The Aurora International Taste Challenge was held in South Africa for the second year running to celebrate and honour universal food quality. There is a serious need for unbiased assessment of food products to highlight the quality of artisan and specialty food producers, as well as that of some mainstream food producers who really excel. This challenge was established to recognise and award food product excellence, while helping consumers purchase award-winning, professionally rated products with confidence.
This was the first-year olive oil and olives were adjudicated at the Challenge, with high-end products from South Africa, Europe, United States, South America and Angola entered.
The judges were meticulous during their evaluation, but when the results were released, it was no surprise that RIO LARGO Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil won the Trophy for best olive oil. This oil is made from Frantoio, Leccino and Coratina varietals.
Double Gold awards also went to the RIO LARGO Black Label and RIO LARGO Chili Olive Oil, and Gold to RIO LARGO Lemon Olive Oil. The awards are a stamp of excellence among consumers and merchants alike. The Aurora International Taste Challenge is judged from a consumer’s point of view, and the product’s taste is valued above all else, with no regard for branding or packaging.
Nick and Brenda Wilkinson bought the RIO LARGO Olive Estate in the Scherpenheuwel Valley in 2010. Nick is a chartered accountant with a reputation for transforming ailing agricultural businesses, and Brenda is a marketing specialist. Their combined experience of more than 20 years working in Central and Southern Africa was put to excellent use to establish this award-winning estate.
Nick explains: “South African olive oils can compete with the best of the best, as evidenced by us winning top awards in international olive oil competitions across the globe. We are a relatively small producer, but we have modern processing equipment and relatively new groves planted to the best modern cultivars. Most olives are handpicked (cleaner than machine harvested) and processed within hours to achieve high quality. Our dry climate, with hot days and cool nights, coupled with modern irrigation systems, makes for an ideal platform for producing high-quality fruit.”
When asked what they intend to do in future to stay up to date quality-wise, Nick replied: “We will keep abreast of trends across the globe, but having won awards consistently since 2010, we do not intend to let our consumers down. The plan is to increase our footprint both locally and internationally, and consistently produce world class premium quality olive oil.”.
We asked Nick where he saw South African olive oil on the global stage, and he replied: “For me personally it is difficult to say, but South Africa has 11 oil producers that are part of the Top 500 Olive Oils of the World in the FLOS OLEI Guide from Italy, which pretty much sums it up”. South Africa’s position globally was self-evident in the stellar results achieved by producers like RIO LARGO, that were competing with olive oils from around the globe.
RIO LARGO can be found in South Africa and in a few countries abroad, including USA, Dubai, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Japan.
The aim of the panellists is to assess the quality of products from the consumer’s point of view, in similar circumstances to those in which a consumer would enjoy the product. According to Spencer Fondaumiere, International Certified Sommelier and panellist: “There is really an importance to have a competition like this to benchmark products against each other.”