Move over, wine, beer and cheese. There’s another commercial competition coming to the California State Fair.
In a first-ever contest, fair officials announced Friday that they’re hosting a statewide competition to name “the best extra-virgin olive oils in California.”
Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the competition was spurred by the rapid growth of California’s olive oil industry. “We dominate the country in the olive oil industry, so we’re hoping this event will celebrate the best olive oils in California,” said Jennifer Castleberry, state fair spokeswoman.
Similar to the state fair’s wine and craft beer competitions, winners will emerge with gold, silver and bronze medals.
The contest comes amid efforts to promote the state’s local growers and their extra-virgin oils, which are dwarfed by competition from imports shipped from Italy, Spain and other countries.
Last September, the California Department of Food and Agriculture adopted new standards for testing and labeling requirements, which were urged by the California Olive Oil Council. Although the standards apply only to California-grown olive oils, they’re intended to chip away at imports.
The state fair contest’s inaugural run is funded by a $115,000 USDA grant, which is spread over three years, Castleberry said. This year’s allotment, $65,000, is being used to launch the competition and spread public awareness. The goal is to eventually make the contest self-sustaining.
The state fair competition will be strictly limited to commercial producers, not home-crafted olive oils. All competitors must use olives that are grown, pressed and packaged in California.
There will be 15 entry categories, including “delicate, medium and robust” varieties of extra-virgin olive oils and blends. Also included are flavored oils, including citrus, herb and chile-based. The contest entry deadline is April 1.
Judging will be done by blind tastings using the industry’s standard blue glass tasting vessels.
Winners will debut during this summer’s fair, July 10-26, and their olive oils will be available for sampling by fairgoers.