Susana Romera: I became aware of the need to educate people on the use of healthy fats

By Maria Lovchina | Photograph: Elena Demina | 06.08.2019

Susana Romera, is the technical director at the Olive Oil School of Spain (ESAO). Professional taster and adept in sensorial analysis of virgin olive oil, she is an extraordinary teacher, passionate about her work and truly committed to promoting awareness about olive oil and its benefits. We had a chance to talk to her about her career and her source of inspiration and we were able to ask her for some advice on olive oil must haves at home.

– What influenced your career choices and led you to olive oil education?

It was my love for olive oil and my concern about human health. I was raised in a family of olive oil producers. Later, as a professional working in the field, I became aware of the need to educate people on the use of healthy fats, as it has an important influence on the safety of the food we eat. Olive oil is the healthiest fat for human body, but it is not used that much. Our work is about striving for a wider access to this healthy fat around the world, creating awareness and helping to see the benefits of producing, sharing and using extra virgin olive oil.

– What are the three things that inspire you most of all in your work?

The joy of giving, promoting health and increasing knowledge – it is a great source of inspiration at work. I also enjoy the international environment of the school, meeting people who come here from all over the world. Besides, I like the fact that our programs help producers increase the quality of their oils and enable them to sell them better. It is very fulfilling to see the impact that we have on our students and their businesses. The rewards of teaching are great when you see positive changes in people’s lives. 

Susana Romera and Marta González – founders of the Olive Oil School of Spain (ESAO)

Who are your students? Are they mostly professionals? What goals are they seeking to achieve through olive oil education?

Our students are mostly professionals, i.e. professional olive oil producers, who want to improve their products and provide excellent quality. Apart from that, this kind of education gives wide opportunities for professional networking. We have various programs ranging from olive oil tasting to milling and management in olive oil business. But, in fact, we have a mix of attendees at our courses, including growers, distributors, retailers, academics, Michelin-starred chefs or even people seeking to become savvy consumers and to learn how to build a healthier household for their family. We have had a group of students from Russia, visiting Spain as tourists. They wanted to learn more about olive oil and local gastronomy. We offered them a sommelier course, which was focused on tasting as well as on food and olive oil pairing basics. It is becoming increasingly trendy to combine travel experience with short-term professional education.

Has it been possible for you to hear back from your students and learn of their further career developments after they’ve finished the course?

Yes, we are in contact with most of our students. We love hearing back from them. A lot of people return to take another course or a senior program. Besides students send us their oils to ask: “How am I progressing?”, “What do you think of it now?”. And it is really pleasant to learn that their products and businesses improve over time. For example, one of our former students, the founder of OliOli company, has made great progress in the past four years. Today, they are producing excellent organic extra virgin olive oil and their business is very sustainable. It is a family enterprise, they are former doctors, and they remain committed to health and quality in what they are doing now.

There are many great stories in fact. Another example… two years ago one of our students was producing lampante (olive oil that is intended for refining or for technical use only). Today he is producing pretty good extra virgin olive oil. And that is a huge step forward. He participated in the Gastronoma Fair in Valencia in 2016 as an exhibiter. We are really happy for him! It is so fulfilling to learn that a student who was producing lampante oil has evolved that much in such a short period of time.

How does your school differ from others? What is the major focus of the programs that you offer?

Our focus is on giving practical skills. We integrate theoretical knowledge into practical experience. We want our students to learn from the lead producers and top-notch experts in the field. We do not give many concepts but we strive to embody them into the overall learning process, so that our students become attuned to them and thus retain information better, remember it well and are able to use it later on. It is not only that of course. Afterwards, you need to apply all the knowledge into practical work. But we try to make very practical courses. Another thing is that our teachers are real practitioners, they have real working experience in the field and real business achievements. For example, a course on olive oil export is taught by a businessman who runs a company selling olive oil to over forty countries. This kind of approach makes the education we offer different from university courses. On the other hand, it may be easier to have a university teacher, because they are used to giving lectures, they are used to strict schedules, they start at ten and finish at twelve. But we prefer to work with people who have real practical experience in the business, although this is sometimes challenging. A class may be supposed to last two hours, but they spend three hours instead. It is not that easy because these people are not used to that.

We were the first to offer the Master Miller course worldwide (with the Masters of Almazara certificate of quality). When we started contacting people to ask them if they would be interested in teaching a course at our school, many of them replied negatively, saying that they are not used to public speaking and that they do not feel comfortable about it. It was difficult to convince them. But we strongly believe that it is very important to learn these skills from real practitioners. And thirdly, our education is focused on quality. Our approach is that at every stage of crafting process, from fruit collecting to bottle, the process should be run and overseen with the maximum care and responsibility. Our goal is that consumer enjoys the freshest and the cleanest extra virgin olive oil.

What plans do you have for the future? Do you consider opening new courses in English?

We do not have border lines or flags. Olive oil culture is part of human heritage and our goal is to promote it across the world. We do plan to grow further and grow internationally. We do consider designing new courses in English, as well as strengthening the courses that we already have.

And one last question, that we just cannot help but ask: what oils do you have in your kitchen at home? What are the must haves for everyday life and why?

At home I have a lot of oils, obviously because I work at olive oil school. But that isn’t something typical for an ordinary household. I’d recommend having at least three extra virgin olive oils in the kitchen. One intense, one light (delicate) and a special olive oil to impress your guests – but these are not for frying or cooking with. You may use virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil from the previous season to fry. The same applies to wines. You want to keep on hand a red wine, a white wine and a special wine to impress your guests.

Olive Oil School of Spain (ESAO) was launched in 2012 by Susana Romera and Marta González. In 2014, the school was awarded the Premio Nacional a la Difusion de la Cultura del Olivo 2014 by the prestigious Associacion Española de Municipios del Olivo in Cordoba, Spain. Since 2015, the school has significantly broadened their range of study options offering new qualifications and courses, and becoming one of the world’s premier institutions for olive oil education.

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