I have just got back from two olive oil competitions (in Turkey and Greece) and will be going to two more next month (Britain and Japan). There are a number of international olive oil competitions taking place around the world and they are gaining in importance as consumers become more aware of the difficulty for them to distinguish between pure extra virgin olive oils or the many fraudulent oils in the marketplace. Some of the major competions are: Olive Japan, the New York and Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competitions, Athena (Greece), Ariston-London, Mario Solinas, SOL, Ercole Olivario, Evooleum (Lisbon). At these events, internationally recognized judges taste oils in blind tastings using cups, not bread, to decide which are the latest harvest's best oil which are submitted from Producers around the world.
For me they are the most fantastic experience: I get to taste some of the world's best high quality olive oil; I get to be with some of the best olive oil tasters in the world and we spend our time sharing our knowledge.
Along with some delicious extra virgin olive oil, we get a few bad extra virgin olive oil (it is always mysterious why people send these in). This is an important part of the experience for us and, we hope, for the producers. We learn more and more about defects and we send our feedback to the producers in hope that they will learn from their mistakes, as it were.
For those who win the prizes (and clearly this applies to Los Angeles and New York as well) these competitions help them sell their pure extra virgin olive oil. the good competitions (all the ones I participate in) are blind tastings so you can be sure that the oils that get high scores really are excellent.
So how do we actually go about tasting? There are all sorts of different set-ups and plenty of discussion amongst us tasters as to which is the best way to do this. Some competitions favour tasting booths where there is no discussion between the panel members while others have table of tasters generally with 4 or 4 to a table. Personally I prefer this solution as the discussion is really useful for deciding what medal to give an oil (if any!). In 99% of cases we all agree and if there ever is a rare moment of disagreement the oil gets passed to another table.