The 4th annual New York International Olive Oil Competition has just awarded Seattle olive oil company Esplendido Douro a gold award for its Azeite Esplendido. This year’s competition garnered 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries — the largest international collection of olive oils ever assembled – and just one in three entries received any award at all. Esplendido Douro has a 10-year exclusive contract to produce, package and export this organic medium blend of extra virgin olive oil from a single estate in the historic Tras-os-Montes region of the Douro Valley, Portugal.
“On behalf of our teams in Seattle and Portugal, I am honored to receive a gold award in our first year of business, for our debut product, among such highly esteemed, longstanding producers,” said Sheila Fitzgerald, founder and partner of Esplendido Douro, and fourth generation Seattleite. “This award is the perfect jumping off point as we expand distribution throughout the United States. My business partner and I look forward to helping US consumers learn of the health benefits and superior taste that come with premier olive oil.”
While the Azeite Esplendido olive oil may be new to the competition, the Tras-os-Montes region from where it originates has been cultivating olives for more than one than thousand years. The area is situated in one of Portugal’s six Protected Designation of Origin zones, a classification that ensures the highest standards in olive oil selection, harvesting, and processing. The local environment features soil and microclimate ideal for growing olives, and the growers’ heritage expertise ensures that each olive is well tended without pesticides, carefully selected, and picked by hand at the perfect maturity. It is immediately cold-pressed so as to retain its deep fruity flavors and the fresh and spicy aromas (using heat yields more oil and is common practice in mass-produced, entry level olive oils). Combined with state of the art pressing and bottling technology, this region delivers some of the world’s finest, low-acidic, naturally flavorful olive oils.
Despite longstanding local acclaim, it took Fitzgerald four years to bring the olive oil to the US. Fitzgerald met her now business partner, Portugese native Jorge Caeiro, while hiking a coastal trail in Northern Portugal. Along the trail, Fitzgerald and Caeiro were invited by a local olive producer, Henrique Cardoso, for lunch, where Fitzgerald first tasted and experienced this world-class olive oil that later evolved into the award-winning product. She saw an opportunity to showcase the superior olive oil to US-based consumers, whose interest in healthy, natural, and quality food was rapidly growing. Through language barriers, time differences and cultural differences, Fitzgerald eventually won the trust of the producer, who maintains a fierce commitment to quality control. After an extended process gaining FDA approval, the first shipment of Azeite Esplendido arrived to Seattle on February 6, 2016. Caeiro remains in Portugal, managing production and local staff. Fitzgerald oversees business development at operational headquarters in Seattle.
Cardoso’s hesitancy to release his oil was not unfounded. Every time olive oil hits the air, it changes chemistry, so olive oil is bottled and labeled at the Tras-os-Montes facility before shipment. In addition to employing the best practices that the region is known for, his olives are pick-to-press within 12 hours or they are dumped. But there is zero waste – the olive skins are used to make Presto Logs, and the fields are not irrigated, so there is no water waste.
The exquisite golden-green oil of the Azeite Esplendido is exceptionally fragrant with grassy notes, a spicy taste and a pleasantly peppery finish. It is well represented when used in vinaigrettes, as a dip for crusty breads, or a finishing drizzle for grilled foods, bean dishes and crisp-tender vegetables. Whereas olive oil one may purchase from Costco in bulk may reach 30 percent acidity, premier olive oils such as this one are .2 percent acidity or less, affording it greater cancer-fighting properties.
The New York International Olive Oil Competition is organized by Olive Oil Times — an independent publication and the most-read source for olive oil news and information. The 15 judges of the 2016 competition are established olive oil sommeliers from around the globe, including Dr. Fernando Martínez Román, doctor of biological sciences, Carola Dümmer Medina, journalist, consultant and executive director of Panel Cata Chile Association, and Konstantinos Liris, agronomist and professional olive oil taster. Over four days, judges are presented with each entry in a blue glass covered by paper so that they never see the color. They do not know the country of origin or bottle design, and must evaluate purely on taste alone.
Azeite Esplendido olive oil comes in 500ml bottles and retails for $24.95. This award secures the ability for the product to be sold on BestOliveOils.com, and it is now distributed through Milepost 65 from Vancouver BC through San Francisco. It is also available at 20 select specialty shops and grocery stores throughout the Northwest, and online at esplendidodouro.com for $29.00.