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In Italy, olive oils now have their sommelier too

by Giorgio dell'Orefice

The quality of olive oil is certainly a feature, but it can also become a true profession. Those skills, simply handed down from father to son, have been turned into a real profession by the Association of Olive Oil Tasters (ONAOO). The organization was founded in Imperia in 1983 and after 30 years of honorable service (with more than 300,000 students trained) it has become a point of reference in the sector.

Over the years the association has provided an important contribution to the codification of the olive oil descriptive characteristics, and above all to the continuous action to spread a culture of quality olive oil.

Oil tasters are professionals who are somewhere in between those who in the wine world are the enologist (or a technician who supervises the production) and the sommelier (or a figure that accompanies consumers).

“At least, this is the path we intend to follow. After supporting the production chain and in particular the oil-millers, in the near future we would like to work more closely with the catering sector and the final consumers, explaining the different characteristics of the extra virgin olive oils and their different combinations,” said the ONAOO President Lucio Carli.

They place big bets on the quality card but, paradoxically, the tasters can find a new boost to growth in such a terrible year for olive oil as the current one.

“Of course a campaign like that of 2014-15 can promote figures able to recognize quality products around the world,” said Carli. “But in my opinion, the annus horribilis of olive oil has to make the production chain more aware and push it to set up measures to strengthen the Italian production. We would be glad to work only on the oil made in Italy, but at the moment, in front of a demand of 1.1 million tons (700,000 for the domestic market and 400,000 for the exports), Italy produces just 300,000 tons.”

And the fact that the perception of the market on oil tasters is changing is shown by the ever increasing presence of foreigners and representatives of large retail chains at the ONAOO classes.

“Foreigners are the product of a culture of oil which is spreading and rooting in a growing number of countries: from California to Argentina, from Australia to China,” said Carli. “The interest of buyers from large retail chains, instead, is very important to us because it gives us hope that in the future also they may aim at promoting the quality of oils, away from the competition by promotions and solely based on the price factor, which today is crushing a product like olive oil that is a symbol of the Mediterranean culture.”