Extra virgin olive oil. There is nothing quite like it. It has been called liquid gold, or green gold, a title that is well deserved. Historically, it has been used for everything from lighting lamps to moisturizing skin, but the best use of all in my opinion, is in the kitchen! It can transform the simplest of ingredients into something sublime. The taste of EVOO can range from fruity and grassy, to straight up peppery, and a myriad of nuanced flavor profiles in between. As I’ve learned though, not all olive oil is made equal. In fact, not all olive oil is even real olive oil sometimes, thanks to some shady business dealings and misleading consumer marketing. About 60 miles north of Sacramento though, in the small towns of Oroville, Artois, and Corning, you’ll find some good people making the real McCoy. California Olive Ranch produces 60% of the olive oil that is grown in California, and not only are they producing the genuine (delicious) article, they are doing it with integrity and efficiency. When I was asked by the ranch if I’d be interested in visiting their 6,000 acres of beautiful olive orchards during the most exciting time of yearâ€”harvest time!â€”first, I checked to see if they were on Tom’s list (phew, yes, of course they were), and then I clapped my hands and jumped up and down.
The trip started with a special dinner at Ella, featuring a menu centered around EVOO, naturally. It was really interesting to see how different varietals were used in all the dishes, ranging from salmon poached in a mellow, floral EVOO, to chocolate cake made with a fruitier EVOO. Arbequina, and he has spearheaded the ranch’s winning strategy of combining old techniques with new technologies. Northern California is located at 39Â°N latitude, which is the same as that of northern Spain and northern Tuscany, so it shares many of the same harvesting conditions. But, unlike traditional growers, California ranchers have tweaked their methodology to grow a tree that would allow them to harvest it more efficiently, thereby producing a higher quality oil.
"Like almonds, pistachios, and grapes...we have a history of taking a Mediterranean product and applying some Yankee ingenuity.” – Adam Englehardt, VP of Orchard Operations at California Olive RanchThis is coming from a guy who gets constant reports on nutrient and water levels from solar-powered irrigation probes, and can irrigate on demand via iPhone. Let’s start from the beginning though. Way before iPhone farm management, back in 1996, a mechanical harvester was developed, allowing farmers to harvest their olive trees quickly. The harvester is much like the one used for wine grapes. The machine straddles the row of trees and as it moves down the line, it brushes off all the olives and captures it into a holding bin. The catch is, the trees have to be kept small enough so that the machine can sit above them. In order to make use of this new machine, farmers matched the tree to the technology and started to grow them in hedgerows (like wine grapes).
- Koroneiki (spicy)
- Arbequina (fruity)
- Arbosana (nutty)