We are proud to be part of a California legacy that dates back 300 years, to when the Spanish brought the first olive trees to California. Most olives today are harvested by shaking the boughs or the whole tree or raking the fruit from the individual branches using hand rakes or vibrating rakes. The ripeness of the olives at the time of harvest ultimately determines how the oil will taste. Greener olives generally make more intense, grassy flavors and less oil. More mature purple fruit will make mild and buttery oil that is often golden in color. Most producers are racing to get the perfect balance of maturity of their fruit before the first frost of the year, after which the olives might not pass the sensory and chemistry tests in making extra virgin olive oil. It’s important to remember that great extra virgin olive oil starts with high quality, well grown olives. There are producers who make excellent extra virgin olive oil using each of these harvesting methods. No method is inherently better than the other; the quality is determined by how the process is executed.
Hand harvesting is the most traditional way of picking olives. Harvesting by hand or with hand rakes makes a lot of sense for small farmers that have taller and more spread out tress. While it is the only option for smaller producers, harvesting by hand can be labor intensive and expensive. For California olive growers, harvesting costs are their largest expense of the year, forcing them to charge high prices for their oil.
California Olive Ranch innovated this method to make extra virgin olive oil available to more people around the country. Harvesting olives with over-the-top harvesters allows American producers to harvest the fruit at their perfect ripeness. Like wine-makers, we aim to minimize any damage to the fruit by never letting them touch the ground, and by turning the olives into oil as quickly as possible. This method values every acre of land we have and helps us make great extra virgin olive oil.
The basic procedure for making olive oil has remained the same for thousands of years: harvest the olives at the right time, crush them into paste, separate the solids from the liquid, and further separate the water from the oil. The method of extraction has a distinct effect on the flavor and ultimate quality of the olive oil. The mechanical process has undergone numerous changes and refinements that have increased both productivity and quality.