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More than a decade ago, I quit my desk job as a project manager in Minneapolis, Minnesota and booked a one-way ticket to the Mediterranean with plans to teach and travel. I set my sights on the southernmost Greek island of Crete, rather blindly at the time, having been drawn to its natural beauty and renowned local diet of fresh fish, mountain lamb, wild greens, garden vegetables and of course, olive oil.

Upon arriving in Crete, I was shocked by the copious amount of olive oil the locals used in every dish. It also tasted nothing like the olive oil I was used to consuming back home; this olive oil was fresh, fragrant and delightfully tickled my palate. Intrigued to learn why olive oil didn’t taste anything like this in the United States, I made the Mediterranean my new classroom and set out to learn more about Homer’s liquid gold.

By forming friendships with local olive oil producers and traveling beyond Crete to explore the neighboring production regions of Italy and Spain, I began to learn the ins and outs of the olive oil trade, all the while honing my tasting skills. I traveled as much as possible, regularly visiting international trade shows, as well as visiting the estates of passionate producers who’ve been dedicating their lives to making superior quality olive oils.

In the fall of 2011 my thirst to strengthen my industry knowledge and tasting skills brought me to Liguria, Italy to partake in the intensive week-long International Technical Course for Aspirant Olive Oil Tasters through ONAOO (Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio di Oliva). The course not only fine-tuned my ability to taste positive attributes as well as identify defects in olive oil, but also helped deepen my understanding of the detailed factors that contribute to an olive oil’s quality. I learned how every step of the olive harvest plays a crucial role in an oil’s resulting quality: from the careful pruning of the trees; picking olives at their optimum ripeness; crushing the olives within hours of picking; using the most state-of-the-art machinery; and storing and bottling the oil under optimal conditions.

Gathering my collective knowledge, experience and industry connections, I settled in New York City and began curating products from olive oil growers I knew and trusted and felt were producing the highest-quality extra virgin olive oils. Shortly thereafter I launched Olive Oil Lovers, an ecommerce retail platform where North American consumers could purchase these oils and have them shipped directly to their doorstep.

Today I source extra virgin olive oils from more than ten production regions, work with close to fifty producers and import over 400 products, all of which I personally select. This unique exposure to an incredible range of olive oil varieties, regions and producers constantly exposes my palate to olive oil’s diverse aromas, flavors and attributes.

To this day I firmly believe the only way to change the olive oil industry is from the ground up, by educating the consumer and spreading my passion for the product, because once you taste a fantastic extra virgin olive oil for the first time – as I did more than a decade ago in Crete – you know you’ve experienced something truly special and you can’t go back. You’re hooked.