SA Olive Tasting Panel Member, Reni Hildenbrand reports back on her esteemed opportunity to head up the New Zealand 2016 EVOO Awards:
“Firstly, I am very proud to have been the first international panel leader to be appointed to be the head panel leader for the New Zealand olive oil competition. The panel of judges consisted of: two tasters from Australia, one from Lebanon, three from NZ and me as head panel leader. We had 140 extra virgin olive oil entries which were tasted over 4 days. There were another 20 olive oils entered into the infused category. The tasters tasted in cubicles so as not to have any eye contact with other judges and tastings were done blindly. Olives NZ did a superb job in organizing the judging. The judging took place in Auckland at the Jet Park Hotel and the award function took place at the Parliament in Wellington, which is a wonderful setting. From the 140 entries, 28 won Gold medals, 36 Silver medals, 25 Bronze medals and 3 Trophies for being the best in their class.
I was also privileged to be taken on a tour of the olive production regions of the North and South. Olives NZ President, Andrew Taylor, introduced me to all olive and oil producers as we travelled from Auckland to Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Cromwell, Nelson and back to Wellington. In NZ they have to deal with frost, hail, snow and lots of rain. Very few producers have their own press and they share presses in each region. NZ only has three or four big producers. Labour is very expensive therefore as much as possible is done with machines. I visited many olive orchards and all of them were in a good condition – well pruned and with good weed control.
They have well trained olive oil tasters but no certification panel since the tasters are located too widespread to meet on a regular basis. Therefore they use the Australian certification panel. The minimum chemical requirements for certification are an oleic acid value (should be below 0.5, not 0.8 as is the case in SA), peroxide value and the polyphenol content. The NZ EVOO criteria is much stricter than the international requirements. Their certification seal is bright red which is very visible on the supermarket shelf and only certified oils can be entered into their competition. The overall quality of the NZ EVOO is of a high standard and the producers are very proud of their products. NZ is not cheap – there are no EVOOs on the shelves for under 20 NZ Dollars per 500ml (R200).”