It’s hard to believe our olive harvest is just around the corner. It starts in October. Our harvest teams will begin gathering the olives and taking them to the mill, where our milling team will crush them into extra virgin olive oil. It’s an around-the-clock operation, representing the culmination of all the work we’ve devoted to nurturing the olives during the growing season.
With harvest set to begin, it’s worth looking at the three olive varieties we grow at our northern California ranches: Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki.
Like wine grapes – Merlot, say, or Sauvignon Blanc – each olive variety has unique characteristics that influence the taste of the oil it produces. We use Arbequina and the Arbosana to mill oils bearing the names of the olives themselves. We use Koroneiki oil to blend with other oils, much like a winemaker blends various grapes to produce a single wine. Our robust Miller’s Blend oil, for example, is a blend of all three olives.
Let’s begin with the Arbequina olive. It accounts for our largest crop, amounting to about 80 percent of the olives we grow. This plump, round olive originally is from Spain’s Catalonia region.
The Arbequina oil we bottle has a “medium” aroma level versus, say, the “intense” aroma of Miller’s Blend. Similarly, it has a medium level of bitterness, which is considered a positive attribute of extra virgin olive oil. And our Arbequina oil has a medium-intense pungency, or pepperiness, which also is an attribute.
And the taste? We use terms like grassy, herbaceous and green olive to describe our Arbequina.
And, like any olive, the taste of the oil can vary depending on when the olives were harvested. For example, we’ve selected Arbequina olives that were gathered late in the harvest season to mill our new Mild & Buttery oil, which is more delicate than our Arbequina.
Typically, late-harvest olives tend to make oils with “buttery” notes. By contrast, olives that are picked early on tend to produce oils with “herbaceous” flavors, like those featured in our new Rich & Robust oil.
Our Arbequina trees are relatively small, but produce plenty of beautiful olives. The tree itself has weeping branches when full of fruit. The hearty Arbequina olive resists frost well.
Our Arbequina oil, by the way, landed gold medals at this year’s Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition and the Terraolivo international competition in Israel.
It’s great for dipping and salad dressings. We also like to use it for pesto, brownies, and pound cake – and in baking generally when substituting olive oil for butter. (Click here to see blog post about pairing oils like Arbequina with different foods.)