Hunting Quality Foods; The Story of our Olive Oil
by Yves Farges (QFG)

Yves tasting olive oils in the Spanish pavilion

Behind the scenes of Qualifirst Foods there is a story of over fifty years of regular and systematic searching for fine foods around the world.

Sometimes it is one of the big trade shows in Paris, Koln, New York, or Madrid. More than half the time, it is on the farm, at the plantation, or in the factory, seeing production first hand.

This is the Reality of Quality.

Trade shows all over the world:

Qualifirst recently did a video documenting our visit to the SIAL fine food trade show. It clearly illustrates the work we do behind the scenes assuring we offer only the best products to our customers.

The video is a great example of trade shows, with thousands of booths, hundreds of thousands of products, in a wide range of qualities.

Since the 1950’s Qualifirst has been a regular attendee of these huge trade shows. They are serious business with some 25+ km of stands in almost a dozen buildings.

Yes … over 25 km booths to explore, all in the name of Qualifirst’s quest to find better products, innovative products, and the authentic artisan products, in the quality our customers have come to expect.

Marketing or Quality?

I was recently asked at a Round Table Seminar near Barcelona if marketing was more important than quality, and I found this to be a fantastic question.

I like to compare the relationship of marketing to quality in the same way that in a restaurant, you compare the ‘front of the house’ (manager, wait staff, etc) to the ‘kitchen’ (Chef, brigade, etc).

In a restaurant you can produce the greatest food in the world but if your service is unsatisfactory the restaurant suffers greatly. If the service in a restaurant is fantastic and the marketing is strong, a restaurant can survive with mediocre food from the kitchen. This shows the power of marketing. It hides many sins.

Many businesses have this problem. Super marketing that hide cheap, mediocre products.

When a restaurant makes a fundamental commitment to quality, and the kitchen partners with the front of the house, the result is a great, world renowned restaurant like Paul Bocuse in Lyon, and Carre des Feuillants in Paris, to name just two.

At Qualifirst we have made that commitment, making us a truly unique company.

Behind the fantastic products we carry there is a story. A real story. Not marketing hype.

Let’s take for example the olive oils we source. They have been discovered by tasting, then tested.

Wandering in the Spanish Pavilion:

A well known story in Qualifirst is how we discovered our Spanish Olive Oil.

It is my habit to make every third year an ‘olive oil tasting year’ where I aggressively taste and grade olive oils.

Ten years ago, I was at the ANUGA fine food show in Koln Germany. Typically the morning walk across the river to the fair grounds includes fresh air and is a good start to the day. Unfortunately during this visit, it was a downpour, so I was happy to get started inside one of the many buildings of the biggest fine food fair in the world.

I started in the Spanish Pavilion, and as you would expect, the olive oil section was vast, with at least 50 different companies selling all varieties of this delicious gem. Unfortunately, many different qualities as well.

Each had a different package and label, but my job was not to pick the best packaging, but the best olive oil. Determined solely by taste.

At the time Qualifirst was selling an excellent olive oil but it was being changed by the supplier, and I was not satisfied. So, I was on a mission.

I started at one end of the pavilion, and tasted olive oils over and over again. I try to taste without looking at the bottle, and I am generally not noticed by the other people in the stand. I smile, of course, and I am polite, but the objective is the oil.

So there I am, tasting, smelling, noticing the viscosity of different olive oils. So far, so good. I am tasting two major varieties of Olive Oil common to Spain: Picual and Arbequina.

  • Picual I know well. With that back-of-the-throat spiciness and herb-fruit taste, that makes it a favourite world wide.

  • Arbequina, a little softer, but still strong herbaceous, with ripe fruit notes. And that rich olive oil taste, that is all about the hot Spanish basking the olive trees.

I taste. I smell. I take documentation. I give a word of encouragemen,t or polite thank you, to the supplier, and then move on to the next booth.

This can go on for hours. Some oils good, some unique, a few quite hideous.

After I taste the olive oil, I glance at the bottle. Some are very fancy. Others very plain.

In my mind there is nothing sadder than someone telling me they have “the best olive oil in the world”, when after tasting it my first thought is how truly dreadful it is.

Finding the Gem:

Then, in the middle of the regional pavilion, in a small booth with an elegant woman managing the sampling, I taste an olive oil from Jaen, Spain. She is talking to another person, so I taste the Picual Olive Oil. My eyes go wide.

The herb notes of this olive oil reach into thyme and rosemary. The herbaceous flavour is firm and intense The green almond note clear as a bell. It is intense, as a strong, confident oil with pedigree should be.

I am amazed. I take a small piece of bread to clear my palate and I try the Arbequina. Once again I am amazed, but by a different profile. One of fruity intensity with a hint of banana and artichoke. I try both again and this time look at the actual olive oil colour: a deep green oil, dense, with a viscosity that confirms what I am experiencing: this is one of the world’s great olive oils.

I could actually taste the care in cultivation and the Spanish sun pounding on the olive trees.


I am speechless, but when asked by the elegant woman Rosa Vano, what I think of the oil, I am direct and clear:

“This is an amazing oil”

The bottle was plain green, but very clearly the oil was head and shoulders above anything I had tasted that day, or even in the past year.

The Olive Oil is from Castillo de Canena and I am on very firm ground stating that it is the best.

very green olive oil form Castillo de Canena

A year later Qualifirst, started selling Castillo de Canena Olive Oil and the Vano family have become good friends. Warm, friendly people, as dedicated to quality as myself and my team at Qualifirst.

I can safely declare that if you want to improve your general health, switch from your ‘profit-before-people chain store olive oil’ to Castillo de Canena Olive Oil, which is better called Olive Juice.

Olive Oils For Chef & Consumers:

Today we have a variety of high quality olive oils, all rigorously sampled and selected for use by professional chefs and consumers.

It often does not make sense for chain restaurants to buy Castillo de Canena, although the price clearly reflects the quality. Other specific plantations make high quality olive oils that meet our high standards and these restaurant’s needs, and are available for purchase at Qualifirst.

These other Spanish olive oil suppliers, who fully respect Castillo de Canena, know that Qualifirst only carries quality products, and are happy to make the grade. In fact, now that I think of it, I have never heard any Spanish olive oil producer claim that their olive is better than the Olive Juice that the Vano family produces. And for good reason. It is the best.

Year round double blind Tasting:

Every year Qualifirst receives hundreds of samples of olive oil. I do double blind tastings in my office, or at my home, every month. Always ensuring that the quality is not just marketing but reality, so that we can truthfully tell our customers the real story.

blue glasses for olive oil tasting

Here are some of the 24+ blue olive oil tasting glasses I have in both my office and at my home. Notice the blue tint. This ensures that the colour of the olive oil does not influence the tester. Each glass is capped by a concave lid, keeping the aroma inside.

What’s the right color:

Although the colour of olive oil is not technically important, it is of paramount importance to the consumer.

In my professional opinion based on decades of experience:

  • Great olive oils have a deep, natural green colour that only comes from the juice of the olive, that is quickly transported from tree to mill, sheltered from oxidation, pressed for the oil, and then stored with nitrogen to prevent oxidation.

Final Toughts:

It all starts with that commitment to physically travel and search the world for only the best.

It’s about investing the time, to not only see the plantations and factories, but also learn about the processes, cultural influences, authentic methods, and most importantly — the people making the products — guardians of the quality we all deserve.

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