Our miller, Bob Singletary, is like a winemaker. Only Bob is in charge of crushing our olives and making world-class extra virgin olive oil. He’s a veteran of California’s olive oil industry. Bob has been working for local olive-oil producers for a quarter century, long before American consumers were aware of the quality EVOO being produced in California.
How would you characterize the flavor of the 2010 harvest?
The balance of the fruit flavor was pretty similar to what we’ve had in the past. We began with a very fruity, very piquanty style of olive oil at the start of the harvest. The early harvest usually produces a very robust style of flavor.
By the middle of the season the flavor starts to mellow out a bit, but still retains some of that complexity. It’s a more balanced flavor, but you still have a fruity nose impact. It has all the attributes of an excellent oil. By the end of the season the fruit is starting to mature and becoming more delicate, buttery and mild in profile.
How do you keep track of and work with all those different flavors?
Every single truckload of olives — we call it the load ticket — is identified the second it comes into the mill. We know the maturity index of the fruit and its acidity. Each load of olives is run on a designated production line. It will stay on that particular line from start to finish. When the fruit gets to the point where the oil is beginning to be separated out and put into a storage vessel, I taste it. I taste every single batch before it’s sent to a designated storage vessel.
Why do you taste each batch of oil?
I have to be able to identify the particular flavor profile — delicate, pungent, etc. — and then identify where the oil should be stored initially based on its individual characteristics.
You must taste a lot of oil?
It’s a lot. You pull it away from the line and go off to a more secluded spot inside the mill so you don’t have other competing aromas in the mill. You know at the start of the season you’re oil is going to be intense and you identify that oil. In a few weeks, by the middle of the season, it’s still intense but beginning to mellow a bit into a more balanced profile.
It sounds difficult. But after several years of doing it you can identify the profiles so that as the season progresses you begin to get out of the high intense oil to the medium intensity profile. Every varietal and every flavor profile is isolated in a separate storage vessel in our tank room. There, we later blend the oils to achieve the overall desired flavor profile for a particular olive varietal or special blend.
We read how a lot of growers have been struggling to cope with a cool, wet fall. Did this fall’s rains have much impact on flavor?
It did not because of our ability to harvest the fruit rapidly with our harvesting system. Our goal is to have the fruit harvested before any major weather situation has had an impact on the olives, like a freeze.
What was your favorite story from the harvest?
For me the volume of fruit we received — many, many tons — and the way we were able to handle it was unbelievable. We really had very limited production problems. It was a really successful harvest. If there’s anything special it was another year out of my life.
What number harvest was this for you?
It was my fifth at California Olive Ranch and probably the 25th in my life. My hair is reflecting that.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch