olive oil

“This buzz that is happening is real,” said Mike Bradley, an Oakland-based importer of high quality olive oils from around the world.

Mike was talking about a growing consumer interest in olive oil, and a growing public awareness of the difference between the stale oils that line the supermarket shelves and the fresh, flavorful oils that you can buy directly from a producer or small specialty retailer.

But as appreciation of quality olive oil has grown, so too has concern about the lesser-quality stuff that’s out there — oil made from subpar olives, oil that has been refined, oil that is old and rancid, or oil that is downright fraudulent, and made from something other than olives (nuts? seeds?).

“What we really have is a shortage of quality olive oil, and a glut of junk,” Bradley said.

Bradley spoke at a recent conference at the Napa Valley campus of the Culinary Institute of America, about a mile up the road from our store in downtown St. Helena. The conference attracted some of the top names in the field of olive oil — growers, millers, tasters, writers, chefs — all of whom share an interest in helping people differentiate good olive oil from bad.

So how can you tell the difference? We see many customers at our store who are curious about what makes a quality extra virgin olive oil, and we enjoy sharing our local, organic, small production oils with them. These are oils that, to varying degrees, will exhibit all of the positive characteristics of fresh extra virgins: fruitiness, bitterness and a peppery finish or “pungency” that might make you cough.

While extra virgin olive oils must hew to certain technical standards (low levels of free acidity and guidelines governing how they are made), traditionally they must also pass a taste test showing that they have no defects before they can be called “extra virgin.” Olive oils are one of the few foods in the world (along with balsamic vinegar) whose quality designation depends on how they taste, not just where or how they are made.

“The good stuff is truly luminous,” said Tom Mueller, another speaker at the CIA and author of a book called “Extra Virginity” that has helped to expose fraud within the olive oil industry. “The bad stuff is dumbed-down industrial food of the worst kind.”

Freshness is critical when shopping for extra virgin olive oil. Unlike wine or vinegar, olive oil does not age and even high-quality oils will start to taste stale after several months. Mueller recommends thinking of olive oil as “fresh fruit juice” — if it doesn’t taste fresh, then it’s probably not worth buying.

It is true that top-notch olive oil will be more expensive. As with most artisanal products (from food to clothes to furniture), you are paying for the hard work and talent of the producer, as well as quality. Industrially-made oil is less expensive, sure, but there are no guarantees that corners aren’t being cut.

“Making second-rate olive oil is a lot cheaper… than making world class oil,” Bradley said.

In the end, we support knowing the producers you’re buying from, and being able to ask them questions about their practices. Without transparency, there will never be trust.

“Consumer-producer connection is so so important,” said Alexandra Devarenne, a Sonoma-based olive oil consultant. “You want to know these people.”

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Better Without Butter? We Say Yes!

by admin on January 30, 2013

Our retail staff member, Armando, recently got us all hooked on popcorn drizzled with Jalapeno and Lime Extra Virgin Olive Oil then finished with fleur de sel…so good. Since we all loved that combo so much we decided to try out a few more. Here are our favorites:

1. Seafood Rub with Stone Press Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

2. Walnut Oil with Honey ( We used our Wildflower Honey) and Pink Himalayan Salt. Warm the honey up a little and it will be easier to drizzle over your popcorn.

3. Equal parts Jalapeno and Lime Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Fleur De Sel

4. Twin Sisters Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Truffle Salt.

Just drizzle your oil of choice over the popcorn after it’s popped, and then add your salt/seasoning to taste. You can even put it in a big ziplock, add your ingredients, and shake it up…healthy (and delicious) snack on the go!

We know there are endless combinations that have yet to be explored, so if you have a favorite please share. We’d love to hear about it!

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What’s Cooking in St. Helena

by Marc Golick on June 2, 2012

The new manager of our St. Helena store, Marc, has extensive experience working in restaurant kitchens, and he’s bringing that background to our tasting bar. If you’ve been in the shop recently, you’ve likely seen one of his delicious experiments — sometimes it’s a dressing or marinade made with our olive oils, maybe even a dish of strawberries macerated in honey and our popular aged balsamic vinegar. These are quick, easy recipes that showcase not only our favorite products, but also the best seasonal ingredients.

Last week, our customers were treated to this “salad topper,” a refreshing mix of segmented oranges, our Napa Valley Sparkling Wine Vinegar and orange olive oil, and some fresh herbs.

Perfect tossed with a fresh green salad, a little goat cheese and candied walnuts. It’s also sweet enough to be spooned over lemon sorbet.

Over the weekend, Marc went with this salad, combining the sweet root vegetable jicama with strawberries, our Napa Valley Sparkling Wine Vinegar (you can tell it’s one of our favorites), a little lime olive oil and some fresh mint.

This one is best served with a glass of rosé or Riesling on a warm afternoon. You can dress the salad up a bit by serving it in butter lettuce cups.

For recipes, read on. And be sure to stop by and see us soon in St. Helena for more culinary inspiration.

Sparkling-Orange Salad Topper

Yield: 1 cup

¾  cup orange segments with juice
1 Tbs. Sparkling Wine Vinegar
1 tsp. Citrus Blossom Honey
1 tsp. Orange Olive Oil
2 tsps. fresh organic cilantro, torn into small pieces
2 tsps. fresh organic mint leaves, torn into small pieces
Pinch Organic Grey Sea Salt
Pinch fresh-cracked Black Peppercorns

Cut the bottom and top off of an orange. Slice down the sides following the contour of the orange removing all skin and pith. Holding the orange in one hand slice in between the membranes in a “V” shape over a bowl to remove the orange segment only. Repeat the process until all orange segments are removed then squeeze the remaining juice over the segments. Combine all of the other ingredients with the orange segments and let sit in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes before serving.

Strawberry & Jicama Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

Yield: 1 ½  cup

½ cup organic strawberries
½ cup organic jicama
¼ cup Sparking Wine Vinegar
¼ cup Lime Olive Oil
Pinch Pink Himalayan Salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 Tbs. fresh organic mint leaves, torn into small pieces

Remove the tops and cut the strawberries into quarters lengthwise. Peel the jicama and cut into ½ cubes. Combine all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

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As many of you know, the olive harvest in California was off by more then 30%. Although our harvest was down significantly, we’d like to honor Mother Earth on her day by celebrating what she did give us! The only property that we could harvest this year was Twin Sisters in the Suisun Valley. This is our second year harvesting Twin Sisters and we are grateful for the partnership we have formed with the Smith Family…a fifth generation Napa Valley family.

We let the crop hang a little longer this year as the cold weather slowed the ripening process…it got a little precarious at the end because the olives were still very green but allowing them to stay on the trees any longer would put them at risk of frost damage…so I finally called the pick. Because our crop was small….9 tons vs. 30….I decided to bring a mill to the property so we could produce the freshest oil possible. The magic of the extra virgin olive oil being bottled while the crop was coming in was indescribable….I wish you could have been there! For the next best thing, check out this video of the Twin Sisters harvest created by one of our staffers.

In honor of Mother Earth, we would like to openly thank her for the crop that we did get this year. A little tough love reminds us to continue to take care of the planet. A very dear Peruvian Shaman recently told me …  “NOTHING on earth is yours but all of it is here for YOU” … we need to remember not to take things for granted and that the Earth does need care, consideration, reverence and love so it can continue to bring goodness to our future generations.

Happy Earth Day!

Peggy

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A New Harvest from the Talcotts

by Emily Shartin on January 31, 2012

The whirlwind of December’s olive harvest is done, and now all that’s left to do is wait.

We wait while our new crop of olive oils takes a breather. They need this time — usually a couple of months after they been pressed — to rest. The natural olive sediment settles out, leaving a clearer, more stable oil that is then bottled as the year’s vintage.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any new oils to share. If you follow our newsletter, you know that we released our own “olio nuovo” just after it was pressed in December. It was made from olives grown at Twin Sisters Ranch in Suisun Valley, and had a thick, meaty texture and a bold finish — a perfect, delicious way to celebrate the olive harvest.

We have none of our nuovo left, but we do still have few precious bottles of new oil from Napa olive grower Jim Talcott. Like us, Jim bottled a small quantity of his oil, which was pressed in mid-December, and is allowing the remainder to settle before he releases it this winter.

Jim and his wife, Patricia, moved to southernmost Napa to grow olives about seven years ago. Surrounded by the famed vineyards of Carneros, they now tend about 3,000 olive trees, mostly Italian varietals. When Jim gives directions to their home, there is no street address involved. Instead, there is a series of landmarks — wineries, a pond, mailboxes, a gravel road. So when you do find your way to the secluded house — and to the magnificent olive grove that surrounds it — you feel almost like you’ve stumbled into some kind of secret.

But this beautiful landscape takes some seriously hard work to maintain. A surgeon by trade, Jim spent several years as a grape grower in St. Helena before making olives his primary focus. As organic growers, the Talcotts must be exacting about the methods they use to control mold and ward off pests, such as voles, which eat bark and destroyed half of the couple’s trees during their first year. After rebounding from that setback, Jim now spends much of the growing season pruning his trees to ensure all of their energy is going into producing fruit.

This year, the result is an new oil that is fresh and green with strong fruity flavors, and just a hint of the pepperiness that often characterizes Italian olive varietals. Jim proudly declares it “the best oil we’ve produced so far.”

The Talcotts were lucky to have a bountiful harvest this year. Many local orchards were affected by springtime rains, which stripped trees of the flowers that are necessary to produce fruit, leaving many with limited or non-existent harvests. While the Talcotts’ harvest was somewhat smaller than anticipated, Jim believes the relative youth of their trees kept it from being severely hampered.

Jim, like many of his fellow growers, is happy to keep the momentum going in favor of quality oil. He sees an increasing number of consumers turning toward fresh, small production, extra virgin oils both for their flavor and health benefits.

“I do think that more and more people are using good olive oil,” he said.

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Guess the Yield #2 Rutherford Runway Olives

by admin on December 6, 2010

As we were leaving the Flower Market, I found out that the crew I was counting on for Fridays pick was a no go.  Hmm…a no go…I was scheduled to begin a pick the next day with NO crew.  I then received a message from the Mill hoping they we could put a larger crew on the pick so they could have the olives earlier in the day.  A larger crew?  Larger then 0?  After a bit of discussion with Shari at McEvoy, we decided that a 10 person crew would be the best scenario…ok then I only have to add……10.

Sue took the wheel so I could get on the phone and call every Vineyard Management Company that I knew.  I wasn’t having great success until I spoke to my sister.  She could get 10 guys but no foreman so I would have to lead the way…which would be fine except that I took French….my Spanish is no bueno.

About halfway home, Sue decided to mention her friend who is “connected to the Vineyard Mgmt business”…she said it so nonchalantly that I didn’t have much hope but agreed we should call.  Long story short…we did…and he was…..and they could….and all I needed to do was bring the tarps!  HUGE relief.  All was set and we were to meet at 6:30am at our newest property, Rutherford Runway Vineyards.

Rutherford Runway Vineyards is located on South Whitehall Lane….neighbors to the Hornbergers.  The Moreland Family has a history of farming….almonds, bees, olives, grapes…and I have yet to get their detailed story but it sounds as if they are a motivated bunch.

Their property on South Whitehall Lane has 37 olive trees…most are Italian varietals with a few Sevillano trees mixed in.  They keep their trees beautifully manicured and low to the ground which eliminates the need for ladders.  One look at their trees and you know the Morelands are dedicated to the land.

NOW….onto the contest…..here are some facts pertaining to the possible yield…..

This is a very difficult yield to guess because it is our first year.  We can only go by what the owner tells us and how the trees look compared to other properties that we have.  We were told that the tonnage two years ago was about 1600 pounds…..there are 2000 pounds in a ton.

We were also told that there were a few trees that came into production from the last harvest so tonnage should be up.  Remember from Twin Sisters that there is an average of 30-35 gallons of oil per ton.

The olives had a little frost damage so we would lose some crop but very little….10% maybe.

You can see in the pictures that the olives were at a nice ripeness…50/50 to be conservative…and remember…the riper the olive, the more yield.

The olives will be milled using a Blade Press at McEvoy Ranch..thank you Shari!  A Blade will usually give you a little more yield then a Stone.

I think that is all the info that is pertinent….you can try to get some clues from the pictures below and then go to the comments section and make your guess!

__________________________________________________________

Back to the day…………

I didn’t sleep well the night before as I had never used this crew before…and this was a new client…..and there was a possibility of rain…and the appointments available at the Mill were getting tight.  I tossed and turned and was grateful when my alarm went off at 5:30am.  I threw on layers of clothes and my trusted work boots and out the door I went with Matcha tea in hand.  I arrived at the property at 6:33am.  As I turned the corner of the drive, I felt the adrenaline rush of harvest.  There were trucks and cars and men….plenty of men putting on picking buckets and getting ready for the day. I felt an immediate sense of relief…this crew was professional and on task….I could sense it before I even got out of my car.

It was still too dark to begin so their leader, Eduardo, and I walked the property and noted the trees that were going to be picked.  He was very pleasant and assured me that it was all under control.  We discussed a few things and as the light of the day began to peek through, his team began to pick.

Hand picking is a whole different ballgame.  It takes a lot of time..and patience.  The tarps are laid below to soften the fall of the olives but the majority are picked and put right into the bucket.

Just as we discussed in the Twin Sister posts, it never ceases to amaze me how one tree will be turning black and the one next to it will be green…varietal type can make a difference but that’s not always the case.

Here are olives nice and purple…..

and the tree next door is nice and green…..

The Rutherford Runway estate is a very special property….and as the name implies…it sits right where the runway in Rutherford used to lie.  According to Jonathan Westerling, this small private airstrip ferried many of California’s famous winemakers in and out of the Napa Valley over several decades.  It was located on Inglenook Ranch Winery and constructed by John Daniel Jr., whose father managed the vineyard from 1919 – 1933.  According to a 2006 article by the California Farm Bureau Federation, John was a Stanford University graduate, aviator and talented businessman.  He worked closely with his friend, Robert Mondavi, to establish the basis for the Napa Valley wine industry.

My favorite part of working with new growers is listening to their story….this is no exception.  I look forward to learning more about who they are because in the limited discussions that we have had, it is apparent that they are a driven family…very motivated and serious about their land….and their crops….

Ryan is a budding winemaker, no pun intended, and anxious to release his first wine under the Rutherford Runway Vineyards label.  He will be releasing their “crown jewel”, Rutherford Runway Vineyard barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc in the Spring.  He notes that it has lots of sur lie so it should be creamy with a nice mouthfeel and it’s showing bright acidity with flavors of lemon zest and green pear.  It sounds like a fun pairing with their extra virgin olive oil!

We picked the trees on the left side of the drive.

This is the back side of the driveway….grapes to the left…olives to the right….my kind of path.

First Bin has filled up.  Because these aren’t ventilated macro bins, we only fill them 3/4 full to prevent anaerobic fermentation….

We lost about 10% to the frost.  It’s pretty easy to see frost damages fruit….they are brown and slimy to the touch…see the brown ones in the bunch?  Those olives are left on the tree and then the crew comes back around and picks them off and throws them out.

All went without issue today…we arrived at McEvoy at about 2:30….ahead of schedule!

Unloading at McEvoy….you know the drill!

Bin one……

Bin 2…..

The day was done….the olives would be pressed the next morning so I jumped in my truck and headed home.

As I was driving out of the Ranch, I was taken back by this young buck grazing in the field right next to me.  I wish I could have gotten a better picture…he was so stunning.

As I came to the end of the driveway, I decided to stop and appreciate my surroundings before heading home.  I leaned against the fence post and couldn’t help but think about the day….all the effort that went into the olives…so many hands involved….so much care taken….so much respect shown…all as it should be but seldom is…
And then these cows caught my eye…the calf was running around having fun and mom was headed up the hill, looking back at her calf in a way all mothers could relate to…the calf was oblivious.  I had to smile.

Then I gazed at this view and I wondered….I wondered how it would be to live on so much land that you could never walk it all?  Or on land where you go for a hike in your backyard?  Or land with a beautiful barn that you converted to a house?

The ringing of my cell phone in the distance reminded me that my day was far from over.  It was time to head home……

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Stagecoach Harvest

December 6, 2009
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Katz Harvest Is About To Begin

November 3, 2009

A note from Albert Katz…..the first harvest of the season! “Harvest starts tomorrow morning! Our small Allegra grove is first (I am attaching a photo from yesterday of these olives) and then Leccino to follow in the next week. Just such a crazy by exhilarating time. Olio Nuovo out by November 30th.” Albert Katz November [...]

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Grounded by David Picci

April 9, 2009

I continue to amazed at the people I’ve met on this journey….the passion….the heart…..the soul….it’s everywhere….and David Picci was no exception. I will admit that I had my doubts…I’ve met enough “experts” in my industry to be a little jaded. I also have less patience to listen to ego….so as I shook David’s hand….in a [...]

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An Ingredient Gold Mine

February 5, 2009

This week marked the first full month in Florence!  When I look back I can’t help but smile….I remember the days that held excitement and jubilation and those that were marred with frustration….home sickness….and culture shock.  Moving to another country is not for the faint hearted….as romantic as it might sound, there is a transitional [...]

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