By Lorrie Baumann
A finalist for a 2015 sofi Award for its Burnt Sugar and Fennel Shortbread, Lark Fine Foods will be back at the Summer Fancy Food Show this year with Salted Caramel Almond Chocolate Pearl shortbread cookies. This cookie starts with a traditional chocolate chip cookie and kicks the recipe up a notch with Valrhona Chocolate Pearls – little crispy nuggets enrobed in chocolate and mixed into the cookie dough along with crackly bits of salted caramel and almond brittle. “There are noticeable chunks of caramel throughout the cookie,” said Lark Managing Partner Bob Carroll, who describes this as “a chocolate cookie for grownups.” A 5.5-ounce package containing about 10 of the cookies has a suggested retail price of $6, and this new cookie flavor is shipping now.
Lark Fine Foods is also debuting three flavors of its all-natural shortbread cookies in a single-serving size. Each 1.5-ounce package contains two cookies in either Salted Caramel Almond Chocolate Pearl, Salted Rosemary and Coconut Butter varieties. Carroll says the Salted Rosemary cookie makes a great accompaniment for cheese, and all three of the single-serve packs are positioned for sale as snack items. They’re also available for immediate shipment.
Manicaretti Italian Food Importers won a sofi Award in 2015 with Sicilian Pistachio Spread and has fresh victories with four gold awards at the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Manicaretti will have those oils, including Titoni DOP, an organic extra virgin olive oil from Sicily, and Crudo, a bright green oil with strong yellow undertones. “Every year it wins awards, both in the U.S. and in international competitions. It stands out in terms of profile and in terms of story. It’s a very interesting olive oil,” said Rossella Florio, Manicaretti’s Marketing Director. “We have a very nice portfolio of oils from different regions in Italy.”
Manicaretti will also be bringing expansions to the gluten-free pasta line imported from Rustichella d’ Abruzzo, for which Manicaretti is the exclusive importer. The new products include pasta made from buckwheat, green pea and red lentil flours. Each is gluten free and organic. “It’s all about awareness and offering more options that are equally delicious as durum wheat pasta,” Florio said.
Missing from the Summer Fancy Food Show this year will be Boat Street Pickles and Coop’s Microcreamery. Boat Street Pickles’ Pickled Cherries were a finalist in the Best New Product category at the 2015 sofi Award competition, while Coop’s Microcreamery’s Salted Caramel Sauce was a winner in the Dessert Sauces, Toppings and Syrups category. Neither company has a new product to launch this year. Boat Street Pickles’ Pickled Cherries are selling well, and Chef Renee Erickson, the company’s product developer, has been very busy earning a James Beard Award at The Whale Wins in Seattle. Erickson was named the Northwest’s Best Chef by the James Beard Foundation.
Coop’s Microcreamery has pushed product development to the back burner while preparing to move into a new 1,200 square-foot facility, says Marc Cooper, the “Coop” of Coop’s Microcreamery. The new facility doubles the creamery’s production space, and Cooper is hoping that his expanded capacity will help him catch up with an orders backlog.
By Lorrie Baumann
Fifteen years ago, Jeff Martin was a California real estate developer with 100 acres near Silicon Valley zoned for residential use on five-acre lots. Today, he’s the creator of Frantoio Grove, one of the two American olive oils to win Best in Class awards at this year’s New York International Olive Oil Competition, and he doesn’t plan to go back to building houses for a living.
Tasting notes for the medium frantoio oil from the United States noted “aromas of fruit, green grass, almond and notes of pear. Taste exhibits abundant fruitiness, green grass, sweetness, bitterness, vigorous pungency and notes of artichoke, with exceptional harmony, a high complexity and a high persistence.” Frantoio Grove oils have previously won gold awards in the 2015 and 2014 NYIOOC and a silver award in the 2013 competition.
Frantoio Grove made only about 4,000 gallons of the oil this year, with most of it destined to be sold by California retailers in the San Francisco Bay area. That market is big enough to use all the olive oil that Martin’s ever going to make from his 30-acre olive grove, which has the potential to produce up to around 100 tons of olives when the 3,500 trees reach full production. The trees are all frantoio olives, an Italian varietal common in Tuscany that makes an oil with markedly more pungency and spice than the the mild, buttery-flavored oils favored by most California producers. That comes from a decision that Martin made way back when he was planning to build houses on that land. Under the existing zoning laws in Santa Clara County, where the grove is located, Martin could have built 20 houses on that land, each on five acres. But he knew that five acres was a lot of land for the Silicon Valley home buyers he was hoping to attract – too much land. So he agreed with the county that he’d group the homes onto smaller lots within 70 acres and dedicate the remaining 30 acres to permanent open space, keeping the overall population density the same.
Then he and his wife Pam had to figure out how to use that 30 acres. Under the open space agreement, agriculture was a permitted use, and the logical move might have been to plant grapes on the property, since Martin’s family had been growing grapes in Yolo and Napa Counties since 1870 and his mother and brother are currently growing grapes in Sonoma County. Experts assured him that the land would work for a vineyard. Martin, thought, though, that California already had enough people growing grapes, and he wanted to do something a little different. The couple decided on olives, and then, still in pursuit of something a little different, they did a lot of tasting of various varietal oils and decided that they liked the Frantoio oil best. “I really like this Frantoio fruit. Most of the oil grown in California is Mission or Arbequina, which make lovely oils. This is a little more pungent and has a different character,” he said. “I knew that if I want to sell this stuff, it has to have distinctiveness in the market. The bad news is that I have to pick everything by hand, so it’s a pretty expensive oil to produce.” He planted his trees in 2005 and got his first harvest of nine tons of fruit in 2011.
For this year’s oil, Martin’s picking crew picked 50 tons of olives, all by hand, in late October and early November of 2015 and delivered it to Frantoio Grove’s on-site olive mill within minutes of picking. The picking crew showed up for work at first light, about 6:30 a.m. at that time of year, to rake the olives from the trees and catch them in nets so they could put the day’s first bin of olives on the mill’s dock at about 7:15. That short time between when the olives are ready to be picked and when they’re crushed for their oil is critical to the quality of the product, Martin said. “It’s critical for me to have the mill ready when my harvest is ready,” he said. “When the fruit is driven up to the mill, it’s in the crusher within minutes. It’s not sitting outside waiting for my turn at somebody else’s mill.”
The other 70 acres in the parcel is still waiting for houses to be built on it, but it’s probably going to be someone else who does that. Martin has moved on. “I used to be a house builder. I don’t feel like a house builder any more,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of energy into this olive grove, and I find it completely satisfying… Even the mundane things like bottling – it’s sort of my mid-life crisis, in a way. It’s kind of a cool industry.”
He’s counting on Americans’ tastes in olive oil to grow beyond the California extra virgins they’re already familiar with. “I think Americans are ready for varietal difference. As a small niche player, there are people who are going to say yes to a spicier frantoio,” he said. “This is an oil to finish with. It’s fine to cook with it, but you might use a less expensive oil to cook, and then when you come off the flame, get a bit of an olive kick with this frantoio.”
Capatriti® Extra Virgin Olive Oil, manufactured by Gourmet Factory™, has qualified for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) seal. The USDA Quality Monitoring Program verifies the purity and quality of a brand’s extra virgin olive oil. Capatriti Extra Virgin Olive Oil was required to meet meticulous program criteria in order to qualify for the seal. Upon entering the Quality Monitoring Program for its extra virgin olive oil, Gourmet Factory agreed to allow the USDA to conduct unannounced visits to review and inspect quality assurance records, randomly sample product for chemical analysis and sensory evaluation, and verify labels on an ongoing basis.
“It’s important that we, as a manufacturer and industry partner, provide consumers with the correct information about what is pure extra virgin olive oil – the taste, the aroma and the color,” stated Themis Kangadis, Gourmet Factory CEO. “As a family-owned company, we know that trust is the most important part of any relationship, and by earning this stringent USDA QMP designation, we are looking at our consumers as family by increasing their knowledge and making their choice easier.”
Confusion about EVOO is nothing new in the marketplace and is still an ongoing issue. According to a 2010 UC Davis report, “69 percent of imported olive oils labeled as ‘extra virgin’ failed to meet the international standard for extra virgin olive oil.” More recently, a 2015 report from National Consumer League found that six out of 11 (about 55 percent) of EVOO from four major retailers failed to meet the EVOO requirements.
The USDA QMP seal indicates that USDA samples of Capatriti Extra Virgin Olive Oil have passed USDA quality and purity analysis. Additionally, the USDA also reviewed the performance of the company’s production processes, quality assurance measures and record-keeping system. Under the program, the USDA will continue to monitor Capatriti’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, conducting unannounced plant visits to verify quality assurance measures and test the extra virgin olive oil.
by Lorrie Baumann
Start-up company Cibo California, founded last year, has reached exclusive distribution agreements for artisanal products previously unknown in the United States and is ready to launch them into the American market. Cibo California CEO Massimo Cannas says he spent months and even years persuading families that make artisanal Italian food products in traditional ways to share these products with the American market and to trust his company with that mission.
One of those product lines is Campofilone egg pasta from the Pastificio Decarlonis Srl, a family company run by brothers Paolo, Pietro and their father Enzo Decarlonis, who agreed to hold a “serious family meeting” after a long conversation with Cannas that ended with the decision that they were ready to enter the American market. “I spent several years convincing this family to start selling their products to the United States,” Cannas says. “We are the only company that is able to import their products to the U.S.”
The company is located in the Marche region on the eastern coast of Italy, directly across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia and separated from Florence by the Appenine Mountains. It’s a beautiful part of the country with an uncontaminated environment, and the pasta made in the tiny village of Campofilone is protected by the Italian government with an IGP designation, “Maccheroncini di Campofilone I.G.P.,” which means that the pasta can be traced back to this geographic area. “It’s only there that they can use this name, the Campofilone pasta,” Cannas says. “Only there, by the law, are people authorized to produce this kind of pasta and authorized to call it Campofilone pasta.”
Made with just egg and flour, with no added water, the Campofilone pastas cook in just two minutes. “They make this pasta using just flour and hand-cracked local, fresh eggs. This is what makes the difference,” Cannas says. “One by one, the eggs are cracked by a team of ladies. They must be quick.” Federico Pavoncelli, Vice President of Cibo California, says that one of his favorite recipes for the Decarlonis Maccheroncini di Campofilone IGP is Maccheroncini with lobster. “Very simple, quick to cook and delicious,” he says. He makes it with some chopped onion, chili pepper, a whole lobster and some white wine. He cooks the Maccheroncini separately for just one minute and then tosses it with the lobster sauce. “All this in no more than a minute. Serve it and enjoy!” he says.
Americans are familiar with the name Giuseppe Verdi as the composer of “La Traviata” and “Aida,” among other operas, but today’s Giuseppe Verdi is making vinegars at the Acefificio Aretino in Tuscany in the beautiful medieval city of Arezzo. Cibo California is offering the Verdi brand vinegars in a wide range of products for which it is the exclusive importer into the U.S. These include balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegars, organic red and white wine vinegar, red and white wine vinegar made with IGP Chianti wine in Tuscany, apple vinegar, and, very specially, blood orange wine vinegar made with blood oranges cultivated in Sicily. “This is something different, something unique,” Cannas says. “I tried it with a smoked salmon carpaccio and very thinly sliced sweet onions, a little radicchio, and a little lemon juice. It’s delicious.”
Cibo California is also importing a range of innovative high-quality products made with white and black truffles from Tartuflanghe, which is recognized as one of the world’s leading producers of truffles from Italy, according to Cannas. “Tartuflaghe is the master. We are talking about a very high-end product, the Louis Vuitton of the truffle industry,” he says.
The company based in Alba, Piemonte, is recognized as a leader, not just for the quality of its truffles but also for the elegance of its packaging, both for its retail and foodservice products. “This is a company that does a lot of research. They are not following the market. They are anticipating the trends in the food industry worldwide,” Cannas says. “It’s more expensive than the average imported truffle products, but in two or three bites, you see the stars, the best expression of an extensive line of truffle specialty products.” Tray the Parmiggiano Reggiano Cream with Truffle, or the Truffle Butter or the Acacia Honey with White Truffle!
Delizie di Sardegna and Sarda Affumicati are Cibo California’s source for bottarga, both from tuna and mullet. Bottarga is salted, cured fish roe, with mullet bottarga traditionally being produced in Sardinia, while tuna is used in Sicily. Most people prefer mullet bottarga for its flavor, which is less fishy than the tuna bottarga, Cannas says. “Bottarga is extracted from the fish and cleaned and covered with salt and put in a special drying cellar for a very slow drying process. In the last century, this process was done just under the sun,” he adds. “Today, bottarga is made in a drying system that produces an even better quality, flavor and consistency. Then it’s vacuum-packed and shipped all over the world.”
The bottarga is offered as the baffa, the egg sacs which have been extracted and processed whole, as well as grated or powdered in 40-gram jars. The baffa is vacuum-packed and sold at weights between 70 and 200 grams, with the best seller at around 100 grams.
“Add it to pasta to add a special flavor to any kind of meal. Over pasta, rice or soup, on top of a cioppino, drop a few drops of olive oil infused with grated bottarga,” Cannas says. “Or the bottarga is fantastic grated, a little spoon on top of grilled pork chops. This is the Sardinian way. Just use a little sprinkling of the bottarga to finish the meat after grilling.”
“With the baffa, you just slice the bottarga very thin, slice fresh artichoke heart, mix those together, add extra virgin olive oil, little bit of salt and two-three drops of lemon. This is all. You are in paradise,” he says. “That is a delicious appetizer that is offered in every restaurant in Sardinia. Instead of artichokes, you can use celery and add some cherry tomatoes.”
For dessert, Cibo California is importing biscotti and cookies from Grondona Pasticceria Genovese, a very traditional baker-biscottificio in Genoa since 1820. The pastries are made with simple ingredients of the highest quality, including, Cannas says, a lot of butter. Grondona products are made with La Madre Bianca, the company’s mother yeast, in which baker’s yeast and beneficial bacteria have been nurtured for almost two centuries. The process for feeding, tending and dividing the yeast has been kept a secret through four generations of the Grondona family – the art is rare today even in Italy, according to Cannas. “They are starting right now to enter the U.S. market, and we have been able to become exclusive importer for western U.S.,” he says.
Likewise, Grondona recipes are based on almost 200 years of tradition. Today, the company is operated by Orlando Grondona and his family. His son, Andrea Grondona, is in charge of the export division. “I took the airplane, I go to Genoa and I spent two days with Orlando and Andrea, the son. They are two wonderful human beings. Orlando is a lovely person, a genius, a master in the biscotti and cookie industry, not just in Italy but in the world. He is also a master wine expert and collector,” Cannas says. He is importing four Grondona products: the Baci di Dama in 100-gram packages, super-delicate and rich with real butter, honey, 14 percent chocolate and 17 percent hazelnuts; Canestrelli Antica Genova in 100-gram packages, in the shape of stars, 25 percent butter, lemon juice, Madagascar vanilla pods and packaged with a small packet of icing sugar intended to be sprinkled onto the cookie just before eating; Cuori Mori, heart-shaped and rich with butter, 9 percent chocolate and 3.5 percent cocoa; and Pandolcini Antica Genova, a miniature version of a cake that’s traditionally bought on the way home from church on Sunday to be served with Sunday’s lunch. It’s made from wheat flour, butter, 30 percent sultana raisins, orange peel, apples, pears, pineapples, 2.3 percent pine nuts, fresh eggs and lemon juice.
Cibo California is currently seeking account executives and distributors for southern California and other areas in the western U.S. Anyone interested in evaluating local distribution agreements for both foodservice and retail products is invited to contact Cannas at 949.230.6866 or email email@example.com.
By Lorrie Baumann
Silicon Valley technocrat Gregg Kelley had a nice little career going for himself in 2006. He’d taken two dot-coms public and settled into a consulting career in which he could choose the clients he wanted to advise on how to succeed the way he had. He ditched it all when the owners of California Olive Ranch came to him and said they’d learned how to make a good product and wanted his help to scale up their operation to compete in the national market. Eight years later, he has no regrets.
“It was just the right time. The owners of the company had learned what they needed to learn and were looking for a CFO [chief financial officer]. I was interested in their approach to the industry,” he said. “I really liked the people who owned the company, liked the opportunity. It checked that box for me. I took a pretty significant pay cut to join the company. It was a leap of faith. It was right place, right people, right time.”
“It’s been a great opportunity. A change of direction. I wanted to lead a life where I could look at myself in the mirror,” he adds. “There were two things I wanted to do: be a good husband and a good father and have a positive impact on the world. I get to do that now…. Those are the simple rules to live my life by.”
Kelley is now California Olive Ranch’s Chief Executive Officer, and the company has been registering sales growth rates of 30 to 50 percent per year for a compound annual growth rate exceeding 45 percent over the past eight years. California Olive Ranch has become the U.S.’s largest domestic olive oil producer: in terms of consumer sales, it’s the #4 brand in the grocery channel, the #1 brand in the specialty/gourmet channel and the #3 brand in the natural channel, according to SPINS. With just under 15,000 acres planted with olive trees now, Kelley is actively looking for another 3,000 more acres to plant this year to feed rapidly growing consumer demand for extra virgin olive oils from California.
A few factors have combined to drive that growth, according to Kelley. Americans are becoming more aware of the virtues of high-quality olive oils, and improved technology has allowed California Olive Ranch to provide a better product at an accessible price point. “California has had an olive industry for hundreds of years, but it stayed small until technology got better. The ability to hit a price point that makes it accessible is what accelerates that learning curve,” Kelley said. “You break this barrier of accessibility for a larger number of people. California has made the norm become a much higher quality product. The American consumer, time and time again, has a proven preference for higher-quality products. Wine was an example of that. We’re seeing it in cheese, in chocolate…. We are participating in the same evolution.”
Kelley is determined to propel Americans along the learning curve by putting the taste of California Olive Ranch oil on as many tongues as possible. He says that letting people smell the aroma of a freshly opened bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and then letting them taste the oil and feel the warmth of it in their throats is all it takes to inspire them to want that experience again, especially if they can have it for a price premium of just a few dollars a bottle. “What makes us different is the ability to provide a much higher quality experience regularly,” he said. “The vast majority of the oil we produce would win awards around the world.”
“Great olive oils add to the experience of a good meal,” he said. “That was the ‘Aha!’ for me that was the final hook that got me involved in the industry and got me into California Olive Ranch.”
The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma) and Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi) have been named the best of show winners in the 2nd Annual San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition. The competition, open to all olive oil producers in the state of California with products made from their most recent olive harvest, received a total of 61 entries from 18 different olive oil producers from throughout the state.
Entries were received in two classes, extra virgin olive oils and flavored olive oil, with nine subcategories in total. Gold and silver medals were awarded, as well as an overall best of show selected for each of the two classes. In total there were 39 EVOO and 22 flavored olive oil entries that were judged by a panel of seven judges from the California Olive Oil Council Taste Panel. The judging took place on March 8 in Pleasanton, California.
Gold medals in the extra virgin oil class went to Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Tyler Florence Test Kitchen EVOO (Clovis) and Rosenthal Olive Ranch’s Arbosana (Madera), which both won in the category for Spanish blends. Gold medals for Spanish single variety oils went to Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Premium EVOO (Lodi), Calolea Olive Ranch’s Calolea Mission (Marysville) and The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma).
Gold medals for Italian blends went to Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Winter Creek Olive Oil (Winter Creek), Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Ruscello d’Inverno (Winter Creek), Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Growers Blend (Lodi), The Olive Press’ Italian Blend (Sonoma), Coppetti Olive Oil’s Harvest Blend (Modesto), Bava Family Grove’s Bava Monticelli Estate Napa Valley (Escalon), San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Nectar of the Gods (San Miguel) and San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Gold (San Miguel). Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Oil Ascolano (Lodi) won the sole gold medal awarded for an Italian single variety oil, and Bozzano Olive Ranch’s A2 (Stockton) won a gold medal for other blends.
Gold medals for flavored oils went to The Olive Press’ Lime (Sonoma) and The Olive Press’ Limonata (Sonoma), which competed in the citrus-flavored category. Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi) won the gold medal for an herbal-flavored oil, and Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Jalapeno Garlic (Lodi) and Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Extreme Heat Serrano (Lodi) won gold medals for oils with other flavorings.
Silver medals in the extra virgin olive oils class went to Fandango Olive Oil’s Fiesta (Paso Robles), a Spanish blend; Italian blends, Frog Hollow Farm’s Frog Hollow Farm Organic EVOO (Brentwood), Bozzano Olive Ranch’s Toscana Organic (Stockton), San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Pristine (San Miguel) and La Ferme Soleil’s La Ferme Soleil (San Francisco); and other blends, Rancho Azul y Oro’s Estate Blend (San Miguel) and Rosenthal Olive Ranch’s Koroneiki (Madera). Among the single variety oils, The Olive Press’ Arbosana (Sonoma), The Olive Press’ Arbequina (Sonoma), The Olive Press’ Sevillano (Sonoma), Fandango Olive Oil’s Elegante (Paso Robles), Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Delicate Ranch 11 (Clovis) and Coppetti Olive Oil’s Fall Harvest (Modesto) won silver medals for Spanish single-variety oils; Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Oil Frantoio EVOO (Lodi) and Alta Cresta Olive Oil’s Alta Cresta Premium Coratina (Paso Robles) won silver medals for Italian single-variety oils, and Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Bold Ranch 11 (Clovis) and The Olive Press’ Mission EVOO (Sonoma) won silver medals for other single-variety oils.
In the category for citrus-flavored oils, Olive Ranch’s Meyer Lemon (Marysville), Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Lusty Lemon (Lodi), The Olive Press’ Clementine (Sonoma) and Rancho Azul y Oro’s Estate Blend Orange (San Miguel) were awarded silver medals. Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Rustic Rosemary (Lodi) and Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Oh! Oregano (Lodi) were awarded silver medals in the herb-flavored oils category, and The Olive Press’ Jalapeno (Sonoma) and Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Hot Virgin Jalapeno (Lodi) were awarded silver medals for oils with other flavors.
Planning is already underway for the 2017 SJVOOC, which will be held April 4. More information will be available in November at www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition.
By Micah Cheek
“May third, we had a serious freeze. We lost about a quarter of the grapes,” says Steve Darland of The Darland Company. “One year we had a family of bears.” Darland’s farm is located in Monticello, New Mexico, a former ghost town just north of Truth Or Consequences. This arid environment, though sometimes unforgiving, is an ideal place to age balsamic vinegar. Darland personally inspects and prunes his grapevines throughout the growing season. Every grape counts; it will take 200 pounds of fruit and at least 12 years to make each bottle of Traditional Organic Balsamic of Monticello.
Grapes that make it to harvest are crushed and heated over a wood fire. After being reduced and fermented, the grape must is poured off into handmade barrels. These casks are crafted by Francesco Renzi, whose family has been making them in the same building for 500 years, long before balsamic vinegar was considered a viable mass market product. The grape will spend 12 years circulating through casks made of oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, acacia and ash, drawing volatile compounds from each to develop its snappy, resinous flavor. Darland says, “Periods of intense work are followed by long periods of time where grapes are growing or vinegar is aging in its casks.”
Monticello is a hub for organic farmers, despite the spring frosts and animals. They all meet in Truth Or Consequences for a farmer’s market, which the Darlands helped start after their first grape harvest. The revenue for their first batch of balsamic was over a decade away, so other sources of income came from the farm. “A great way to fill the time is to grow unique, but potentially popular, healthy, delicious organic crops which thrive in this environment,” says Darland. The farm produced shishito peppers, pomegranates, and other organic products. “My wife, Jane, became the Johnny Appleseed of Sierra County by helping other growers choose, then order and plant the right fruit trees to survive and thrive in our climate – thousands of trees,” he adds.
The more you learn about Darland’s process, the farther removed it is from the balsamic vinegars readily available on shelves. These products, known as industrial vinegars, are generally aged for as little as hours or days before being thickened with sugar, molasses or mosto cotto, a sweet grape syrup. This thick and sweet vinegar is made to mimic the traditional balsamic flavor, because demand for the product has long ago outstripped supply. This demand has fueled a massive market for the sweetened balsamic. “It may be a polite fake, but with an estimated quarter billion dollars of annual US sales, it is a much, much better business than it is a gourmet food item,” says Darland. For him, these products do not even fit into the category of real balsamic vinegar. “The key thing for people to learn: when you read the ingredient list on the label and it has more than one, it is industrial balsamic. Like it or not.”
The Darlands devote their down time to travel. They conduct tastings at stores and restaurants to highlight the differences between their balsamic and the less expensive industrial alternatives. “We take nearly every opportunity to visit islands of foodies, wherever we can sample and talk about the real thing, since ours is the only American commercial balsamic and probably the only organic version in the world,” says Darland. Surprisingly, one of the most difficult groups to convince is chefs. “Chefs are challenged with being fashionable, and making a profit. In culinary school or other training, chefs are shown how to make faux balsamic,” says Darland. Many chefs will cook down inexpensive industrial vinegars with sugar to make a facsimile of a rich, aged balsamic to use for plate presentation. They end up with a sweet product that clings to the tongue, but has had all the subtle flavors and volatile compounds cooked out of it. “It’s a hoax on the menu. It makes everyone the fool – the wait help, the kitchen staff, the chef and the diner all get the wrong lesson without ever tasting balsamic.” says Darland. “There’s a cruel humor in it.”
While cost-conscious chefs are reticent to pick up a bottle of Monticello vinegar, Darland has had to turn away many retailers trying purchase his product. Producing a maximum of 1000 bottles per year makes relationships with retailers a delicate balancing act. Each new retailer thins out the number of bottles that go to all the rest. “We sell online and through very special retailers, and have to be judicious with supply. We sold everything we bottled last year, and we were down to just two bottles when the year ended,” says Darland. “So, we want retail allies with smart retail staff who we can rely on for sales. In turn they can rely on us for supply.” In addition to the 1000 4.5-ounce bottles, limited batches of one ounce bottles are released, as well as a condiment balsamic version made from the same grape must, but aged for less than 12 years.
When asked how he is planning on expanding, Darland states, “I’m not.” While some nationwide retailers have tried to bring Traditional Organic Balsamic of Monticello to their shelves, Darland doesn’t have enough stock, and more importantly, doesn’t like the way they do business. “If we had done that, we would have done it 23 years ago,” says Darland. “The retailers we have are really smart and really know what they’ve got.” Though making organic and artisan products is more involved, Darland steadfastly believes that small production of quality ingredients has a growing place in the market. “These days, everything is monetized. But with true balsamic, there is no short term fiscal shortcut. Rather than repeating the classics, people have settled for fakes. Still, there is room for real, and things made with great care,” says Darland. “Handcrafted, organic, small production is a lively segment for balsamic and many gourmet products.”
After a remarkably successful first year with 52 entries, The Big Fresno Fair is now accepting entries for the 2nd Annual San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC). The competition is open to all olive oil producers in the state of California with olive oil made from the most recent olive harvest. Entries are now being accepted; deadline to enter is February 26, 2016.
“Showcasing the quality and variety of top-notch olive oil producers found throughout California has been an incredible addition to our competitive exhibits at The Big Fresno Fair,” said Stacy Rianda, Deputy Manager at The Big Fresno Fair. “We were very happy with last year’s participation and feedback on the competition. This year we look forward to even more entries and the opportunity to, yet again, showcase the olive oil industry to our more than 600,000 fair-goers in October.”
There are two classes for entries: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Flavored Olive Oil. Competition categories in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil class include: Spanish Blends (arbequina, arbosana, etc.); Spanish Singles; Italian Blends (ascolano, etc.); Italian Singles; Other Blends (picholine, barouni, etc.); Other Singles. Competition categories in the Flavored Olive Oil Class include: Citrus; Herbal (rosemary; basil, etc.); and Other Flavors (chile, jalapeno, garlic, etc.).
Awards will be given out for gold and silver medals in each category, as well as one overall “Best of Show” in both the EVOO category and the Flavored Oil category. Judging will be evaluated and scored as follows:
Producers may submit multiple entries under one category but may not submit a particular entry to more than one category. All entries must be available for commercial sale at the time of submittal. Entries are due by February 26, 2016 by 4:30 p.m. Judging will be held on March 8, 2016. Judges are all members of the California Olive Oil Council Taste Panel, including internationally-trained panelists some with 15+ years of experience. Winners will be announced on March 17, 2016 by 5:00 p.m.
Gold Medal and Best of Show winners will have the opportunity to have a booth in the Wells Fargo Agricultural Building on both Saturdays and Sundays during the 2016 Big Fresno Fair where they can taste, display and sell their award-winning product. Additionally, educational information will be set up so that fair-goers can learn more about the art of making olive oil, its health benefits, recipes and more.
Each submission must include an entry form, at least two 250 ml bottles of the olive oil with retail labels attached and a $60 non-refundable fee per entry. Entries can be dropped off at The Big Fresno Fair Administration Office or can be shipped to SJVOOC – The Big Fresno Fair, 1121 S. Chance Ave. Fresno, CA 93702 no later than 4:30 p.m. on February 26, 2016. Any entry delivered by mail, freight or express must be prepaid. The Administration Office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for drop-offs.
The Inaugural San Joaquin Olive Oil Competition last year yielded 52 entries from throughout California. Below is a list of the Gold Medal Winners and Best of Show. For a complete 2015 winners list, go to: http://www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition
Extra Virgin Olive Oils
o Italian Blends: Bozzano Olive Ranch’s A2 Italian Blend (Stockton)
o Spanish Singles: The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma)
o Tuscan Blends: Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Ruscello D’Inverno (Winter Creek)
Flavored Olive Oils
o Other Flavors:
Best Of Show
For more information about the new San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC), including downloadable entry forms and deadlines, visit www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition, email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call The Big Fresno Fair office at 559.650.FAIR.
Italian Foods Corporation introduced white balsamic pearls at the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show, making it easy to bring the fun–and gourmet flair–of molecular gastronomy to American tables.
The new Romantica® white balsamic pearls are translucent, jelly-like spheres of white balsamic vinegar that are a made through the science of molecular gastronomy, said Francesca Lapiana-Krause, General Manager. The white pearls were added because of the interest in the black balsamic pearls Italian Foods Corporation began importing last year, Lapiana-Krause said.
The pearls also have been repackaged. The clear 1.75 ounce jars are topped with sleek metal lids embossed with Italian Foods Corporation’s sun face logo and wrapped in a white sleeve with the red heart that is the Romantica brand icon, Lapiana-Krause said. The sleeve leaves the sides of the jars exposed so consumers can see the tiny vinegar globes within.
Balsamic vinegar pearls deliver small bursts of sweet-tart vinegar flavor and add visual interest to dishes ranging from cocktails to dessert, Lapiana-Krause said. They pair especially well with salads, fish and meat courses, fruit desserts, or can serve as a pretty garnish, she said.
The balsamic pearls have a suggested retail price of $12.99. More information is available by calling 1.888.516.7262 or online at http://www.ItalianFoods.com and https://www.Facebook.com/LaPianaItalianFoods.
By Lorrie Baumann
After its first year in operation in the United States, Boundary Bend is well on its way to achieving its objective of changing Americans’ ideas about olive oil and what it can do for them. “We’re absolutely trying to introduce Americans to the concept of fresh, more robust oils, which have the double advantage of more flavor and more health benefits,” said Boundary Bend Co-founder and Executive Chairman Rob McGavin.
Boundary Bend started its U.S. operations in Woodland, California, right around the beginning of last year and within months was winning awards at the New York International Olive Oil Competition with four Cobram Estate oils made in the U.S. – two silvers and two golds. Trees for future olive supplies were ordered last spring and will be planted this spring in western Yolo County, with more trees ordered for the upcoming year. The American operation is being headed by fifth-generation California farmer Adam Englehardt, McGavin credits Englehardt for much of the company’s success in integrating so quickly into California’s agricultural community. “He’s a great guy and is well-liked by the other farmers,” he said. “We’re very excited about the enthusiasm with which we’ve been received.”
“It’s a kind of fellowship of farmers,” McGavin continued. “As millers and marketers we can offer expertise and quality, but they’re also supporting us, as quality olive oil only comes from top-quality fruit.”
Boundary Bend is expecting to enter several oils from its 2015 harvest into competition for the 2016 NYIOOC awards and will be exhibiting with them at the Winter Fancy Food Show in New York. The company is depending on its experience in the Australian market to change what Americans look for in their olive oils. Most American olive oils are produced from the Arbequina variety of olives, which produce oil with a mild flavor and which are adaptable to being grown on trellises in California orchards where they’re planted in densities as high as 600 trees per acre. Boundary Bend prefers to plant its trees in lower densities – about 150 trees per acre – and to allow them to grow taller and bushier, so the Boundary Bend groves will look more like a walnut or almond orchard than like a typical California olive grove, which more nearly resembles a California vineyard. That opens up the possibilities for olive varieties beyond those currently under commercial production in California: 19 different varieties are being planted. Notably, Boundary Bend will be growing Picual olives, which make an oil with a very fruity flavor as well as Coratina, for a robust oil with a lot of pepperiness and bitterness on the tongue. “We’re also planting Hojiblanca and some other robust olives as well,” McGavin said. “We’re using our Australian experience to tell us what’s popular and what works and what has the wonderful antioxidants.”
McGavin expects these varieties to produce oils that will tantalize American tastes as well as win awards in next year’s NYIOOC. “We’ve got some really nice oils,” he said, adding that he believes that Americans will appreciate them for the health benefits that nutrition research has identified with extra virgin olive oils as well as for their flavors. “The health benefits are in the minor components, which are what give the oils their aroma and flavor, and we expect that having a wider variety of flavors will be popular,” he said. “The oils with high levels of antioxidants also have materially better shelf life. They stand up better to cooking because the levels of antioxidants protect the oils.”
“Published studies show that no other food comes close to extra virgin olive oil for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, said Mary Flynn, Senior Research Dietitian and Associate Professor of Medicine, Clinical at The Miriam Hospital and Brown University. “Consumption of extra virgin olive oil has been related to decreasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lipid disorders, cancer, in general, and cancer of the breast, colon, GI, skin, prostate (and maybe more); osteoporosis; and Alzheimer’s disease (as well as other cognitive function issues).”
It’s not just the mono-unsaturated fat content in olive oils that are responsible for the health benefits; it’s something to do with the higher phenol content in some oils, she added. Laboratory analysis of Boundary Bend oils has demonstrated that the company is producing oils with consistently high phenol levels, she noted.
“We’re just as passionate about the health as about the flavor, but they go hand in hand,” McGavin said. “An oil that may win a show may be the healthiest oil. Healthiest food on Earth.”