There’s No Such Thing As the ‘World’s Best Olive Oil’

Identifying 'the best' among the world's exceptional olive oils is misguided.
By Curtis Cord
Mar. 14, 2018 12:01 UTC

The best olive oil in the world does not exist.

That might be sur­pris­ing com­ing from some­one who orga­nizes the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. I’ll explain.

Crafting a high-qual­ity olive oil is an ardu­ous task. Every pro­ducer who man­ages to do so deserves to be rec­og­nized with­out unjus­ti­fied hier­ar­chies.

Some olive oil guides rank oils with a score, tak­ing their cues from wine guides and their score-happy indices.

The olive oil with the high­est score — say, one that earns a score of 99 — is said to be the best olive oil in the world,” or EVOO of the year.”

Over the years man­ag­ing the NYIOOC, if one thing was clear to me, it was this: one judge’s 99 was another judge’s 95. One panel’s 92 was another panel’s 96.

They are all great olive oils. But the dif­fer­ence between a blow-your-mind’ EVOO and a freak­ishly good’ EVOO is an abstract notion that dwells in the depths of an indi­vid­ual taster’s pref­er­ences and there is too lit­tle con­sen­sus among judges and pan­els on oils they rank at the high­est lev­els to pro­claim that the 98 is really bet­ter’ than the one that scored 97 or 96.

Crafting a high-qual­ity olive oil is an ardu­ous task. Every pro­ducer who man­ages to do so deserves to be rec­og­nized with­out unjus­ti­fied hier­ar­chies.

Each year I see the scores of the world’s largest olive oil com­pe­ti­tion, and each year I decline to make them pub­lic because I know that an oil that achieved a score of 82 deserves the same recog­ni­tion as one that scored an 88.

I know that the same panel can taste an oil first thing in the morn­ing and give it a score of 78 and then give the same oil a score of 74 later in the day.

So here’s the thing: There are good olive oils and great olive oils. And even the line between good’ and great’ can be fuzzy.

In New York, we aver­age the judges’ scores and bestow a Gold Award to those with scores of 80 or higher — a Silver Award for those between 65 and 79.99; no award for the 448 brands in the 2017 NYIOOC that scored below 65.

Does a pro­ducer who man­aged to craft an oil with a score of 79.75 (Silver) deserve as much recog­ni­tion as one who earned a score of 80.15 (Gold)? Absolutely. And that is why we cel­e­brate and pub­li­cize every award win­ner with the same appre­ci­a­tion. These are great oils. The one that would be best to pour over your brus­sels sprouts is your call.

Likewise, I have never felt entirely com­fort­able with our Best in Class selec­tion, which pits the high­est-scor­ing oils from each cat­e­gory against each other in a sim­ple vote by the full panel of judges.

For exam­ple, we will line up every Northern Hemisphere organic mono­va­ri­etal that scored over 95. The judges will taste them all at their own pace and cast a vote for the one they think is the best among them.

Even here, there can be con­sid­er­able dis­agree­ment. And did an oil that scored a 93 deserve to be in the run­ning? Yes, and it might have won. Don’t be sur­prised if I even­tu­ally do away with the Best in Class at NYIOOC.

Some web­sites even scan the world’s olive oil com­pe­ti­tions to see which brands won the most awards to declare the World’s Best Olive Oil.”

The premise is that the pro­ducer who won awards at the most com­pe­ti­tions is nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter’ than the pro­ducer who entered just one com­pe­ti­tion and earned a Best in Class. A more accu­rate name for the brand sin­gled out on these web­sites would be World’s Winningest Olive Oil.’

We need truth and clar­ity in the olive oil cat­e­gory, not con­fu­sion. World’s Best Olive Oil” mis­leads peo­ple into think­ing you can deter­mine for every­one that one producer’s excep­tional olive oil is bet­ter than another producer’s excel­lent olive oil.

I will accept an expert’s view that an olive oil is great. I will not accept a dec­la­ra­tion that it is the best.

In New York, we call every oil that wins an award among the best in the world.”

One of the world’s best,” okay.

The world’s best?” In my book, that’s just more mis­in­for­ma­tion.


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