When a bad wine is served, you reject it, right?
If it's corked, oxidized, or has some other overpowering fault, you tell the waiter to take it away. Then, how is extra virgin olive oil different really? It's a luxury product like wine. It's highly prized and can affect your whole dining experience.
The question is. . . would you tell the waiter to take it away? Would you tell the chef that his oil is rancid or adulterated and shouldn't be served? I say yes! It's time to start making restaurants and olive oil producers realize that their old or manipulated olive oil is unfit for public consumption.
Last night, I went out to dine in Mendoza. I found this beautiful Italian restaurant that looked to be from the 30's.
If you've ever been to a Harry's Bar, then you can envision what I mean. Older men in white suits, standing to the side, ready and waiting for the slightest nod or glance from a patron. Overall, they provided impeccable service in an old-fashioned atmosphere. However, this was no Harry's Bar.
I ordered two dishes off the menu. The first, rabas, which was lightly battered and fried calamari served with slices of lemon. . . delicious! The second was gnocchi al pesto.
I had also been eating some bread and dipping it in some extra virgin olive oil off the table. The olive oil was great. . . herbaceous and still young.
Then, the gnocchi came out, with the pesto on the side. Wow! This looked amazing! As soon as he put the pesto on the table, I could already see. . . or smell . . . the problem. I glanced at the pesto in a worried and horrific manner. "No, it's not possible!" The oil on the table was so good. I dipped a spoon in and skimmed a layer of clean oil off. Immediately upon tasting, I cringed. This olive oil was most certainly rancid.
One glance at the waiter and he appeared immediately, as if he teleported over. I told him the oil was "rancio". I asked him if the pesto oil was the same oil as in the bottle. He replied yes and kept saying there shouldn't be a problem. "It's the same oil!", he declared.
He assured me three more times, without batting an eye. The look on my face remained more or less the same, so he proposed I order something else.
Turning wine away is easy because another bottle can be brought back and opened in front of you. Fearing that the cook might adulterate my food in another way, I bit the bullet and drowned my gnocchi in the good oil on the table. At least it tasted better. . . somewhat.
Three posibilities came to me on how this rancid oil came to be. . .
1. It was the good oil on the table, but was heated over time in the kitchen. . . probably next to the stove.
2. It was the good oil on the table, but old. . . about a year or two.
3. It was a different olive oil.
I'll never really know what the chef was thinking. Did he know, did he care, or does he just not know when oil is rancid? This will always be a mystery.
The next question is. . . what's an adulterated oil? This will be answered in a future blog posting.
Posted by Jason Moulton
Maurcio Castro, Luis Scaronne, Julio, and I continued onwards in our observation of the Caña del Onda olive orchard property. We still had to cover a lot of ground. . . just over 200 acres of olives.
The health, status, and pruning methods of these young trees were the topics of discussion. Everything looked very positive and promising in regards to the health and status of these younglings.
But, on the issue of pruning, it was a tough decision. Some varietals may be mechanically hand harvested while others by big machines.
In reality, there are 5 ways that olive trees are harvested. I saw some interesting examples of these today. But first, here they are. . .
1. By hand.
2. Using a stick. . . yes, imagine smacking the branches
3. Mechanical branch shaking devices
4. Mechanical vibrating tree shakers mounted to a tractor
5. Mechanical riding harvesters
To point out the obvious, harvesting olives by hand is crazy, time consuming, and painful. Harvesting with a stick is just as pointedly difficult as harvesting by hand. And really, these first two methods were how olives have been harvested for over 4,000 years.
Mechanical branch shaking devices are probably the most common form of harvesting olives. Vibrating tree shakers can strip 600 plants in 7 hours (43 seconds/tree).
Even better than that are the riding harvesters such as Colossus. Colossus can harvest 15 acres per day. Obviously, options 3-5 are the better choices. The question is will these products match your landscape and your pruning decisions.
For Familia Zuccardi, part of their orchard will be harvested by branch shaking devices, the rest by Colossus or a vibrating tree shaker. This is an unknown decison to be researched further.
At LMR, Pilo Villanueva Sanchez, our olive orchard/vineyard foreman and his crew have to harvest on very tough terrain. The most difficult parts of the mountain to harvest are at a 65 degree angle. Dealing with this adversity, Pilo uses the mechanical branch shakers to strip the branches clean, dropping the olives in our special netting.
Later that day, we drove 2 hours North to a tiny town called Niquivil. We met with Carlos Francisco Lopez, Manager of Operations for a company called Bidwell. Bidwell has about 310 acres of olive trees with a median age of 80 years.
This orchard reminded me very much of our historic orchards at LMR. The trunks were massive and the branches were immensely fruitful. Bidwell grows a number or varietals. . . perhaps too many to name.
While here, we witnessed some people using the ancient method of harvesting. . . hitting branches with sticks. I couldn't believe my eyes. Fortunately, they also had mechanical branch shakers.
Maurcio and I both had the opportunity to operate these devices. I didn't even need to try the stick method.
This was perfect! I'll take one of these!
Posted by Jason Moulton
This morning, Mauricio Castro, the olive oil operations manager for Familia Zuccardi picked me up from my hotel. Today was to be a road trip day. We were headed to Caña del Onda, about 2 hours North of Mendoza in an agricultural region called San Juan.
There are many olive producers around San Juan, including one group of Spanairds that recently planted 3000 acres of olive trees. Very impressive!
We have come here today to check on the progress and health of Familia Zuccardi's newly planted olive trees. Familia Zuccardi had just planted 208 acres in November of 2006. Roughly, the average age of these olive trees are 3 years old. Varieties planted here are Picual, Manzanilla, Arbequina, Frantoio, Coratina, and Hoji Blanca.
In case you didn't know, LMR first planted its Italian cultivars (Frantoio, Moriaolo, Leccino, Pendolino) in 1998. Our historic olive orchards that go into the Prato Lungo are from the 1870s.
Mauricio and I were met here by Julio, the olive orchard property manager and Luis Scaronne, who specializes in olive cultivation. Luis is a coordinator of a group in Argentina called CREA. CREA stands for Consorcio Regional de Experimentación Agrícola or Regional Consortium of Agricultural Experimentation.
This consortium of agricultural professionals has a total of 200 groups in circa 20 regions of Argentina. Together, they represent the entire agricultural economy in their respective groups.
Once every month, the CREA olive group meets to share and discuss disease control, pruning methods, harvesting techniques, nutrition, irrigation, and problems and solutions regarding the olive industry. You get the picture!
What´s amazing to realize is that this group of people, who are competing for a place in the market (domestic and global), come together once a month to discuss strategies on the overall improvement of their business. Incredible!
In California, we have an organization called the COOC, or California Olive Oil Council. The role of the COOC is to promote the growing of olives and the production of extra virgin olive oil in California. The COOC supports certified olive oil standards and provides grower, producer and consumer education.
Through their seal certification program, they help everyone from home chefs to restaurants find guaranteed extra virgin olive oils for their kitchen. Meetings and events, many of them open to the public, focus on a wide range of subjects, from marketing olive oil to managing their orchards.
The COOC meets annually to discuss many of these marketing related topics. The organization itself offers a great opportunity for all California Olive Oil producers to come together to taste, learn, share, and experience the values and virtues of California extra virgin olive oil.
While CREA is more technically and agriculturally based in their mission towards olives and olive oil production, the COOC is about building consumer awareness through marketing strategies in an effort to boost Californian extra virgin olive oil.
Both groups could learn a lot from each other.
Posted by Jason Moulton
Among the many questions about making olive oil, I have pondered the question of filtering. I had a chance to learn more about that issue today.
To enhance my olive oil making experience in Argentina, Familia Zuccardi was kind enough to take me to another extra virgin olive oil producer here in Mendoza. Pallazini is the name of the place we went to the visit. I am unsure of Pallazini's total production, but from the size of the tanks, I believe they out-produce both Familia Zuccardi and Long Meadow Ranch.
We were shown around by the company's olive oil maker, Andres, and Rolando Pallazini, the owner. The facility was quite big and had tiled floors. Pallazini uses a 2-phase system Decanter (centrifuge), which is the same type of centrifugation that we use at Long Meadow Ranch. One thing that stood out in particular was a plate and frame filter. So, the question was raised. . . why would you filter olive oil?
The reasons for filtration of any product are quite simple. Clarity, consistency, and microbial stability. Across the board, these are the reasons that wine, beer, soft drinks, juice, energy drinks, and in this case, extra virgin olive oil are filtered. From the vantage point of a large producer, it provides security, as well as a clean, consistent product for the consumer.
Familia Zuccardi and Long Meadow Ranch both make unfiltered extra virgin olive oils. If the oil is racked nice and clean, leaving the sediment behind, then clarity should not be a problem. Our intention is to also keep our delicate aromas and flavor profiles of the extra virgin olive oil intact.
Posted by Jason Moulton
A very common marketing term that is thrown around quite loosely in the extra virgin olive oil world is "cold pressed."
The intent is to try to prove to the public that a producer's olive oil was not manipulated by temperature. Just so you know, we, along with most extra virgin olive oil producers, warm the olive paste to 26 degrees Celsius (79 F). This is common in quality-driven producers.
According to oliveoilsource.com, "cold pressed" is an anachronistic and largely unregulated label description for olive oil. Fifty years ago when most oil was made in vertical presses, the paste was pressed to make olive oil and then mixed with hot water or steam and pressed again to remove more oil. This "second pressing" was not as good, as the heat evaporated some of the delicate flavors.
In reality, this method of making olive oil in vertical presses is outdated and risky. The paste is spread on fibrous mats that are practically impossible to sanitize. Metal discs are stacked on top and then alternated by mats and these discs. After a big stack is formed, the pressure is created and slowly squeezes the oil out. The oil tends to oxidize quickly and the fibrous mats contribute to microbial contamination.
The more modern approach to olive oil production is by centrifugation. There are two centrifugation methods used worldwide today. The first is a 2-phase system, which is what we use here at LMR. 2-phase means we separate the solids (olive husk) from the liquids (oil and water).
The second method is a 3-phase system, which is what Famila Zuccardi uses. A 3-phase system separates oil, water, and solids (olive husk). In both systems, the oil still has to go through a High Speed Separater Centrifuge to pull out the pure oil. The water (vegetable water) separated during the 3-phase system is sent to another Centrifuge to pull out any residual oil.
Why are we so different? The advantage of a 2-phase system is to use the highly-concentrated nitrogen paste (olive husk waste) in our organic compost pile. This is where our organic and sustainable approach comes in. We never have to fertilize our vineyards or orchards with chemical fertilizers as a result of this naturally occuring by-product.
As for Familia Zuccardi, they have two by-products left over. Dried olive husk and vegetable water with loads of nitrogen are at their disposal. The vegetable water is collected in a small reservoir outside the olive mill. When it comes time to irrigate, they mix the concentrated vegetable water with normal water and irrigate their entire property. Familia Zuccardi also has the pleasure of saying that they grow organic grapes and maintain their property sustainably.
There's a pattern here. . . sustainable and organic!
Until next time. . .
Posted by Jason Moulton
Today turned out to be a massive processing day!
It began with introductions of the entire crew of guys: Marcos, Alejandro, Franco, and Agustin. Then I went on to study how their machines function and the operating procedures behind them. Agustin, the machine operator was very gracious in showing me how everything functioned. Their system of operations is practically set on auto-pilot, so the processing is very smooth and efficient.
There were 4 cultivars that we ended up crushing: Manzanilla, Farga, Arauco, and Empeltre. We process Manzanillo (bigger, but related to Manzanilla) at LMR, but I have never seen or tasted these other oils. Arauco and Manzanilla were the more spicey and pungent oils. Empeltre and Farga are very smooth, mature oils that have a nice, lingering finish in the back of your throat.
In total, Familia Zuccardi crushed 36,608 pounds of olives in 12 hours. This resulted in oil yields up to 685 gallons. Their set-up is built for speed and efficiency, which today it showed quite magnificently.
One of the biggest differences in olive oil production at Familia Zuccardi versus LMR is the method of crushing the olives. At LMR, we have a very traditional "old world" granite stone crusher. Over 4,000 years ago, this same method of crushing olives with granite wheels was being practiced in Europe. .
Today, though, I encountered another type of olive crusher. The hammermill, or moledora, is a machine that pulverizes the olives at an astounding rate. This is done by a series of blades that spin around in a 360 degree motion. While the stone crusher at LMR can do 600 pounds of olives every 20 minutes, the hammermill here at Familia Zuccardi can run continuously, day and night.
More to come tomorrow. . .
Posted by Jason Moulton
For my first day in Mendoza, I met up with Miguel Zuccardi to tour his olive mill.
Miguel is the youngest of three and has taken charge of the olive oil production program. His siblings also play an important part in the company. His brother Sebastian oversees the operations in the winery while sister Julia runs the on-site family restaurant. Their father, Jose Alberto Zuccardi, leads the company and continues to pursue the overseas market with their products.
The new olive mill at Familia Zuccardi has been designed and fabricated by Pieralisi, the same Italian olive oil company who installed the olive mill here at Long Meadow Ranch. Furnished with large, stainless steel tanks and a fresh epoxy floor, this olive mill shall prove to be one of the best in the world.
Once the mill gets going, it has the ability to process 4,000 lbs (2 tons)/hour. To compare, Long Meadow Ranch does about 400 lbs/hour. Total tank capacity is maxed out at 142,000 liters or 37,516 gallons.
In terms of acreage, Familia Zuccardi has roughly 360 acres while Long Meadow Ranch has 20 acres. Although we are different in size, our passion and commitment to quality and sustainability remain the same.
After Miguel gave me the grand tour of his olive mill, we met up with his olive oil operations manager, Mauricio Castro and an Italian Pieralisi representative. Together, we were lead through a blind tasting of 4 extra virgin olive oils that were freshly produced. We tasted through Frantoio, Farga, Manzanilla, and Arauco.
I discovered that Arauco could be the spiciest olive oil I've had thus far. Its potency and level of polyphenols (antioxidants) were off the charts. Farga proved to be a very smooth and pleasant oil, indicating to me that it was quite mature when harvested. Frantoio and Manzanilla were moderately spicy and were quite similar to how we process them at LMR.
In all, Familia Zuccardi currently produces 3 brands of oil:
After the olive oil tasting, Miguel was generous enough to treat us all for lunch in Julia Zuccardi's restaurant. The food was absolutely amazing and the olive oils showed through the dishes.
Tomorrow will be my first day of processing in the Familia Zuccardi olive mill. I am already looking forward to it after this tasting and fantastic lunch.
Posted by Jason Moulton
This week I started on a journey that took me from the Napa Valley to Mendoza, Argentina.
My mission here is to observe, consult, and learn with the Argentinians in a reverse hemisphere olive oil harvest. This time of the year is when olive oil and wine production at LMR slows down, providing an ample opportunity for this experience. I hope to be able to offer my knowledge from oil production at LMR, while also learning new oil production techniques from the Argentinians.
Familia Zuccardi (or Zuccardi Family) is the company with which I will study over formy duration here. I plan on visiting other olive mills, but will primarily be involved with Familia Zuccardi. Their winery and olive mill is located 15 miles outside of Mendoza, Argentina.
The Zuccardi family has been making wine since the early 1950´s here, so their reputations is quite reknown. In 2004, they produced their first olive oil. Aside from making a extra virgin olive oil, the idea was to become sustainable and organic by using the "olive husk" (orujo) by-product as as an excellent source of nitrogen in their composting program. Sound familiar?
We here at Long Meadow Ranch have incorporated this very same sustainable and organic approach from the beginning. The parallels between our philosphies are a sign of the green revolution taking place globally.
For the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing these olive oil making experiences with everyone. Please stay tuned!
Posted by Jason Moulton
Yesterday our crew - led by Arturo Barragan-Rojas - was working its way up the driveway to the winery completing the pruning of the Mission trees planted along the roadway and in the small orchard near the parking area.
With this last symbolic step, we have completed pruning the several thousand trees located in nine major orchards across the ranch.
Olive trees produce fruit only on last year's wood. So, keeping an ample supply of new wood is part of the art form in pruning an olive tree. Because new wood grows only where there is sunlight on a branch, our skilled team works to open up a tree to light and air "so that a small bird can fly through."
We are vigilant in keeping each tree to less than 14 feet in height (which is the limit we can safely harvest).
Over the next few days, the prunings will be chipped while the wood is still green and moist. The chips will be used for mulch, cover for paths, or as an additional source of carbon in our composting system. The compost will supply fresh fertilizer for the orchards in the fall.
Our orchards also have a gorgeous cover crop of clovers that is now in full bloom. As legumes, the clovers are fixing nitrogen from the air into the soils. This valuable nitrogen will be made available to the orchards for the coming growing season - a key component of our sustainable farming system.
On sunny spring days the clovers are filled with bees which are pollinating the seed heads which, in turn, will provide seed for next seaon's cover crop. And, at the same time, the bees are gathering buckets of pollen to make a bountiful crop of honey.
We'll harvest the honey at the end of the summer (between the grape and olive harvest), which will then be sold at LMR Rutherford Gardens.
I love watching these interlocking cycles of life at work.
We are very honored to have our olive oil blessed as Chrism by the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Bishop Daniel Walsh consecrated our olive last Thursday in a centuries-old Holy Week tradition. So, this seemed to be an appropriate posting for Easter Sunday.
Used to annoint the sick in what most laymen call "last rights," the oils are also used at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and other Church sacraments.
Throughout the Catholic Church for centuries, the bishop of each diocese has distributed oil to every parish for use throughout the year.
In our case, the oil will be used throughout the six-county area covered by the Diocese of Santa Rosa. This means our oil will potentially touch the lives of more than 150,000 people.
Our olive orchards are believed to be the oldest in Napa County, with the original cuttings coming aboard ship from the Mediterranean region around the Horn. 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 truly an honor for our family and for our team at Long Meadow Ranch.
For more background, see our brief press release.