Sean McEntire (our oil maker) and I are working together in the frantoio today and we are very excited about making citrus-infused olive oil from our own organic olives and citrus.
For the past few years we have been talking about making a citrus-infused olive oil, but we never felt we had the right combination of fruit ripeness and availability. We also wanted to wait until the end of the season just in case something went wrong with our new process. Well, we are at the end of the olive harvest and we will only be making some soap oil tomorrow.
So, today we are midway through processing our first batch of citrus olive oil. The frantoio smells simply fantastic with all of the lemon zest in the air.
Courtney and Marilu picked about 175 pounds of our own Bearss limes from a tree at our residence yesterday afternoon. And, we added about 50 pounds of Meyer lemons from Frank and Beth Leed's ranch. All organic, of course.
Bearss limes are unusual in that they are yellow when ripe and contain very few seeds. (They originated in Tahiti.) Yet, while they look like lemons, the distinctive smell and taste of lime is extraordinary. Meyer lemons are similarly intensely flavorful. So, we are expecting a very wonderful oil.
The fruit was cut in half and then added to the olives just prior to going on the crushing stone. We doubled our crush time on the stones until the citrus became very well mixed with the olive paste. Then, it was on to the malixer where the paste was kneaded and lightly warmed prior to going through the decanter.
Out the other end of the decanter our newest product is now arriving.
Wow! We have just created a wonderfully zesty, fresh new oil. Imagine LMR Citrus Olive Oil drizzled on wood oven-roasted asparagus. . . and whatever else Sheamus dreams up.
We are making some amazing olive oil this season.
And, what an unusual season it has been. Our yields are more than double the yields from our previous highest year. And, we are still harvesting in January (only twice before have we harvested this late). Furthermore, we may be only halfway through our crop at Long Meadow Ranch. So, another ten days of picking are probably required.
We started picking in our oldest olive orchard yesterday, which has traditionally been the source of our exclusive Prato Lungo oil. The oil is just amazing: soft, almost sweet, with hints of tropical fruits and even honeydew melon.
We are blessed to have inherited this orchard from our original pioneer, E.J. Church. Imagine planting these hillside orchards with cuttings from around the Horn in the early 1870s. The trees were lost in the forest for more than sixty years and then we restored them to health over the past fifteen years. Incredibly, the trees (still an unidentified culitvar despite multiple DNA test) make truly world-class olive oil. We are the very lucky benefactors indeed.
Sean McEntire, our olive oil maker, and I are immensely enjoying every afternoon as we sample the lots of freshly made oil. Yesterday the oil seemed more like an elegant drink than a condiment. We can't wait to share it with our family, friends, and fans.
We began the 2010-11 olive harvest today.
This vintage is our 15th commercial olive harvest at Long Meadow Ranch and we are very excited. After the smallest harvest ever last year, we are now expecting our largest harvest in LMR history. Of course, over 1000 of our trees were planted in the 1870s. So, the record may have occurred during their storied past.
While the 2010 growing season was long and cool, we had excellent conditions at bloom in late May. Olives need ample moisture to keep blossoms hydrated at the crucial moment of bloom in late May. This year we had a cool, moist spring without the sudden heat spikes and high winds that were so damaging last year.
Our trees are laden with fruit and many of our orchards are also now reaching full maturity. Several of our orchards were planted by our son, Chris, during the summer of 1998 and the promise he helped create twelve long years ago is now finally coming to bear. So, we have had great conditions coupled with maturing tree; hence, the record crop.
Over the years we have almost always started harvest before Thanksgiving. So, we are about two weeks late. We expect to be harvesting over the next three weeks (at least fifteen processing days in the frantoio). If we're lucky we'll finish by Christmas, but the weather will be the key determinant. While rain doesn't hurt the olives, we can't safely harvest in the rain. We can wait out the rain. We just don't want high winds to blow the fruit to the ground. We won't be surprised to be harvesting during the first week in January.
We tasted the first oil of the season a couple of hours ago (unlike wine we can experience immediate gratification). The oil was clean, had beautiful aromas, and offered sharp pungency. We're excited. Stay tuned.
Once again our olive oil is playing a sacramental role in the lives of the 150,000 members of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
We are very honored to have our olive oil blessed as Chrism. Our olive oil has been used for this special purpose since 2003.
Bishop Daniel F. Walsh consecrated our olive oil last Tuesday in a centuries-old Holy Week tradition (moved up a few days to accommodate a busy schedule for the clergy). So, this seemed to be an appropriate posting for Palm Sunday.
Laddie and Marina Costabile (family friend and new member of our LMR team) attended the Mass of the Oils at the Cathedral of St. Eugene, which was also attended by all of the clergy from the Diocese.
Throughout the Catholic Church for centuries, the bishop of each diocese has distributed oil to each member of the clergy at this annual ritual Mass. The Chrism oils are used to annoint the sick in what most laymen call "last rights" and are also used at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and other Church sacraments.
In our case, the oil will be used throughout the six-county area covered by the Diocese of Santa Rosa. The priests in all 42 parishes and 22 missions will use the sacramental oil throughout the coming year. This means our oil will potentially touch the lives of more than 150,000 people.
The opportunity to provide continuity to a centuries-old sacred tradition and to be recognized for the integrity of our traditional, sustainable approach to farming is a very special honor for our family and for our team at Long Meadow Ranch.
We feel truly blessed.
Last Saturday we won a Gold Medal with our Napa Valley Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the annual meeting of the California Olive Oil Council. We are very pleased.
While the rest of the world was focused on medal contests at the Winter Olympics, we were similarly engaged.
The California Olive Oil Council is the industry trade association for olive oil production in the United States. An annual competition was initiated last year to acknowledge the best producers in the domestic olive oil industry. The oils are judged by a jury of our most significant peers.
These same tasters apply their skills to accredit extra virgin olive oils that receive the COOC seal. And, they have received many hours of training and have tasted hundreds of oils in structured blind settings. As a result, their judgment means even more to us than a review from a "civilian" food writer or critic.
So, for us, this award is a "really big deal."
Oiive oil maker for Long Meadow Ranch, Jason Moulton, was in attendance to receive the award. (Regretably, the award ceremony overlapped with the Napa Valley Premier barrel auction which prevented Laddie and me from being there, too.) He returned home with a grin that will last for a few more days.
Napa Valley Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil is our "mixing and blending" oil made from a blend of Italian and Spanish cultivars. It is our favorite for salads, pesto, and Tuscan beans. Unfortunately, the 2010 harvest was very light because of severe weather during flower set last May. So, while we have just completed bottling, there will not be much to go around. In fact, we did not make any Prato Lungo oil for first time since 1995 because we had no crop from the historic orchards.
While the medal is not exactly "Olympic" in its importance, we are very proud to receive this recognition for our organic farming and oil production practices. Bravo to Jason, Frank, Pilo, Todd, Lauren, Sean, and all of the crew.
This past week we finished milling our olives here at Long Meadow Ranch.
As Ted mentioned in an earlier blog posting, 2009 has been a skimpy olive harvest. Not to worry, though, as we are making a decent amount of oil. The olive oils thus far have been very rich with a powerful pungency (spicey) character, showing that we will have an excellent level of quality for 2009.
The olive harvest data have shown that all of our oil yields are down. This happens to be the case with all the olive mills in California. Essentially, what's happening is that the oil and water molecules are not breaking apart during the malaxation stage (paste warming and mixing). Therefore, when the olive paste passes through the decanter centrifuge, the separation of liquids (oil and water) from solids is difficult. This problem of extraction is most likely attributed to a high level of moisture in the olives, caused by rain just prior to harvest.
Although we are facing extraordinary challenges this harvest in terms of both quantity and yield, we remain resilient and will be able to release an excellent 2009 olive oil. Please watch for it when we release it!
Posted by Jason Moulton
We started harvesting olives at sunrise on Monday morning, but we are likely to have the smallest harvest on record.
Thanksgiving Day is the calendar marker for our olive harvest each year. Sometimes we start during the short week prior to the holiday and sometimes right after. So, the harvest is right on time this year.
But, our challenge - and for everyone else in Northern California - is that we have a very small crop. The weather at bloom (in late May) could not have been worse for setting the crop.
Usually we worry about enough moisture content in the soil to help keep the fragile blossoms hydrated. This year we had about two inches of rain on May 15th and we thought we were going to have wonderful conditions. We even skipped our usual pre-bloom irrigation.
But, of course, this is farming. Just as the blossoms opened we had an extraordinary heat spell. Temperatures reached the high 90s (in May!) for more than two days. Then, as often happens when we have an early heat spell caused by a high pressure system to the Northeast, we had very high winds. The so-called "perfect storm" hit us hard: high heat, low humidity, and very strong sustained winds (30-50 mph). The blossoms were gone - except in a few protected locations.
No blossoms; no fruit. There is almost no fruit in the entire region.
We'll see how the harvest volumes go for the rest of the week. However, yesterday afternoon Jason Moulton (our olive oil maker) and I were very pleased with the first oil off the press: fresh, clean, and very agreeably pungent!
So, maybe the good news will be in this vintage's quality. Let's hope so.
More at the end of the week.
Posted by Jason Moulton
I am heading back to the Napa Valley with mixed emotions.
Looking back on my journey in South America, I can't help realizing how I ended up here.
My biggest thanks goes out to Marcelo Cena of Pieralisi. Marcelo helped with all my arrangements and communication on the ground in Mendoza. In Chile, the Pieralisi representatives Christian Benevente and Sergio Castello were very gracious to help me get hooked up with Terra Santa. Jorge Nasal and Sebastian, the mill operator of Terra Santa were very kind to have me over for a day in the Curacavi Valley.
Furthermore, I'd like to thank Miguel Zuccardi and Mauricio Castro for looking after me for 2 weeks. Piece-by-piece, I learned how their operation at Familia Zuccardi works. And I must say, these two gentleman are producing the highest quality extra virgin olive oil in all of Argentina. I wish them the best of luck!
Upon review of the past 3 weeks, I've managed to see machine harvesting vs. manual harvesting, filtered oil vs. unfiltered oil, hammermills vs. stonecrushers, and so on.
Each manner of processing or harvesting has an appropriate reason behind it. Our decisions on how we treat our olives and olive oil are based upon our diverse locations (Napa Valley, Chile, and Argentina) and how much olive oil we truly want to make.
The important thing we all abide by is the processing of freshly picked olives. If we can't process them immediately, then our product will be of inferior quality. . . degrading our extra virgin olive oil prospects.
On that note, I'm headed back to Napa Valley, leaving the cold here in Mendoza for the sunshine in California. It has certainly been a great harvest down here.
Hasta la proxima vez che!
Posted by Jason Moulton
Posted by Jason Moulton
The adventures in Chile continue.
The capital of Chile, Santiago, was where I chose to base myself in terms of accomodation. Lying just North of Santiago, the Curacaví Valley was in close proximity, with buses leaving there every 8 minutes.
Christián Benavente and Sergio Castello, both of Pieralisi agreed to pick me up from the town of Curacaví. While Christián is the local Chilean contact for Pieralisi, Sergio Castello is the head of all Latin American operations in regards to Pieralisi.
Sergio travels to Uruguay, Peru, Chile, and Argentina to ensure all Pieralisi equipment is working properly. Sergio Castello and Marcelo Cena have both made a point in coming to California as well to help all Pieralisi olive oil mills. I am very grateful to have such excellent support from all these Pieralisi representatives.
After picking me up from the town of Curacaví, Christián drove us to Terra Santa. We arrived in the middle of processing Frantoio and Arbequina. Terra Santa has the luxury of processing immediately after being picked, just as we do at LMR. The ability to process immediately after picking leads to a greater quality of aromatics, less oxidation, lower levels of acidity, and an increase in polyphenols (antioxidants).
In total, Terra Santa has 386 acres planted to Arbequina, Picual, Frantoio, Leccino, Coratina, Arbosana, and Korieniki. The 86 acres on site have a median age of 6 years, while the 300 acres off-site are just one-year-olds. It goes to show how young and up-and-coming this company truly is here.
Production-wise, Terra Santa has the ability to crush 7,715 lbs per hour or 66,135 lbs per day. Total tank capacity is up to 145,310 gallons. Although Terra Santa is massive in its levels of production and property, it still maintains a high level of quality and respect for the olives.
The laboratory has a machine that generates the approximate amounts of acidity and breaks them down into the different families of acidity. There was also a miniature olive crusher to test field samples. The purpose of testing field samples is to know exactly what levels of acidity you could obtain prior to harvesting whole blocks.
Their tanks were absolutely pristine and beautiful, making me think it was more of a winery than an olive mill. As with most upper-echelon mills, this also had epoxy floors to maintain cleanliness efficiently. Sebastian, the mill operator was overly generous with his time in showing me how all of his equipment worked and how they cleaned up after a day of processing.
After getting a right and proper tour of the facility, I hiked up about a mile into the olive orchards. The terrain was tough, but pleasing to the eyes. These 6-year-old trees were doing very well for their age and seemed healthier than ever. The view of the rolling hills was smile-provoking to say the least.
Coming to Terra Santa was an excellent choice. As the production level increases here, the more important it will be to analyze every lot coming into the mill. As a quality control issue, Terra Santa is taking the right step in testing each and every lot before, during, and after processing.
I wish them luck on their new venture!
Posted by Jason Moulton
Posted by Jason Moulton
Today, I was confronted with a very exciting opportunity to travel to Chile.
Miguel Zuccardi suggested that I try to cross the border into Chile to make contact with a Chilean olive oil company. The prospect was enlightening and, obviously, a "no-brainer." Truly, Chile was just over the Andes mountain range, which were in plain sight.
I said yes to the prospect and waited to hear back from Miguel in regards to which company I could visit. This wasn't the easiest task of cross-coordination and communication. In order to make this work, Miguel had to contact the local Pieralisi representative in Argentina, Marcelo Cena.
Marcelo, whom I met at Long Meadow Ranch in 2008, has been instrumental in helping through my journey to Latin America. Marcelo contacted the Chilean representative of Pieralisi, Christian Benavente, to coordinate a meeting with a Chilean olive oil mill.
The idea was to see a different type of olive mill apart from Familia Zuccardi and Pallazini. On that note, Marcelo and Christian found the perfect place. . . Terra Santa.
Terra Santa is located about an hour North of Santiago in the Curacaví Valley. The olive mill will be the biggest I have seen thus far in terms of production. Terra Santa is a very young company, being founded in 1999 by Jorge Nazal Manzur.
Jorge originally made his career from a Chilean clothing line, but now wants to diversify and focus on the burgeoning extra virgin olive oil industry in Chile. His goal here is to make high quality extra virgin olive oil for a good price. At the quality level, their acidity is <0.20%, which is great. The date of bottling is also on each bottle or tin, letting the consumer know just how fresh the oil can be. At this price point and level of quality, the Italians and Spanish should be fearful.
The bus ride through the Andes on to Santiago was full of beautiful mountian views. The snow capped mountains eventually appeared and hence, the temperatures dropped. The total journey was roughly 9 hours. Customs, of course, made it longer - especially when the officials saw me sneeze and assumed I had the H1N1 flu!
When they discovered I was American, they sent me to the Health Department area to be questioned. Luckily, I was fine and the officials were quite nice.
Ironically, I was just getting over the normal flu, but had nothing like the H1N1 symptoms. I looked forward to going to Chile, where it was warmer than Mendoza.
I will kick this cold soon enough.
Posted by Jason Moulton