An Oleocentric Life: passion and the pursuit for quality and truth

Posted by Olivia on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

An Oleocentric Life: passion and the pursuit for quality and truth


One of the first female Master Olive Oil Millers in the US, Deborah Rogers truly dove into the world of olive oil heart first. When I asked her what it takes, she said “Love, sweat, and tears,” with a smile and raised eyebrows, “truthfully it’s about doing the work, and I’ve been doing it a long time.”

“I don’t think being a female has been an obstacle, it might be naïve courage, but I think olive oil people are good people.” Whether she was brave or it was the will of the olive oil gods, Rogers has created some of the finest extra virgin olive oil – the pungent nectar, sometimes delicate, sometimes robust – right here in Sonoma. Not only has her career exposed Californians to this unfiltered virginity, she is an advocate of all New World olive oil. What better time than now? With Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil gaining popularity, the masses are now aware of excellent versus fraudulent olive oil, and the effect it has on their health. As Mueller quoted Flavio Zaramella, “Bad oil isn’t just a deception, it’s a crime against public health.”

As Rogers said to Mueller while he was interviewing her for his book, “so you’ve been bitten by the olive oil bug, your life will never be the same.” Rogers’ passion developed from a love of gardening and cooking, and her life truly was never the same once she discovered quality EVOO.

“My goal was literally to not just work for a paycheck but to follow a passion – to grow something naturally – produce it naturally – and that ended up being olive oil.” A sense of sustainability was instilled in her at a young age by her Polish Babcia, (grandmother), who grew and cooked everything at home, wasting nothing. While earning a degree in horticulture from Cal Poly SLO, she devoured books by MFK Fisher and watched Julia Child on TV, always wanting to integrate her love for growing and cooking.

She bought a rustic home on 5 acres in Glen Ellen, hoping to plant olive trees from which to make oil. “Then, not wanting to delay her entry into oil-making for the five to seven years that the trees would need to fruit, she contacted two bulk oil producers and bought a 55-gallon drum from each, plunked them down on the dining room floor, and started bottling her own signature blends. ‘It was a mess. I didn’t have a drum pump, so I siphoned the oil [by hand], sitting on a milk stool between the drums.’” Page 189, Extra Virginity. Her efforts were a true labor of love. Once she made her olive oil debut, a local gentleman and wannabe olive oil producer named V.G. approached Deborah to develop a partnership and they created a new company called V.G. Buck California Foods.

This all happened around the same time a group of “olive oil people” from Northern California took a trip to Provence, France. They toured olive mills, groves, and shops and stumbled upon the “cutest little shop in the middle of a beautiful grove.” They tasted fresh olive oils and black salty tapenade, served by the charming proprietress in this perfectly quaint shop. Ed Stolman turned to the group and suggested Sonoma ought to have the same thing. Sure enough, when they returned, 12 members of that original group became silent partners, while Stolman and his wife Carolyn spearheaded the project and Sonoma County’s first olive mill was born.

The Olive Press opened its mill and shop in Glen Ellen in 1995.  At this point Deborah was a partner with V.G. Buck and a silent partner in The Olive Press. By 1998, a larger company bought the V.G. Buck brand, along with 5 other small olive oil companies. By 2000, she decided to leave that company and with timing on her side, Stolman asked her to run the mill at The Olive Press. “I thought I would only be there for a few months during harvest, and 12 years later, here I am,” Rogers admitted. With one person dedicating her time and attention to the business, it began to flourish. “One thing led to another and I began to learn and expand our product line adding a selection of varietal olive oils and was one of the first to make lemon oil – so much was based on customer request.”

Now that The Olive Press has earned its world-class reputation, Rogers is dedicated to help expand New World olive oil. Producers are putting themselves on the map from Australia and New Zealand to South America, and with all this new public knowledge churning and growing about adulterated oil, Rogers feels this is the perfect time to become politically active working to educate consumers about quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. While Rogers is dedicated to quality at The Olive Press, her horizons have expanded, and we couldn’t be more eager to see what the future holds.

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