Olive and Jury
In April, I was honored to participate on the jury for the International Competition of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Ovibeja Awards. This was an extensive process where about 40 tasters from around the world gathered in the perfectly situated hotel, Hotel Vila Galé Clube de Campo, in the outskirts of Beja, Portugal to taste over one hundred international extra virgin olive oils and decide who would be the top in their category. There were four categories: ripe fruity; light green fruity; medium green fruity; and intense green fruity. Prizes included Gold, Silver, Bronze and Honorable Mention. As we tasted we determined factors like intensity, complexity, harmony, pungency, and bitterness. All of our remarks were noted in a computer system that tallied the results.
Here I am as taster. As you can see, there are blue glasses so that we can not be influenced by the color of the oil. Apples and water are provided to help clean our pallets between tastings.
How does one become an olive oil taster? It takes training and practice. I started by taking one week courses offered by different organizations in Andalusia then I moved on to the University of Jaén to become completely dedicated to the art. My university professors would tell you must know and understand the entire process (agricultural practices, pests, harvesting, production, storage, etc) to really be a good taster. After all, you should be able to tell you if there is a defect an d where it originated. However, professional tasters will all tell you the same thing, once you are trained to detect defects, it is tasting, tasting and more tasting that makes you good. I taste every chance I get which is at least once a week not including my morning toast smothered in EVOO.
The tasters on a jury can range from olive oil producers, consultants, heads of or participants in olive oil tasting panels, university professors in the field of olive oil, traders, etc.
A true olive oil taster does not get tired of tasting olive oil. It is a funny thing, even though after tasting over 45 olive oils during two days straight which results in a stomach that extends as if pregnant with an alien baby, a true taster will still put some olive oil on their salad at lunch. I over heard a conversation at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. A man was laughing at the jurors, “It was crazy, they had just tasted 100 olive oils the day before and they just wanted olive oil for their toast”.
A more seasoned olive oil taster gave me her secret on how to battle that strange alien bulge. The key? Take artichoke pills in the morning and at night. Hmm? We will see for the next time.