A Record Number of Awards for Tunisian Olive Oil

Following a record 38 entries, Tunisian olive oil producers take home 11 awards at the 2018 NYIOOC.

Slim Fendri of Domaine Fendri (Photo: Isabel Putinja for Olive Oil Times)
By Isabel Putinja
May. 7, 2018 08:23 UTC
Slim Fendri of Domaine Fendri (Photo: Isabel Putinja for Olive Oil Times)

Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­ers are cel­e­brat­ing a record win of 11 awards at this year’s NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. This year, 38 entries were received from Tunisia, with seven Gold and four Silver Awards going to Tunisian olive oils.

This is impor­tant for the recog­ni­tion of Tunisian olive oil in the world as a high-qual­ity oil with its own per­son­al­ity.- Slim Fendri, Domaine Fendri

Karim Fitouri was in New York to receive his awards in per­son. After tak­ing home a Gold last year for his brand Olivko, this year he returned to Tunisia with two Gold Awards for his Chetoui Utique and a medium Chetoui from his organic range.

I def­i­nitely felt relieved, that all the hard work paid off and proud that Olivko won once again, but this time two Gold Awards,” he told Olive Oil Times. NYIOOC for sure is the biggest and most pres­ti­gious inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tion. The USA is the biggest importer of extra vir­gin olive oil, so it’s def­i­nitely a very impor­tant award for recog­ni­tion in the American mar­ket and world­wide. I am def­i­nitely mak­ing a change in the Tunisian olive oil indus­try, and this is just a begin­ning.”
See Also:The best olive oils from Tunisia
One of the first-time win­ners at NYIOOC 2018 is a long-time pro­ducer who has col­lected many inter­na­tional awards for his high-qual­ity organic olive oil. Slim Fendri from the coastal city of Sfax in cen­tral Tunisia was the first Tunisian pro­ducer to receive inter­na­tional acco­lades: his Domaine Fendriorganic olive oil has been awarded close to two dozen times from inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. This year he will add a Gold Award from NYIOOC to his grow­ing col­lec­tion.

This is actu­ally the third time I par­tic­i­pated in NYIOOC but the first two times I was unsuc­cess­ful,” he revealed. This may be because I had entered my Chemlali oil which is par­tic­u­larly appre­ci­ated by many con­sumers but not by the judges, it seems. So this time I decided to send in my Chetoui, the other main Tunisian vari­ety from the north of the coun­try which I also pro­duce on my farm. And it won.”

Slim Fendri of Domaine Fendri (Photo: Isabel Putinja)

While the del­i­cate fruity notes of Chemlali appeal to many palates and make the vari­etal ideal for blend­ing, the more lively and pun­gent Chetoui vari­ety is what grabbed the atten­tion of the New York tast­ing panel this time. Among the win­ning Tunisian olive oils at New York, only one Chemalai oil (Youngra by Alcazar Agro) won an award, and a Gold at that.

I’m very happy to be among the win­ners in New York because it’s the only com­pe­ti­tion where my oil had­n’t yet won an award,” Fendri added. And this is recog­ni­tion from a mar­ket that’s very impor­tant for our future. We need recog­ni­tion from the US mar­ket and I hope this will help us find a good dis­trib­u­tor. But for me, the most impor­tant result of New York is see­ing eleven Tunisian oils win awards this year. This is impor­tant for the recog­ni­tion of Tunisian olive oil in the world as a high-qual­ity oil with its own per­son­al­ity.”

It was a really nice sur­prise when I received a call from New York at 1:00 AM inform­ing me about the Silver Award,” said Raouf Ellouze, another Sfax native and first-time win­ner at the com­pe­ti­tion. It con­firmed to me that pas­sion and hard work and con­vic­tion always pay off. This mod­est award has been the con­fir­ma­tion that we can do a lot for Tunisian olive oil if we pre­dict in advance the needs of the con­sumers. Also if we guar­an­tee the trace­abil­ity of the prod­uct and the con­sis­tency of the qual­ity.”

Ellouze’s Domaine Chograne extra vir­gin olive oil is a blend of three vari­etals: the main Tunisian native vari­eties of Chemlali and Chetoui, as well as Koroneiki, a Greek vari­ety that has been intro­duced in Tunisia. Located near Eljem, which was once the site of the ancient Roman city of Thysdrus, Ellouze’s estate has been in the fam­ily for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions and mainly pro­duces the Chemlali vari­etal.

As you know, win­ning at NYIOOC with 1,000 entries isn’t easy,” said Ellouze. Great was my dis­ap­point­ment when I did­n’t find my name on the list of awardees at the Japan Olive com­pe­ti­tion. It was the same oil I had sent to New York. But I’m con­fi­dent for the future. It was sil­ver this year, I’ll apply for the gold in the future. We have a won­der­ful poten­tial in Tunisia, let’s val­orize it.”

Further north in the Zaghouan dis­trict of north­ern Tunisia is Domaine Ben Ammar, a fam­ily-run organic farm of 200 hectares located in the pic­turesque moun­tain­ous region of Jebel Mansour. The Ben Ammar fam­ily pro­duces organic table olives, arti­chokes and sun-dried toma­toes for export as well as olive oil pressed in their own on-site mill. Their organic olive oil brand Ivlia is made of Chetoui olives and has already won a slew of national and inter­na­tional awards.

This was the first time we par­tic­i­pated in the NYIOOC,” said Rawia Ben Ammar, speak­ing on behalf of the fam­ily busi­ness. We’re thrilled by this mag­nif­i­cent news, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing that we received a Gold Award on our first try and this at the largest inter­na­tional olive oil com­pe­ti­tion in the world. This is also good news for busi­ness and we hope to be able to increase inter­na­tional sales and enter new mar­kets.”

Rawia Ben Ammar at the Ben Ammar farm (Photo: Isabel Putinja)

Ben Ammar attrib­utes the far­m’s ter­roir and the fam­i­ly’s adher­ence to qual­ity pro­duc­tion meth­ods to be the recipe to their suc­cess: Our olive farm is sit­u­ated in the moun­tain­ous region of Jebal Mansour and sur­rounded by two rivers,” Ben Ammar shared. We have a spe­cial cli­mate that’s ben­e­fi­cial to our olive trees and ulti­mately our oil as well as the har­vest time and extrac­tion method which also impacts on the oil. But for us, the most impor­tant way to suc­ceed is to love our olive trees.”

Also located in the impor­tant agri­cul­tural region of Zaghouan is AGROMED, an organic olive oil pro­duc­tion and export com­pany run by the Ben Frej fam­ily. Their olive oil brand, Oriviera, is an organic medium blend.

This is the first time we took part in NYIOOC and it was an intense moment when I heard about our award. I was very happy, very touched and very proud.” said Wajdi Ben Frej, pres­i­dent of AGROMED Canada, the Canadian arm of the fam­ily busi­ness. This award is an impor­tant one because it gives us not only recog­ni­tion but also a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. American con­sumers appre­ci­ate Mediterranean food prod­ucts because of their high qual­ity and are also inter­ested in the his­tory of the food prod­ucts they con­sume and their com­po­si­tion.”

Our oils are pro­duced from olives that are care­fully picked by hand from our own nat­ural plan­ta­tions,” he added. We are located in Zaghouan, a region that com­bines high alti­tudes and a unique cli­mate. This allows us to obtain qual­ity olives, essen­tial to the pro­duc­tion of authen­tic olive oil.”

Tunisia’s olive oil sec­tor is not only a man’s world. Among the coun­try’s best olive oil pro­duc­ers are Afet and Selima Ben Hamouda, two sis­ters in their early thir­ties who left their pro­fes­sional careers in mar­ket­ing and law to work their fam­i­ly’s land.

We are the sixth gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers in our fam­ily and are deeply attached to our land and roots,” Selima told Olive Oil Times. Our farm is in Mateur, about 80 km (50 miles) from the cap­i­tal Tunis, a region where mostly cere­als are grown but it’s also very rich in bio­di­ver­sity. Different crops such as wheat, canola, oats and wild­flow­ers give a unique taste to our olive oil.”

Selima and Afet Ben Hamouda of A&S

After leav­ing their respec­tive jobs three years ago, the sis­ters planted nine hectares of Chetoui olive trees and took spe­cial­ized courses in olive pro­duc­tion with experts in Sfax and Australia before found­ing their own com­pany in 2017 and launch­ing their brand A&S. Their com­mit­ment and hard work have paid off: after win­ning national awards, inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion has come their way in 2018. A sil­ver at BIOL and a gold at a London event was fol­lowed by a Gold Award at NYIOOC for their medium Chetoui extra vir­gin olive oil.

It was a moment of real joy and hap­pi­ness when we saw the results and learned we won. It was an unfor­get­table moment for both of us,” shared Selima. Winning a prize at this most pres­ti­gious world­wide com­pe­ti­tion is impor­tant for us because it will bring expo­sure and vis­i­bil­ity to A&S and it’s a recog­ni­tion of the hard work we put into this sea­son. And of course, it increases the pro­file of Tunisian olive oil around the world.”



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