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My California: My Morning at The Olive Press

Olive Cascade

As much as I miss the green glory of the Puget Sound, it is mornings like the one I had on December 5th, 2009 when I am reminded that Sonoma County isn’t such a bad alternative. On that particular morning I woke to find that the hills were a little less brown, the sky a clear and perfect blue and my mind filled with the knowledge that today I would learn how olives are transformed into the most important staple of my kitchen.

A couple of weeks earlier, I was notified by Twitter that I was being followed by @TheOlivePress1. It just so happened that I was trying to find an olive oil maker to let me in on a pressing, so I sent @TheOlivePress1 a message. Within an hour or so I was chatting with the lovely Deborah Rogers, co-founder of The Olive Press, planning a visit to observe the annual community olive pressing in a couple of weeks time.

The Olive Press

The roads between Petaluma and Sonoma wind through hills the color of wet straw dotted with cattle and sheep. Roadsides are studded with ripened pears and quince. The Olive Press is housed in a beautiful stone building that sits nestled at the base of the Sonoma Mountains. On a morning like that one, it is a beautiful sight.

Weigh In

My photographer (aka Phil) and I arrived just after the first batch was weighed and headed towards the press. Normally The Olive Press processes their own oil, but today was a little different. Today was a community pressing, where anyone with an olive tree and good fruit can bring their olives in to be pressed. It is the oldest program of its kind in the United States. Each small grower brings in their fruit, has it weighed, pays to have it processed and in a week or so they return to The Olive Press to pick up their very own olive oil. Some of the people I spoke with kept the oil for personal use, but many gave their oil as holiday gifts. I met one man, who gave it with his own vinegar and wine. I did my best to ingratiate myself to him, but did not end up on his holiday gift list.

Olives From A Can

I watched people carrying bins and buckets of lovingly tended fruit to be weighed and processed, silently cursing my pathetic little olive tree for not producing any fruit and envious of the bucket wielding growers. Thankfully there was too much action for me to just stand their sulking, soon I was helping unload olives, watching weigh ins and learning the particulars of what makes for a viable olive oil olive. Deborah showed me the effects of worm, frost and dehydration on an olive and taught me how they not only degrade the overall quality of the oil, but can produce some downright terrible flavors.

Olives on the Lift

After weigh in, the olives are placed into a large bin that is poured into a giant hopper for cleaning and separating before the actual crush. Once they reach the crushing machine, it looks like the most luscious tapenade you’ve ever seen. Eventually, it ends up in a centrifuge where the olive is separated from the oil, resulting in the thick golden liquid we all know and love so well.

Separating the olives from the leaves and branches

While the olives were in the final stage of their process, I headed into the shop to do an olive oil tasting. While the actual physical act of tasting olive oil is different, than say wine or coffee tasting, the structure is the same. I started out with the more delicate varietals, such as the Arbequina, the progressed on through the spectrum to the blended oils like the intense and buttery Master Blend. It was a difficult choice to make, but I went home with a bottle of the Sevillano oil and resisted the urge to buy the gorgeous olive frond sculptures . . . and the olive wood nesting bowls. I really want those bowls!

Looks like tapenade, doesn't it?

I rejoined Deborah and a grower for a little fresh out of the centrifuge tasting. The oils I had tasted inside had all provided a throat warming sensation, and they had the previous year to mellow. But this was fresh off the press and the throat warming sensation was intensified threefold. Maybe in a few months it would be more my strength.

Fresh Olive Oil

My visit to The Olive Press was an interesting and tasty one. The oil is gorgeous and has definitely earned a permanent spot in my kitchen.

Fresh Olive Oil

Haitian Relief

The Haitians need help. Their country has been decimated and yesterday I saw a report that the Red Cross was out of supplies in Haiti. The Coast Guard and Army are helping, but they need our support. If you are in a position to help, even a little, please click on one of the links below to donate.

The Red Cross: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main

Wyclef Jean’s humanitarian organization: http://www.yele.org/

The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/haitiearthquake_embed

8 comments to My California: My Morning at The Olive Press

  • Such a wonderful outing Erin. I once was at an olive farm when they were pressing and was invited to watch. The oil colour was intense green.

  • Erin, this is a great post! I loved reading every word of it! When I used to live in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains I had a big olive tree in my backyard (I regrettably never did anything with it), and I have always wondered ‘what if…?’ On a different note, I came across some cardamom and cinnamon green olives today that were absolutely delicious (and I imagine easy to make at home)…

  • Oh wow! I love fresh olive oil. The smell and the bite is great. Not so good for adding to food though.

    You have inspired me to buy a loaf of crusty bread this morning and have it with olives, tomatoes and balsamic for lunch. Maybe a shaving or two of parmesan to round it out….

    I can almost taste the luscious olive oil now.

  • Barbara, isn’t it just completely fascinating?

    Thanks Jen! I just hope my pathetic little tree provides the goods next year so I can take part. Those spiced olives sound delicious! I may have to try that out, I love a dressed up olive.

    Sounds like a great idea Debbie! For my lunch, I am thinking cannelini beans with garlic and gobs of olive oil.

  • Sweet! None of the smaller growers sell their oils at farmers markets or anything? I guess there’d have to be enough yield from their own personal tree for them to sell any, and I’m guessing you don’t get much oil if you happen to have one tree in your backyard?

    What do you use your Sevillano oil for? Is it an all-around oil, or just for drizzling?

  • Marvin, No, it isn’t for professional growers. That’s the great thing, anyone with a tree and viable fruit can take part, it really creates a wonderful sense of community.

    It has a wonderful green flavor. I love to showcase it with dipping and drizzling. I am thinking about making a white bean soup soon to highlight it.

  • Thanks, Erin. This was really interesting. I’m especially fond of the top photograph. It was raining olives!

  • Joan Joan

    Very interesting! Taking your olives to a communal site to be pressed is also a Tuscan tradition. The villa where I stayed in Tuscany had olive trees, but they had not ripened when we were there (October), however, the owner did have oil from the previous year. I seem to remember carrying two very heavy bottles home with me along with all the other treasures I bought. No wonder I had to buy an extra suitcase.

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