Portugal won 32 Awards at this year's NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, confirming the strong position of the country's producers on the international stage.
From the northern regions of the Douro Valley and Trás-os-Montes to Alentejo and the Southern Algarve, the diversity of the Portuguese olive oils was on display at this year’s edition of the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
“It was awesome to enter the web and see that our oil was there,” said Ines Sampaio, manager of the Cooperativa Agricola dos Olivicultores de Murça, from Trás-Os-Montes. “It was the first year that we participated and it was incredible.”
It is always good to see our work being recognized in such a positive way. It helps the sales team to assure our customers that they are really buying high-quality olive oil from us.
“The NYIOOC is the best and most well-known olive oil quality competition out there,” she added. “The best olive oils in the world are there and, if you want to be one of the best, you have to compete with the best.”
Azeite Porca de Murça took one of the 17 Gold Awards won by Portuguese olive oil producers.See more: The Best Olive Oils from Portugal
Portugal also earned 15 Silver Awards, and a total of 32 awards out of 52 entries, a slightly lower number than last year, when 67 Portuguese oils competed in New York. Registration was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In this edition, the NYIOOC’s panel of experts judged the 871 entries remotely, a new system adjusted to the unexpected travel restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19.
However, as the producers contacted by Olive Oil Times highlighted, the awards become more relevant than ever under the current circumstances.
“I think this is even more important under the present situation,” Sampaio told Olive Oil Times. “People are not allowed to travel and even going to a shop has been difficult, so consumers go to the internet and search for references. If we are known as one of the best oils, maybe that will help us. This award is important for that as well.”
Founded in 1956, Murça’s cooperative has a different approach to production than private companies do.
“We depend on our farmers. At some level, that makes things more complex as we cannot control everything,” Sampaio said. “However, we are improving our techniques, our equipment and the way we grow our trees, trying to make it more natural every year in order to get the best juice from our olives because at the end of the day that is what our oil is.”
Aníbal Soares is the owner of Segredos do Côa, a small producer in the Douro Valley region, also in the north of the country.
“I was born in an olive field,” Soares told Olive Oil Times. “We are a local family from the mountains in the north, not far from Spain, and our olive oil tradition dates back at least to the mid-nineteenth century.”
His organic blend of Verdeal, Madural and Negrinha de Freixo cultivars won a Gold Award in 2020 and two previous ones in 2018 and 2019.
“This year, we sent just one olive oil to mark our presence. We picked the best green olives by mid-October to make the best oil,” Soares said. “But this year was not a very good one as it rained a lot when we harvested.”
“We thought, ok, let’s do it and if we don’t get it, never mind. We’ve always received awards before, but this year was a very good surprise,” he added.
“For me, the NYIOOC is a very well organized competition and pays attention to it,” Soares said. “Last year, we had 13 awards in many contests, but most of them don’t do anything to promote it. That may be good for our ego as producers but does nothing else. In New York, that’s different.”
Cabeço das Nogueiras is a producer based in the Ribatejo, a region in the center of the country.
Their Hojiblanca oil won a Gold Award at the NYIOOC as did their Cobrançosa monovarietal, which had already taken a Gold Award in 2019 and 2018.
“It is always good to see our work being recognized in such a positive way,” Alberto Serralha, CEO of Sociedade Agrícola Ouro Vegetal (SAOV), the producer of the brand, told Olive Oil Times. “It helps the sales team to assure our customers that they are really buying high-quality olive oil from us.”
“The NYIOOC is a renowned competition, able to spread information in an effective way across the globe. New York is an iconic location for us, as our first U.S. sale took place there,” he added.
SAOV was established in 2004 and, according to Serralha, represents nearly two percent of Portugal’s total production.
“Exports represent 60 percent of our sales,” he said. “The U.S. is our biggest foreign market and represents more than half of our total international sales.”
Portugal’s olive oil exports have more than tripled in the last 10 years, growing from 51,774 tons in 2010 to 158,688 in 2019, according to Casa do Azeite, the Portuguese olive oil association.
The Iberian country is currently the world’s ninth-largest producer of olive oil and its presence at the international quality olive oil scene is well established.
“At a national level, quality is increasing year after year,” Sampaio said. “Also quantity, but that’s mostly thanks to the large plantations in Alentejo. Here in the north, it is not easy to increase the amount of our production, so we are focusing on improving our quality.”
“We are a small country, but a very diverse one,” she concluded.
Magna Olea won a Silver Award for a medium-intensity blend. “We feel that we’re consistently producing excellence, rewarding the trust of all our customers and partners,” owner Jerónimo Abreu e Lima said after receiving news of his award.
Abreu e Lima said every year comes with a new set of challenges for small producers. In 2019, though, the main difficulty was the weather.
“Given our family scale, each harvest is the most challenging moment of the year,” he said. “2019 was another year of unusual weather that has conditioned the production, rhythm and timing of the harvest.”
Bare Foods LLC won a Gold Award for its Bare Superior brand, a robust blend.
“It is a recognition that we are going in the right direction and gives us and our consumers the assurance that our olive oils are of ‘Superior’ quality,” owner Rui Abecassis said about the award. “It also shows that Portugal can produce extraordinary olive oils.”