kornaros.
See Also: The Best Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oils for 2016
Giovanni Bianchi said he “knew that the quality of Argali extra virgin olive oil [EVOO] had improved a lot,” and he was hoping for an NYIOOC award, but “to see Argali win Best in Class brought a unique and unexpected emotion.” With his choices justified, he said, “I am determined and motivated to continue to improve the quality of my oil,” while respecting the environment and his co-workers.
An Italian computer programmer based in Rome, Bianchi was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, where his family lived for his first eleven years, creating such “a strong link with Greece” that he decided to buy land with 250 hardy olive trees in Gargalianoi, western Peloponnese, in 2004. “From that year, I began dreaming and thinking about olive oil. I studied, took classes in Italy on oil tasting, and convinced the millers to make oil as I wanted. My dream would be to return to Greece and make this great passion my job.” Already, he personally manages every harvest, bottling, and pruning session.
Olive Mill Kyklopas and Kyklopas Olive Mill Organic both won Gold Awards. Niki Kelidou, president of Kyklopas (or Cyclops), says “each prize our company wins gives added value and also shows us that we are on the right track.” Their olive variety, Makris, “is our great asset, and our major weapon is to treat it as it deserves.” Their part of northeastern Greece, very close to Turkey, Bulgaria, and perhaps the cave of the Cyclops, experienced almost no problems with the olive fly or tree diseases this year, which helped them to produce an exceptional EVOO.
When Yanni’s Finest from Yanni’s Olive Grove won a Gold Award, while Yanni’s Limited PDO Chalkidiki won a Silver, Evi Prodromou said, “it was like we managed to climb Mount Everest, to the top of the world.” She added that “these NYIOOC awards will make a huge difference for our company. Our EVOOs are now known on the whole planet as high-quality EVOOs,” with both Yanni’s EVOOs and Chalkidiki varieties winning “such international recognition” for the first time.
Yanni’s Olive Grove is the only company involved in the pilot project of a unique research method called “Application of Intelligent Agriculture” which aims “to produce Green Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oils with the highest possible quality.” All aspects of production are under the care of the Krinos Olive Center and the American Farm School. They follow, Prodromou said, “the instructions of the IOC by the book” in a vertically integrated production process for “fully controlled quality assurance from the field to the finished product using traditional practices but with scientific control.” The result is organoleptic excellence and very high polyphenol content (for extra health benefits).
Konstantinos Papadopoulos said he expects his Gold Award for Mythocia Omphacium Organic and Silver Award for Mythocia Omphacium to “help us give our brand the prestige we want.” He believes “the fact that our products have won a number of distinctions in only two years is the result of people working hard and with passion and striving for quality. It is a great motivation to think that we contribute to spreading the excellent quality of Greek olive oil all over the world. There is no secret to what we do. There is no place for compromise. We search for perfection in every single part of the process.” Working near ancient Olympia and inspired by their “love for olive oil, faith and passion,” they engage in “continuous research and scientific monitoring,” harvesting early for best results.
James Panagiotopoulos, PJ Kabos founder and owner, views his Gold Award for PJ Kabos Family Reserve and Silver Award for PJ Kabos as “another brick in the house of trust we are building with and for our respected customers, an added verification of yet another year of high-quality consistency.” He attributes his company’s success to their maintenance of “high standards with no quality compromise, sparing no expense on our part in order to achieve this. From caring for our trees to olive harvesting, oil extraction, storage and transportation of the final product,” they come “as close to perfection as possible.”
Efthimiadi Estate co-owners Iris Efthimiadou and her fiancé Sam Lord received a middle of the night surprise, learning about the Gold Award for Eliris Extraordinary Organic with “excitement and sheer joy,” as well as pride that “our small family company is producing at the highest level in the industry.”
In 2008, Efthimiadou and Lord gave up “successful careers in London” to return to northeastern Greece to “honor her father’s memory by rejuvenating and tending the cherished family olive grove,” an unusual mix of Greek olive varieties, including Koroneiki, Kalamata, Tsounati, Manaki, Megaritiki and Halkidiki. Lord emphasized that Eliris has a very low acidity (0.24 percent) and possibly “the lowest peroxide value on the market (1.9 mmol O2/kg) due to healthy fruit and fastidious product handling pre- and post-extraction,” meaning very little oxidation in the oil, so it stays fresh much longer than most EVOOs.
Ellie Tragakes of Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises says “we were immensely gratified that the unusual qualities of the Kolovi olive variety, native to our home island of Lesvos, were recognized at the highest level” when their Acaia EVOO won a Gold Award. “In fact, we created our Acaia brand in order to introduce consumers everywhere to the island’s olive oil, which is proverbially famous for its aromas and delicate flavor.” They attribute their success to “our painstaking selection according to the most stringent organoleptic and chemical criteria” and expect their NYIOOC Gold to “help us achieve our goal to make our Acaia olive oil well known to consumers in North America.”
After Gaea Sitia won a Gold Award, CEO Aris Kefalogiannis commented that “it is always an honor for us to win awards because it vindicates our efforts” and “gives us motivation and more strength as well as the responsibility to offer the best extra virgin olive oil to our customers.” Although “abnormally hot weather” in Gaea’s producing areas meant “this was one of the most challenging crops for many years in terms of quality,” Gaea found a way to excel, using “the best possible practices in order to produce the best, authentic high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.”
Greece’s top winners at this year’s NYIOOC exemplify the results of a trend Kefalogiannis has noticed in his country: “More and more, especially young producers try to be informed and educated and produce olive oil following best practices. This will make a difference in the year to come.” It is no coincidence that the top Greek award winners all focus on high quality, their aim for perfection, and their strenuous efforts to produce excellent EVOO.
Some of the winning Greek brands will be available for sale by U.S. distributors and retailers who stock them on the new Best Olive Oils Marketplace, set to launch in a few weeks.