A hand pouring olive oil from a Kyklopas bottle onto a white plate

In 2019, five Greek olive oil companies won acclaim for their excellent extra virgin olive oils at four highly selective international olive oil competitions in Italy. These honors for Kyklopas, Terra Creta, Pamako, Olympus, and Papadopoulos Olive Oil – Mediterre are notable because the competitions present far fewer awards than most international contests. 

Even a distinction or top ten finish at these competitions is noteworthy, since L'Orciolo d'Oro, Leone D’Oro, and Armonia are unusual in bestowing just one gold, one silver, and (in some cases) one bronze medal (or the equivalent), plus relatively short lists of distinction or finalists, for each category of olive oil they consider. This year, Monocultivar Olive Oil Expo awarded only 39 quality awards, and these went to extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) that earned a score of at least 8.5/10—which would mean a gold award in many popular competitions, and an even higher tribute in other contests, where prizes may be awarded for an EVOO graded 65/100.

Taking home a Gold award, Kyklopas Early Harvest (a Makri olive oil) was the only Greek olive oil to win an award at this year’s Monocultivar Olive Oil Expo, which focuses on and promotes EVOOs made from a single olive variety. As Dr. Gino Celletti informed Greek Liquid Gold, his competition “just evaluates the world's top olive oil. For that they must be PERFECT ONES.” His goal is not to attract large numbers of samples or to run a business, but “to improve olive oil quality around the world.” 

With a “Great Mention” in the International Medium Fruity category, Kyklopas Early Harvest was also the only Greek olive oil to win an award at L'Orciolo d'Oro this year. According to the competition’s website, L’Orciolo d‘Oro was “the first competition established in Italy dedicated to extra virgin olive oils, and the world’s oldest.” Remaining dedicated to professionalism, “transparency and seriousness,” the competition is sponsored by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies in collaboration with other entities.

Valia Kelidou explained to Greek Liquid Gold that Kyklopas entered such demanding competitions “because we are sure about our product,” thanks to their “full control of every single stage of the production process - from cultivating the olive grove and extracting the oil at our own mill to bottling on our premises.” This enables them “to guarantee the consistent quality of our oil.” How did her family business manage this in a difficult harvest year? They “work hard, hard, hard and again hard, working all together as a team, as the great family we are, and with attention to details!”

This extra effort was also honored with Kyklopas Early Harvest’s listing as one of the Selezione Leone, thanks to its score of at least 80/100 during initial screening at the Leone d’Oro competition. Pamako Monovarietal Mountain organic EVOO also achieved the status of Selezione Leone. According to Maria Paola Gabusi, all four of the Greek EVOOs that entered the Leone d’Oro this year were “amazing,” and two of them achieved even higher accolades as finalists--that is, one of the top 7 to 10 in their category, in comparison with 240 samples from 8 countries.  

Gabusi considers finalists like Terra Creta’s Grand Cru EVOO and Olympus Olive Oil the “champagnes” of olive oil. Olympus Olive Oil, a blend of Koroneiki and Megaritiki extra virgin olive oils, was a finalist in the International Blends category. As its name suggests, Olympus Olive Oil is located near Mount Olympus, mythical home of the 12 Greek gods, in central Greece. According to their website, the company’s own certified, “fully equipped laboratory” helps ensure the high quality of their products, which they export around the world.

The other Greek finalist at this year’s Leone D’Oro, in the International Monovarietal category, was Terra Creta’s Grand Cru, a Koroneiki EVOO. Emmanouil Karpadakis considers this “a great recognition in a very high-skilled environment” with “a very high level” of samples. He especially values this kind of competition for its judges’ ability to devote “more attention to each sample, and they are able to reveal the excellent quality in a more detailed and well justified way. Only the best of the best can really reach the final stage.” Karpadakis emphasizes his team’s “strong commitment to our vision to achieve the highest possible quality profile in the EVOO we produce, on a large scale, so more and more consumers will be able to appreciate and enjoy a superior extra virgin olive oil.”

Leone D’Oro is unique in having a government-recognized professional tasting panel taste olive oils from around the world once a week throughout the year, judging samples for the initial screening that can lead to Selezione Leone status from October through April. Gabusi explained that Leone d’Oro is extremely careful and selective “because I really believe in helping the producers and saving biodiversity, and the small, high quality EVOO producers have to be helped to sell at an ETHICAL price. If you produce the ‘champagne’ of EVOO, you can ask the price you want.” Gabusi prefers to reward only the very best EVOOs, then help promote them. And if an olive oil is not yet among the best, “this can be discussed with the producer--I phone them personally--and we can try to understand what has gone wrong and have a better product the next year.”

Gabusi pointed out that two-time Selezione Leone winner Pamako has “a great story” behind it: it is made from very old Tsounati olive trees up in the mountains “where it’s impossible to use machines. They are saving this variety and deserve to be helped in this hard job.” Eftychios Androulakis received additional encouragement from a Grand Mention in the Medium Fruity category for his Pamako Monovarietal, as well as one of just four packaging awards, at the Armonia International Olive Oil Competition.

Androulakis informed Greek Liquid Gold that he entered such difficult competitions because he wanted to see how “all the hard work and experimentation that we do every year from the olive groves to the olive mill to the bottling plant compares to other extremely good producers around the world.” He views Pamako’s distinctions as the best sort of recognition of “our passion and obsession with high organoleptic, high phenolic organic EVOO,” as well as a source of strength as he strives to create an even tastier, healthier organic EVOO each year.

At the Armonia competition, another dedicated team, Papadopoulos Olive Oil – Mediterre, was awarded two Grand Mentions in the Delicate Fruity category for Mediterre Alea Organic and Omphacium EVOO. Konstantinos Papadopoulos believes their success is due to “our devotion. We have passion for what we are doing, and we always try to promote worldwide the superior flavors and aromas of our area, Ancient Olympia,” and of Greece more generally. As Eva Papadopoulou added, they do this with the “utmost respect for the environment and biodiversity,” working with less common olive varieties with great care and expertise to achieve “the highest quality for the consumer” year after year.

At Armonia, 350 samples from 20 countries were evaluated by judges from 13 countries using “formal procedures, anonymous candidature of individual samples, and operative procedures guaranteed by a notary until the prize-giving ceremony,” according to Federica Parroni. Since they believe “less is more!” when it comes to awards, the Armonia organizers prefer “high selectivity.” Parroni reports that they “have noticed a general increase of quality” in Greek olive oils. “We think it is time for Greek olive oil producers to stand out.” Earning much-coveted awards at extremely selective competitions, several have begun to do so, even on Italian stages.

Thanks to Kyklopas and Terra Creta for the photos used with this article.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as anyone else interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are now invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. The only wide-ranging English-language website featuring news and information from the Greek olive oil world, it has reached readers in 190 countries around the globe.

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