It’s not often that a food competition routinely involves coughing. At the fifth annual New York International Olive Oil Competition awards ceremony on April 27, olive oil bottles were neatly arrayed in serpentine rows with accompanying blue tasting glasses. Some bottles looked august, with labels in muted colors, as you might find on wine bottles; others were more playful, such as an “Olive Can” white canteen.
As I meandered through this “olive oil bar,” I managed to taste about a dozen bottles, invariably coughing every time; the only variable was how long it would take before that burning, tingling sensation started in my throat.
Among aficionados, olive oils are sometimes referred to as one-, two-, or three-cough oils. The reaction is simply due to the presence of healthful, antioxidant phenolic compounds, which are a sign of the oil’s freshness.
A panel of 15 expert judges breathed, lived, and tasted olive oil over four days, judging 910 olive oil samples from 27 countries. A total of 463 brands were designated the world’s best—149 more than in 2016.
“There are now more top-quality oils, from more places, than at any other time,” said Curtis Cord, the founder of the competition and publisher of Olive Oil Times, in a press release. “This is the beginning of the sea change we have been waiting for. Our judging panel’s meticulous analysis has exposed a clear upward trend in quality.”
Italy took home the most awards (124), followed by Spain (110). The United States received 71 awards, with producers not just from the usual suspect, California; winning producers also hailed from Texas and Arizona, for example.
For the full list of winners, see BestOliveOils.com, where you can search for oils by brand, country, olive cultivar, or type of award. Bottles of winning brands can be purchased through the competition’s marketplace portal at Shop.BestOliveOils.com