By Lisa Radinovsky
The top winner at the fourth annual Cretan Olive Oil Competition, Eftychis Androulakis, is very proud to have won two of the just six awards given out at this competition involving 100 Cretan olive oils. Yet this conscientious and innovative olive oil producer allowed himself only brief moments of happiness after learning that he had won both a Gold Elaia award for his organic Pamako Monovarietal extra virgin olive oil, and a Silver for his Pamako Mountain Blend. Then he began to worry about how “to make next year’s olive oil even better. I have to start now; I have to find new ways to do things.”
Quality is no simple matter for Androulakis, who conducted more than 120 experiments with his olive oil this year – experiments with harvesting techniques, milling times and temperatures; with ways of pressing the olives (both with and without their pits); and with the use of the inert gas argon to keep out oxygen which can degrade olive oil.
“All these tiny, tiny details make a difference, in my opinion.” With his “colleague and best friend” Michalis, whom he is grateful to have working with him in the mill, Androulakis was aiming for both the perfect flavor and the optimal health benefits from his high phenolic extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs).
Awards Drive Excellence and International Sales
This focus on quality is a hallmark of the Cretan competition and its participants. Organized by the Agronutritional Cooperation of the Region of Crete and directed by olive oil tasting panel supervisor and international judge Eleftheria Germanaki, this was a regional competition conducted at the Organoleptic Evaluation Laboratory of Rethymno.
Notably, its panel supervisors are both internationally recognized experts: the Italian agronomist, consultant, and olive oil judge Antonio Giuseppe Lauro, and the Greek chemist and organoleptic trainer for the International Olive Council, Effie Christopoulou. In fact, Christopoulou was one of the pioneers of the organoleptic method (using taste to determine quality) back in 1982.
Bringing greetings from Calabria, Italy, Lauro said he found most of the competing olive oil samples “fantastic” this year, indicating their producers’ success in combating the olive fly in Crete. Favorably comparing the judging and organization of the Cretan competition to competitions abroad (as Swiss judge Philipp Notter also did), Lauro suggested that “many, many samples should go to international competitions to promote Crete, and to promote Greek olive oil.”
George Andreadakis, who accepted the Silver Elaia in the organic category for the Critida Organic 0.2 EVOO from Bio Cretan Olive Oil Ltd, noted that awards help Greek olive oil producers penetrate the global market, improving their reception by importers and distributors. “If we have quality, we can be competitive with the big companies from Italy and Spain.” With 17 awards in the last two years and constant efforts to improve the quality recognized by those awards, the brand Critida has increased its exports by 20% year-on-year and now reach more than 25 countries. “Step by step, you can succeed with the result you desire.”
Manos Asmargianakis found that true when he won an honorable mention for Physis of Crete 0.2 and a Gold Elaia award for his one-month-old brand Korona Premium, the culmination of four years of efforts to achieve excellence. In addition to using a clean, modern mill and pressing the olives immediately after harvesting at cool temperatures, the Koroneiki olives for their Korona EVOO benefitted from carefully planned irrigation and pruning, the use of only manure as fertilizer, and an early harvest at the beginning of November.
Pushing the Boundaries
The Bronze Elaia for conventional EVOOs went to Terra Creta’s 42 Premium Blend, which is also produced with great care, but is uniquely composed of oils extracted from an astonishing 42 different types of olives. As Emmanouil Karpadakis explained, these olives came from three experimental olive groves belonging to the Institute of Olive Trees, Subtropical Plants and Viticulture in the Hania area. Starting last year, Terra Creta began working on these groves with scientific support from the institute, blending the oils for their sold-out limited edition.
Another striking product, the Honest Olive Oil Group’s especially healthy, high phenolic Phenoil, captured the Bronze Elaia for Organic EVOOs. Acclaimed for its flavor and aroma, Phenoil is also particularly rich in the natural phenolic compounds that recent scientific research has associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, cardioprotective and neuroprotective properties.
Mocci Biver believes “Phenoil is a game changer, as it totally questions the status quo of today’s olive oils.” He added that his company’s “real satisfaction is in making something contemporary. That’s our passion.”
Competition coordinator Eleftheria Germanaki said that this year’s Cretan Olive Oil Competition was “a success for Crete, for olive oil, for producers, and for quality.” Germanaki was especially pleased that Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Food Vassilis Kokalis recognized the importance of the competition by attending the March 18 awards ceremony celebrating branded, high quality olive oil. The deputy minister told the audience he was pleased to see all the island’s players “working together for a common goal, the promotion and visibility of our national treasure, olive oil.”
The complete list of winners and honorable mentions is available on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website.