will fly for oil: California Olive Ranch
California Olive Ranch has a new fan: me.
A few days ago I flew to Sacramento to check out their digs in northern California. They have 3 ranches; we visited the Artois ranch. You may know my deep affection for green gold---just pressed olive oil---due in large part to living in Italy for a year.
While in Italy, we tasted a lot of olive oil(s) from different regions, ranches and olives. This is how you get to know flavors, profiles, preferences and quality (or lack thereof)---whether we are talking olives, wine, chocolate or cheese. The more you taste a variety of something, the more educated your palate becomes.
I loved seeing the harvester (and riding it!), watching the olives make their way from truck to facility, to be pressed. And I especially loved tasting oils from different vintages, micro-climates/ranches and varietals. The ground makes a difference, the slope, soil and climate. The weather casts a vote; is it one type of olive or a blend?
Does it sound like I am talking about wine? Grapes? Did you see the movie Bottle Shock? The movie underlines the time when Napa got its grape-legs (think on that pun for a bit---hehe). Seriously, it was when Napa's wine scene and clout became 'all grown up' and started playing ball with global competitors. Napa proved its tenacity, creativity, farming gumption and good taste when it came to wine: if Europe could do it, so can we.
Now they need a movie called Bottle Shock 2, where olive oil takes a seat next to wine on a global market. Does it compare? Yes. We are now making high quality oils, proven---and improved---by trial, error, taste and technology. I love that olive oil is being taken seriously state-side.
It is important to note that with oil: new is best. You want oil as close to its pressing date as possible. Yes: olive oil has a shelf life but unlike wine it doesn't improve with age. Quite the opposite. In fact, in Italy they consider olive oil 'new' for just one year---until the next batch of oil is pressed. If oil is one year old? It is considered cooking oil.
With olive oil makers learning and testing and applying their best efforts, wisdom and responsible knowledge: olive oil here is just as good as 'there.' No, not all of them. This is where all of your tasting comes in: taste, taste, taste. Look at the dates on the back of olive oils (you already read labels, right?); you want the pressing date to be recent---especially if you plan to consume it on a salad, sandwich or for dipping. Cooking with it? You still want to employ a few quality checks: the date of course, plus a dark bottle/can or foil. Light is actually bad for olive oil---so clear bottles aren't ideal. Keep your oil away from heat, too.
Got all that? Now for tasting. I actually wrote a post about 'tasting olive oil' back when we lived in Italy. But let me give you a quick how-to just for fun (via the 4 S's California Olive Ranch recommends; the commentary/explanations are my own):
My notes: when professionals taste olive oil, they use colored glass so they aren't seeing the color but rather hone in on the taste/smell profile.
1. SWIRL - cup glass in hand and cover top with other hand; you want to warm the olive oil to room temp. In Italy they told us we were aiming for around 80 Fahrenheit (actually they told us 27 degrees Celsius). No temp gauge? Aim for body temp, room temp.
2. SNIFF - deep sniffs, just like wines. You watched Sideways, right? Really gotta get your nose in there.
3. SLURP - this separates the amateurs from the pros. You will look ridiculous doing this, so turn away if you would must: put your tongue behind your top teeth, slurp oil around both sides of tongue and up to roof of mouth. Then let oil slide toward back of tongue and swirl around a bit...
4. SWALLOW - finally, eventually swallow. Just like with wine: notice the front notes, the middle notes and the finish. I personally love a peppery finish. My favorite oils are smooth and buttery/grassy with an 'olive fresh' start and peppery finish. Not that I have an opinion;).
Have fun tasting, and if you spot California Olive Ranch oil on the shelf (in a time-stamped, quintessentially dark bottle of course), add it to your tasting list. And notice which ranch it came from; California olive ranch has oils from their own ranches, olives from hand-selected growers, individual estates and proprietary blends. You got to know your grapes, now its time to get to know your olives.
A huge thank you to California Olive Ranch for sponsoring this trip and tour to their ranch, olive-pressing and facilities. That said: my words, pictures and opinions are my own.