The significant challenges facing the olive oil industry in Greece and other parts of the world were more than apparent at the last Athena International Olive Oil Competition (ATHIOOC) – which took place in the Peloponnesian town of Nafplio last month – resulting in a 17 percent reduction in the number of distinctions awarded from last year, even though the number of contestants was more or less the same.
As regards Greece in particular, the drop in the number of prizes won by local entries came to a sizable 40 percent, despite the higher number of participants, with Greek contestants walking away with 27 Bronze medals, 32 Silver, five Gold and one Double Gold.
The prize for best olive oil in the competition went to Conde de Mirasol from Cordoba in Spain’s Andalusia region, made from the Hojiblanca variety, while the best Greek olive oil prize went to One & Olive from the southwestern Peloponnesian region of Messinia. It was also the only local brand to take the Double Gold (for those that receive a score of 95.0-100 points).
Made using the Koroneiki variety, this olive oil’s success lies in the way it is processed at the company’s facility in the village of Manesi, according to owner Dimitris Anagnostopoulos.
“If you cut into an apple and leave it sitting on the table for half an hour, it will start to go brown and lose its nutrients as the oxidation process gets under way. The same is the case with olives and their oil. At our mill, the olive is cracked, turned into paste and ground for just 30 second in a process that doesn’t take more than 14 minutes in total,” he says, explaining that this method ensures the oil retains all of its nutrients and flavor.
In recent years the producer has sought the help of experts to implement new methods of cultivation, as well as production. “A lack of training is a very big problem in our parts,” says Anagnostopoulos, referring to what is one of Greece’s most famous famous olive oil producing regions. “But every expert you ask has a different opinion, so you end up getting confused. This is why I believe it is important for us to form small groups of producers to work together.”
Anagnostopoulos is excited about the award, and hopes to be able to reap some financial benefits from it as well. “Consumers will obviously prefer a product that has been awarded over one that hasn’t,” he says.
Olvio, an olive oil produced on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, is proof of the potential benefits of awards, as distinctions have played an instrumental role in the brand’s expansion over the last 15 years, and it is now exported to 12 countries.
“Our olive oil has received 45 awards since 2009,” says Michalis Tzortzis, the company’s owner, who cultivates olive trees in the area of Komi, eastern Lesvos. Made mostly with the Adramytini variety, Olvio also took the Bronze at this year’s ATHIOOC.
The olive grove was family-owned, but Tzortzis started Olvio in 2005 after growing disappointed with his career in engineering technology. Even then, before the crisis, conditions in the Greek market prompted him to focus on exports.
“We were being paid with post-dated checks that weren’t payable for up to a year,” he says of the firm’s early domestic clients. “We had made a significant investment and were a very small company, so we just didn’t have the luxury to wait that long.”
The bulk of the firm’s olive oil today goes to Central Europe and while Tzortzis is aware of the benefits of branching out into online sales, the company’s small size makes it difficult to offer a product tailored to many different needs.
“You need labels in different languages and different types of packaging for each country,” he explains, describing some of the changes the company had to make in order to increase exports. “But being at the top and having a steady and successful presence at competitions helps a lot. It makes sellers and consumers trust you.”
The results of the ATHIOOC have been published on the event’s website at www.athenaoliveoil.gr. The judging committee gave out a total of 46 Bronze medals, 71 Silver, 76 Gold and eight Double Golds. Apart from Greece, which represented 51 percent of the products in the competition, another 179 samples were flown in from Argentina, France, Israel, Italy, Croatia, Morocco, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia and Chile.
The awards ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens at an event that will also include a public presentation of all the awarded olive oils (noon-8 p.m.).