There are a few reasons we don't reveal the scores our judges attribute to entries in the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, but it boils down to the fact that they shouldn't be interpreted at face value.

Let's admit it. One taster's 84 is another's 86. A judge might assign higher scores earlier in the tasting than later in the morning. Some might lean toward certain sensory characteristics than others do.

They are renowned experts who together form a panel that represents the ultimate means to determine extra virgin olive oil quality. But they are human.

A few years ago, I made the decision to discontinue the Best in Class Award at the NYIOOC – which was bestowed on entries with the highest score in their respective category– due to my conviction that the scores are not sufficiently precise to make that call, and one excellent olive oil shouldn't be declared "better" than another excellent olive oil.

(Some enterprising folks nevertheless felt a need to build a ranking based on how many awards from various competitions a brand garnered in a given year, as if that measured anything but the companies' promotional budgets. But the websites for those rankings get almost no traffic according to metrics tools, revealing that the public doesn't care any more than I do.)

In our contest, scores are used only to determine if an oil earns an award or not – and whether it's a Silver or Gold, and I'm not crazy about that either.

One entry could get a score of 79.8 to earn a Silver, while another gets 80.1 to win Gold. Tasted again a few minutes later, the results might edge the other way around.

Olive oil competitions are imperfect, but they are the most effective way we have at the moment to recognize producers for their heroics and educate the public on matters of quality and value (though plenty of olive oil competitions do neither of those things).

The hidden scores I alone can see don't mean much on their own, but patterns might emerge when we zoom out to nine years of data we've collected in what amounts to the most comprehensive sensory analysis of the world's olive oils.

This post is for pros.

Upgrade your account for full access.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in