California Olive Oil Production
Some California olive companies specialize in producing olive oil and are becoming worthy competitors in the virgin olive oil market. This market is comprised of people who care about nutritious foods and often shop at health-food stores, which is a good thing for California olive companies because now they can take advantage of a new market to compensate for the heavy losses these types of businesses took when affordable imported oils almost ran them out of business in the 1940s.
Depending on when the olives are pressed, West Coast Products is able to produce a diversity of olive oils that will be sold to wholesalers who will either blend the oils or market them as their own product. In New York City, high society cooks enjoy this high quality oil by accessing it from a spigot in Zabar’s delicatessen.
Olive products are labeled in a variety of ways. Some vendors use the year the crop was harvested as a classification tool. Some mention the type of olive oil plant the fruit came from. Others remark about the provided nutrients and the omission of harmful preservatives. They will either use the label cold pressed, virgin, etc. to try to differentiate their oil from other qualities. Currently, there are no laws requiring vendors to identify their olive oils as either unrefined or refined. So, this means a vendor can label their olive oil as virgin or extra virgin and still not have a high quality olive oil. As long as the oil is not refined, the vendor can label it as virgin olive oil. However, most California vendors stand by their products as being high quality and wish those companies marketing lower quality oils would designate their oils as such so that consumers won’t be fooled by fake labeling.
However, even the highest quality California olive oils are still surpassed by their imported counterparts. When compared to the olive oil made in Tuscan, the Mission olive oil is considered bland, and this oil is coming from the best and oldest California crop out there. However, places like Sciabica and West Coast tend to produce an olive oil quality that is very desirable for olive oil fans. However, not all companies are like West Coast who are known for their superb European-style oils. Since California produces five types of olive, the quality of the oils will vary. Mission olives produce the best quality oil. Manzanillo olives may have high oil content when pressed, but the quality of the oil’s taste is diminished. The Ascolano produces high quality oil, but the volume of oil produced per cold pressing is low, which makes it an expensive process unless it is blended with other oils. And to make matters worse, since the companies producing olive oil tend to press the whole fruit—pit and all—the resulting oil has a very obvious woody-type flavor (coming from the pit).
A unique and interesting trend is happening among the members of the Northern California Olive Oil Council. Some members are vying for a return of Spanish olive trees in California. Two revolutionary farmers, Nan McEvoy (whose farm is in Marin County near Petaluma)and Ridgeley Evers (whose farm is in Sonoma County near Healdsburg), are striving to import olive trees from Tuscany, a location known for its high quality olive oil. Each one of these revolutionary farmers has, to a certain degree, enlisted the help of Italian horticulturists and nurserymen. Dr. Maurizio Castelli (refer to The Olive Oil of Tuscany on page 46) is helping the McEvoy team in realizing their Tuscan olives. On the other hand, Evers piloted a very unsuccessful pressing in 1993 and didn’t produce enough olive oil to commercially market it. Nevertheless, both McEvoy and Evers have propositions that will inevitably yield some of the highest quality olive oil California has ever produced and will probably become a worthy competitor with Tuscany.