To many, olives fall into one of two categories – green or black. In fact, there are hundreds of varietals of olives. And, little known fact: all olives will generally first appear on the tree as green, and turn a darker purple as they ripen and mature. While some olives are grown to be cured and served as table olives, many varietals of the Olea Europeae species (the olive tree!) are grown with olive oil in mind.
In the same way that wines made from different grapes have unique flavor notes and characteristics, each olive varietal will produce an extra virgin olive oil with its own personality. On our ranches, we grow three varietals of olives: Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki. Each is grown for the specific flavor notes they provide. While we do bottle some single varietal extra virgin olive oils, growing a diversity of varietals allows us to create blends. Different combination of varietals, as well as oils from olives harvested earlier or later in the harvest season, create a set of truly special, and consistent, taste profiles. Want to know a bit more about each one? Here’s a quick primer:
The Arbequina olive originally comes from Catalonia in Spain. The Arbequina trees are small but prolific! They have beautiful weeping branches and resist frost well. Plus, the small, round fruit these trees produces ripens relatively early in the season compared to other varietals. These are some of the reasons that the Arbequina is our most-grown olive varietal.
The other reason we grow the Arbequina in such high volumes is, of course, because of the superior oil it produces! The flavor of the Arbequina olive lends itself perfectly to an everyday extra virgin olive oil. It is fresh and fruity, known for flavors of tropical fruit and fresh artichoke. It has a medium level of bitterness and mild pungency, but is delicate enough to make it approachable to everyone and a great addition to almost every recipe.
Like Arbequina, the small Arbosana olive originated in Spain. The olives may look quite similar to Arbequina – they are also rather small and round – but there are significant differences in their flavor profile and when in the season they’re harvested. On the tree you can tell them apart because Arbosana olives cluster like grapes and look paler in color.
Generally, Arbosana olives mature about three weeks later than their Arbequina counterparts. While we do grow them for their green and robust tasting notes, the Arbosana oil can have an astringent flavor if harvested too early. Our farming operations team and the milling staff take samples often and communicate closely in order to select the best time to start the Arbosana harvest.
When harvested at just the right maturity, the Arbosana extra virgin olive oil offers flavors of fresh tomato and almonds. Its complex, robust taste has a floral finish, and some may pick up notes of green grass, fresh herbs, and green fruit.
Koroneiki olives are originally from Greece. This varietal is considered the country’s most important; it’s been growing in Greece for over 3,000 years. The small green fruit resembles a tear drop shape, as opposed to the rounder Arbosana and Arbequina olives. Koroneiki trees are also impressively drought-resistant, and produce significant amounts of fruit.
While Koroneiki is the variety we grow the fewest trees of; you don’t need much to add a kick of bitterness and pungency! The small percentage of Kononeiki added into our Miller’s Blend and Rich & Robust extra virgin olive oils is responsible for their robust and complex flavor notes. If you taste the Koroneiki oil straight, don’t be surprised if you find yourself coughing two or three times from the peppery tickle you experience in the back of your throat! This is caused by a very high level of polyphenols, the natural antioxidant found in extra virgin olive oil.
As for the flavor profile, we use terms like herbaceous, pear, green tea and green banana to characterize our Koroneiki oil. It’s more robust than most varietals, delivering medium-intense levels of aroma, bitterness (a positive attribute of extra virgin olive oil), and pungency.
We’re starting to pay extra close attention to the maturity of these olives on our trees throughout northern California – harvest season is just around the corner!