November 2010

Twin Sisters Harvest Day Three

by Peggy OKelly on November 27, 2010

Day Three was the most special of all because my parents came along.

Here are my parents talking with Stephen Smith, one of the many family members who own Twin Sisters Ranch.  If it wasn’t for my parents, I wouldn’t have known not only how far back the family goes (SIXTH generation Napa Valley) but also that we grew up with a portion of them.  As they were all comparing notes, the harvest continued.

I was so thankful for the good weather because the orchard was pretty dry.  My dad could take the hike in to see the action up close.

Paul, Bettenelli Vineyard Mgmt, was the perfect host….

Once the truck was loaded, we headed over with the olives to McEvoy Ranch.  It was a good thing my mom was with us because we were detoured in Petaluma because of the Veterans Day Parade.  She was able to navigate through the neighborhoods of Petaluma to get us back to the Point Reyes Highway….not an easy thing to do with a semi truck full of olives counting on you.

We arrived at McEvoy in time to see the continued flow of our oil from the olives brought in the night before.  Today I was having 6 tons of the olives go into the Stone Press rather then the Blade…it was ready and waiting.  So, our olives came right out of the field and went directly into the press while we were there…

A big thank you to all the people who made this a great day…from the Ranch to the Mill…..and of course, to my parents!

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Recession-era Truffle Solution

by admin on November 26, 2010

Good—really good—truffles are one of the great joys of the winter table. Only problem is, they cost a small fortune. Even “truffle shavings” can command nearly $100 per jar. So unless you’re among the lucky few not affected by our ongoing recession, enjoying these funky looking, ultra-fragrant tubers may be a forgotten luxury this year.

But there is an affordable solution. And while we’re not claiming that our imported Italian Truffle Salt from Rome’s Sabatino & Co. will make you swoon quite as dramatically as a whole specimen will, a small sprinkle of this highly aromatic mixture of sea salt and small chunks of black truffle can really perk up a dish, and add at least a hint of near illicit decadence to a meal.

This satisfying cold-weather recipe for mushroom sauce with Truffle Salt can used as pasta sauce, and also served over rice or polenta.

In the meantime, consider sprinkling a dash of Truffle Salt on tonight’s grilled ribeye steak, tomorrow morning’s scrambled eggs, or over popcorn next time you sit down with a favorite movie—say, Big Night or Julie & Julia?

Mushroom Sauce with Truffle Salt
½ pound mixed wild mushrooms (such as pioppini, chanterelle, yellow foot, or hedgehog), cleaned and roughly chopped
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, soaked, dried, and roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
6 canned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup white wine

Soak the dried porcinis in lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. Warm the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions, garlic, and thyme and cook for about five minutes, or until the onions and garlic become translucent. Add the mushrooms and wine and cook for another five minutes. Add the tomatoes, lower the heat, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook your pasta, rice or polenta, fold in the sauce, and finish with a sprinkle of Truffle salt to taste.

— serves 4

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Twin Sisters Harvest Day 2

by Peggy OKelly on November 23, 2010

There was not a lot of space between day one and two so it all seems a bit garbled to me.  I know I rushed to the office first thing to take care of the bare minimums that needed to be done for the other 90% of the business.  As I was working away the phone rang….it was Paul, the orchard manager.  The crews were jamming and it would be an early finish with another truck full today.  Needless to say, I put my papers in the appropriate piles, said my good-byes and ran out the door.

When I arrived at Twin Sisters, I was amazed to see how many macros (1/2 ton bins)  had already been loaded.  I was a bit anxious because it felt like it was going so fast…and I was missing out on the moments.  I jumped out of my car and  quickly headed for the action.  With every step I took into the orchard, I felt more and more calm.  It was as if I was doing a walking meditation though unaware….until I began to look around me at the trees that were now bare.  They looked tired….and a little worn….but you could still see and sense their strength.  Finding the crew was no longer a priority.  Being present was.

When the tree is glowing and full of fruit, you only think of its beauty and the quality of its olives….when it is freshly picked, you see the core…the heart.   The tree is battered and bruised but NOT broken….and given a little rest, it will be right back on top and ready to go again.

After paying my respects and embracing the overwhelming sense of gratitude, I moved on to the task at hand…..olives.

The truck was loaded and we were ready to go by 3pm.  The sun was out and all was going as planned.

Unlike Day 1, we reached McEvoy without issue.

We drove in peacefully and they began to unload the truck.  I walked into the mill to say hello and as I looked up, I saw it….this almost neon green elixir spewing out into a stainless steel bucket.  I began walking toward it as if nothing else existed.  Pepe, the mill operator, was standing by smiling…”your oil”, he said with a grin..”this is your oil”.

I couldn’t stop staring at it….Pepe couldn’t stop grinning.   He handed me a tasting cup…I looked at him….then at Paul….and they both said, “taste it!”…so I did.

Wow…it was softer in the mouth then I had expected…and had a huge peppery finish.  It was so green…so fresh…tasted like the earth…like grass….like alfalfa…buttery….spicey….very true to its core.  All my worry went out the door….Mother Nature had given us her blessing.

I stood and simply stared at the oil on several different occasions that night.  At one point, Paul came up from behind me and quietly said, “All because of a seed”.  It was at then that I collapsed and began to weep uncontrollably….ha…just kidding….but it was a very cool moment….

I eventually disconnected from the oil and began to look around me.  Watching this process will never get old to me…’s so magical.

The olives come are poured from the macro bin into a hopper that separates the leaves and takes them to be washed.

Once washed, the olives head for the blade mill.  The mill is the top container on the machine below.  The olives are chopped up into paste and then dropped into the malaxation process below.  This system has a double malaxation process….you can see the two tanks on the bottom.  Here the pasted is mixed until the oil begins to separate.

Once the paste has passed through the malaxation process, the solid is waste and the liquid is put into a centrifuge.  The liquid consists of the extra virgin olive oil and vegetable water.  You need to separate the two quickly as exposure to vegetable water can cause defects in the olive oil.

Above is the paste begin dumped…..

The leaves from the olives are blown into this bag and used for compost.

This is our tank…where all of the xxxxx of gallons will settle for about a week.  They will then fill our barrels from the top…leaving the bottom sediment for our soaps.

The process will continue all week.  We bring in the olives at night and they press them the next day.  We should have our last oil coming out on Thursday and then will know our total yield…..hmm…..wonder who won this one?!

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Riffing on Organic Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce

by W. Garcia on November 20, 2010

Fight it as much as we might, this year’s tomato season is kaput. To be sure, supermarkets and even local farmers’ markets still have tomatoes to sell, but even the best examples from mid-November pale in aroma and flavor compared to those from the peak of the season.

If you canned your own it’s time to start using them—and popping open a jar will bring back Proustian blasts of a summer barely past. But even if you are a home-canner, there may be times when turning those preserved Early Girls or San Marzanos into a sauce is simply more than we can deal with after a long day.

I’ve already written about the joys of a well-stocked larder, and St. Helena Olive Oil Company’s Organic Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce is another great item to add to your arsenal of options. The addition of garlic, chiles, and spices give it an extra nice kick.

For the ultimate in simplicity and time management, you may simply fold it into cooked pasta, grate some Parmesan over the top, and plop in front of a favorite movie with a nice glass of red wine—a young Barbera, say? Although the following recipes require a bit, but not too much more time, the rewards are well worth it.

Clams, bacon & rapini
This simple one-pot dish offers layers of flavors and textures, and can be made in about the same time it takes to boil a pot of pasta water.

1.5 lbs. Manila clams
4 strips bacon
1 cup packed, rapini, chopped
1/2 cup (or more to suit your taste) ORGANIC SPICY HEIRLOOM PASTA SAUCE
1/4 cup water or chicken broth


Immerse the clams in a bowl of cold water, drain and repeat a few times to rid of any residual sand. Coat the bottom of a pot with the olive oil, cut the bacon into ribbons, and cook over medium heat until just brown. Remove the bacon and let rest on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Place the Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce in the pot and stir into the oil, cook for a few minutes over medium heat, then fold in the clams, the rapini, and the water or stock, raise the heat to high, and cover. Cook until all the clams have opened, discarding any that remain tight lipped. Gently toss the mixture together, and spoon into bowls, being sure to get plenty of the spicy broth. Drizzle with a swirl of the oil and a twist of fleur se sel.

— serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

Roasted Winter Squash
This lovely vegetable dish accented with a kick of spicy sauce and Parmesan makes a
perfect accompaniment to pork and poultry.

1 Squash (butternut or another heirloom variety, about 1 to 1.5lbs
1 small yellow or red onion, chopped
1/2 cup (or more to suit your taste) ORGANIC SPICY HEIRLOOM PASTA SAUCE
2 tablespoons plus a drizzle of Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive OIl

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 325°
Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Slice the squash into wedges, leaving on the skin. Place the squash skin-side down on a roasting sheet. Drizzle with the oil and salt and roast until soft enough to pierce with a fork—about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the squash. About ten minutes before the squash has finished roasting, warm the sauce over low-to-medium heat. Remove the sheet from the oven, spoon the sauce over the squash, and dust with Parmesan. Return to oven, and continue roasting for approximately 10 minutes more, until it all melds together. Remove from the oven, plate, and drizzle over a bit more olive oil and Parmesan.

— serves 4 to 6 as a side dish depending on the size of the squash

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Talking Turkey

by W. Garcia on November 14, 2010

With Thanksgiving practically here, and Christmas on the horizon, the season for turkey is about to rev into high gear. And we strongly recommend sourcing a fresh heritage breed over the typical supermarket variety.

The difference is not insignificant.

For the past 8 years or so I’ve been purchasing heritage breeds, or what I like to call “real turkeys.” This year, for example, my bird is coming from BN Ranch, a relatively new venture from Bill Nyman (formerly of Nyman Ranch) and his wife Nicolette. Bill and Nicolette personally drove to Kentucky to pick up their poults, which were bred naturally, not via artificial insemination. The next generation is birthed the old-fashioned way, from the eggs produced by the initial flock. The birds are raised at Nymans’ Bolinas, CA ranch, and are housed in spacious pens with indoor and outdoor access that provides ample room for exercise. Moreover, these birds are humanely raised on an all-vegetarian diet, with no beak cutting or wing clipping—they even fly.

The flavor difference is staggering. Turkeys like these are not only far tastier than the mass-produced variety—delivering authentic turkey flavor—but they are also more interesting of texture. The skin crisps properly, the breast meat is meaty and moist, and the drumsticks, ah, the drumsticks! My favorite part of the bird—especially from heritage birds that get to exercise those leg muscles—are rich, dark, slightly gamey, and very satisfying.

To Brine or Not to Brine
I think the case for heritage turkey speaks for itself. Things get somewhat trickier, however, when it comes to the question of whether or not to brine the bird. A good many prominent chefs, Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters among them, are strong advocates of brining. And there’s no doubt that brining meat in a salted water solution for a few days, before air-drying for another day or two, does result in moister meat. For a few years I cooked my birds this way, too, and with good results. But I was never quite convinced by the outcome, which always struck me as nice and moist, but also somewhat watery. For the last few years I’ve instead pre-salted the bird, and cooked them much as I do with the chicken recipe given in a previous post. For my taste, and even my mother’s, this, plus cooking at higher than normal temperatures, results in a more satisfying balance of crispy skin, and moist, evenly cooked meat. (To get a scientific take on the question of brining, and his argument against the practice, check out Harold McGee’s “Curious Cook” column from last year’s New York Times.

Now for the Turkey
For this recipe, rather than just salting the bird we’re going to employ St. Helena Olive Oil Co.’s Organic Poultry Rub, which in addition to sea salt, will further enhance the flavor of your turkey with garlic; herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme; a dash of cane sugar; and spices, including chili and black pepper, cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and coriander.

1 Heritage turkey (weight will vary, but estimate 1 to 1.5 lbs. weight for each guest)
SHOliveOilCo ORGANIC POULTRY RUB (a healthy handful)
6 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 pats unsalted butter

48 hours before roasting, take a nice fistful of Organic Poultry Rub and do just that—rub it into the skin as well as the cavity of the turkey. Don’t go too crazy, but don’t be too shy either. Place the bird (either uncovered or loosely wrapped in plastic) on a pan in your fridge. (This is definitely a challenge for larger birds, with which you may need to clear off an entire shelf just to fit the thing in there.)

Remove the bird from the fridge about an hour before roasting, and preheat the oven to 450°. Place a kitchen towel over the breastbone, and give it a good whack with a rolling pin. Remove the towel, and press down on the breast to flatten a bit (this helps ensure more even cooking of breast and legs). Gently lift the skin from the breastbone (see technique in the previous chicken recipe), and stuff sage and garlic under the skin. Rub the bird all over with the olive oil. Place on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast for approximately 2.5 hours for a 10-pound bird, adding 15 minutes for each additional pound. Please note that most ovens are not accurately calibrated, so these times are suggestions. Use your senses—especially the nose and eyes—to judge when your bird is finished. Let rest for 15-20 minutes, carve, and serve.

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Twin Sisters – Harvest Day One

by Peggy OKelly on November 10, 2010

I hope you kept up yesterday via facebook and twitter but if not, here is a summary of the day.  I’m in a rush to get back at it so I’ll keep it short!

I woke up yesterday to the beautiful rays of the sun…Mother Nature was shining upon us and allowing us to pick!  I threw on my clothes and those familiar boots and off I went.

LONG day, short….the day went great.  We had two crews of 6-7 people.  One was very experienced….the other not.  We had no idea how many tons we would pull for the day…conservatively hoping for 8 …. we pulled a full trailer…24 macro bins!  Macro bins are 1/2 ton containers…but it’s a little tricky because your olives will only be 1/2 ton if they are overflowing in the bin….and you don’t want to do that.  To preserve the health of the olives, you need to give them breathing room….so you normally fill the bins to about 2/3rds full.  So, don’t think we pulled 12 tons yesterday…if you’re in the contest… might have to do some math. 🙂

With 2,000 trees, we need a little help from machines.  The guys are using automatic shakers and then following it with stick beating.  Don’t be alarmed…this is a normal practice used in Europe forever.  The shaker is put on a branch and shakes it like crazy….olives fall off onto the tarps…and then other guys come behind beating the branches with a stick…looks a little harsh but the trees are none the worse for the ware.  I’ll post a video of the action next.  The tarps are then picked up and olives are put in the macro bin.  As this is happening, a guy is using a leaf blower to blow out leaves as the olives are barreling in.  It works well….Shari said are olives were very clean!

When a bin is full, it is loaded on the truck.  When the truck is full, we end the day and drive to the mill.  We are pressing at McEvoy Ranch this year as we have found them to be a class act.  Shari, who has been in the business since I started, runs their farming operation..or close to it.  She is a very cool person and very passionate about the Earth…and Olives!

Here some pictures that tell the story.  You may find clues but there are still a few days to go on this property.  We will take 12 macros again today…..6 tomorrow (tell you why later)..and the rest on Friday….whatever that may be!  So we anticipate that all Twin Sisters olives will be picked by Friday.

As we are loading the last bins, it begins to rain.  This is somewhat unexpected.  We wait to see if we should cover the olives….the cloud passes and the sky looks okay for the trip…we finish loading and head out….or not…A flat?  Everyone looks and it for a bit and there is some mumbling.  The next thing I know, Paul tells me to jump in the truck….we are not going to worry about it.  Hmm……..ok.   So we head out…and this was not a limousine ride let me tell you.  Any small bump made us bump about 3 times…no wonder they make those seats so springy.  As soon as I got used to the shake, rattle and roll and begin to enjoy the SLOW journey with our olives, the wind shield wipers go on….I look at Paul….it’s raining?!  I know … stupid question …one I really didn’t want to know the answer to.  It was raining…and we didn’t bring a tarp…and water will get in the macros and sit with the olives… not good.  All day we seemed to barely miss these events that could have been ugly..and this was one of them…although it misted the entire drive….it did not hurt the olives…ya!

Our drive was quite eventful…..we hit traffic on 101 as we were going to Petaluma.  By the time we got to the Point Reyes Hwy, it was dark….black actually….and we missed a turn and ended up in a neighborhood…not fun in a huge truck….would it be a semi?  Not sure but it was not one you would drive to your friends house for dinner…but Paul got us out of it and we ventured on.

We got a mile or so in on a DARK winding hwy…narrow lanes….and we started to look for the entrance…and look and look…I even squinted I was trying to look so hard. 🙂  The next thing we knew we were way down on the Hwy and knew we had overshot it.  The bummer….no where to turn around.  We pulled over ever so slightly and stopped the truck…our phones had no service at this point and there was no close place to even ask…and did I tell you how DARK it was?!  I was faced toward Paul (my back to the door) and as we were chatting about our next move, my door flew wide open….with force….and I jumped as far as my seatbelt would let me and let out a huge scream.  I looked down (the advantage of a big truck) on this innocent gentleman who was so apologetic and was simply asking if we needed help.  (I really need to stop watching 48 hours Mystery).  As soon as we all recovered from my scene, the gentleman told us we did pass McEvoy.  He told us that we could turn around in the Firehouse that was a few miles up and then we would have to shoot past McEvoy as we could not take a right into it…and make a U turn at this certain road.  We said we then needed to look for a little white sign so we wouldn’t miss the turn again.  I looked at Paul and he looked at me….we did look for that little sign… really hard….and here we were.  Paul didn’t hesitate…he immediately asked the gentleman if he would be so kind as to lead us in.  Ya I bet he was feeling good about being a model citizen when he heard that!  He looked at his watch….looked at our faces…might have been afraid I’d scream or cry or something…so he agreed….and he lead us up to the Fire Station….and back to the road 2 miles past our destination….and u turned with us to head back up the hill…and then pulled into this tiny drive way and led us in to McEvoy.  When he made the turn in, we knew that there was NO WAY we would have ever found it….wow..he was our Angel that is for sure.  Luckily he was an Angel with a business card so we are going to be sending him a care package very soon!  It was crazy…there was no reason he needed to stop for us…SO very cool.

So we got to the press late….Shari met us there and everyone figured we were lost.  Nice.  It was still very dark and now very cold.  But, we were there!  The olives were unloaded and quickly put under safe cover.  They looked beautiful….so many different colors.  We all went over and looked at all of them as if we were saying good bye.  We then naturally ran our fingers through the olives as you just naturally do and talked about their beauty, ripeness, potential yield et al….  My favorite part of all of this is communing with the fruit like that…paying tribute to what the earth has provided…no words needed….you just run your fingers through….pull out some leaves….and thank the olives….and the earth…and walk away…in anticipation of what is yet to come.

I think this journey with you is special because you too can sense the beauty of what goes into the olive oil that you so enjoy…it will make it that much more special.  Oh..enough gabbing…I’ve got to go!  Here are some pictures of the night.

Not a good picture but that’s our Angel in the truck in front…leading the way!

Off loading truck at McEvoy Ranch, Petaluma….Ya!!!

Olives safe and sound.

Shari communing with the olives….she gave us the thumbs up on cleanliness and overall look and ripeness!

These are their Sevillano olives that they will use the prime the Mill before we go through.

These are our Italian varietals!

Loading for the trip home…we had to borrow some Macro bins for today….

Needless to say, the trip back home was not as eventful.  We drove back to Suisun to drop the truck and then home.  I walked in the door at about 10pm….chilled to the bone and dead tired.  I crashed and before I knew it was hearing the harp sounds from my iphone….it was time to do it all over again!

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GUESS THE YIELD #1 – Twin Sisters Property

November 9, 2010

OUR FIRST PROPERTY FOR THE CONTEST IS TWIN SISTERS, SUISUN VALLEY, CA.  ANTICIPATED HARVEST DATE: TUES. NOV 7. This is the first year that we are in contract with this property.  We have limited information as the only data known is from last year.  Here is everything I know: Property Facts 1. Total number of […]

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Contest – Predict Our Yield and Strike it Rich

November 8, 2010

We have an bountiful harvest this year….and it’s ready to start coming in!  It’s the biggest year in the history of St. Helena Olive Oil Co. We anticipate harvesting up to 30 tons of LOCAL olives….all within 60 miles of our home in Rutherford, CA.   This translates roughly into 1,000 gallons of oil!  Although it’s […]

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Harvest Rain Delay – Twin Sisters Property

November 8, 2010

Everything was set.  The crew was scheduled, equipment washed and the frantoio (olive press) was ready to receive our first 8+ tons of olives from the Twin Sisters Property.  Yes, we were ready to begin our harvest on Monday, November 8….or so we thought. The anticipated light rain storm today was not so light….and now […]

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Lemon Accented Roast Chicken

November 7, 2010

After well more than a decade’s worth of experimenting with every which way of roasting chicken, we’ve hit on a most consistently satisfying method. Need we add that the single most critical element for success is the chicken itself? The horrors of mass-poultry production are well known and need not be repeated here. And yet […]

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