What is the “champion of local” doing writing about olive oil? Do olives grow in Minnesota? Of course not. But sometimes you need to think about local in a whole new way. My inspiration was this shirt, received as a gift while on a recent tour of California Olive Ranch in Artois, California.
Currently, more than 95% of olive oil is imported from foreign countries including Italy, Chile, Spain and Tunisia. Several studies suggest that nearly two-thirds of imported olive oil sold as “extra virgin” is mislabeled and actually uses high heat or chemical solvents to extract the oil, which does not meet the major legal definitions of extra virgin olive oil.
Enter California Olive Ranch (COR). Their olives are produced by a small group of olive growers in California. While touring their main ranch, also referred to as a grove or orchard, I was able to walk the fields and eat an olive right off the tree. I would not recommend this as a regular practice although I was thrilled to experience it. Fresh picked olives are extremely bitter!
California is extremely dry right now and COR works hard to care for the land. They extend water use through recycling and drip irrigation. Tree trimmings are mulched back into the field to protect the land. And, of course, California olive oil requires less energy for transportation than European imports.
The olives are all processed into olive oil right at the facility in Artois. Following strict quality standards, the olives are pressed into oil within hours of picking. The fresh, clean taste is truly amazing. The harvest date is on every bottle, which is very unique. Once you open a bottle of olive oil, be sure to use it within six months. Don’t keep that bottle next to the stove either! Heat, light and oxygen are the enemies of olive oil. COR does a superior job of maintaining the best conditions for the olive until they ship it out. You just need to keep it in a dark, cool place. But not the refrigerator, as that will change the quality.
Another highlight of the tour was an olive oil tasting with COR Head Miller Bob Singletary. When writing about my love of all things local, I often mention connections and relationships. What a surprise to learn that Bob’s wife of many years is from Pipestone, Minnesota. I was so proud to be able to tell him that his olive oil, which he tastes and approves every day, is available on our shelves at Coborn’s in Pipestone.
Not all our food can come from nearby, unfortunately. But there is always an opportunity to close the distance your food travels. Choosing a fresh product that is produced with great care and pride is always a great choice. Having the opportunity to follow the olives right from picking to the bottle was truly amazing.
Coborn’s, Inc. Natural Foods Category Manager
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