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.”
Ariston’s new Saffron Infused Olive Oil combines Ariston award-winning select extra virgin olive oil with fragrant saffron. Ariston’s Saffron Infused Olive Oil goes great with Paella and anything else that needs saffron.
Ariston’s Saffron Infused Olive Oil is one of 18 Ariston extra virgin olive oils and infused olive oils available through Ariston Specialties’ Fusti Refill and Save Program and its Fusti Freshly Poured Program. The line also includes Curry Infused Olive oil, Pesto Infused Olive oil and Truffle Infused Olive oil.
Ariston’s select Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Infused Olive Oil are produced by the company in Greece and tested three times before reaching your shelf to assure you and your customers that what you’re getting is real extra virgin olive oil. The Ariston program is versatile and can be implemented in your bakery, butcher, farm co-operative, specialty gourmet store, café – the sky is the limit.
For more information, call 860.224.7184.
The products in the new Ariston line of organic balsamic vinegars are characterized by a perfect balance between sweet and sour. This product is made exclusively with organically farmed grapes, without pesticides involved. The entire production process is certified in order to guarantee consumers compliance with the highest organic farming standards, guaranteed by the CCPB certifying body.
To make the vinegars, the grape must, cooked over a direct heat in an open vessel, simmers slowly and is concentrated until it is reduced to about one third of its original volume. It is then placed in the attic, in a series of casks of oak wood. Here the balsamic vinegar passes the years acidifying and aging until it has reached a balance that only the alchemy of time can provide, prodded along by the masterful hands of artisans.
This balsamic is naturally dark and dense, with a 5 percent acidity content. Add some over strawberries or on your favorite salad to add complexity.
For more information, call Ariston Specialties at 860.224.7184.
By Lorrie Baumann
Olive oil industry experts are enlisting retailers to improve the quality of the olive oil assortment on their shelves and to educate consumers that the low-price olive oil they can buy on some retailers’ shelves isn’t a quality extra-virgin olive oil, regardless of what it says on the label. While it’s not necessarily easy for the average consumer to know if the olive oil they’re buying is truly a high-quality oil, it is very easy to identify a very cheap oil as a fraud, says David Neuman, CEO of Gaea North America, a subsidiary of Greek olive oil maker Gaea.
“When you’re selling as a retailer a liter of extra-virgin olive oil for $7, that’s not possible. Organic extra-virgin olive oil being sold for $5.99 a liter. It isn’t possible. You can’t make it for that,” he said.
“You could ask, how do they do it? How do they sell an EV for $4.99?” adds Alexandra Devarenne, Co Founder of Extra Virgin Alliance, a nonprofit trade association representing producers of extra virgin olive oil from around the world. “It’s not really an extra virgin olive oil,” she said.
The product in that bottle is very likely all olive oil, since the presence of other oils, such as canola or soybean oil, is easily detected. Although other oils can be mixed into olive oil and then sold as pure extra-virgin olive oil, the relative ease of detection and clear illegality has discouraged that particular fraud in U.S. retail, she says. The fraud that’s more often perpetrated on American retailers and consumers involves the adulteration of extra-virgin olive oil with lower grades of olive oil to produce a mixture of inferior oils that’s then labeled and sold as extra virgin. “That’s possible, and it’s undercutting the market for true extra virgin,” Devarenne said.
Widescale fraud is made possible because olive oil as a category is worth more than $1 billion a year in U.S. sales, and of that, more than 98 percent is imported, Neuman said. “With olive oils, there are a lot of foreign entities labeling things extra virgin that don’t meet the standards. The rest of the world is sending whatever they want to America. Grocers are selling what they need to to meet the demand,” he said.
That leaves the producers of genuine high-quality extra virgin olive oils – the kind that have been shown actually to have the health benefits and flavor that Americans are often seeking when they choose to buy olive oils, struggling to compete in a marketplace in which their oils, which have to sell at prices that reflect what it actually costs to produce them, sit on the shelf next to commodity-grade oils with much lower prices. Retailers are in a similar bind, according to Maria Reyes, Director, Vendor Management at KeHE Distributors. “It’s a business and we all have to make money including the retailers. There are a lot of oils out there and consumers are confused or simply don’t know the right olive oil to buy. The challenge is how we get the consumers to be educated about olive oil so that they are able to make the right decision as to what they’re buying off the shelf,” she said.
KeHE is getting more and more requests every year from over-stressed retailers who are asking for help with category reviews and product tastings, partly because they’re finding it more difficult to find the time to educate themselves about a product that’s often regarded as a commodity instead of as a specialty category like wine or cheese, Reyes says. “The challenge is that they’re requesting the information, they give us the time, and they listen,” she said, “But then, ‘How do we do this? How do all of us find the time to do this?’”
“They think of olive oil as an everyday food, but it’s as technical as wine – it has a standard of identity; it’s regulated,” Neuman added. “But grocers generally just don’t have the time to investigate. One buyer may be buying half the center store. They sometimes do two reviews a year for each category. Plus, they go to trade shows, etc.”
They’d like retailers to regard olive oil as a category more similar to wine, for which many specialty markets have a sommelier who has invested a significant amount of time to learn about the products their store is selling. But short of that, they’d like to see grocery retailers supporting their buyers in gaining some training about olive oils. “Anyone who cares enough to learn can learn. It’s not necessary for a buyer to go to multiple trainings to make a big difference. It’s enough to want to learn and to taste and to seek out people who are experienced,” Devarenne said. “You may not become an expert taster – that takes years – but you can become a competent taster pretty quickly.”
“It’s not super-easy, but it’s also not rocket science,” she added. “And it really is important. Otherwise, you’re just at the mercy of the person who comes in and says it was done the way his grandfather did it, and then you taste the product, and if you know nothing, then you still know nothing. Do the same research you’d put into other purchases. We need to convince people that there’s information out there, and there’s good unbiased information out there. They just have to care enough to look for it.”
The investment is worthwhile for retailers because specialty food consumers are looking for premium products. Americans are not using a lot of olive oil now, especially in comparison to consumers in European olive-oil producing countries, but as they learn more about the value of high-quality oils and their range of flavors and varieties, there’s a lot of room for American consumption to increase, according to Neuman. “There’s nothing else in the grocery story that costs $17 per unit and drives a 40 percent to 50 percent gross margin,” he said. “Retailers win when they’re selling a better product at a higher price. The producers win because we can afford to pay farmers premium prices. And the specialty consumer wants to be taught how to use good product…. There is a lot of room for premium brands.”
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.”
This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.