By Lorrie Baumann
Australia’s leading olive oil producer, Boundary Bend Olives, had been in California just long enough to get stationery printed with its address at a former John Deere dealership in Woodland, California, about 20 miles northwest of Sacramento, before the company started winning awards for its California oils at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. The April 15 competition drew nearly 700 olive oils from 25 countries for judging by an international panel of experts, and Boundary Bend took home four NYIOOC awards for Cobram Estate oils produced from California olives as well as five awards for oils produced in Australia.
Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Picual, a medium picual oil from the U.S., won a NYIOOC Silver. Cobram Estate Super Premium Robust Blend, which combines leading varieties from California and Australia for a blend with a cut green grass nose, a strong spicy aroma and complex fruit flavors, earned a NYIOOC Gold Award. Cobram Estate Super Premium Medium Blend took home a NYIOOC Gold Award for appealing fresh fruity aromas and penetrating flavors, and Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Mission, from olives ultra cold-pressed within four hours of picking, received a NYIOOC Silver Award. The company’s NYIOOC awards for Australian oils included two Best in Class Awards for Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Hojiblanca and Cobram Estate Super Premium Premiere, a Robust Blend oil that also won a Best in Class Award in 2014; Cobram Estate Robust Flavour Intensity, a full-bodied blend from Australia that was pressed within six hours of picking, which won a Silver Award; Cobram Estate Classic Flavour, a medium blend from Australia also pressed within six hours, which won a Gold Award and Cobram Estate Ultra Premium Picual, which was ultra cold-pressed within four hours of picking and won a Silver Award in both 2015 and 2014.
Boundary Bend Co-founder and Executive Chairman Rob McGavin announced the company’s plan to expand its operations to the United States in May, 2014, and in January of this year announced that it had set up operations on eight acres near Woodland, California under the guidance of fifth-generation California farmer Adam Engelhardt, formerly of California Olive Ranch, and now CEO of Boundary Bend’s U.S. operations. The company had a small crush last October using another company’s plant for trial runs with small batches of oil. Boundary Bend plans to be in commercial production in California this calendar year. “We do plan to plant our own groves. We’ve got the trees for the plantings ready and are assessing suitable land and expect to have that in process within the next year,” McGavin said. “We’re just waiting for all the balls to line up.”
The company is eager to enter the American market because the country’s olive oil consumption is quite high, but domestic production is quite low, McGavin said. The U.S. is the fourth-largest consumer of olive oil globally, with consumption growing spectacularly over the past 25 years from a bit more than 100,000 metric tons per year in 1990 to the current figure of almost 300,000 metric tons per year, according to the International Olive Council. Per capita consumption in the United States is only 0.9 kg, which is comparable to per capita consumption in the U.K. and Germany, and the vast majority of that is imported, with only 3.8 percent of the olive oil consumed in the U.S. produced domestically. “Consumption of U.S.-produced oil is growing but is limited by supply,” McGavin wrote in a May 2014 letter to Boundary Bend stockholders in which he announced the plan to expand to the U.S.
Boundary Bend Olives, founded in 1998 by college buddies McGavin and Paul Riordan, currently sells more olive oil in Australia than anyone else, and its Australia production, from its own groves in the Murray Valley region of Victoria, is greater than the entire volume of olive oil currently produced in the U.S. “We’ve grown from nothing 10 years ago to the number-one selling brand in Australia,” McGavin said. To his stockholders, he wrote that, “We believe we can replicate, in the USA, the success of our Australian integrated business, but we will be taking a conservative, long-term approach to our business strategy.”
Boundary Bend is starting up agricultural operations in California at a time when the state is in the midst of a historic drought. Agricultural economist Richard Howitt and others from the University of California, Davis and ERA Economics reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture in May of this year that following three critically dry years, many irrigation districts had exhausted their surface water reserves and the groundwater table had been drawn down in many parts of the Central Valley. The economists estimated that this year’s drought, coming on top of the three previous drought years, will result in the fallowing of about 564,000 acres and an $856 million reduction in gross crop farm revenues across the state. About 18,600 full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs may be lost this year, and the total economic loss to California’s agriculture industry is estimated to be $2.7 billion.
None of that scares McGavin one whit. “We know it’s going to be difficult. It’s never, ever easy, but if we do it in a methodical way not to sound arrogant, but we are confident that what worked in Australia’s severe drought conditions will work in California,” he said.
He points out that he and his company have had some experience with drought in Australia. “We had the most awful drought. The scientists were calling it a thousand-year drought, and it went on for seven years,” he said. During the drought, the farmers at Boundary Bend learned how to monitor the water needs of their trees through telemetry-equipped sensors that monitor the percolation of irrigation water through the ground to the tree roots. They learned when the trees needed to be irrigated and when they could stay dry and still survive, thus minimizing the amount of irrigation necessary. “Olives really came into their own in Australia during the drought, and having that experience is something that we can bring to the U.S.,” McGavin said. He added that the experience in the best watering practices to make olive trees thrive on the least possible amount of water was a painful lesson, but he thinks that his neighboring California olive tree farmers will be eager to see how Boundary Bend does it, and that will be beneficial for California agriculture in the long run.
In addition, olive trees require half the irrigation water of nut trees, so replacing some of the nut trees currently growing in California’s Central Valley with olive trees will save water too, he said. “Being able to plant twice the area of olives versus nut tree crops for the same amount of water is a good use of the water,” he said.
When it has secured the land, Boundary Bend will plant the olive trees much less densely than the typical California super high-density planting. While Boundary Bend’s groves will have fewer trees planted per acre, the overall yield of olive oil per acre will be similar because the trees will grow bigger. They’ll also be more drought-tolerant.
The trees will be a mix of varietals rather than the Arbequina monocrop that’s typical in California. This will result in extra-virgin olive oils with outstanding shelf life, better health benefits and complex flavor profiles as well as lowering the risk of crop failure, McGavin said. A good Arbequina oil has a shelf life of 18 months if it’s stored properly, while other oils, such as the Coratina variety originating in southern Italy, can last on the shelf for up to three years because they contain more antioxidants. Those antioxidants are also credited with some of the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oils. “A mix of olives extends the harvest and offers different flavor profiles,” McGavin said. Stretching out the harvest allows the olives to be picked at optimum ripeness and rushed to the mill for pressing within hours. The precise timing of the harvest and the speed of that processing is important in the protection of the volatile components of the oils. What makes a good extra-virgin olive oil is the minor components and how fresh they are and how much is expressed in the oil to contribute to flavor as well as health benefits, according to McGavin. “We think it works well here [in Australia], and we think it’ll work well in the USA, and we’re really excited about coming over and bringing it to American consumers,” he said. “A really important part of our strategy is to introduce the varieties that we grow in Australia and our way of growing them – different varieties of olives that give greater complexity to the oil.”
“We’re all a bunch of farmers,” he added. “Our company stands by farmers. We’re farmers, and today we own 2.5 million trees on our own land, and the reason we’re successful is that we love what we do and have a brilliant product.”
The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) — a non-profit group that promotes the health, versatility and authenticity of all types of olive oil for North American consumers — announces registration is open for its inaugural Olive Oil Conference — “Spend Wisely on Olive Oil”— to be held Aug. 25 and 26 at the Westin O’Hare, near Chicago in Rosemont, Illinois.
“North Americans love heart-healthy olive oils,” says Eryn Balch, NAOOA Executive Vice-President. “Even though flavor and health benefits have led to its use in more than 50 percent of households, we still have a long way to go. Mediterranean consumers use 11 to 15 liters of olive oil a year, much more than North Americans who consume only about one liter per year. Communication is key: Surveys show many consumers still have questions about how and what type of olive oilthey should use when cooking— and what they should be looking for when purchasing olive oil.”
The conference, targeted toward olive oil enthusiasts including food industry and foodservice professionals; retail buyers, category managers and salespeople; chefs; nutritionists; dietitians; educators and consumers — will educate attendees about the health benefits of olive oil, techniques to incorporate olive oil into a range of recipes for home and restaurant cooks, and what to look for when tasting individual oils.
Award-winning chef and cookbook author Seamus Mullen will demonstrate the range of olive oils in diverse cooking techniques from roasting and frying to replacing butter in baked goods. He’ll show how olive oil works in various world cuisines as well. Chef Mullen, behind New York City hotspots Tertulia and El Colmado Butchery, is the author of “Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better” and a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef New York City. He credits olive oil as a tool in his fight against rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., New York Times-bestselling author of “The Sonoma Diet” and “The Sonoma Cookbook,” will be speaking about the health, flavor, and nutritional benefits of olive oils compared to other cooking oils and fats. She’ll also be demonstrating recipes and sharing tips for cooking with olive oil at home. Guttersen is a registered dietitian and an instructor at the world-famous Culinary Institute of America.
All attendees will have opportunities to practice olive oil tasting techniques and discover the finer points of sensory, or organoleptic, assessment based on methods from International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes. Simon Field, founder, is a producer of organic olive products and an olive industry consultant who has traveled to growing regions worldwide and tasted thousands of olive oils. Participants will experience olive oils through taste, sight and smell and learn how practice can educate the palate. Attendees may also choose to enter the North American Extra Virgin Olive Oil Taster’s Championship, which will test skills such as identifying different varieties and regions, ranking intensities, and detecting faults.
Hayley Stevens Miller, a graduate from the Corso Superiore at the renowned Italian culinary school, Alma, in Parma, Italy, will also be demonstrating olive oil in restaurant cooking. She honed her olive oil bona fides in kitchens from the north to south of Italy, including the two Michelin-starred restaurant Don Alfonso.
“People are returning in droves to diets of whole, natural and unprocessed foods. And olive oil fits in perfectly,” adds Balch. “It’s an oil that comes simply — direct from crushed fruit. Olive oil has such unique benefits as well — benefits that don’t come with any other cooking oil. The conference is a perfect opportunity to learn what makes olive oil so unique and to stay up to date with what’s happening in the industry. It’s all designed to help attendees grow their expertise and expand their use of olive oil to better connect with customers and meet the needs of today’s sophisticated consumer.”
For a complete schedule of events, additional information and to register for the Spend Wisely on Olive Oil Conference, visit www.oliveoilconference.com. For more about the North American Olive Oil Association, visit www.aboutoliveoil.com.
By Richard Thompson
Retailers looking for any supply increases or price stabilization for Italian olive oil are most likely not going to find it this year. The dismal 2014 harvest of Italian olive oil lowered levels of production and increased costs to retailers and consumers from a combination of conditions that have no immediate solutions and probably won’t be resolved in the near future.
David Neuman, CEO of Gaea, North America, LLC and who has worked previously with Lucini Italia has seen problems with Italian oil harvests for years and sees the industry working on borrowed time. “Every single year there’s a problem,” Neuman said, “Every year there are good harvests and bad harvests, but southern Italy is getting pummeled [by Olive Quick Decline Syndrome], and the last harvest was like a perfect storm. Too many combinations that came together.”
So what is plaguing Italian farmers and oil producers on such a dismal scale? Basically, everything that could harm production is happening all at once.
Italy had a terrible rainy season last year and olive flies had infested compromised crops, but the Olive Quick Decline Syndrome (OQDS), a bacterial infection that withers and desiccates the tree shoots, is now spreading across the province of Lecce, leaving Italian officials unsure on how to resolve the problem.
First reported at the end of September 2013 by the Italian government’s Plant Health Directorate in Malta, OQDS was already considered an epidemic in the Italian province of Lecce, with more than 8000 hectares of olive orchards affected, but a declaration that OQDS was responsible for olive tree deaths was deferred pending further study.
The Italian Trade Commissioner agrees with this non-committal stance, even while acknowledging the growing blight caused by OQDS. “We feel the authorities have to further investigate the bacteria and its effects that are a cause for concern” said Pier Paolo Celeste, Italian Trade Commissioner and Executive Director for the NY offices in the US, “It is not entirely proven yet.”
The ITC believes that the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium – the cause for OQDS – may not be what is making the olive trees sick. Instead, they believe that it is only a component that must be activated by right conditions to harm the trees, leaving the olive fruit still safe for consumption. “We know for sure that the quality of the fruit is intact,” Celeste said, “It attacks the tree itself, but does not affect the quality of the olive oil produced. It is absolutely safe.”
Some Italian non-government organizations, such as Peacelink, are pushing to save the trees infected by OQDS. The organization has requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent organization that advises the European Union, to confirm that the bacterium is not the cause of olive tree death. Peacelink points to trees that have survived and rebounded after the orchards have been treated, but hasn’t been able to provide enough proof to be sure.
The EFSA is saying that X. fastidiosa is a new problem for Italian olive trees and doesn’t seem to need specific conditions in order to spread, so there’s no concrete plan that is sure to succeed that will stop the spread. Since X. fastidiosa has such as wide range of hosts, it can persist even with insecticide treatments on specific host crops – such as olive trees.
On top of that, there is no record of successful eradication of X. fastidiosa once it finds a home outdoors. The destruction of olive trees that have been infected is one of the only ways to contain the spread of the blight, an action the Italian government is reluctant to approve and Peacelink outright opposes.
Despite their qualms, the Italian government has already culled an estimated 700,000 olive trees, with some reports indicating the number closer to 1 million or more. Some of these trees were between 150 and 200 years old.
The acreage that was culled was immediately replanted with new precautions in place to prevent further spread. This new crop of olive trees is hoped to be back in production in about three to four years.
“We are actively seeking out viable solutions,” Celeste said, “It is something that is being vigorously studied by our authorities; as it represents a unique challenge.”
The production will certainly not be back to normal in 2015. Neither will prices.
The Italian Trade Commission Office confirms that 2014′s limited production did affect prices. A recent report by the International Olive Council (IOC), an independent organization that reports on the olive industry annually, stated that Italian production actually declined 55 percent and prices climbed by as much as 37 percent from 2013. The IOC is currently projecting that Italy’s 2015 olive oil production will be larger than 2014′s, but still significantly below normal.
By Lorrie Baumann
Specialty oils represent an area of great opportunity for retailers, and many are under-representing specialty oils, says La Tourangelle Founder and CEO Matthieu Kohlmeyer. “A lot of supermarkets are still under-representing the specialty oils – usually they have a lot of cooking oils, including sunflower oil and olive oil. But when it comes to other kinds of oils, they don’t have a good representation. I think that specialty oils is an area of great opportunity for retailers.”
La Tourangelle produces about 20 different specialty oils in a range of sizes. Extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil and canola oil are offered as organics, there are nut oils including Roasted Walnut Oil – historically, one of La Tourangelle’s biggest sellers; Roasted Pecan, Roasted Pistachio, Roasted Almond Oil and Roasted Hazelnut Oil that are useful for finishing dishes after they’re cooked or for salad dressings; and a range of spray oils that appeal to low-fat cooks.
Sales of the oils are being driven partly by food enthusiasts who’ve discovered that they present an easy way to infuse new flavors into vegetable dishes, including salads, but also by health-conscious shoppers who are looking for alternatives to highly refined polyunsaturated oils that have been associated with higher cancer rates in nutrition studies as well as consumers with sensitive skin who’ve adopted La Tourangelle’s organic coconut oil, grapeseed oil and avocado oil as part of their skin care regimes. “A major trend is that we are seeing a shift in which many women and men are using organic oils for skin care and body care. A lot of consumers are buying our grapeseed, avocado, coconut oil, not just for cooking but for skin care, makeup removal, hair care. This has directly impacted our sales,” Kohlmeyer said. “It’s a huge driver for us. So many people now are getting allergic reactions to chemicals. If they go to 100 percent organic coconut oil, they know that they’re not getting adulterants…. It’s really not only food – it’s a lot of different things. A lot of people are telling me that, ‘Your jar is in my bathroom, not in my kitchen.’… People are trying to improve their health; they want to be more selective. They’re paying more attention to the quality of the products they consume and that they use on their body as well.”
In the kitchen, La Tourangelle oils contribute more flavor than refined oils. “The refining process removes flavor. Even though you may get the same fatty acids, they remove the flavors,” Kohlmeyer said. He suggested that consumers can gain some insight about whether an oil is highly refined by checking the label for the addition of Vitamin E, which is often added to refined oils to replace the Vitamin E that’s lost during refining. “It’s difficult for a store manager to be an oil specialist, but if the label says it’s refined, you should understand that it’s not going to have the flavor,” Kohlmeyer said.
Many of the leaders of food movements who are urging their followers to avoid highly refined oils are advocating for coconut oil despite its saturated fatty acids. “Organic virgin coconut oil is now our best-seller. For a very long time, consumers have been told they should avoid saturated fat. When people became more knowledgeable, they realized that some saturated fats were actually very good for them.” Kohlmeyer said. About half the fatty acid content in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that’s also found in human breast milk and that is known to increase total serum cholesterol. But more recent nutrition studies have found that most of the cholesterol increase is in the form of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called “good cholesterol.”
But while Kohlmeyer acknowledges these health and beauty reasons for consumer interest in his La Tourangelle oils, his own reason for appreciating them is the flavor they add to food. “I strongly believe that good food should taste good. Good oils, specialty oils, all oils, should have a good flavor,” he said. “Refined olive oil on the shelf doesn’t cover the needs of your customers…. Cooking is about using flavor. These oils are a way to enhance flavor.”
While most specialty oils are packaged in glass bottles, most La Tourangelle oils are packaged in tin cans to protect their flavors. “Specialty oils can be quite fragile and can deteriorate fairly quickly if they’re exposed to oxygen or natural light. The first step in preserving the oil is to seal it from oxygen and to keep it safe from light,” he said. With some oils that are packaged in clear bottles, it’s possible to notice that they begin changing color within a few weeks of bottling, which is a sign that they’re oxidizing. Colored glass bottles slow this process by limiting exposure to the effects of light, but tin cans do a better job of protecting the oils, Kohlmeyer said, adding that the tin cans also constitute a better choice for the environment. “It weighs nothing, and it’s easy to recycle. The typical glass bottle, half of the weight is the bottle, and the other half is the oil.” Less weight means a lighter carbon footprint for the product because a heavier container requires more fuel to transport it.
La Tourangelle’s newest packaging option is a spray can that appeals to home cooks who are already very familiar with PAM. La Tourangelle offers sprays for extra virgin olive, roasted walnut, roasted pistachio, expeller-pressed grapeseed, avocado and canola oils as well as Thai Wok and toasted sesame Spray Oils. The La Tourangelle products don’t contain the propellants found in competing spray oils, Kohlmeyer said. “I don’t think people realize when people use a traditional spray, that they’re spraying a petroleum product on their food…. [With the La Tourangelle sprays,] when you press the spray button, 100 percent oil comes out, no propellants.”
Located 2,000 miles from the olive groves of Northern California, St. Louis, Missouri seems an unlikely destination for those looking for high-quality, in-demand olive oils. However, this presumption would be incorrect, thanks in large part to St. Louis’ own olive oil doyenne Marianne Prey and her retail shop An Olive Ovation, a local destination-store for aficionados of the chartreuse elixir.
An Olive Ovation opened in 2007, after Prey decided to leave her 24-year career as a pathologist to pursue a second career as a retailer. Inspired by the small olive oil shops she liked to visit when traveling to major metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country, Prey wanted to bring this type of experience to a city that had not yet been bitten by the olive oil bug. “An Olive Ovation was the first olive oil market in St. Louis. The whole concept of olive oil tasting hadn’t even hit this area. It was really before the huge influx of olive oil stores across the country,” said Prey. “I got my inspiration from a little tiny olive oil ship in Chicago that specialized in Turkish oils … I was just kind of fascinated with the whole idea of olive oil tasting, so I tucked that idea away.”
It took her two years to plan out and build the store, but once An Olive Ovation finally opened, the store grew quickly. Last year, Prey actually moved the store from its original 1,200-square-foot home to a new, larger 1,600-square-foot retail space in Ladue, just outside St. Louis, to accommodate its expanding product selection.
The centerpiece of An Olive Ovation is the tasting bar. At the bar, customers can sample at least 100 different products, including extra-virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils, balsamics, wine vinegars, fruit vinegars and more. The tasting bar is a good place to begin one’s shopping experience at the store, before one sets out to browse through 50+ vinegars, 30-35 extra-virgin olive oils, as well as an extensive selection of specialty foods, including cheeses, olives, tapenades, crackers, breads and wines. The store also offers products for the home and kitchen, such as olive wood kitchen utensils and serving pieces, Mediterranean-themed cookbooks, French table linens and more.
When it comes to the store’s signature product, the selection of olive oils at An Olive Ovation is always in flux, partly out of Prey’s desire to always offer her customers something new, but also partly out of necessity. Because Prey stocks unique hard-to-find oils produced by small family farms and family cooperatives, she is often at the whim of the producer (and in fact, the weather) when it comes to what olive oils she can get and how many bottles of each. She cites one particular olive oil, the December’s New Oil from California-based Katz & Co. as an example of a seasonal product that is particularly in demand among her customers, but which lasts on her store shelves only a short while.
“Customers know that we get four cases in early December, and if they aren’t there to get it they miss out until the next year,” said Prey. “I would like to get more, but usually Albert [Katz] allots us four cases.”
Asked what are the best olive oils currently on the shelves at An Olive Ovation, Prey, ever the scientist, scoffs at the question. “We’ve had a couple of instances when a customer comes in and they say, ‘Pick for me,’ and it’s like, how?” Nevertheless, Prey utilizes her skills as a pathologist to ask pointed questions and guide her customers to the product that is going to be the best fit for their unique palate.
Of course, shoppers come to An Olive Ovation in search of much more than just olive oil. Prey’s shop serves as a destination for anyone who loves food, more generally. And the shop’s wide selection of hard-to-find specialty food products from around the world brings in customers searching for something truly unique to serve at their next dinner party, whether it be the Tunisian sun-dried garlic from Les Moulins Mahjoub or the Spanish spicy catch-all condiment Mojo Picón, from Ferrer.
The concept of pairing is a particularly important one for Prey, and she works to provide her customers with apt suggestions for bringing together olive oil, wine and food. With each of the wines offered at An Olive Ovation, Prey offers an olive oil pairing suggestion. And similarly, with each of the oils sampled at the tasting bar, Prey provides a comparable wine pairing.
“When you taste a dish, you taste the olive oil before it goes into the finished product. I want people to really focus on the taste and how it can vary when you pair one ingredient with another ingredient – how you can change the mouthfeel and the sensation,” said Prey. “An olive oil paired with one ingredient might just explode in your mouth and transform the salad or the steak and make it completely different.”
Prey’s commitment to educating her customers about how best to pair and enjoy her store’s products extends even further, as An Olive Ovation offers monthly classes on a number of related themes. Prey teaches the classes herself, providing lessons on how best to incorporate the store’s olive oils into various cuisines, from pastas to salads. A recent class taught attendees about using olive oils to prepare end-of-summer harvest delicacies from the garden. In addition, An Olive Ovation also offers more in-depth tasting classes, training customers about the intricacies of how to sample and enjoy high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
With the holiday season fast approaching, An Olive Ovation is an ideal stop for those looking to offer unique hostess gifts that are sure to stand out among the plates of cookies and bottles of wine. The store offers a wide selection of items from $5 to $500 that make great gifts on their own, or Prey is happy to put them into custom gift baskets. “A bottle of olive oil lasts much longer than a bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic even longer,” said Prey. “A bottle of wine, they don’t even remember where it came from. It’s gone before the evening is over. [Olive oil and balsamic are] thoughtful nice gifts.”
The success of a store that specializes in a single commodity without a doubt hinges on the passion and expertise of its proprietor, and An Olive Ovation is an expression of the dedication its owner has for the world’s small-batch, estate-grown extra-virgin olive oils. “It’s the taste. Every sip is just a new experience. It’s wholesome, and it’s satisfying. It just makes everything that you put it on taste good,” said Prey.
This story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
Award-winning La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil, distributed in the United States by Mintie Wine & Spirits, is a renowned Italian single estate olive oil, combining a blend of leccino, moraiolo and coreggiolo olives. The olives are harvested at the peak of freshness and pressed by hand on the Olivi family’s Tuscan estate. Preserving the essence of the Italian countryside, the olives are pressed within 24 hours of being harvested.
La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil has been certified by the Consortium for the protection of PDO Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Terre di Siena. In addition, the product was recently awarded a Mention of Merit from the national Sirena d’Oro di Sorrento competition.
Already used in some of the finest restaurants in Europe, La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil is now being introduced to the American market. The oil is now available online at www.zingermans.com, as well as at The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills, California and in a growing number of specialty food stores.
For more information, visit the company online at www.lasovana.com/en/olio.
MarDona Specialty Foods and Wild Forest Products are all about great taste, great prices, convenience and consistency. Together, the brands import the finest olive oil and truffle essence from Italy to create their highly regarded and sought after truffle products. Their Pure Olive Oil blended with truffle essence from Italy creates their signature Black and White Truffle Olive Oils.
Wild Forest and MarDona brands are best known for their truffle infused olive oils. These oils are available to the retail trade in 8-ounce doric bottles, packaged six per case. MarDona has also become famous for the inventive presentation of its 4-ounce Truffle Oil Spray, available in black and white varieties. The sprays were designed to dispense a predetermined amount of olive oil at a low 2.5 calories per spray.
For the foodservice sector, Wild Forest and MarDona provide 1-gallon jugs and 5-gallon food service pails. Many restaurants from the neighborhood burger shop to the gourmet fine dining establishment are using the brands’ truffle olive oils to create great dishes such as truffle fries, truffle burgers, pastas and so much more.
MarDona and Wild Forest believe in making a quality product with quality ingredients. Their mission is to bring to the American people the best in quality truffle oil at the most reasonable prices possible. You can find MarDona and Wild Forest products in some of the finest gourmet shops in the United States, as well as at Whole Foods Markets and online at www.truffleoilsandmore.com.
If you peruse the aisles of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or sit down to dinner at many a gourmet restaurant, that delicious extra-virgin olive oil you are either buying, dipping into or enjoying on flakes of halibut quite likely came from Italy or Spain. With the countries combining to ship more than two thirds of all U.S. EVOO imports, gourmet chefs and home cooks have plenty of high-quality and healthful oils to choose from when calling on these traditional powerhouses.
Look closely though, and among the elegant bottles of various sizes filling the olive oil section at your local grocery store, you will spot a 33.8-ounce can from another Mediterranean country that has got a few interesting oils of its own: Tunisia. Tunisia and nearby Morocco now both track in the top 10 producing countries for U.S.-sold EVOO.
“Our customers just love the taste of the Moroccan,” said Darya Suddreth President of Carolinas-based The Olive Shoppe stores, commenting on the growing popularity of olive oils from this often neglected Mediterranean locale. At The Olive Shoppe, the Moroccan EVOO ($16.95 for 375 milliliters) sells most briskly, better even than the company’s popular blend from Italy’s renowned EVOO-producing Umbria region. The Moroccan green olive oil, sold under private label like all of the company’s oils, contains mild notes of green fruit that partner with smooth and buttery notes of ripe olive, finishing with hints of creaminess and a slight peppering at the back of the throat.
You do not need to hug the Mediterranean, however, to find high-quality EVOO offerings. Six thousand miles and an equator line away, Chile has been steadily building a reputation with its award-winning mild and fruity oils. No less than 13 of the country’s EVOO producers earned outstanding scores in the prestigious Flos Olei olive oil guide for 2012. Chile (the eighth leading U.S. supplier) has a couple olive oil-producing neighbors of its own, with Argentina (fifth) and newly minted International Olive Council member Uruguay also turning out flavorful award-winning oils.
While Italy and Spain continue to dominate the U.S. market, accounting for a combined 67 percent share of 2013 U.S. olive oil sales, this actually marked a 9-point drop from the previous four-year average. Meanwhile, “second tier” producers from South America and the Mediterranean, including previously mentioned Tunisia and Morocco, but also Turkey, Lebanon and others, have been gradually bottling their way into the picture.
Whether it’s the mild and fruity Chilean oils, the bold and robust Australian products or the sought after gourmet oils from Turkey or Argentina, American consumers are expanding their olive oil palates and finding it increasingly easy to do so, simply by stopping at their favorite local gourmet shop.
“What’s happening in the food world in general is that, with the Food Network and all of those things that have grown within the last decade, people are cooking more at home, and they’re returning to whole natural food and high-quality ingredients,” said Eryn Balch, Executive Vice President of the North American Olive Oil Association. “And with extra-virgin olive oil in particular, people are starting to understand that it’s really very much like wine. You can have different extra-virgin olive oil from different regions, from different types of olives, or different types of olives blended together, just like wine, where you get this huge range of flavors and huge range of options – everything from the store brand stuff up to small-estate, high-quality, high-priced options.”
While second-tier producers in the Southern Hemisphere face challenges breaking into a U.S. market long dominated by Italy and Spain, these relatively young suppliers have some advantages as well, the biggest of which is, quite simply, the sun. With their opposing season harvest time, Southern Hemisphere countries like Chile, Argentina, South African and Australia offer fresh product while heavy producers like Spain and Italy are off-season.
“We’ve got amazing Mediterranean growing conditions here, and we’re producing our oils six months after the equivalent oils in the Northern Hemisphere,” said Tim Smith, Sales and Marketing Director of Cobram Estate, an award-winning Australian producer that this year debuted its premium oils to U.S. consumers. From early July through December, consumers seeking the absolute freshest olive oil can look to Southern Hemisphere producers, and companies like Cobram are making it easy to do so. Cobram has been a top performer two years running at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition, winning five gold medals, including two Best in Class oils in this year’s competition. The company plans to offer U.S. consumers even fresher oil when it begins growing olives and producing oil in a new California operation that is in its early stages. Cobram Estate’s selection of premium oils have U.S. suggested retail prices of $9 to $50, with its 2014 Best in Class Première Extra Virgin Olive Oil selling for $12 for 375 milliliters and its Best in Class Reserve Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil selling for $20 to $25 for 500 milliliters.
For some of the more successful second tier producing countries, the key to finding that success has been in building awareness and education among U.S. consumers. Tunisian olive oil, for instance, has been served on American tables virtually since European oil imports began, although not too many consumers knew it, since oils from Tunisia, the world’s second largest net exporter, were branded under Italian and other countries’ labels. One northern Tunisian company has single-handedly changed that over the last two and a half years, however. CHO gave the country its first branded olive oils and has quickly become a factor in the U.S. market, with the company’s gourmet EVOO and organic EVOO appearing in about 4,000 U.S. retailers, a figure that is growing at 100 percent annually.
“We started in a market where consumers did not know much about Tunisian olive oil,” said Wajih Rekik, CEO of CHO America, whose Terra Delyssa EVOO and organic EVOO brand boasts gold medal recognition from Israel’s prestigious international Terraolivo competition and Best in Show accolades from Biofach Germany, the world’s largest organic food and agriculture show. “But the smooth, fresh flavor of our oils are perfect for everyday use,” Rekik continued. “They don’t overpower any other ingredients when cooking, and they can be used in salads and for dipping.” Operating with a completely in-house business model that accounts for its products from tree to retail shelf (CHO even maintains its own importing offices in the United States and other countries), the company has gone from 0 to 4,000 stores in quick fashion. CHO olive oils retail in the United States from $2.99 for 8.5 ounces to $24.99 for 101 ounces.
With small and large global producers continuing to churn out award-winning oils and making their way onto U.S. gourmet market shelves, the outlook is for future growth of such imports as Americans gain both knowledge of and desire for the highest-quality and healthiest extra-virgin olive oil.
This story was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.
Super-premium French olive oil producer Chateau d’Estoublon has signed with leading specialty food importer and distributor, New Jersey-based Epicure Foods, which will distribute the fine extra virgin olive oil through its new “Chef’s Mandala” division, which is dedicated to importing only a few exceptional, super-premium European products each year. Chef’s Mandala only selects one fine product per regional category, and Chateau d’Estoublon is the brand that made the cut for French premium olive oil.
“We’ve looked for a long time for a French olive oil with a flavor profile that is consistently high quality over a period of several harvests, which is extremely difficult to do with mono-varietals,” notes Epicure principal, Stephen Drezga. “We’ve finally found it with Chateau d’Estoublon, whose exceptional oils are also available in single varietals, which we don’t find from France,” he adds.
Epicure, which has built a reputation as one of the most respected gatekeepers of specialty food since 1971, will be rolling out Estoublon to specialty food as well as premium restaurants nation-wide. “We’ve been hearing overwhelmingly positive feedback on the products, whose exceptionally beautiful packaging and presentation offer retailers great opportunities for eye-catching merchandising, as well as positioning as both food and gift items,” adds Drezga.
Adding to its repertoire of much loved gourmet oils, La Tourangelle is debuting its Spray Oils set on July 15.
Finding a gap in the market for a healthy, propellant-free, all-natural spray oil product, CEO of La Tourangelle Matthieu Kohlmeyer decided it was time for the brand to introduce its wildly successful oils in a new design. Kohlmeyer notes, “We have loved spray oils for many years, but we had a problem with the propellant loaded traditional sprays available on shelves. We really did not feel like selling our artisan oils blended with 11 percent petroleum product in an aerosol spray can.”
La Tourangelle’s idea is simple: keep the oil, lose the chemicals. The spray oils series will feature the brand’s favorite nut oils in a can that uses compressed air to propel 100 percent oil, enabling users to uniformly spray the product on all of their favorite dishes. While existing cooking oil sprays are renowned for using harmful chemicals as propellant (such as petroleum, propane and isobutene), La Tourangelle’s mission to offer an alternative to at-home cooks who value great-tasting food and don’t want to see “propane” listed in their ingredients is now a reality. Soon to hit shelves will be the Spray Oil Series in the following La Tourangelle flavors: Roasted Walnut, 100% Organic Extra Virgin Olive, Grapeseed, Organic Canola, Thai Wok, and Roasted Pistachio. Suggested retail prices range from $6.99 to $9.99.