Wairarapa Olive Oil makers have dominated the annual NZ Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards this year, winning four of five major awards.
Some 128 oils were judged much like wine or beer; poured into glasses – blue, to prevent bias based on colour – sipped, and scored by six judges during lockdown.
Judging took place remotely due to Covid-19. Judges were sent tiny bottles of each oil, which they warmed on an electric heat pad to 34 degrees Celsius, and then sipped, sucking air through their teeth to enhance the flavour.
Oils were marked down for being fusty, musty, muddy, wine-y, and rancid.
For those used to supermarket-brand cooking oils, the merits of using fresh local alternatives might not be immediately apparent.
But cooking with fresh oil, and those pressed with chilli, garlic, or herbs, could enhance the flavour of any dish.
Olives NZ spokesperson Gayle Sheridan said chilli or garlic oils went well in stir-fry, a herby oil for a casserole, or lemon and orange infused for baking.
The winner of the Best Boutique category was Juno Olive Oil Picual, an intense oil with notes of red capsicum, banana, and meadow hay.
Best in Show went to Olive Black Extra Virgin Olive Oil, an intense blend with green grass, pine, and floral notes.
Reserve Best in Show went to Loopline of Masterton’s Picual, and the Best Flavoured Oil was awarded to nearby Leafyridge Olives’ chilli oil.
Sheridan said the Wairarapa’s climate and soil contributed to its success.
“We have a maritime climate and a different environment from the traditional olive-growing countries, like Spain.
“For us, that means we produce distinctive and complex tasting oils – much like the NZ wine industry and its wines.
Head judge Charlotte Connoley had been involved in the competition since 2001, starting out as an assistant judge. Since then, the industry had “evolved immeasurably”.
Buying NZ-made oil was better for everyone, Connolly said. As well as supporting local businesses, imported products were not required to meet the same stringent standards as locally-made; there was a good chance that Italian olive oil in your pantry was only 10 per cent olive oil.