It's my birthday! Ok, it's not anymore, but on this day, when it took place, it was my birthday. I was so excited that my birthday coincided with the first day of the conference and that I was able to take part in a really fun workshop for the day. This workshop was all about olive oil, and what better place to learn about olive oil than in Israel.
The day started really early. I am talking soooo early that my hotel had to pack me a breakfast to take with me because they weren't serving their breakfast yet.
Just to give you a little background about this workshop, dietitians weren't the only ones attending. We also had olive oil producers with us. The reason for this is that the Israeli Nutrition Week started just as an International Olive Oil Competition was ending in Jerusalem. Perfect timing, right? So, this was ending just as a conference on the Mediterranean Diet health benefits was starting. Coincidence? I think not! As I said, perfect timing!
It was really neat because we had a mix of dietitians from the US and olive oil producers from around the world, including the man responsible for organizing this olive oil competition. From what I gathered from talking with the organizer and a judge, there were 408 samples of olive oil that were judged. Places like Spain and Italy were top contenders.
The first stop on our tour was an organic olive oil maker using ancient olive trees (by ancient I mean trees that are around 2000 years old) and an old stone for original grinding methods, before using more modern techniques to finish the process. Here are some pictures I took around their facility.
They made us some cake using olive oil. It was nice and moist.
Here is an stove that is used to show children traditional methods of making bread.
What was unique here was that the owner, her husband, and her 6 kids decided to start this business and wanted it to be green. They were very eco-conscience when building this house and did not go to far for any materials. The inside of the walls are made from straw bound together. Then there is clay, egg whites and olive oil to seal the walls.
Here is the old stone they use to crush the olives.
You can tell that everyone is hanging on the owners every word. She had a wonderful story to tell and was so passionate about her craft. If you are a dietitian and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you may recognize the person sitting to my right (I guess that is the left of the picture). Any guesses?
Here she is showing us the largest size olive they grow in Israel.
This is the smallest size.
At her place they pick all olives by hand and make top quality oil. This is when we started to learn about the process and what makes a high quality oil, and what makes up what most of the world receives. She told us most the of the stuff we get from Spain or Italy is actually the poor quality. They make good quality oil there, but that is what they keep and use for themselves. We were told some of the reasons why it is poor quality is because they let the olives fall to the ground and they sit there for a bit getting old and rotten. They really need to be picked from the tree to be fresh and the best to use for making olive oil.
You can bet we bought some of the olive oil here. The owner mentioned they do this because they enjoy it, but they do not make a profit from it because it is such a small scale family business.
She was also kind enough to serve us some labneh, which is a Middle Eastern yogurt like cheese dip.
Not to mention we got to try some olives.
Here I am in front of the building that they use to make their olive oil. This is so you can see the whole house which was made from eco- friendly materials.
Next stop...Nazareth! I can honestly say I have never been to Nazareth. Usually I am with Jewish groups, so Nazareth is never on the agenda.
Here we visited a modern day olive oil press. This is used by many olive growers. So what happens is that they pick their olives, but then they may not have their own press, so they bring it here to make their own olive oil. Many people have olive trees, and olive oil is a staple of their diet. They can make enough to last them all year and some may make it to sell as well. We were told they are one of the top presses because they take care to clear the machine between each grower and ensure purity among people's olive oil.
Before showing us the machines and explaining the process a little to us, they served us sweets.
Here you can see one of the machines and someone giving us an explanation.
These men gave us a good bit of information about the quality of olive oil and how some products are not what we think. Maybe they are old and spoiled, or they are faked (as we learned later, which means they are not good quality and then have a little olive oil added in and it gives it the appearance of a more quality product). I wish I could remember all the details, but it was a long day and a lot of information. Basically, read the labels carefully to make sure you are spending money on what you really think you are spending your money on. It is a top dollar business and there are some scandalous practices apparently with olive oil.
Then we got to taste two kinds of olive oil. This was the first. Apparently it is supposed to have some pungency but not really be bitter. This one smelled a little like grass. I can honestly say I had no idea that olive oil tasting was done in a similar fashion to wine tasting. There is a very precise way to go about tasting and some of the people here are trained experts in olive oil.
I liked this one better than the second one. That is why I am still smiling here!
The second one, which is the dark green oil, is made from a different olive and really burned the back of my throat. I think some people liked it better than the first, but I did not.
Following the tasting we headed to this place (not kidding it is named Frank Sinatra) and enjoyed a nice lunch.
Hummus and labneh.
Salad topped with cheese.
Following one more lecture on olive oil, we headed out for a walking tour of Nazareth. Here is the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, which is where it is said that the Virgin Mary announced she was having the son of g-d.
It is very ornate inside.
This is running water, but I am not 100% sure of the significance.
After the church we were taken to a small store, like a market, which had lots and lots of spices and other yummy things.
Did I mention it was my birthday! Well, there was a dinner for the presenters, but I wasn't a presenter, so I was included in the fun anyway for my birthday, which was really nice since all of my friends that were at the conference were invited to this function as well.
Dinner was at 2C, which interestingly I ate at last month when I was in Israel. I love it up here because there is a great view. This is the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea. How beautiful!
For my appetizer I had the endive salad. There were 4 choices, but this was the only one without meat.
For dinner I had macadamia crusted fish with risotto. It was delicious!
Dessert was chocolate cake, and really yummy.
So, Happy Birthday to me! What a great way to spend my birthday. I will say I did miss not being with my husband, but I am happy that I will be with him soon and we can celebrate then.
QUESTIONS: How did you celebrate your last birthday? Have educated are you about olive oil, the quality and the history? Have you ever seen an olive oil press?