Athens contest celebrates a wide range of Greek olive oils

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By Lisa Radinovsky from Greek Liquid Gold.

At the 2024 edition of the Athena International Olive Oil Competition (IOOC), 107 Greek olive oils won medals and 8 got special awards. Taking place in a different part of Greece each year—this time in Sparta, Laconia–the Athena IOOC is uniquely dedicated to spotlighting olive oils created from a number of Greek olive varieties grown in diverse regions.

This year, 30 judges from 13 countries, two thirds of them from outside Greece and half of them women, evaluated 535 samples from 23 countries. Greek olive oils earned 4 Double Gold medals, 27 Golds, 40 Silvers, and 36 Bronze prizes—which adds up to awards for more than 50% of the Greek olive oils entered, even in this very challenging crop year.

For the first time, an oil from the less-known Tsounati olive variety earned a Double Gold medal (with a score above 95%) at the Athena IOOC and was designated the contest’s Best Greek Olive Oil. This was Krissa extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) by Cretan Heritage in Chania, Crete (which was also honored as the Best Olive Oil from Crete). The Tsounati olive variety is considered the oldest variety in Crete, but it now accounts for less than 10% of Cretan olives.

Cretan Heritage founder Michalis Cheretakis considers these top awards for Krissa EVOO an indication that his company has achieved what he believes to be most important: “quality, honesty, and responsibility.” They also reflect on “our passion and our deepest need to provide our customers high quality products and nutritious olive oil.” Cheretakis explains that Cretan Heritage achieves this by providing “continued support for the producers” who work in the groves, and by paying careful attention to cleaning and production techniques in the mill they own. Although the Cheretakis family has been producing olive oil for more than three decades, they waited until they were ready and able “to provide our customers with the best quality olive oil,” oil fully worthy of its roots and its history, before establishing their own brand. Only then did they create Krissa.

Another big winner this year (as in previous years) was Papadopoulos Olive Oil in Elis, Peloponnese. Honored as the Best Olive Oil from Peloponnese, their Charisma Dios Olympia won a Double Gold medal, while the company’s other Koroneiki-Kolireiki blends and Olympia monovarietal EVOO took home a Gold medal, a Silver, and a Bronze. Konstantinos Papadopoulos reports that “achieving all these awards every year serves as a powerful validation of our passion to produce high quality olive oil, and it definitely inspires us to continue. We trust in a future built on our past with passion and love for the precious liquid of olive oil, respect for the environment and ever-growing research.”

The Best Greek Olive Oil from Koroneiki Olives, Greece’s most common variety, was Gold winner Terra Creta Grand Cru from Melissa-Kikizas in Chania, Crete. Terra Creta Estate Organic EVOO and their Garlic and Basil infused olive oils also took home Gold medals. Emmanouil Karpadakis credits Terra Creta’s team for the company’s success: “People make the difference: people with an open mind, the proper mentality, updated education, and a strong commitment to quality.” He is referring to both “the hard work of the farmers” and “the experienced people in our company who are always on top of the smallest detail with consistency and dedication, from oil extraction to storage, and from quality evaluation to bottling.”

Agrovim also captured multiple awards, including a Double Gold medal for Iliada Basil infused olive oil, and Silver and Bronze medals for two of Iliada’s Koroneiki variety EVOOs from Messenia, Peloponnese. Jenny Gyftea explained that her company is dedicated to supporting farmers in order to provide “the best olive oil our region has to offer.” Moreover, “Agrovim is committed not just to offering high quality premium extra virgin olive oil, but also to creating products that are innovative and that satisfy a wide range of consumer needs and tastes.” Their high standards encompass both their products and packaging that is “not just elegant and easy to use, but also made of ecofriendly and recyclable materials.”

Headquartered in Pella, Macedonia, Pellas Nature too has a strong “commitment to quality and cooperation,” as Ioanna Diamanti revealed. The whole team, “from the farmers to the management and the last employee, have set high standards,” and they stick to them as they create innovative infused olive oils using Koroneiki olives and fresh plants. This year, Pellas Nature Red Hot Pepper Olive Oil captured a Double Gold medal, while their Basil olive oil won a Bronze. Diamanti appreciates the way an international competition “gives us the opportunity to have the quality of our products tested by world class professionals, so we can compare our work to the hard work of other producers from around the globe.”

In business just two years, Brasenikis Olive Oil from Petrousa, Drama won a Gold award and the distinction of Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the region of Macedonia for their Megaron Braseniki EVOO from the Megaritiki olive variety. Born and raised in Germany, Dimosthenis Brasenikis has family roots in Drama, but his experience was in the automotive industry, with no family tradition of olive oil production. So he and his wife Stefanie felt free and prepared to “harness the latest scientific advancements” in their quest “to create olive oil of unparalleled quality.” Brasenikis’s “extensive technical background” enables them to achieve “optimal results” from their state-of-the-art mill machinery, always starting “with the finest olives.”

Eliada Olive Oil, another young company, won a Gold medal and the award for the Best Olive Oil made from Chalkidikis variety olives for Eliada Premium. Based in Romania, as Catalan Adam reported, the Eliada team works in close collaboration with Greek partners in Kavala, Macedonia “to create high-quality extra virgin olive oil, blending traditional techniques with modern expertise in order to obtain gourmet products with highly balanced organoleptic and nutraceutical properties.” To overcome the lack of an olive oil tradition in Romania, Adam invested “time and passion,” taking an olive oil sommelier course with Italian lecturers and then training his team, who now educate their clients at tasting events in Romanian cities.

The Best Greek Organic EVOO was Gold medal winner Olive Poem, a Koroneiki-Mirtolia blend from Laconia, Peloponnese. As Theodoros Koutsotheodoris explained, the main reason for “the high level and most importantly, the stability of Olive Poem over time is that we can control every small detail of the process.” From the organic olive grove to production and bottling, “we follow with great precision the most recent scientific guidelines and our particular vision about our project,” in spite of the high cost of that vision. Koutsotheodoris appreciates the opportunity to learn from professional olive oil judges, “as we are constantly seeking to get even better.” He also greatly values “the feedback we get from our customers.”  

By highlighting the success of both new and established companies, awarding the best in each region and the best from each variety with at least 5 entries, and listing the region and variety of each award-winning olive oil, the only large-scale international olive oil competition based in Greece showcases the broad range of Greek olive oil. In this way, the Athena IOOC shows consumers that even one small country can offer an impressive array of excellent olive oil choices. 

See the competition website for the complete list of winners.

*Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, agrotourism and food tourism suggestions, and olive oil news and information.

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