Posted by Olivia on Friday, May 9th, 2014
Awards season is increasingly more exciting for California olive oil millers and farmers as they go head to head with old world producers and come out on top. In a marketplace that is trained to adore European producers, Californian artisans are given the recognition they deserve. And in an age of fresh, farm to table, local food… why shouldn’t olive oil be included?
Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the real story here. This olive variety is rarely grown in California, originates in Spain, and The Olive Press is the first North American producer to win with this oil in an international competition up against Spanish producers. This year they were one of two North American Producers to win Best in Class at the New York International Olive Oil Competition.
Some of our prized olive trees grown in Capay Valley
The farmers, millers, and process make this fabulous oil possible. Out in the Capay Valley where the sun is warm and the soil fertile, their olives are grown on Larry Heitman’s property by Jean Chevalier. Chevalier has been a farmer for 40 years managing 500 acres of peaches, apricots, walnuts and almonds as well as a 300 acre research extension at UC Davis. His years of experience lend intuition to his process, and with that he’s able to keep it simple. Everything under his care is essentially grown organically minus the certification, they are then hand picked, “It costs more to pick them by hand but the quality of the oil and the health of trees is better. I like to think of it as we’re producing artisan oil, and that’s the way I can justify having to hand pick it,” says Chevalier. They are then delivered immediately to the mill and processed right away, which is a huge factor in the quality of oil.
Young Picual olives
With fraud and low quality rampant in the olive oil imports, quality local olive oil in the marketplace as well as consumer awareness is essential. People like Jean Chevalier and the UC Davis Olive Center are great resources. The UC Davis Olive Center has “contributed to getting a broader awareness of olive oil quality, the importance of freshness, and trying to shift the US market away from low grade oil,” says Dan Flynn at the UC Davis Olive Center.
“This New York competition had the most prestigious tasting panel in the world, and we were one of only two American producers to receive Best in Class,” says Nancy Cline, owner of The Olive Press, “The olive oil business is still in its infancy here, but this award and the numerous other accolades we’ve received prove that our soils, climate, and master millers can and do compete with producers who have been at this for more than 1,000 years. We are heartened and thrilled to receive this award on behalf of our country, our state, and our exciting young industry”
With California artisans going against the old world and coming out on top, there’s hope for quality in the industry.