This is a question we are frequently asked and the answer can help you with not just our oils but other high quality olive oils. If you are buying a California olive oil the first consideration should be to buy an oil that is certified by the COOC. All oils certified by the COOC under go a human taste test by trained experts. Many olive oil defects cannot be detected by a chemical analysis so a human taste test is essential to ensure high quality. It is very inexpensive to become certified so all high quality producers do so. You also want to look for a harvest date. All high quality producers print a harvest date on their bottles. You also want to choose producers whose bottles are dark glass. This helps prevent the degradation of oil due to exposure to light.
We describe our oils in the following way:
Mistral is light intensity and used on white wine dishes.
Sierra is medium intensity and used on red wine dishes.
Barouni is strong intensity and used on red wine dishes and other hearty fare.
The word intensity above refers to the pungency in the back of the throat that real extra virgin olive oil has. This is evidence of anti-oxidants.
However, as with wine, all the rules above can be broken if you are looking for contrasts. So which oil you choose depends on how you like the olive pungency. Typically the more you intake real extra virgin olive oil the stronger you prefer your oil.
Because of the high anti-oxidant level in our oils they can easily last two years from harvest date. Anti-oxidants protect our body and they protect the oil from degrading.
During the cold months we are frequently asked the question, ‘Is the oil ok if it freezes in transport?’ The answer is yes it will be fine. Simply let it thaw at room temperature and it will be good as new.
At the same time it is not recommended to keep the oil in the refrigerator. The oil should be stored in a cool dark place like a pantry, preferably not above the stove. Stored like this the oil should keep at least 3 months after it is opened. Remember real extra virgin olive oil is a fresh product and you receive the most health benefits if you consume the oil within three months after opening. This is why we sell our bottle in the smaller 375ml size. This allows you to finish the oil within, at most, 3 months after opening.
We finished the hard but rewarding work of harvest in mid-December. The harvest went very smoothly and the resulting oils were excellent. After blending and bottling we should have the new oils available in mid to late March. To celebrate the occasion our assistant miller and olive farmer Juan Jose made his family’s traditional paella. What a treat! Gianni, Diana and their son Umberto joined Steve and his wife along with Juan and Eve at Steve’s home on a beautiful December Saturday. There was plenty of beer and wine flowing as we all gathered around the table and watched Juan Jo prepare his masterpiece.
It starts with a special large flat pan hooked directly to the propane. You first brown the meat (duck, chicken, turkey, and pork) in an excellent extra virgin olive oil, of course. Then move it to the side and add fresh green beans and assorted white beans. Then move that to the side and add organic tomatoes. Quite a colorful dish. Then add water and rice. This is the tricky part, you need to add the correct ratio of rice vs. water. You then let this simmer for around 18 minutes. During the simmering you can add fresh artichoke, just remove the prickly leaves.
And now the kicker, top with fresh rosemary from the garden as it simmers.
After the rice is done and the water evaporated bring the whole pan to the table. Each person then dips his fork into the delicious mixture and proceeds directly to his own mouth with no plates intervening. This is true family style dining at its best. At this point you might be wondering, “Hey where are all the measurements and ingredient lists.” Well this is how family recipes are cooked – by feel. And we all felt very good with a perfect end to a perfect harvest.
The biggest challenge for the small artisan producer is the large scale fraud in the olive oil business in the US. Up until recently the US did not have any labeling laws in regard to extra virgin olive oil. Even now there are only two states with laws pending that are barely enforceable. Most of the olive oil sold in the US is similar to white bread in which all the nutrients are removed and the product is chemically treated to allow longevity during mass production and large scale transportation. This is not extra virgin olive oil. Real extra virgin olive oil is necessarily a fresh product loaded with anti-oxidants. It is a product that does not lend itself to mass production. Therefore real extra virgin olive oil is expensive when compared to ‘white bread’ olive oil.
Italy exports 4 times more oil then it actually produces and yet this oil makes it into the US with the ‘From Italy’ moniker. Italy imports massive quantities of olive oil from all over the Middle East and the Mediterranean and bottles it and then ships it to the US. This is nothing new and has been going on for over 50 years. It only became an issue in the US when in the early 1990′s California started making real extra virgin olive oil and noticed it could not compete with the $10/gallon ‘extra virgin olive oil’ from Italy. Gradually the truth began to emerge. One of the best articles on this topic is the New Yorker article ‘Slippery Business.’ I recommend it highly.
Quite by accident the other night I caught a show on the Smithsonian channel about Folkways founder Moses Asch. This is the fascinating story of a man who made it his life mission to record all the non-commercial sounds of our world from 1948 to the year of his death in 1986. Over this period of time he made 2,200 albums. That is over one every week. The content includes the folk music of Africa, the Near East, the Far East, Appalachia , Cajun Louisiana, Chicago Blues, Texas Blues, bird songs, animal sounds, junkyard sounds, children songs and much more. He is responsible for the first surviving recordings of Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, and many others thus allowing the rest of the world to hear unusual artists that would have been lost forever. He also produced the historic and legendary Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith. His son has recently put together 26 one hour segments, called Sounds to Grow On, highlighting the vast collection that can be heard for free at the Folkways Smithsonian site. During his 38 year span at Folkways Moses Asch never allowed any of his recordings to go out of print. When the Smithsonian took over the collection the main agreement was that no title can ever go out of print. The Smithsonian continues to add eclectic recordings to the collection to this day. I take my hat off to such a wonderful non-commercial effort enriching us all. Oddly, one of the best selling recordings in the collection is an album of frog sounds with scholarly commentary. Enjoy!
Extra Virgin olive oils contain the flavors of the olive fruit. (Tasting a raw olive is one of those experiences you would hope never to repeat.) Bitterness, along with pungency and vegetal/fruit flavors are considered positive attributes in EVO olive oils, particularly when they are well balanced. Depending on many factors, such as the olive variety and ripeness, milling technique, and the age of the oil, the bitterness and pungency can be quite intense. Sometimes professional tasters jokingly classify EVO oils as ‘one-cough, two-cough or three-cough’ oils. Fortunately, these strong olive oils make wonderful condiments. Once you get used to them, you’ll find them more and more attractive. In addition, the bitterness and pungency are evidence of a fresh olive oil that has polyphenols (anti-oxidants). It is this flavor in large part that actually makes extra virgin olive oil good for you.