At the fourth annual New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC), where a panel of 15 renowned judges spent four days tasting and assessing the largest collection of international olive oils ever assembled, 50 American olive oils were named among the World’s Best. On April 14, the results were announced at a press conference in New York attended by 200 producers, journalists and food industry professionals.
Producers from the United States have good reason to be proud. The country placed third overall, after Italy which received 109 awards, and Spain, which took home 78. 121 American producers submitted oils to the competition, a success rate of 41 percent.
Sierra, an olive oil harvested from century-old trees in California’s Sierra foothills by Apollo Olive Oil, has won four gold awards in four years, a truly extraordinary showing. It’s rich and robust yet elegant, based on California’s classic Mission, with Tuscan varieties Frantoio and Leccino.
Steve McCulley, a partner at Apollo, said it “means a lot to be judged as a Gold Award winner by the international panel in New York. It means our oils are equal to Europe’s best oils.” America’s success helps make the case to buyers and consumers that the country is indeed crafting world-class extra-virgin. “Our single focus is on quality rather than quantity,” said McCulley.
Bill Sanders, the man behind First Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was overjoyed at hearing the news that First Fresh received a Gold, its third NYIOOC award. “Consumers are seeking trust with their olive oil. The NYIOOC award equates to trust,” Sanders said. First Fresh is an exclusive blend of Arbequina, Ascolano, Arbosana and Manzanillo olive varieties from trees spanning three centuries in Corning, California by Lucero Olive Oil, which also produced four award winners under its own brand.
Sanders and McCulley agreed that education is paramount to a robust American olive oil industry. “The biggest challenge is educating the customer as to what real extra virgin olive oil really is and why it costs more than supermarket olive oil,” McCulley said. According to Sanders, “the continued glut of cheap, defective olive oil in the U.S. market” is proof that “ongoing education effort with consumers and retailers is vital to our growth and success.”
Frantoio Grove, another four-time winner, was one of two U.S. oils to win a coveted Best in Class Award. Frantoio Grove is redolent of green grass, almond, and pear, with exceptional harmony and complexity. The other Best in Class went to Pacific Sun for its Tuscan Blend, in addition to three Gold Awards for its Eva’s Blend, Organic Blend and Proprietor’s Select.
American producers are creating seriously great olive oils, which for Sanders take on an even greater meaning: “Life is about collecting moments,” he said. “Olive oil brings us all closer together in small ways.”