In recent years, sensory analysis has become an increasingly popular tool to appraise a large variety of foods. Doubtlessly the oil sector has contributed extensively to promoting this method, thanks to the work of the International Oil Council. Nowadays sensory analysis finds a variety of applications and has become of crucial importance for grading food, together with other analytical methods. As regards oil, it should be stressed that this type of appraisal is a key element guaranteeing the quality of PDO products. Its importance is such that many specifications relative to designation of origin have been modified so as to meet certain parameters of sensory appraisal.
One of the key elements of sensory analysis is the skill and experience of the head and members of the panel. The law has acknowledged this, and has established in a clear manner what training and educational qualifications are required.
Understandably, the role played by these judges in the sensory analysis of an oil is of the utmost importance, but their experience makes them ideal candidates for committees in charge of judging the entries of olive oil competitions. I too have been of a number of these panel juries, both in Italy and abroad. In my opinion, these contests have contributed to raising the overall standards of oil. Whether local, national or international, they always pave the way to the production of high-quality extra virgin oil.
It is however important to underline that panel members responsible for the sensory analysis of an oil use a different appraisal method from that employed by the members of a jury panel, passing from an analytical assessment to a more hedonistic one. In many respects, oil competitions are similar to beauty pageants.
In order to make it more marketable, the final judgement must contain a more personal touch, an opinion or point of view. It should be noted that all panel members consider it of the utmost importance to express their views clearly and commend the oils coming closest to their idea of perfection.
It is therefore evident that the ranking can vary from jury to jury, because each panel is different.
On the other hand, if an oil is consistently ranked at top levels, it means that a large number of experts appreciate its features, and it can therefore be considered of a superior league. Obviously, the importance of a competition depends on whether it is local, national or international, and the number of its entries. In this respect, attempts at ranking oils by taking into accounts the results of the most important competitions – see HERE and HERE – are certainly worthy of mention.
It is a shame that these rankings do not take into account national competitions and appraisals, because they fail to showcase the smaller producers, who obviously have neither the possibility (see the Mario Solinas contest for large producers only) nor the interest in taking part in the international contests.