SUMMARY OF THE DEC. 11, 2010 PAUL VOSSEN REPORT ON The Research & Development Project To Introduce the Lebanese Olive Varieties in the USA, and To Open the US Market to the Lebanese Olive Oil Quality Manufacturers
There is a close parallel between high quality olive oil production and marketing in California with premium wine production and marketing. Both are condiment products with various levels of quality and complex relationships with other foods and traditions. One of the main differences is that the premium sector of the olive oil industry is just getting started and the premium portion of the wine industry has been advancing for about a half century. In 2010-11 California will produce about 4 million liters of extra virgin olive oil, which represents only about 2% of USA’s consumptive demand. Much of it is of a very high quality and some is being sold as “super-premium” olive oil. These oils are being made with specific single varietals, or blends of varieties, as different styles (delicate, medium, or robust), and for various uses as condiments to enhance the flavors of many food types. It is anticipated that as production increases consumers, chefs, and marketers will learn about and accept the premium sector of the olive oil industry and pay premium prices for superior brands, much like they do now for premium California wines.
Lebanon has an historic olive oil industry that goes back thousands of years and with it the cultivation and production of some very interesting varieties. Many believe that this part of the Middle-East is where today’s cultivated olive species originated. Lebanon also has an ancient wine production industry that has recently (within the last 15 years) begun to produce some super premium wines that are gaining recognition around the world. Most of Lebanon’s oils are consumed within Lebanon and very little is currently being exported to Europe and the USA, so very little is known about it. The Lebanese olive oil industry has the same potential to produce very high quality olive oils from unique local varieties and gain world renowned status for a superior product, just like their wine industry. As international recognition is gained for Lebanese oils, there will also likely develop an interest in growing Lebanese varieties all over the world. The production, processing, and promotion of premium Lebanese olive oils and varieties will help sustain the Lebanese small-scale olive oil producers and maintain the agricultural diversity of the region.
The two primary objectives of this project are to:
- To open the US market to Lebanese olive oil quality manufacturers through the introduction of olive oil production technologies from California, thus producing award winning oils in international competitions from specific Lebanese varieties.
- Introduce Lebanese olive varieties into the USA to be made into premium quality oils.
Project Assessment in November of 2010:
The following was witnessed during a Nov. 9-13 visit to Lebanon:
Summary from report:
- Visiting the “mother” olive trees in Kfour and Douma for visual ID and source wood for cuttings;
- Observing, learning & understanding the 2 distinct olive varieties: Baladi & Ayrouni;
- Understanding the on-situ soil, topography, water & other factors affecting the trees, the olives and the olive oil production;
- Witnessing the harvesting, pressing & processing of the olives;
- Visiting Rania El Nabbout (LARI – Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute) & discussing the olive varieties in Lebanon, past research work and the current project;
- Visiting with Charbel Hobeika (OGP’s agricultural consultant in Lebanon) and witnessing the selection and taking of the cuttings;
- Visiting Charbel’s nursery; observing 3 week old cuttings starting to callus and grow new shoots;
- Visited the Fares operation and having a creative discussion of the findings & suggestions for improvements;
- Talking with the media & being part of a US-Lebanese brunch with USAid staff, the former US Ambassador, arcenciel staff, and several growers, processors, and nurserymen;
- Meeting at arcenciel to assess the visit & reviewing the next steps, outlining the mission and establishing protocols to accomplish tasks; reviewed data logs, mapping & tagging of trees, video data, protocol for cuttings and traceability, and the protocol for producing high quality EVOO;
- The last day was about visiting: The small & impressive Chateau Bellevue vineyard in Bhamdoun; the beautiful Jesuits’ Domain in Taanayel and its management by arcenciel using technologically advanced production practices; arcenciel’s “socially productive” facility nearby in Taanayel and its adobe recreation of an authentic Lebanese village; the Chateau Ksara and their above ground caves. It was comparable to many of the top wineries anywhere in the world.
Summary from report:
- Selection, Labeling, Characterizing, and Identifying of Lebanese Varieties in the Field
- Rooting of Cuttings
- Shipping Cuttings to the USA and USA quarantine
- Introducing Lebanese cultivar trees for sale in the USA (added)
Through an agreement with Olive Grove Partners, Novavine will start offering Lebanese tree varieties for sale in the USA in April 2013.
Establishing a Grove of Lebanese Varietal Olive Trees in the USA
- Producing High Quality Olive Oil in Lebanon
- Testing, Storing, and Shipping Lebanese Oils to the USA
- Creating Blends with Lebanese and California Olive Oils
We intend to solicit the aid of expert tasters and blenders in California to create 2-3 interesting blends of California varietal oils with Lebanese varietal oils.
These blends will be made to add more complexity and balance to single varietal oils
These oils will be entered into judging competitions
- Helping Lebanese Producers Make Better Oils and Gain Recognition
We will encourage them and assist them in entering their branded oils into specific international competition: LA Fair, etc.
- Winning Competitions with Oils made from Baladi and Ayrouni “Mother” Trees
Summary of Accomplishments to date
Introducing Lebanese Olive Varieties into the USA: To date, 55 olive trees in Douma and Kfour have been selected and properly identified; 40 of those trees are under study by morphological characteristics that will be completed in September 2011 and by DNA testing, which will be completed in the spring of 2011. Oil has been made from those specific blocks of trees taking care not to mix varieties and to make the oil in a manner that extracts the essence of the flavor of each variety; a complete profile of this oil is currently being evaluated; the results should be available in January 2011. About 10,000 cuttings from the selected 40 mother trees are being clonally propagated in Lebanon for shipment to California in the spring of 2011. It is important to note that this is the first time a tree from Lebanon has entered the USA under the current and strict USDA laws & regulations.
Opening US Markets to Lebanese Oils: Several manufacturers and growers have listened to the recommendations of the US experts; some, like Mr. Maurice Andary of Kfour have agreed to follow specific protocols to produce excellent quality olive oils. Arcenciel has agreed to provide the quality control and Olive Grove Partners has decided to only buy olive oil that has arcenciel’s quality seal of approval. We all look forward to the continued collaboration and common agreement to achieve our mission and objectives.
It will not be long before the recognition of high quality olive oils in Lebanon equals the recognition received for its fabulous wines, which is a close parallel to what is now occurring in the California wine and olive oil industries. In collaboration with the best in the business in Lebanon and the USA, our aim is to establish credible & objective reports, provide professional & accurate R&D, help manufacture excellent products and win gold medals. Olive Grove Partners’ desire is to work with active professionals in the California olive oil and wine industries and to follow in the footsteps of those industries to achieve similar success.