What requirements must an Olive Oil Contest fulfil to be serious?

2015/07/03 - During May, the International Olive Council (IOC) published an open letter to the organizers of olive oil awards lo let them know that they plan to support those contests that met minimum requirements regarding sample representativeness and the skills of judges. Some of the most prestigious Spanish experts and tasters and organizers of several of the most recognized international competitions in the sector offered Mercacei their particular views on the initiative. Now it is the German taster, creator of the World's Best Olives Oils, Heiko Schmidt who offers his opinion on the matter. The first aim of contests should be promoting the consumption of extra virgin olive oil, letting consumers know what are the best juices of each campaign and rewarding that way producers year after year in their strive for perfection and excellence in the development of our beloved olive juice.

Having said this, I want to emphasize the views that have expressed my friends and taster teammates Juan Ramón Izquierdo, Mª Paz Aguilera and Marino Uceda, three of the most experienced people in sensory analysis of EVOO and whom I owe most of my knowledge on the subject.

Any producer, with the necessary knowledge and equipment, is theoretically capable of producing a small batch of 1,000 l. of unparalleled quality. This referes to what my friend Juan Ramón called a "design oil", which is also aimed at achieving the highest possible score on the criteria established in the tasting profile of contests. However, this "design oil" is not what we want, since it does not reflect the rest of the production. The real challenge and accomplishment is to produce the maximum amount of juice of excellent quality, as we get from the 25 leaders of our global ranking. They are all produced in one and five uniform batches of between 50 and 150 thousand kilos with the desired characteristics. So I defend with all my heart the criterion of minimum production of a homogeneous batch of 3,000 l. requested by the IOC.

As for the skills of the tasters, this is key point that I also share with Juan Ramón and Anunciación Carpio in the article published in Mercacei last May 13th: it is going to be very difficult to establish the criteria for accreditation. In my opinion, this aspect is something that should be left to the organizers of each competition, depending on the criteria they want to meet and the seriousness it will provide when compared to those required to tasters in the most strict contents worldwide such Mario Solinas, Expoliva, Terra Oleum, Alimentos de España, Ovibeja or Ercole Olivario.

Indeed, the results of the competitions themselves tell us if the panels were composed exclusively of trained experts (partly or completely) or by amateurs, as is the current case of the largest and most respected competition, from the point of view of the consumer, of my own country (Germany).

Why do the results tell us this? Because if in a good panel in which the panelists are well trained the results must not have many variations, nor should variations occur in between the results of different competitions. Thus, if we compare the results of competitions (always whenpractically the same oils have participated) and we see that are very similar, we know that these contests have had well formed and trained panelists.

Also, as my dear friend Mª Paz Aguilera says, the initiative of the IOC can help producers themselves to identify what contests are worth participating.

And last but not least I want to agree with my dear friend Marino Uceda, pointing the need to eliminate the disparity of opinion between contests. Indeed, this disparity is what has motivated the initiative of the IOC and our world ranking, in which we seek a balance between the criteria and the seriousness of the contests.

Although it is not easy to determine what must be sought in an oil to be worth of a prize, at least we could start with some criteria applied in serious tasting sheets where we value the "fruity" together with "bitterness" and "itching", as well as the balance and harmony between them, along with other positive attributes as the presence of "other fruits", "green leaf / grass", "other sensations" in both the gustatory and olfactory aspect and the "complexity" and "persistence" of a juice. From my point of view, these are the most important criteria in the definition of virtue, along with a couple of aspects of chemical analysis as a maximum free acidity of 0.25°, very low levels of peroxides, K232 and 270, and high levels of polyphenols.

I would also like to complement what several organizers or collaborators of contests have said to this publication. Events must be independent, should not have the intention to make profit but to cover the costs incurred (to be moderate), should not reward all oils that have not had defects so it doesn't dilute the value of the prize, should request that only producers present their oils and not packers, tasters must know the highest possible number of varieties and the organization of the event must ensure that a balanced internationality among participants occurs.

Finally, I want to highlight the criteria which, in my opinion, contests should respect to be among the most serious and reliable in the world:

  1. Purpose of not generating profits with the contest.
  2. Reasonable participation rate to a maximum of € 150 for oil sent.
  3. Not to establish an excessive marketing machine and not to grant too expensive awards.
  4. Allow the participation only of producers not packers.
  5. Limit the participation of a sample by category and group of companies (in the case of a group composed of many entities).
  6. Minimum lots of 1,500 / 3,000 l. (National and international).
  7. Collection of anonymous samples by a notary or an equivalent entity.
  8. Document the sampling, number of deposit and lot size by a notary or an equivalent entity.
  9. Sending samples to a laboratory accredited by the IOC panel.
  10. Panels consisting of at least eight tasters formed and trained by category.
  11. Perform a "proper" tasting, ie, applying the methodology and profile that the IOC applies in its Mario Solinas' Awards.
  12. To grant only a first, second and third prize and also only recognize a maximum of five finalists in each category.

Heiko Schmidt


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«Echtes natives Olivenöl extra macht aus Gutem das Beste. Es bringt die Food Revolution in die Restaurants und in die Küchen zu Hause. Wer einmal echtes EXTRA VERGINE gekostet hat, weiss es fortan zu schätzen. Viel mehr noch: ....er differenziert damit das Gute vom Schlechten. Das ist gut so.»

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