“The olive tree is assuredly the richest gift of heaven.” – Thomas Jefferson
We live in olive country in Northern California. Our ranch itself has eight mature Mission olive trees. Every year I think about making my own olive oil or curing my own olives. I’d cure some in a heartbeat if my husband liked olives like I do. He doesn’t so it seems like a whole big passel of trouble just for a few olives for little old me. However, olive oil is another story. I already buy gallons of it to cook and make things with. Why a person can even make soap with it. So recently I decided to do some earnest research and see what I might be up against. What I found was if you have enough mature trees you can probably start your own hobby oil production easily enough. It takes a bit of equipment, but if you know what to do you can get the freshest oil possible and it’s fun to make.
Right down the road from us in Corning is Lucero Olive Oil. They are the premier olive growers and oil producers in California. How lucky can we be? Their oils are certified by the California Olive Oil Council, which means they produce 100% Extra Virgin olive oil, the highest grade possible. I spoke with Jessica at Lucero on a cloudy spring day. She’s been with the company for three years since Dewey Lucero took the oil production from the family garage to the beautiful processing plant they have now. It reminds me of how McIntosh Apple computers started. First Dewey’s grandfather and father made olive oil for family in friends in their garage. But Dewey had a bigger vision, and he’s made the company what it is today.
The facility in Corning is clean, bright and welcoming. The wall is covered top to bottom with shelves laden with all types of oils, flavored oils, balsamic vinegars, unique mustard blends and olive oil products such as tapenade. In an adjoining room there is a long table spread with various materials and tasting samples for groups.
Jessica gave me a little history of olives in the New World. They were first brought to California by the Spanish. In 1769, the Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded and the first olive trees were planted. Did you know olive trees might live forever? The oldest olive trees are 3,000 years old and are still producing edible fruit. I guess you can say they’re a good investment as long as you take care of them! There are more than 160 varieties of olives, and many are suitable for both curing and oil. Sevillano, Mission, Ascolano and Manzanillo are a few of these. Olive trees generally bloom in May and the fruit is full size by October. Immature olives are green and mature olives are black or dark purple.
Oils are graded in terms of the level that they have been processed. There’s plain old “olive oil,” which is the most processed. Then there’s virgin and extra virgin. Don’t fall for the term “extra extra” virgin. It means nothing and is just a marketing ploy. Extra virgin is the best quality oil. It means that the acidity level is less than .05% for freshness, the oil is cold pressed (under 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and it is unfiltered first press. As I said before, Lucero has earned COOC certification. A panel of independent testers must taste the oil and confirm that it is free of defects and that it possesses positive flavor characteristics. Lucero’s Ascolano variety is the most awarded extra virgin olive oil in North America, for instance.
How to properly taste olive oil
Put a small amount in a paper cup or receptacle that you can warm with your hands. After a brief warming smell the aroma. Is it fruity or spicy? What does it smell like to you? Then tip the glass up, coat your tongue and slurp the oil back into your throat. If the oil is full of antioxidants, the taste and aroma will fill your nose with the scent and the back of your throat may experience a peppery after tone. If an oil is peppery, it doesn’t mean that it is lesser quality or that the process destroyed it in some way. As a matter of fact, peppery can mean it is high in polyphenols and antioxidants. The peppery quality comes from the type of olives used. That’s it. And it’s all personal preference whether you like it peppery or smooth.
How long can good quality olive oil last?
Don’t ever refrigerate olive oil. It speeds up the degradation process. If you have good quality unopened oil, it should keep for up to two years. Once you open it and keep it out of sunlight in a cool dark place in an opaque bottle, it should keep for a year. Or less because you will use it up way before then!
Part 2 comes next week when I talk about a way to make your own backyard oil.