I recently co-hosted a dinner with California Olive Ranch at FareStart in Seattle. Bloggers and media folks attended and we chatted up a storm while sipping olive oil and learning about the nuances of growing and distributing oil state-side. It is harder than you think. And olive oil is more impressive than you give it credit. Next time you are at a restaurant: ask for an extra wine glass so you can sample all the fine tasting notes of the olive oil… won’t they be impressed? Actually: I think I will ask for mine up, in a room-temperature martini glass. (More details on olive oil tasting).
All good oil does not come from Europe. Do this: read the label. It will tell you where the olives come from, the varietal of olive(s), who processed the olives, who imported them etc. Some countries have very high standards for oil quality and processing, requirements and measurements. Many do not. The U.S. not so much. Which is why in the whole scheme of things it is key to take label reading upon yourself: know the olives, the ranchers, the commitment of the company.
California Olive Ranch has set themselves at a higher standard quality than even the California State Commission requires. It well exceeds the requirements for U.S. standards. They are a trusted source for high quality oil. I visited their ranch(es) last fall during press and was impressed with their commitment to the ranchers, to taste and quality, and to ushering just-picked olives into bottles. Functioning as a cooperative, California Olive Ranch works closely with its ranchers; they examine processing technologies and aim for quality, efficiency and respect for the fruit.
As a chef I am happy when companies care about bringing out the best in each crop, the food that is grown carefully on vines, trees and in the ground. As a farmer I am thrilled when companies care about the hard work and labor, the risk that accompanies each season and a bumpy economy. I have worked with California Olive Ranch for almost a year and can proudly say they are a good company. And produce good oil.
But enough pontificating. Here is what you need to know about finding good oil, no matter what company makes it:
Read the date: is it recent or old? You want your olive oil young. Within the year of when it was pressed. Dark or foiled bottles or tins. Clear bottles might look pretty but they let in the light and that is a no-no. Store your oil out of the light and away from heat (in other words: not near your stove). Oils you buy should not be: in the light and near heat.
Olive oil is trending as an ingredient to play with. Chefs around the country are putting it in ice cream and cakes (see below), chocolates and as a poaching liquid for fish.
Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
2 T chopped rosemary
Oven to 350. Line bottom of 9 inch cake pan with parchment. First spray pan, put in parchment round, then spray again. To be fair: this fills a 9 inch cake pan plus a small loaf pan. SO plan on filling a 9 inch or 3-4 small loaf pans or make some overflow muffins. Next time I will make small loaves, plus a few muffins. Just fill containers leaving an inch for cake pans and loaves, and 1/2 inch headspace for muffins.
Beat sugar and eggs, then add oil, wine, flour, salt, baking powder, vanilla extract and seeds plus rosemary. Beat for a minute. Pour into pan. Bake 30 minutes until cake begins to pull away from sides (it may take a little longer, but keep an eye on it, making sure it doesn’t jiggle in the middle and passes the ‘toothpick’ test).
This cake is scrumptious. I was thinking it would be savory or subdued (Italians have a penchant for subdued cakes and snacks, leaving the overtly sweet tones to treats like cookies, limoncello and Vin Santo), but in fact it had a slightly sweet note. You could pair this cake with a creamy cheese, lemon curd, marmalade, fig relish or even salty bacon. It would be perfect for breakfast or to end a rich meal.
See more olive oil tasting dinner photos.