Two Lebanese Producers Prevail at World Olive Oil Competition

Producers in Lebanon demonstrate how both tradition and innovation are thriving in the ancestral home of the olive tree.

Photo courtesy of Ibrahim Al Kaakour.
Jun. 10, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis
Photo courtesy of Ibrahim Al Kaakour.

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Part of our con­tin­u­ing cov­er­age of the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Producers from across the Mediterranean basin – the endemic home of the olive tree – once again dom­i­nated the results of the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Entrants from 14 coun­tries in south­ern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa com­bined to win 465 of the 584 awards.

Our team at Orchards of Laila are all ecsta­tic to know that all our hard work is being rec­og­nized glob­ally.- Ibrahim Al Kaakour, owner of Genco Olive Oil

Among the many Mediterranean win­ners, two Lebanese pro­duc­ers claimed their hard-earned awards.

It gives us great pride to rep­re­sent the old­est coun­try to ever pro­duce olive oil, Lebanon, and its local cul­ti­var, Souri,” Ibrahim Al Kaakour, the owner of Genco Olive Oil, said.

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See Also: Special Coverage: 2020 NYIOOC

While there is some dis­agree­ment among archae­ol­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans about where exactly in the east­ern Mediterranean olive oil pro­duc­tion began, there is no dis­put­ing the role the Phoenicians (from what is now Lebanon) played in spread­ing the olive tree through­out the basin.

Traders from the south­ern port of Tyre – one of the old­est con­tin­u­ally inhab­ited cities on earth – were respon­si­ble for bring­ing the tree to Carthage (mod­ern-day Tunisia), the Tuscan coast­line and the rolling hills of Andalusia.

In spite of this promi­nent role in the his­tory and devel­op­ment of olive oil pro­duc­tion, mod­ern-day Lebanon is a minor player in terms of the global olive oil sec­tor. In 2019, the coun­try pro­duced 19,000 tons of olive oil, accord­ing to International Olive Council data, most of which remained in the domes­tic mar­ket.

However, win­ning awards at the world’s most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion does help to raise the pro­file of the his­toric olive oil region and pro­vides some pro­duc­ers with a win­dow of oppor­tu­nity to mar­ket their oils to the rest of the world.

Our team at Orchards of Laila are all ecsta­tic to know that all our hard work is being rec­og­nized glob­ally at this pres­ti­gious award cer­e­mony,” Al Kaakour said. We are happy to put Lebanon back on the world map after thou­sands of years!”

Orchards of Laila, Genco’s organic robust Souri, earned a Gold Award at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Souri is a robust cul­ti­var that is more intense on the taste scale rather than the aroma,” Al Kaaakour said. It gives its max­i­mum poten­tial in the early har­vest sea­son, late September to early October.”

It also rep­re­sents Lebanon and its peo­ple in its resilience,” he added. It can with­stand harsh cli­mates and drought bet­ter than any other cul­ti­var we have come across.”

The har­di­ness of the cul­ti­var aids Al Kaakour and Genco Olive Oil in the company’s main mis­sion: to pro­duce high-qual­ity olive oils using only organic meth­ods.

Trying to main­tain organic farm­ing meth­ods proves to be the most chal­leng­ing for olive farm­ers,” he said. We tend to be more exposed to dis­ease, espe­cially with the olive fruit fly.”

However, despite the extra effort, time and cost that organic farm­ing entails, the end prod­uct of a clean top-qual­ity organic olive oil jus­ti­fies all the hard work and makes us all proud,” Al Kaakour added.

The Bustan el Zeitoun farm

Lebanon’s other award-win­ning pro­ducer was Bustan el Zeitoun, which was awarded for the third con­sec­u­tive year at the NYIOOC.

At the 2020 edi­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion, the south-cen­tral Lebanese pro­ducer earned a Silver Award for its medium Frantoio.

We feel proud to be win­ners for three con­sec­u­tive years at NYIOOC com­pe­ti­tion,” co-owner Walid Mushantaf said. Professionals in the food indus­try and extra vir­gin olive oil lovers use these results to make their pur­chas­ing choices.”

In 2019, Bustan el Zeitoun pro­duced 20,000 liters of extra vir­gin olive oil from its groves, which sprawl across the ter­raced hills of the Aabra region. Along with Frantoio, Mushantaf grows 11 other Italian vari­eties, includ­ing Maurino, Leccino, Biancolilla, Nocellara and Coratina.

During Lebanon’s bloody 15-year civil war, he left his home­land and stud­ied olive oil pro­duc­tion in Europe. Upon his return to Lebanon, he sought to rebuild some of what had been destroyed dur­ing the war and incor­po­rate mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to his olive oil pro­duc­tion.

However, he admit­ted that get­ting pro­duc­ers to aban­don tra­di­tional meth­ods has been a chal­lenge.

Photos cour­tesy of Walid Mushantaf.

Lebanon has its own tra­di­tional cul­ti­vars and most oil mills oper­ate with the tra­di­tional stones and means,” Mushantaf said. People here stick to tra­di­tion and some even told me they do not trust the new mill trans­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies. With these awards in New York, though, it will be eas­ier to win the trust of some of them.”

Mushantaf said that he had invested heav­ily in a new and inno­v­a­tive” oil mill for the com­ing har­vest­ing sea­son, in order to alle­vi­ate some of the prob­lems that he ran into in 2019.

We start our har­vest­ing around mid-September when the olives are green in order to obtain good qual­ity oil,” Mushantaf said. During this early period of the sea­son, no nearby olive mills were open, so we drove for two hours each day to process our olives in a mod­ern olive mill dur­ing the same day of har­vest­ing, and this lasted for almost a month.”

Mushantaf added that the new mill should be ready in time for the start of the 2020 har­vest and imag­ines this will improve the chances of Bustan el Zeitoun earn­ing a Gold Award once again at the 2021 NYIOOC.





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