Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

Perfect for Your Summer Table, Three Astonishingly Good Extra Virgin Olive Oils from an Award-Winning Chilean Producer

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Among the best I have ever tasted, these vibrant custom blends are incredible on fresh produce (especially vine-ripened tomatoes), grilled meats, breads, and much more.
  • All are Club exclusives, available nowhere else.
  • As always, all have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • These just-pressed oils were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their amazing flavors, aromas, and healthful polyphenols.

“Hi, Tee-JAY! Yeah, so good to hear from you in these crazy times…” So begins an upbeat message left on my voicemail in late March by my friend, the irrepressible Juan José Alonso; he and his brother, Ignacio, are among Chile’s most passionate premium olive oil producers.

He was very optimistic about the upcoming harvest (which was more than a month away) and hoped that I could visit, having been grounded in 2020. Perhaps it was magical thinking, but I dared to believe I might travel to Chile this quarter, my first international trip as the Olive Oil Hunter in over a year.

However, soon after Juan José’s call and before travel plans were made, a surge in coronavirus cases in the Southern Hemisphere forced Chile to close its borders for a second time.

Sure, I was disappointed. Chile has long been a key player in my plan to supply Club members with award-winning fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils year-round. I miss the warm, friendly people, the colorful late fall foliage, the festive harvest parties, tasting the fragrant, just-pressed oils with producers, and watching dueling breezes from the Andes and the Pacific Ocean tease the silvery leaves of the olive trees.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, in Spain
Traveling the Ruta Cinco from Santiago to Central Chile, my Merry Band of Tasters and I often found ourselves trailing slow-moving produce trucks. Precariously loaded with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, this mobile mercado service to rural towns and villages. The size and quality of the food crops grown here always astounds me. I love to prowl markets and roadside stands looking for new foods and flavors.

Why Chile, Why Now?

But I knew the strong relationships I’ve built over the years, such as the one with the award-winning Alonso family, were enough to overcome this season’s challenges.

When I founded the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, I knew little about Chile, which hangs like a slender necktie on the western edge of South America. Its 2,600-mile length includes seven major climatic subtypes and innumerable microclimates. The Mediterranean climate of Central Chile, with its hot dry summers, mild winters, and high daytime/nighttime temperature differentials, has made the country an agricultural powerhouse: it is known worldwide for its wines and alternate-season fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly, olea europaea wasn’t planted commercially in Chile until the 20th century. Since 2005, I have met and worked with the country’s top New World producers. Quality-obsessed, they are determined to do everything right, even if it means breaking with Old World traditions.

Taken in 2019, this photo reminds me yet again of the enormous importance in the premium olive oil world of relationships. Juan José (left) and Ignacio Alonso (right) are like my brothers from another mother, intuitively knowing what’s needed to satisfy the evolved palates of my Club members, even when thousands of miles separate us. I’m hopeful that next year we can resume our in-person collaborations, our visits to the Pobeña farm, and our casual olive oil-soaked suppers. In the meantime, the family is thrilled to share with you one of their best harvests in years.

And Why This Producer?

The Alonso family is among them. They manage some 1,100 acres of olive trees, a state-of-the-art mill, and two trendy brick-and-mortar stores in Santiago. Last year’s virtual collaboration with the farm—called Pobeña—was so successful, I decided to reprise it for the recent harvest. The property’s many microclimates and multiple olive varieties enabled us to create three outstanding and also very distinct oils.

In his voicemail and in subsequent Zoom conversations, Juan José (known to family and friends as “Juanjo”) confirmed that he and his staff were eager to translate my high expectations to another trio of exceptional extra virgin olive oils, regardless of whether I was able to visit in person. “Don’t worry about the oils,” he said reassuringly. “Everything will be as usual…better than usual!”

He was especially cheered by the fact that the groves received much-needed rainfall during the growing season, interrupting an epic drought (the worst in a millennium) that has plagued the country for more than a decade: the fruit, he reported, was gorgeously plump and abundant.

Juanjo is well acquainted with my strong preference for green, early harvest oils with high polyphenol levels, but he advised me that the olive fruit—actually, all fall fruits grown in Central Chile—was 1 to 2 weeks slower to ripen this season due to a bout of unseasonably cold weather during the Chilean summer. He and his team, which I trust implicitly, opted to delay the harvest until each olive varietal reached its flavorful and nutritional peak. Not only was that fine with me, but the extension gave us more time to handle the logistics of selecting and shipping fresh sample oils between hemispheres, creating unique blends, reserving premium air cargo space, and taking care of other details. In the meantime, the Alonso crew sent me videos—lots of videos!—so I could follow the action.

I worked closely with José Manuel Reyes, Alonso’s general manager; Juan Carlos Pérez, the company’s agronomist (read more about him below); and Juan Francisco González, who absorbed the responsibilities of master miller Miguel Ángel Molina when Molina left to pursue opportunities closer to his home. I also recruited (again) the indispensable help of Chilean olive oil expert Denise Langevin (read more about her below). She traveled to the Pobeña farm—some two hours on rural roads from her home—to be my proxy, and, via Zoom, joined me in evaluating the sample oils and perfecting the blends. Luckily, we have similar palates.

Liquid Gold, Meet Summer Produce

To me, it’s an antipodal miracle that you can be splashing these outstanding just-pressed extra virgin olive oils on fresh summer produce (tomatoes, sweet corn, and more!), when Chile is battening the hatches for winter. As you treat yourself and your friends and family to these exquisite examples of “liquid gold,” please take a moment to reflect on the dedicated people you’ll meet in the following article, who invested so much of themselves in these oils and are very proud to put them on your table. Enjoy all three in good health.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Denise Langevin, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

If you were to meet Denise Langevin, the multitalented and gracious namesake of this quarter’s mild selection, you’d understand what I mean when I describe this oil as embodying characteristics of her personality: sweet and amiable yet also complex, gently sophisticated, and spicy at times.

Denise, an international olive oil judge and expert consultant, was indispensable last year as my “palate on the ground” in Chile, and I was honored that she enthusiastically agreed to assist our Club for the second year in a row. On a spirited Zoom call with me and my Merry Band of Tasters, she proclaimed, “I am a #1 fan of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club,” making me blush and also sigh with relief.

During the global pandemic, the only way the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club has been able to uphold its mission of providing you with the world’s finest, freshest olive oils is through the relationships I have cultivated over time with the talented, passionate, and resourceful artisans described in each quarter’s Pressing Report. In this challenging past year, my gratitude has deepened, to a degree I might not have believed possible, for this supportive network that connects us across the world through our passions and pursuits.

Juan Carlos Pérez (left), the agronomist at the Pobeña farm, and Denise Langevin, my Chilean “palate on the ground” (right), cradle beautiful just-picked olives that will soon be pressed at the mill. Delighted to be my representative in Chile for the second year in a row, Denise made numerous trips to the farm to assess the fruit and sample the just-pressed oils. The entire Alonso production team rallied enthusiastically to provide her with everything she needed to help me secure this quarter’s Club selections.

I met Denise eight years ago at the Don Rafael Estate, one of Chile’s pioneering ultra-premium olive oil producers, where she was working as the director of exports. A native Chilean, Denise’s family is of French and English ancestry; the name Langevin comes from Normandy. Her expertise is in demand the world over as a judge of olive oil competitions from Tokyo to Berlin.

As the Chilean top-quality olive oil world is a small one, Denise has known the Alonso family for a decade. She is very familiar with Pobeña, the expansive, award-winning Alonso farm, and its ingenious practice of cultivating olive varietals in different microclimates, which allows for the development of distinct flavor profiles, even in the “same” olive.

Acting as my proxy, Denise made the two-hour drive from her home to the Pobeña farm several times to collaborate with the Alonso harvest team and taste samples of their most promising just-pressed oils, which were overnighted to me in North Carolina. Then I engaged the genius of master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, in Italy, my trusted collaborator and longtime friend of the Club. The three of us conducted tri-continental Zoom blend sessions, testing and tinkering for (delicious) hours, to create the one-of-a-kind oils you have just received. (I never thought I’d write the phrase “tri-continental Zoom blend sessions,” but clearly there’s a first time for everything!)

Denise noted that the welcome spring rains—which, at least for now, ended Chile’s decade of drought—resulted in more complex, more rounded oils this season. (Remember that spring in the Southern Hemisphere is our autumn.) She was smitten by two Arbequina oils, pressed from fruit grown in separate microclimates, that were intriguingly divergent, like identical twins with contrasting personalities—one gentle, one stronger, both lively. We opted to blend them with a pair of herbal, aromatic Italian varieties, Frantoio and Leccino. “They all bring something to the party,” Denise noted.

I like imagining the different olive varieties, intermingling as though at a harvest party. A great blend is a celebration as well as a collaboration—not only among the individuals who make it but also among the olive varieties. As Denise observed, super-astutely, “When making a blend you don’t always need ‘the best actor.’ You need the right actor.”

Denise, her husband, and their four children live on a picturesque small farm of about five acres, with rabbits, a horse, an alfalfa field, lemon trees, and a bountiful garden. When she’s not helping to produce extraordinary olive oil, Denise crafts mouth-watering artisanal foods, including oil-cured sun-dried tomatoes and Limoncello liqueur.

“T. J.,” she confided, “I was so sure you would be able to travel that I made extra sun-dried tomatoes just for you.” As if I weren’t missing Chile enough already!

When I asked Denise how she’d sum up the exquisite blend we created, she paused, then said, ever so thoughtfully, “All the qualities you find in the fruit, you find in the bottle.” She’s absolutely right, and I can’t wait for you to experience it for yourself.

Juan Francisco González, the mill manager, pours Denise Langevin a sample of that day’s liquid gold. (Note the dark color of the glasses to allow the taster to focus entirely on olfactory impressions rather than on the oil’s color.). Seeing this photo transported me to the mill and to that very table, where my Merry Band and I have tasted oils many times in harvests past. It’s an exciting, anticipatory thrill to first “meet” the fresh-pressed oils that will become key players in our blends.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Golden green in the glass, this multifaceted oil combines the Spanish varietal Arbequina with two Tuscan varietals, Frantoio and Leccino. It’s surprisingly complex on the nose, very grassy. My tasters and I detected green apple, green banana, almonds, vanilla and sweet baking spices, celery, and butter lettuce. Round and luxurious in the mouth, evoking artichoke, melon, hazelnuts, a ginger-like spiciness, and the throat-tickling pepperiness of watercress. Straddles fruitiness and bitterness with finesse. Expect a protracted, spicy finish.

Pair this versatile olive oil with eggs or dairy, including yogurt, smoothies, or vanilla ice cream; mild fin fish, such as cod or sole; shrimp or lobster; simple pasta dishes, such as cacio e pepe; mild cheeses; chicken; fresh corn; melon and prosciutto; boiled potatoes; and white rice. We’d bake with it, too—quick breads and lemon bars, for example.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’HigginsRegion, Chile 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Since I became the Olive Oil Hunter, I’ve heard surprisingly similar stories in Spain and Portugal: a father, nearing retirement, announces he wants to start producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil with his adult children. And just like that, educational plans are put on hold, career paths are redirected, and lives ultimately change.

Chilean Juan José Alonso can relate. In 2008, he and his Master of Fine Arts degree were figuratively plucked from the California surf (he was likely still clinging to his surf board), deposited in the fertile O’Higgins Region in Central Chile, and given the task of finding a suitable property for growing olive trees. His father, Abel, a successful shoe magnate, wanted to create a separate legacy business for his five children, and was inspired by the olive groves in his native Spain. So “Juanjo” (with a soft “j”) and his brother Ignacio dutifully took on the job of creating and running the olive farm. The family named it Pobeña after Abel’s beloved village in Basque country.

Today, the Alonso label is highly respected by producers and in-the-know-consumers alike for its premium extra virgin olive oils. In fact, the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) just awarded Alonso another gold medal, this time for its 2020 Picual. Alonso has also been recognized by Flos Olei, the prestigious annual guide to the world’s best olive oils.

In a Zoom call, Juanjo (who resembles a young Dennis Quaid) reiterated his family’s ongoing dedication to quality. Whereas other producers might delay harvesting their olives to maximize the oil content, aiming for as much as 18 percent, Alonso harvests early, while the olives are still green and polyphenol-rich, and is satisfied with 11 or 12 percent. Juanjo said, “I have a lot of beautiful fruit this year, which will yield high-quality oil.” He laments that so many other small Chilean producers have bowed to market forces and now sell their fruit to bulk producers. Referring to quality, he added, “I don’t like the way things are going.”

Currently, the Pobeña farm is celebrating a record harvest. Which is wonderful, because from year to year, farmers never know what surprises Mother Nature (or other forces) has in store for them.

Many people would envy my current springtime view—the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains —and not comprehend my longing for the majestic snow-capped Andes, standing like sentries over an otherworldly, late fall landscape. More than others in my archive, this photo illustrates Chile’s disparate climates. Notice the desert cacti and olive trees. Chile’s extreme geography protects the olive trees from disease and pests, one reason why the Alonso family consistently produces high-quality olive oils.

Last year, lack of rainfall was the big challenge for Pobeña. Strict, targeted water rationing sustained the trees. Fortunately, well-timed rains fell this season, a huge relief for Juanjo and his crew. (His 85-year-old father even supervised the digging of trenches in the groves to divert precious run-off to the farm’s reservoirs and 55-acre lake, all of which have been depleted by a decade-long drought.)

This year brought a different type of challenge. A key member of the team, master miller Miguel Ángel Molina, unexpectedly left for an opportunity closer to home. Even I was concerned about that. But I needn’t have been: it turns out there’s plenty of talent on the Alonso bench.

For starters, there’s the conscientious general manager, José Manuel Reyes. For the second year in a row, he coordinated the efforts of everyone involved in putting these exclusive olive oils on your table. It was not uncommon to receive emails or other communications from him at 11:30 p.m. (Though 5,000 miles apart, Chile and North Carolina are in the same time zone.) “Go to bed,” I implored him. “Get some rest!” He worked tirelessly to keep me apprised of everything, spent hours on the road ferrying my olive oil samples to the airport, and pestered the local DHL office with phone calls until he knew they’d been safely delivered. I can’t thank him enough for the important role he played in my collaboration with Alonso.

Then there’s the farm’s humble agronomist, Juan Carlos Pérez. (Read more about him below.) In the wake of Miguel’s departure, Juan Carlos has come into his own, taking on the mantle “Boss of the Farm,” meaning he has the last word when it comes to the health of the olive trees and their fruit. Twenty-nine-year-old Juan Francisco González has been with the Pobeña farm since the beginning. “He was involved with everything,” said Juanjo. Despite his youth, Juan Francisco has years of experience and training behind him (some of it in Italy). He is now in charge of the state-of-the-art Alfa Laval mill, one of the finest and best maintained in Chile. His talent as a miller is formidable.

The distinctive Alonso label fronts a very special blend of Picual, Koroneiki, and Arbequina. The former two olives, which hail from Spain and Greece, respectively, are rare transplants in Chile. Both represent less than 3 percent of the country’s olive varietals. It is an intriguing, well-balanced Club exclusive that will pair well with your seasonal menus. See below for specific suggestions.

Meet three men who worked tirelessly to put the Pobeña farm’s finest extra virgin olive oils on your table. Agronomist Juan Carlos Peréz (left) is the conscientious steward of the olive trees. Juan Francisco González (right) is a longtime employee who is now in charge of Alonso’s state-of-the-art mill. Then, there’s the indefatigable José Manuel Reyes, sales director and logistician extraordinaire. He liaised between all players to ensure my expectations for Club members’ extra virgin olive oils were met. Please remember these gentlemen when you taste these phenomenal oils!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Emerald green and simply intoxicating. Tomato leaf, sweet basil, lime zest, fennel, kiwi, arugula, and green peppercorns waft from the tasting glass. This oil is even more exciting in the mouth, proffering fresh baby spinach, radicchio, pesto, rosemary, wild foraged greens, pine nuts, and Szechuan peppercorns. A spectacular, perfectly calibrated oil that will tempt you to drink it straight from the bottle or flaunt it at the farmer’s market.

Imagine it on vine-ripened tomatoes or their derivatives, like tomato sauce, gazpacho, bruschetta, eggplant parmigiana, or pizza. Try it in pesto; on dark leafy greens; grilled beef or pork; white beans; artichokes; roasted potatoes or root vegetables; sourdough bread; and cooked grains.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Frantoio, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

The story of how Juan Carlos Pérez came to the Pobeña farm has the feel of a fairy tale or a fable. One day, a talented agronomist peered with curiosity through the fence bounding the olive grove he tended and saw another farm on the other side that was just starting out. Seeking greater opportunity, he opened the gate in the fence and walked into a new position that changed his life.

And that’s pretty much how it happened. A native of the central Estrella province, Juan Carlos studied agricultural science and embarked on his career in the early 2000s with a highly esteemed farm in the north, at the time the most advanced producer of high-quality Chilean olive oil. He then transitioned to another quality-focused olive farm to be closer to his family home. At both posts Juan Carlos learned a great deal, but he lamented that their systems were already in place when he arrived. To some, that would be a relief and a comfortable way to build a career, but Juan Carlos craved a personal and professional challenge. His family was squarely behind him: “If you think you can do it, go for it,” they encouraged, as he debated whether he should take the compelling job over the fence.

Joining the Alonsos’ brand-new project in 2009, Juan Carlos was excited to start from scratch—he eagerly took on responsibilities that included planting trees, brainstorming methods of irrigation, and, overall, managing the grove’s ecosystem. With his quiet confidence and measured insight, he earned the honorific bestowed on him by his colleagues, “Boss of the Farm.”

The olive trees Juan Carlos planted have developed beautifully since the very first Alonso harvest, in 2011. One of the things I prize most about this grove is its depth: there are very few other farms in the world from which I could taste a dozen different harvest-fresh olive oils and pronounce 10 of them superlative enough to grace my table. That consistency and diversity of excellence is the result of Juan Carlos’s work. “He built this place,” said José Manuel, the general manager, when the three of us debriefed recently over Zoom.

Juan Carlos triumphed over Chile’s decade of drought with innovation and hard work.

He oversaw the transplanting of about 120 acres of high-density tree growth in order to cultivate more drought-resistant olive varieties. While high-density groves are easier to harvest and, in years with ample rain, can yield more fruit, lower density plantings provide more space between trees for the roots to seek water in dry periods. His team also pruned some trees quite radically last year—“bonsai-style,” he quipped—which, he predicts, will give them more years of life. “Next year, we hope to publish a paper about this process,” he announced.

El Agrónomo (“the agronomist”) in his native habitat: Juan Carlos Pérez inspects one of the beloved Coratina olive trees he planted at the outset of the Alonso project in 2009. An agronomist, in the broad definition of the title, studies the cultivation of plants. For Juan Carlos, it means that he oversees the development of the olive trees on the Pobeña farm and works to create the best possible fruit for the award-winning Alonso olive oils.

With knowledge of every craggy corner of the farm’s many microclimates, Juan Carlos has identified hidden pockets where water accumulates during the winter rains. Rather than allowing the precious moisture to evaporate, he “harvests” the water for use in the parched summer months.

A day in the life of El Agrónomo (“the agronomist”) begins early, with a meeting of the 80-member harvest team, at which Juan Carlos lays out the tasks of the day. After the morning meet-up, he makes a thorough tour of the farm to plan the following day. Sampling the olives from every sector, Juan Carlos adjusts his plan as the fruit matures, up to the minute and down to the individual planting.

Knowing my preference for early-harvest olive oils, Juan Carlos moved his team mid-day to another part of the field as the olives there entered the “magic window,” the point of maturity when they are at the peak of flavor and polyphenol content. He identified two different plantings of Coratina, harvested separately, that provide the backbone of this spectacular, robust blend, which attains perfect harmony in the company of two other Italian varietals, Frantoio and Leccino. Juan Carlos expressed deep pleasure at having his name on the label, which features a vintage illustration of an olive plant—I could see the smile radiating through his reserved demeanor, even over Zoom. The whole team is proud of him.

With his 12-year tenure at Pobeña, the loyal and committed Juan Carlos is an anomaly in Chile, where people change positions and occupations frequently. El Agrónomo’s relationship with his trees is “like a marriage,” he says—a happy, healthy marriage. “I’m not looking over the fence,” he added, with gentle humor.

¡Gol! as the Chileans cheer when they score in soccer. In this photo from the Chilean trip a few years ago, I have just scored a sack of gorgeous avocados (palta); it perfectly captures my jubilation at having scored three exquisite fresh-pressed olive oils for you, my Club members. It also reassures me that I’ll be back in Chile next year to re-experience its friendly people, striking landscapes, bountiful fresh produce, and the thrill of the olive oil hunt on your behalf.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This chartreuse-colored oil is herbaceous and delightfully grassy on the nose. Inhale, and enjoy the fragrant interplay of almonds, celery, artichoke, arugula, and dark leafy greens. Very harmonious on the palate, summoning associations of fresh hops, basil, lime zest, green tomato, celery, nasturtiums, walnuts, chopped flat-leaf parsley, and pungent white pepper. The latter flavors the long finish.

Eggs and bell peppers will be among the first things I try with this bold, beautiful oil. Perhaps paired with a salad of baby kale and walnuts. Other delicious options include pasta puttanesca or ratatouille; tuna, sardines, or salmon; duck; game meats; lamb; aged cheeses; and grilled or roasted vegetables.


Olive Oil and Health

Does eating a Mediterranean diet protect against memory loss and dementia?

Adapted from an article from the American Academy of Neurology, May 6, 2021

Eating a Mediterranean diet that is rich in fish, vegetables, and olive oil may protect your brain from protein buildup and shrinkage that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study. The research is published in the May 5, 2021, online issue of Neurology.

The study looked at abnormal proteins called amyloid and tau. Amyloid is a protein that forms into plaques, while tau is a protein that forms into tangles. Both are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease but may also be found in the brains of older people with normal cognition.

The Mediterranean diet includes high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, and monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil, and low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, and meat.

“Our study suggests that eating a diet that’s high in unsaturated fats, fish, fruits and vegetables, and low in dairy and red meat may actually protect your brain from the protein buildup that can lead to memory loss and dementia,” said study author Tommaso Ballarini, PhD, of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, Germany. “These results add to the body of evidence that show what you eat may influence your memory skills later on.”

The study involved 512 people. Of those, 169 were cognitively normal, while 343 were identified as being at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers looked at how closely people followed the Mediterranean diet based on their answers to a questionnaire asking how much they ate of 148 items over the previous month. People who often ate healthy foods typical of the Mediterranean diet, like fish, vegetables, and fruit, and only occasionally ate foods not typical of the Mediterranean diet like red meat, received the highest scores, for a maximum score of nine.

Cognitive skills were assessed with an extensive test set for Alzheimer’s disease progression that looked at five different functions, including language, memory, and executive function. All the participants had brain scans to determine their brain volume. In addition, the spinal fluid of 226 study participants was tested for amyloid and tau protein biomarkers.

Researchers then looked at how closely someone followed the Mediterranean diet, and the relationship to their brain volume, tau and amyloid biomarkers, and cognitive skills. After adjusting for factors like age, sex, and education, researchers found that in the area of the brain most closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease, each point lower people scored on the Mediterranean diet scale equated to almost one year of brain aging.

When looking at amyloid and tau in people’s spinal fluid, those who did not follow the diet closely had higher levels of biomarkers of amyloid and tau pathology than those who did. When it came to a test of memory, people who did not follow the diet closely scored worse than those who did.

“More research is needed to show the mechanism by which a Mediterranean diet protects the brain from protein buildup and loss of brain function, but findings suggest that people may reduce their risk for developing Alzheimer’s by incorporating more elements of the Mediterranean diet into their daily diets,” Ballarini said.

Reference: Ballarini T, van Len DM, Brunner J, et al. Mediterranean diet, Alzheimer disease biomarkers and brain atrophy in old age. Neurology. 2021; doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000012067


Kudos from Club Members

I’m so sad…I just used the very last drop of my bottle of Finca Galvez Picual oil sent several months ago. I’d love another bottle or 2 if you have any extra stock! This oil is perfect with a summer salad of fresh herbs and baby greens from the garden. Addictive even. I joined because of Dave Asprey’s recommendation (“Bulletproof” guy) and at first didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with all that oil. Having little exposure to good olive oil, I must confess I just didn’t get the EVOO craze. Store-bought oil didn’t smell or taste good to me, and that’s all I’d ever really experienced. So I decided to enroll because Dave is a compelling guy and I trust him. I figured I’d try it and cancel my subscription in a few months. But over time, as I read your quarterly booklet (love it!!) and tasted the different oils, I began to feel so lucky and looked forward to finding recipes just for the oils. I’ve given bottles as gifts (including a copy of your write-up so the receiver knows just how special that bottle is!) to rave reviews. I’ve even taken to using the wonderful oils on my skin—the color and aroma are an amazing lift and olive oil is second to none as a moisturizer! Total luxury. I hope you are not insulted by this! Thanks for offering these oils for subscription. I love that the oils come from small growers dedicated to quality. The places you visit sound amazing (a travel blog would be fascinating)! Someday, if you ever decide to offer excursions to outsiders, I can think of nothing more interesting than visiting olive groves. “Olive Oil Hunter Excursions”? Has a nice ring. Bucket list! You’ve made me a fan. So appreciate what you do—it has such incredible value to us and brings a bounty of simple delight with each pour. Abundance in a bottle. Thanks again!
Kristen H.Oak Park, IL

Recipes

  • Wine-Braised Potatoes with Garlic and Chiles Wine-Braised Potatoes with Garlic and Chiles The humble potato, a native of South America, takes on a sophisticated persona in this satisfying dish. Ingredients 2 pounds Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch chunks2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced1 bay leaf1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes1 1/4 teaspoons merquén or smoked paprikaCoarse salt (kosher… view recipe
  • Celery and Greens Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette Celery and Greens Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette Celery, usually a wan understudy on a platter of crudités or a bit player in soups, takes on a starring role in this refreshing salad. A rather strong-flavored vegetable, it really benefits from a short soak in olive oil and lemon juice. Ingredients Zest and juice of 1 lemon (preferably Meyer) or lime3 tablespoons extra… view recipe
  • Frittata with Arugula Frittata with Arugula This infinitely customizable recipe is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—warm or at room temperature. The following version is vegetarian, but you can add cooked sausage, diced ham, or crispy bacon to the mix. Serve with toasted country-style bread if you’re not watching your carbs. Ingredients 5 ounces fresh baby arugula (about 4 big handfuls),… view recipe
  • Avocado Corn Salad Avocado Corn Salad This vibrant salad, which features several of Chile’s iconic ingredients, is a great companion to barbecued meats. Stir in cooked pasta (shells or rotini), and it can serve as a colorful and healthful main course. Ingredients For the salad: 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, red, yellow, or a mix, halved3 ears of cooked sweet… view recipe
  • Chili-Rubbed Skirt Steak Chili-Rubbed Skirt Steak Red meat is a staple in Chilean homes, with asados (barbecues) being a popular form of entertainment for families. Here, beefy-tasting skirt steak is marinated for several hours, then quickly grilled (preferably to medium-rare for maximum tenderness). Before serving, anoint it with additional fresh-pressed olive oil—Mother Nature’s perfect sauce. Pour a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Ingredients… view recipe
  • Pan-Roasted Halibut with Jalapeño Vinaigrette Pan-Roasted Halibut with Jalapeño Vinaigrette With its clean, mild taste, firm texture, and payload of omega-3 fatty acids, halibut pairs beautifully with robust extra virgin olive oils. It is among the largest flat fish in the world, weighing up to 500 pounds! Ingredients 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar2 tablespoons very finely chopped shallot or red onionCoarse salt (kosher or sea)1… view recipe
  • Shrimp with Avocado Cilantro Sauce Shrimp with Avocado Cilantro Sauce Shrimp preparations are a specialty of Chile’s small coastal villages. If you don’t want to fuss with skewers, grill the shrimp in a grill wok or grill basket. The sauce is best when made shortly before serving. Ingredients For the shrimp and marinade: 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveinedJuice of one large lime3 tablespoons… view recipe
  • Spatchcocked Chicken with Cracked Olives and Herbs Spatchcocked Chicken with Cracked Olives and Herbs If you’re intimidated by butterflying the chickens (spatchcocking), simply buy chicken halves for this recipe. They’ll cook faster than whole chickens. The chicken can be roasted in an oven (even a pizza oven) or grilled. Ingredients 2 roasting chickens, each 3 1/2 to 4 poundsCoarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper6 garlic… view recipe
  • Lemon Bars with Olive Oil and Sea Salt Lemon Bars with Olive Oil and Sea Salt Olive oils with sweet notes can be used for baking and are especially good in quick breads and bars like these. Ingredients For the shortbread crust: 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour1/4 cup granulated sugar3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes For the… view recipe
  • Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint Chile is one of the world’s largest exporters of avocados (called palta), after the Quechuan word for “hanging weight”, but some 30 percent of the crop stays in the country and is used in many dishes. The pairing of grilled carrots with palta may seem unusual, but extra virgin olive oil presides over a beautiful… view recipe

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

From sun-drenched, food-obsessed Spain to your table! Three alluring extra virgin olive oils have been rushed to you at their peak!

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • These charismatic Andalusian oils, bursting with healthful antioxidants, will bring vibrant and enticing flavors to your spring menus.
  • All come from award-winning artisanal producers.
  • All are Club exclusives and are available nowhere else.
  • As always, all have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.


As I started to write this report, I found myself daydreaming that I was at one of the quick-stop ventas (diners) attached to gas stations along the byways of southern Spain, munching on Marcona almonds drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Then I was thinking of velvety jamón Ibérico, delectable grilled artichoke hearts, and savory torta española, all splashed with vibrant, herbaceous, fresh-pressed Spanish extra virgin olive oil.

Of Pandemics and Peninsulas

If, as poet T. S. Eliot wrote, some people measure out their life in coffee spoons, I measure mine in memorable meals during olive oil hunts. With the ongoing global pandemic, though, your Olive Oil Hunter has now spent a full year stateside—missing the people, places, and collaborative discoveries that I am devoted to sharing with you. My mission has never wavered, however, and this quarter, my quest involved providing Club Members with the finest, most flavorful oils from Spain.

The ancient Greeks named it Iberia, the fist-shaped peninsula comprising Spain and Portugal. Olive trees, first introduced by the Phoenicians and Greeks, have thrived in the sunny, dry climate for thousands of years. The ancient Romans greatly expanded olive cultivation in the region, which they renamed Hispania, to feed the Roman Empire’s enormous appetite for olive oil.

Today, Spain reigns as the world’s largest producer of olive oil.
The southern province of Jaén, approximately the size of Connecticut, produces almost 50 percent of the world’s supply. This year, Jaén’s output was more than that of Italy, Greece, and Portugal combined. As I’ve quipped, though, most of that is bulk oil I wouldn’t allow on my table—unless it were in a lamp. I work with only a very select few of Spain’s finest producers.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, in Spain
Over the years I have driven thousands of miles on Spain’s impeccably maintained highways, as the premium olive oil producers I work with are few and far between. Silhouetted across the rural landscape are giant black-metal bulls, popularized in the 1950s as an advertisement for Osborne brandy and now beloved cultural icons. When I’m on the road and see the first one, I feel like Spain is welcoming me back—
and I deeply missed them this year.

The Ultra-Premium Pioneers

About 15 years ago, a handful of quality-minded olive oil producers in Spain turned their sights to excellent artisanal EVOO, with a focus on local varietals, high polyphenol content, and extraordinary flavor. In the ensuing years, these pioneers—who represent only about 1 to 2 percent of Spanish producers—have shifted the landscape of Spanish olive oil, creating some of the most exquisite oils in the world as well as demand for them. The rise of premium EVOO has coincided with the experimental gastronomy of virtuoso Spanish chefs such as Ferran Adrià (of the late great restaurant elBulli), who champion exquisite food-and-oil pairings.

I am proud to have been scouting for fresh-pressed EVOO in Spain since 2005. On that trip I met the celebrated producer Francisco “Paco” Vaño of Castillo de Canena, now a cherished friend of the Club. (Learn more about Paco below.) On a recent pandemic-style
Zoom call, we reminisced about those early days—back when there was little interest in the caliber of olive oil he aspired to produce. “But you believed in us,” he said, bringing a lump to my throat. (I may have needed to turn off my video to brush something from my eye.)

The Merry Band Steps In

The irony of a pandemic is that while our human lives are turned upside down, many other living things—olive trees, for instance—carry on, largely unaffected. Spain anticipated an excellent olive harvest; the challenge for me was how to visit the most promising groves in order to make selections for my Club.

Last quarter, the Pressing Report introduced two of my dearest friends and charter members of the Merry Band of Tasters, Tjeerd Belien and Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. This harvest, Tjeerd, a peripatetic jack of all trades who speaks five languages, was at the ready in a kitted-out motor home, which allowed him to travel and lodge self-sufficiently. Duccio, an internationally renowned olive oil expert based in Rome, met up with Tjeerd in Spain. I trust them both implicitly to channel my palate and preferences.

The years I’ve spent building relationships with producers and learning specifics about their groves were rewarded. Tjeerd and Duccio overnighted me samples from several of our favorite farms and, intercontinentally, we tinkered with ratios until alighting on this trio of winners. These three exclusive blends are all from
award-winning producers who are thrilled to be collaborating with our Club: Finca Gálvez, Aroden, and Castillo de Canena.

Tjeerd Belien and Duccio Morozzo della Rocca
Tjeerd Belien and Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, my trusted colleagues and very dear friends, served as my “palate on the ground” (pictured here in Andalusia). Tjeerd is a gifted photographer and the most resourceful person I know. Master miller Duccio has collaborated on numerous blends for our Club and is a sought-after olive oil judge. They both radiate an incredible generosity of spirit and know exactly what I seek in the extraordinary fresh-pressed olive oils for our Club.

EVOO Connects Us

Tjeerd and Duccio agreed that during this time of isolation, it was especially life affirming to collaborate on something so nourishing and fundamental. Olive oil courses through daily life in Spanish towns—when people hear you are interested in olive oil, they brighten, invariably promising to put you in touch with their
cousin or neighbor who grows olives. One of my favorite details from the trip was Tjeerd’s description of a talkative priest moonlighting as a cheesemonger, who stopped in periodically to make purchases from the Aroden mill and to chat—his sheep’s milk cheese is cured in their olive oil.

I am delighted to have managed a spectacularly successful “remote hunt” to secure the dazzling beauties before you. Two of these combinations are firsts for my Club and for the producers as well. Read on for more insight into the artisans, detailed descriptions of the oils, and tantalizing regionally inspired recipes to enhance your enjoyment of these Spanish masterpieces!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Finca Gálvez, Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

Finca Galvez Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I never dreamed a worldwide pandemic would interrupt my annual trips to the Iberian Peninsula. It did, of course, deepening my appreciation for the enduring relationships I have built in nearly 20 years as the Olive Oil Hunter. With movement often restricted between countries, provinces, and even villages, I’m very thankful that our exclusive Club’s needs were anticipated by top producers in my Iberian winners’ circle.

Among them is Finca Gálvez, an artisanal producer I’ve known since 2005. The family owned two olive farms when we met. Since then, it has added to its holdings and now controls nearly 3,000 acres. All are located in the fertile drainage basin of the Rio Guadalquivir (“Great River”), one of Andalusia’s most valuable natural resources. It is Spain’s only navigable river and supports millions of olive trees—the largest manmade forest in the world—and other flora and fauna.

Until 1999, the Gálvez family made high-quality bricks from the area’s red clay. Ironically, that same clay gives brothers José and Andrés an edge in producing ultra-premium olive oil—their goal since their father redirected the clan’s energies to agriculture. The densely compacted vermillion earth prevents unrestrained foliage development, sending more resources to the olive fruit and intensifying the oils’ flavors and aromas.

Prolonged droughts convinced the brothers to invest in a sophisticated irrigation system a few years ago; it delivers carefully calibrated water rations. (Only about one-third of Spain’s olive trees are irrigated, which underscores the Gálvez family’s commitment to quality.) They also employ environmentally friendly practices, such as encouraging wildflowers and grasses to flourish between the olive trees. (See the photo on page 5.) Not only is the soil protected from erosion, but the undergrowth helps it retain precious moisture and nutrients while sustaining the area’s abundant wildlife.

In fact, this year the family added world-renowned biologist Patricia Cano to the team. She has vast experience working with olive oil producers on multiple continents, and is expected to help Finca Gálvez develop an even more dynamic and integrated approach to the cultivation of olive trees.

Had anything else changed since my last visit? “Every year seems more difficult,” sighed Andrés during one of our Zoom conversations. “It was a complicated season for Spain.”

Echoing other Andalusian producers, he blamed hot dry weather for suppressing yields. Harvest crews worked during the coolest part of the day—6 a.m. to 11 a.m.—picking and transporting the olives to the modern mill with its state-of-the-art water-cooled systems. Protecting the fruit (and its delicate polyphenols) from heat is a critical step in producing the most healthful, highest-quality olive oil.

Italian master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca and Tjeerd Belien—my invaluable agents on the ground—evaluated many samples, and we selected two special Arbequinas to make a unique blend that I’m delighted with. Both oils were harvested from the same grove (albeit at different times), yet presented different profiles. Though it’s the mildest oil in this quarter’s trio, it is exceptionally well balanced, with intoxicating aromas, ample structure, and provocative flavors.

Andrés Gálvez and Duccio Morozzo
Finca Gálvez is committed to maintaining biodiversity on the properties it controls, protecting the health of the land and, by extension, the olive trees themselves. While some producers mow between the trees, the Gálvez family allows native grasses and wildflowers to flourish, as Andrés Gálvez and Duccio Morozzo are admiring here. The plants nourish the soil, keep erosion to a minimum, retain precious moisture, and support abundant wildlife.

Finca Gálvez is thrilled to once again be chosen for our Club, grateful to be in the hands of in-the-know olive oil aficionados. Despite pandemic-related challenges, the family added nine important awards to its impressive portfolio, all displayed on the wall of their beautiful classroom, which they’re hoping to reopen soon. Not only were their oils named among the top 20 in the world for the sixth time by Flos Olei, the authoritative guide to the planet’s best extra virgin olive oils, they also won coveted gold medals in the New York International Olive Oil Competition, Olive Japan, and the London International Olive Oil Competition.

I’m beyond grateful for the many talented and dedicated people, like the artisanal producers at Finca Gálvez, who helped me fulfill my obligation to you during the past year, dear Club member—putting the world’s finest fresh-pressed olive oil on your table. But I am counting the days until my Merry Band of Tasters and I can resume our rewarding annual harvest trips. I sorely miss the interpersonal connections of the past years. And the food, oh, the food.

Andrés Gálvez and T.J. Robinson
Among my many archived photos of tours of the Gálvez family olive farms, I found one of my favorites: On a beautiful day under cerulean blue skies a few years ago, Andrés led me to beehives located on the boundary of the groves and a primeval pine forest. While examining a piece of beeswax he peeled from the interior of the hive, we discussed the tremendous influence of terroir on olive oil, wine, and of course, honey. Perhaps, Club member, we can someday do a honey tasting using our acquired sensory skills.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This blend of two Arbequinas, harvested from the same grove but at different times, has amazing synergy. There’s grass and green banana on the nose along with baby spinach, foraged greens, fennel, citrus zest, thyme, hazelnuts, and a honeysuckle-like sweetness with notes of vanilla and baking spices. It blooms on the tongue with the flavors of banana, golden apple, almonds and walnuts, tomato, the mild bitterness of endive, and the tingling heat of fresh ginger and white pepper. A rich mouthfeel with a satisfyingly long finish.

Pair this genial olive oil with scrambled eggs, Spanish tortillas, or omelets; bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches); garbanzo beans or white beans; green salads with tender lettuces and fruit; Iberian or Serrano ham; crudités; roasted Marcona almonds or other nuts; fresh, mild cheeses; lentils, rice, farro, or quinoa; sweet
potatoes; cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, or fennel; roast chicken or pork; tofu; simple pasta dishes; mild fin fish, scallops, octopus, calamari, or shrimp; melon; and baked goods (like the olive oil cake recipe below).


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Cladium, Aroden España, Priego de Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Hojiblanca, Picuda
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Cladium Olive Oil Label

Meet Aroden, an award-winning family-owned almazara (olive mill) located in Spain’s stunning Sierras Subbéticas National Park.

Acting on a tip, I first became acquainted with Aroden’s small but talented team in 2011. I faithfully auditioned their signature oil, Cladium, pressed from the cultivar Hojiblanca, for years before finally selecting it for Club members. I remember well the frisson of excitement that ran through the Aroden offices when the announcement was made; general manager Luis Torres couldn’t stop smiling! And though I couldn’t deliver the good news in person this year, I saw via Zoom that my selection of Aroden’s Cladium for the third year in a row elicited the same genuine, ebullient response.

Hojiblanca (“white leaf”) is one of 262 varietals on the Iberian Peninsula. (Its meatiness and high fruit-to-pit ratio makes it a popular table olive, too.) According to legend, Hojiblanca olives were introduced to the region—then called Baetica by the occupying Romans—when a traveling canvas merchant gave a local farmer a cutting of uncertain origin. Despite being planted on a steep slope in calcareous soil, the tender olive tree slip not only survived but thrived. Perhaps, the farmer reasoned, propagations could satisfy Julius Caesar’s latest decree—that millions of olive trees be planted to sate Rome’s appetite for Hispania’s highly-regarded oils. (Historians now credit the Roman Empire with helping modern-day Andalusia, nee Baetica, become the world’s largest producer of olive oil.)

Aroden’s premium oil, CLADIVM, plays on the Roman connection by using an antique spelling (it swaps a “V” for a “U”). The word “cladium” comes from the sawgrass that grows nearby.

Currently, ownership of the award-winning mill and some 81,400 olive trees is shared by five families. Additional olive fruit is purchased from area farmers who contractually follow Aroden’s explicit instructions.

Luis Torres and Tjeerd Belien
How I wish I could’ve joined Aroden’s general manager, Luis Torres, and my
longtime friend and olive oil scout extraordinaire, Tjeerd Belien, on the summit of La Tiñosa, aka “Magic Mountain.” In a thoughtful gesture, they commissioned a flag bearing my countenance and planted it at the very top so I could vicariously share their lunch. The meal featured extra virgin olive oil (the same one you just received) pressed from the Hojiblanca and Picuda olives that thrive against all odds on the mountain’s steep, rugged slopes.

When deemed at the peak of flavor by Luis, the olives are picked during the coolest part of the day, then rushed to the gleaming state-of-the-art mill for pressing under the supervision of master miller Fernando Sánchez. Especially prized is olive fruit grown on the slopes of La Tiñosa, the highest peak in the province, where daily temperature differentials are more extreme. Luis calls La Tiñosa “the Magic Mountain.” It’s home to peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and more than 70 species of smaller birds. Hike to the top, and your route might be intersected by the shadow of a Griffon vulture; their wingspans can exceed nine feet.

The just-completed season was challenging, Luis noted, due to lack of rainfall during the olives’ maturation cycle. As the harvest approached, ill-timed rains threatened the crop, endangering the fruit earmarked for the premium extra virgin olive oil he hoped to press exclusively for my Club members.

So confident was Luis in the quality of the fruit, he mobilized his team for an earlier harvest—my preference anyway. It was a gamble that paid off. My longtime colleagues, master miller Duccio Morozzo and experienced olive oil taster Tjeerd Belien, were impressed with the Hojiblanco samples. The oil could be made even better, Duccio argued, by adding a small amount of Picudo. We determined 90/10 was the perfect ratio between the oils. Luis, it turns out, has great affection for Picudo. He remembers fondly his grandmother’s cured Picuda olives and laments that her recipe has been lost.

Fernando Sánchez,A roden’s longtime master miller and T.J. Robinson
In another treasured photo from my personal album (published in the spirit of “Throwback Thursday”), Aroden’s longtime master miller, Fernando Sánchez, and I visit olive trees that have contributed fruit to the cooperative’s award-winning extra virgin olive oils. My year-long furlough from international travel has strengthened my resolve to resume in-person visits as soon as possible to the wonderful teams in the Northern and Southern hemispheres who have helped me
put the world’s finest fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils on your table.

The inclusion of Cladium in the trio of EVOOs sent to Club members meant even more to Aroden this time than it did the previous two years. Pandemic-related obstacles prevented them from selling their oils through normal channels—trade fairs, high-end restaurants, gourmet stores, and the like. So to put their premium olive oil in the hands of Americans like yourself who appreciate its flavors and health benefits is a real coup for this hard-working team.

They showed their gratitude by inviting Duccio and Tjeerd to a sumptuous lunch in the beautiful backyard of Luis’s family home. The photos they sent me of the celebration reminded me yet again of the importance of creating and maintaining personal relationships with these passionate artisans. I will be back. In the meantime, enjoy this extraordinary extra virgin olive oil at your own table.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Hojiblanco, enhanced with a touch of the cultivar Picuda, is a hardy example of Olea europaea. Vegetal and intensely green on the nose, it evokes black kale, wheatgrass, artichoke, celery, tomato leaf, pungent culinary herbs like parsley and basil, and fresh pear. Remarkably well-balanced with perfectly calibrated bitterness. To the taste buds, it delivers tart Granny Smith apple, dark leafy greens, nasturtium, and celery leaves. Notes of spicy black pepper prolong the seductive finish.

This luxurious oil will complement a variety of foods, including salads or braises featuring dark leafy greens; hearty vegetable- or cream-based soups; avocado toast; grilled salmon, tuna, or swordfish; charcuterie; oysters or clams; beef or veal; duck; baked apples or pears; tomato sauce; eggplant; mushrooms; root vegetables; and yogurt or ice cream.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Castillo de Canena, Selección Especial, Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Castillo de Canen Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

“This term, EVOO, is getting more complex every year,” muses Francisco “Paco” Vaño, longtime friend of the Club and the cofounder of Castillo de Canena, designated “Best Olive Oil Company in the World” by Flos Olei in 2016. I met Paco, as he is known to everyone, on my first scouting trip to Spain. At the time, Castillo de Canena was a very young company that had bottled its inaugural batch of premium extra virgin olive oil just two years before, in 2003.

I should note that the Vaño family has owned olive groves in the province of Jaén since 1780. Their mill is named for the family castle (castillo), an elegant 15th-century manor that overlooks the small town of Canena. But make no mistake: Paco’s dapper, Old World sensibility belies his 21st-century entrepreneurial savvy and ground-breaking vision.

For almost two decades, Paco and the dedicated team at Castillo de Canena have been at the forefront of the movement for premium quality and innovation in Spanish EVOO. “You have to make a habit of excellence,” Paco says. Putting those words into action, as he always does, Paco and his team unveiled a brand-new olive mill just in time for this season’s harvest. The structure—white stucco faced with burnished metal that looks like aged wood—is beautifully integrated into the landscape.

Their former mill was housed in a room the size of my Asheville apartment. Incredible, internationally acclaimed feats of oleic magic happened inside that compact space! With the new facilities, the Canena team has more room for experimentation and innovation. There’s even a refrigerated receiving chamber at the mill to keep the olives cool as they arrive from the grove.

Paco Vaño and T.J. Robinson
Paco Vaño, the ingenious cofounder of Castillo de Canena, and I have been friends and collaborators for 16 years (here we are in pre-pandemic times). His sensational olive oils are consistent Top 20 winners in Flos Olei, the international guide to the world’s finest EVOOs. In 2016, Flos Olei named Castillo de Canena “Best Olive Oil Company in the World.” Never resting on his laurels, Paco is always striving for excellence and inspiring others to do the same.

When a forward-thinking artisan like Paco develops a new technique that helps develop greater complexity of flavor and aroma in fresh-pressed olive oil, he may keep the secret briefly—maybe for a season, “to sweep the awards” (said with a wink)—and then he’ll share the findings with his peers, to raise everybody up. “It’s all about making the region better,” Paco says. He views the new mill as an investment in the community for the next generation.

His dedication and care extend to the natural environment as well. Castillo de Canena emphasizes the importance of biodiversity in the grove, which spans 3,700 acres of rolling hills and many different microclimates. Native plants and grasses thrive among the olive trees and sheep munch on the grass. At last count, 117 bird species have been identified. In light of the newly enacted laws that protect birdlife in the region, Paco observes, “That’s a great sign—that there are insects, that the birds are able to feed themselves.” A flourishing ecosystem, with insects to aerate the soil and pollinate plants, makes for healthier olive trees.

Duccio and Tjeerd reported that the olives were beautiful, with several standout oils as potential Club contenders. In a group tasting over Zoom, I savored the several different pressings of Picual—the varietal is one of my perennial early-harvest favorites from this farm—but found it a bit “short,” in olive-oil parlance: excellent but in need of something more to truly blossom. The synergy of olive oil blending never ceases to amaze me: a tiny quantity of Arbequina makes all the difference, endowing the oil with dimension and complexity that go beyond mere addition. Paco has never before combined Picual and Arbequina, and he is delighted. “You created an entirely new sensory profile for Canena!”

Paco Vaño and Duccio Morozzo
Very few people get to tinker with top producer Paco Vaño’s prize oils. My years of relationship building and the expertise of colleagues such as Duccio Morozzo (right) enable the Club to work behind the scenes on your behalf. Here, Paco (always in a blazer) and Duccio taste, adjust, repeat. In our outstanding final blend, five pressings of robust Picual, each from a different microclimate in Paco’s groves,
harmonize with bright Arbequina.

Thanks to the Club, this is something I can do—because producers trust me and my team, we can push the envelope, taking olive oil in new directions. They reciprocate by introducing us (and you) to oils that nobody else has experienced. Paco shared some words expressly for my Club Members: “You’re receiving the best olive oil in the world, experiencing a different range of aromas, learning about different uses for these oils in your cuisine.”

When we attained the perfect ratio of Picual to Arbequina, my olfactory senses transported me to Spain. The only thing missing was the traditional celebration with Paco, toasting another sensational collaboration over a delicious meal, drizzled generously with our fresh-pressed creation. “When you come next year,” Paco assures me, “we’ll have two celebratory meals.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This stunning oil is green and beguiling, a delight to the senses. Inhale its aromas, and you’ll detect fresh-cut grass, green walnuts, green tomatoes, fresh rosemary, wild mint, bay leaf, black peppercorns, and green tea. A small sip of this elegant but muscular oil reveals a cornucopia of flavors—kale, spinach and other dark leafy greens; rosemary and thyme; arugula; artichoke; and chicory. Very harmonious on the palate with a languorous, peppery finish and just the right amount of astringency.

We recommend pairing this powerful oil with aged cheeses (called curado in Spanish), such as Manchego, Idiazabal, or Cabrales; rustic breads or tomato bruschetta; pesto; pasta with tomato sauce; grilled or roasted lamb; oily fish like sardines or mackerel; roasted brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips, or broccoli rabe; chicory, endive, or radicchio salads; potatoes; and chocolate.


Olive Oil and Health

Heart health: Mediterranean versus low-fat diet

Adapted from an article by Timothy Huzar in Medical News Today, December 15, 2020

In a recent study, scientists compared the effects of a Mediterranean diet with those of a low-fat diet on key biological processes linked to heart health.

The researchers found that a Mediterranean diet could improve endothelial function in people with coronary heart disease. The endothelium is a thin membrane that coats the inside of blood vessels and the heart. It plays a number of roles that are important for the functioning of the cardiovascular system.

Heart disease

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, heart disease accounts for around 1 in 4 deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of death. Modifying the diet is a keyway to reduce the risk of heart disease. For many years, researchers have demonstrated the benefits of a Mediterranean diet on heart health. It includes olive oil, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fruits, and whole grains, with small amounts of dairy and meat and a moderate amount of fish and red wine. Health experts, including the American Heart Association (AHA), have also linked low-fat diets with improvements in heart health. This type of diet contains reduced amounts of all types of fat and increased amounts of complex carbohydrates.

The team behind the present study set out to test the effects of each type of diet on the endothelium because endothelial dysfunction is a predictor of cardiovascular disease. According to Prof. José López-Miranda, the corresponding author of the study and coordinator of the Nutritional Genomics and Metabolic Syndrome research group at the Maimonides Biomedical Research Institute of Córdoba, in Spain:

The degree of endothelial damage predicts the occurrence of future cardiovascular events, as in acute myocardial infarctions. If we can take action at the initial stages, prompting endothelium regeneration and better endothelial function, we can help prevent heart attacks and heart disease from reoccurring.

The researchers analyzed data gathered as part of the Coronary Diet Intervention with Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Prevention study, an ongoing, single-blind, randomized, controlled study. The study included 1,002 people with coronary heart disease who had not had a coronary event in the past 6 months. The researchers determined a baseline level of endothelial dysfunction among the participants. They then assigned the participants to two groups: one followed a Mediterranean diet for 1 year, and the other followed a low-fat diet for 1 year.

At the end of the year, the team measured the participants’ endothelial function again. In total, 805 participants completed the study.

Compared with the low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet significantly improved the participants’ endothelial function—no matter how severe the dysfunction had been.

The researchers also found that the Mediterranean diet resulted in improved levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reductions in fasting glucose and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) among the participants, compared with the low-fat diet.

The findings suggest that switching to a Mediterranean diet could help reduce the known risk of endothelial damage, coronary heart disease, and future coronary events.

Reference: Yubero-Serrano EM, Fernandez-Gandara C, Garcia-Rios A, et al. Mediterranean diet and endothelial function in patients with coronary heart disease: an analysis of the CORDIOPREV randomized controlled trial. PLOS Med. 2020;17(9):e1003282. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003282


Kudos from Club Members

This is the only housewarming gift I give now! Everyone I give a bottle to falls in love with the taste. I’m giving an amazing gift and spreading the word about what quality oil actually tastes like!
Colleen C.Stamford, CT


Recipes

  • Tapa of Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce (Champinones al Ajillo) Tapa of Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce (Champinones al Ajillo) Common in tapas bars throughout Spain, this mushroom appetizer can be served on its own as a tapa or as a side dish with beefsteak. It can be made up to a day in advance: cover, refrigerate, and reheat. Add the lemon juice and parsley just before serving. view recipe
  • Samfaina Samfaina Similar to French ratatouille, Samfaina is a Catalonian vegetable relish that is long-cooked to a marmalade-like consistency. It is wonderful on fish, eggs, potatoes, or even toast. The key to its success is to dice the vegetables into small pieces. It will keep, covered, for several days in the refrigerator. view recipe
  • Rib Eye a la Plancha with Brioche Salad Rib Eye a la Plancha with Brioche Salad Thick-cut bone-in rib eye steaks, sometimes called “tomahawk steaks,” are becoming common in American meat markets. One steak can weigh more than 2 pounds and can easily serve 2 to 3 people or more. They are best cooked rare to medium-rare. view recipe
  • Refried Cannellini Beans with Saffron Refried Cannellini Beans with Saffron Nearly all of us have eaten refried pinto beans. But refried cannellini beans are a revelation! And they look beautiful topped with a verdant pool of fresh-pressed olive oil. view recipe
  • Low-Carb Spanish Meatballs (Albondigas) Low-Carb Spanish Meatballs (Albondigas) Albondigas (Spanish meatballs) are a popular offering in tapas bars. They differ from Italian meatballs in their seasonings and smaller size—about an inch in diameter. Serve on toothpicks. view recipe
  • Garlicky Shrimp Sauté Garlicky Shrimp Sauté Though known colloquially as “Santa Barbara spot prawns,” these sweet, buttery-tasting Pacific-based crustaceans are harvested from San Diego to Alaska. If they’re not available at your local market, buy the best shrimp you can find, preferably wild-caught. view recipe
  • Classic Olive Oil Cake with Orange Glaze Classic Olive Oil Cake with Orange Glaze Moist and satisfying, this cake can be made from ingredients you likely have on hand. Instead of making a glaze, you can simply brush the finished, cooled cake with olive oil. It’s great for breakfast, tea, or dessert. (We also like it with fresh berries and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.) view recipe
  • Braised Chicken with Salmorejo Sauce Braised Chicken with Salmorejo Sauce Chef Katie Button, who trained with Spanish celebrity chef Ferran Adrià at his internationally acclaimed restaurant elBulli, later opened Cúrate Bar de Tapas in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. This original recipe featured rabbit, which is more popular in Spain than it is in the US. We like it made with chicken. view recipe
  • Asturian Pork and Bean Stew Asturian Pork and Bean Stew Asturias, a seaside principality located in northwestern Spain, is renowned for this hearty stew featuring various cuts of pork and large creamy beans known as fabes or fabadas. We love to finish this dish (perfect for a chilly day) with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. view recipe
  • Mark Bittman’s Spanish Cod with Chickpeas and Sherry Mark Bittman’s Spanish Cod with Chickpeas and Sherry Cod, chickpeas, and sherry are among Spain’s most iconic foods. This dish requires mere minutes of active time, but when paired with a salad (such as the Orange and Fennel Salad on page 14), can be served with pride to guests. view recipe

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

Italian Olive Oil Producers Enjoy the Best Harvest in Years!

Presenting a Trio of Exclusive Club Selections for Your Table

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • A nearly ideal growing season, unprecedented in recent years, set the stage for a beautiful collaboration between the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club and award-winning artisanal producers from family farms in Tuscany, Abruzzo, and Sicily.
  • Available nowhere else, these outstanding extra virgin olive oils will bring joy to your cold-weather meals.
  • All were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their intoxicating aromas, complex flavors, and healthful polyphenols.
  • As always, all have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.

How best to frame the story of my quest to bring you the world’s best and freshest olive oil in this, the last quarter of the year? Borrowing from the profound introductory paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The good news is that this set is one of the most stunning trios of Italian olive oils I’ve assembled in at least a decade. For the family-owned farms that produced these just-pressed oils, 2020 was anno buonissimo! The bad news—for me personally, anyway—was that I was unable to physically be there for this epic harvest.

This was very distressing to me—a cruel irony, as Italy has long been one of my favorite olive oil destinations for many reasons. Chief among them is Italy’s intimate relationship with the world’s most important evergreen, Olea europaea. It has been going strong for thousands of years and plays such an important role in Italy’s unique culture. The country is home to more than 550 varieties of olives, most of which thrive nowhere else; many of them have made custom-blending oils a real joy over the years.

Meghan and T.J. Robinson
A “Harvest Party” for two—how very 2020! My wife Meghan and I deeply missed our annual visit to Italy this year, so we pulled out our pasta maker and a bag of “00” flour and made fresh pasta to celebrate the arrival of the three final Club selections from Tuscany, Abruzzo, and Sicily. We had a bellissimo evening auditioning these exclusive, just-pressed extra virgin olive oils on one of Italy’s most iconic foods. Saluti!

An Especially Sweet Victory

On the other hand, I was thrilled for the olive farmers who, despite the hardships imposed by the coronavirus, enjoyed nearly ideal growing conditions all season long: a spring that treated flowering trees tenderly; a warm summer that discouraged attacks by pests; well-timed rains; and a cool but frost-free fall that accommodated an early harvest (always my preference). They needed and deserved that bit of extraordinary luck after the hardships many have endured in previous harvest seasons.

Earlier this year, Italy was one of the first Western countries to restrict travel during the pandemic. So it was clear months ago that my annual visit to Italy was not in the cards. Fortunately, I had two quarters’ worth of experience finding premium extra virgin olive oils in Chile and Australia by relying on dependable longtime contacts, residents of those countries who know how exacting and meticulous I am.

Introducing My “A” Team

As the Italian harvest approached, I was in the best position I’d been in in months, considering international travel from the US was impossible. From Rome, I was being advised by Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, a world-famous olive oil expert and master miller I’ve collaborated with for 10 years. Poised to join him, once the harvest began, was one of my dearest friends, Tjeerd Belien, a Dutch citizen and an intrepid world traveler. (His first name is pronounced “cheered.”) We have known each other since 1996. Not only is he the photographer whose work always illustrates the pages of the Pressing Report, but he also speaks five languages and is an accomplished olive oil taster, a logistical genius, and the best person on the planet for channeling me in the field.

Tjeerd Belien
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures! Tjeerd Belien, a trusted member of my Merry Band of Tasters for 15 years and longtime friend (his evocative photos have appeared for years in the Pressing Report) overcame some travel difficulties caused by the pandemic by renting a camper in Germany before the start of the harvest to be mobile and self-contained. I just had to share this photo that Tjeerd sent me from the road in Italy—ever enthusiastic, he Photoshopped my logo onto his ride to make me feel I was present in Italy as well.

Plus, he can drive anything—trucks, cars, campers, etc.—and on the left side of the road, too, a skill that comes in very handy when we’re visiting olive producers in the Australian Outback. After renting an RV in Germany (see photo above), Tjeerd stocked up on groceries (many European hotels and restaurants are closed during the pandemic) and as planned, rendezvoused with Duccio in Italy. Duccio had already identified the season’s most promising producers—all families with whom we have long and successful working relationships, including the Pruneti brothers in Tuscany, the Di Mercurio family in Abruzzo, and Salvatore Cutrera in Sicily. These names will be familiar to longtime Club members who have previously enjoyed their outstanding olive oils.

The Best Italian Olive Oils in a Decade, Says Expert

We kept in very close touch, exchanging opinions on samples and blends and handling the myriad details necessary to get these precious oils to your door. Tjeerd created a vivid “you are there” connection for me with phone calls, emails, photos, and video recordings, as he knows how dearly I love the hunt for Italy’s “liquid gold.”

Duccio Morozzo
World-renowned olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo pronounced the olive oils in this quarter’s trio among the best Italian oils he’s tasted in a decade of collaborating with the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. A native of Rome, this master miller was instrumental in identifying the most promising olive groves in the country during what was, for many regions, one of the most successful growing seasons in recent memory, in terms of quality and quantity.

Duccio continues to rave about the oils—some of the best he’s tasted in his professional career, he says. I have to agree. This trio of polyphenol-rich olive oils is incredibly well-balanced, with exquisitely long finishes and parity between fruitiness, spiciness, and bitterness. I couldn’t be prouder of these exclusive creations, or of the extraordinary effort exerted by so many people to put them in your hands.

These ravishing EVOOs will be amazing additions to your winter kitchen. Their robust healthfulness and food friendly characteristics will delight and astound you. As always, I’ve included Italian-inspired recipes to show off their finest qualities, as well as detailed tasting notes and recommended food pairings.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Salvatore Cutrera Exclusive Signature Selection, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Tonda Iblea, Nocellara del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Salvatore Cutrera Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The Olive Oil Hunter was born in Sicily. Figuratively speaking, that is—T. J. Robinson was born in North Carolina, but my love of fresh-pressed olive oil and my mission to bring it to America year-round started back in 2003 on the rocky island wedged between the toe of the Italian boot and the coast of North Africa. At a Sicilian harvest celebration, someone handed me a small glass of indescribably fresh, green, life-affirming olio nuovo—“new oil”—and my life changed forever.

Native Sicilian Salvatore Cutrera takes it a dimension further: “I was born in an olive mill,” he says. “This is my habitat, like the lion in the savannah.” Salvatore and I got to know each other three seasons ago, in 2017. In our initial encounters, I had the sense I was being sized up—Is this guy the real deal?—but my discerning palate won him over, and Salvatore excitedly shared with me (and you, my lucky Club members!) what he calls his “secret stash,” pressed from his very finest olives, reserved for only those who can truly appreciate it.

Salvatore and I are thrilled to feature an exclusive Cutrera blend as a Club selection this year. “It was a perfect season,” he announced. “In 20 years we have not had such a beautiful season.” While Italy is home to more than 550 olive varieties, the groves at Frantoi Cutrera, intriguingly, are devoted to two: Tonda Iblea and Nocellara del Belice, both of which are popularly served as table olives. (I adore great olive oils pressed from table olives, as the fruit is cultivated for its intensity of flavor.)

Duccio described the choreographed “craziness” at the Cutrera mill during the harvest as “well organized, military-Sicilian style,” running 20 hours a day, with trucks laden with bins of just-picked olives arriving nonstop from the groves. “A beehive,” evoked Tjeerd. “Everyone has a role.”

Salvatore explained his uncanny ability to step from his office into the fever-pitched activity of the mill, always intuiting where he is needed, and for what. “It’s not just tasting and smelling that makes you a great miller—perfect managing involves using all the senses. When you are inside the mill you see, smell, hear, touch. You listen to the rhythm and noise of the equipment, and you know if something must be done.”

The intense productivity of the mill is made possible by the extended—and extensive—Cutrera family. Salvatore’s two sisters and both his brothers-in-law are involved in the business, as are some of their children, totaling at least 12 of the employees. They are always looking forward, striving for perfection.

Team Cutrera
Team Cutrera is hard at work, hand-picking olives in the Sicilian province of Ragusa, near the town of Chiaramonte Gulfi. Three generations (going on four) of the Cutrera family have been tending olive trees since 1906. Note the billowy netting beneath the ladders to nestle the olives gently among foliage before they are transferred to small bins and rushed to the mill for pressing.

Last season the mill implemented a heating exchange system, in which a long stretch of tubing allows the olive paste to be cooled to an exact temperature, reducing the time and heat exposure, increasing the aromas, and allowing for better oils.

“Next year,” Salvatore promised, “you will visit my new facility.” In the ambitious, groundbreaking project, connecting corridors of glass will allow all production areas to be visible to each other and to visitors, promoting olive oil education by drawing locals and tourists alike to observe the process. Seventy-five huge olive trees encircle the structure. All the state-of-the-art equipment and holding tanks will be brand-new, and Frantoi Cutrera plans to premiere a technique for transporting each just-pressed oil directly to its corresponding storage tank, under temperature-controlled conditions, with no oxygen exposure. Among attempts to evoke the scale and importance of the new mill, I think Duccio described it best: “It will be a cathedral of olive oil.”

I can’t wait for you to taste this exquisite blend—it exemplifies all the sensuous characteristics of Tonda Iblea, fortified by Nocellara del Belice. Even though I have worked with these two varietals in the past, this particular blend is one of a kind. Every year is different; as Salvatore observed, “You must put the season in context in order to understand how to work with the olives to produce the very finest oils.”

He then returned thoughtfully to the idea of craziness, opining that to create something truly great, one needs to have a little touch of insanity. “I see the same craziness in T. J., the passion we share.”

Duccio Morozzo and Salvatore Cutrera
Dear friend of the Club Duccio Morozzo (left) and producer Salvatore Cutrera (right) sniff, taste, and swap their impressions of samples of just-pressed oils in order to arrive at the ultimate blend. The highly discriminating Salvatore allows our Club access to his “secret stash,” small batches pressed from the very finest fruit, thanks to the relationship we have built. The exclusive blend you have just received was created from two exquisite table olives, Tonda Iblea and Nocellara del Belice.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Green in the glass and on the nose, this intoxicating olive oil is perfumed with the scents of tomato, tomato leaf, fresh basil and mint, green apple, baby fennel, celery, and walnuts, punctuated with the spiciness of arugula and white pepper. In the mouth, my tasters detected fresh-cut grass, green tomato, and minerally baby spinach with Belgian endive-like bitterness. We were captivated by the nuttiness of Nocellara del Belice and the tomato-ey notes delivered by Tonda Iblea.( Both varietals are natives of Sicily.) Extremely well-balanced with a warm, lingering finish.

This oil would be perfetto with fresh bread; mild white fish, such as sole or cod; lobster, shrimp, or crabmeat; chicken; risotto, polenta, and other grains; white beans; squash; salads featuring fruit and/or nuts; crudités; tomato bruschetta; pizza; pasta; potatoes; roasted pears with pistachios; mild cheeses; or a variety of soups, such as chickpea, tomato, minestrone, potato, or cauliflower.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Mercurius, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Frantoio Mercurius Olive Oil Label

For the past two years, veteran Club members have received a phenomenal extra virgin olive oil pressed during the Italian harvest called Frantoio Hermes. The name, as fans of Greek and Roman mythology will recognize, was a play on the producer’s surname, Di Mercurio.

Somehow, this diminutive 60-acre family farm in rural Abruzzo snagged the attention of the high-end Paris fashion house founded in 1837, also known as Hermes, which flexed its legal muscle to force a name change. Thus, the olive oil brand that delighted Club members in 2018 and 2019 is now known as Frantoio Mercurius.
(Sometimes, Goliath wins.)

But you win, too, dear Club member, as the oil pressed during the current harvest by this small boutique farm is once again—for the third year in a row—outstanding. (Usually, olive trees require at least one season to recoup their vigor.) The name may have changed, but this family’s unwavering commitment to quality continues to impress. Among the many awards Claudio Di Mercurio and his team have won in a mere 10 years is the much-coveted “Frantoio dell’ Anno” (Mill of the Year) by the prestigious Italian food and wine empire known as Gambero Rosso.

Almost as precious to Claudio are the compliments he’s received from my appreciative Club members. He grins widely when he recalls them. He is still incredulous that the extra virgin olive oils he and his family produce from Dritta olives, an early ripening varietal unique to Abruzzo, are on the tables of olive oil-savvy Americans like yourself.

Dritta is one of several hundred Italian olive cultivars. The name translates to “sweet,” “dependable,” or “trustworthy.” As an adjective, the word dritta can be applied to people as well—certainly, it’s appropriate for the sweet and trustworthy Di Mercurio family.

Claudio e Antonio Di Mercurio
Olive oil producer Claudio Di Mercurio and his son, Antonio, may oversee state-of-the-art malaxers—machines that separate the olive oil from the fruit and pit—but they go old-school when identifying the olive paste as T.J.’s! (Yes, those are chalkboards.) Nineteen-year-old Antonio is learning the family olive oil business from the ground up, a development that’s made his parents very happy.

While I savored the many photos, videos, and olive oil samples Tjeerd and Duccio sent me from the farm, I felt wistful that I couldn’t be there in person to savor the first drops of just-pressed olive oil on the family’s warm-from-the-oven bread, steaming soup, garden-fresh salads and vegetables, cured meats, and more. Nostalgia overwhelmed me when I saw a recording of one of Claudio’s sisters stirring pasta into a huge pot of boiling water over an outdoor propane burner fashioned from a tin wash tub. I remembered so well the family’s warm hospitality from my first meals at their table, and later, the comfortable and informal way we related at the end of long days in the groves or at the mill.

Weariness, of course, is much easier to cope with when the harvest is as sensational as this one was in both quality and quantity. The entire season, Claudio noted happily, was almost picture-perfect. No curveballs from Mother Nature! Cooler temperatures in the spring and early summer made for good flowering (if there are too many buds, the tree’s energy can be sapped as the fruit develops) and were inhospitable to the pests that sometimes threaten the crop. Well-timed fall rains helped the fruit mature, as did optimum differentials between daytime and nighttime temperatures. (The latter is critical for the development of intoxicating olive oil aromas.)

Claudio, an electrical engineer by training (his wife, Olga, is a medical doctor), relentlessly searches for ways to improve the quality of the oils the family produces. This year, he invested in a device that produces inert nitrogen gas, which is used by the world’s best olive oil producers to displace any oxygen that might come into contact with the fresh-pressed oils. Nitrogen inhibits premature oxidation and protects healthful polyphenols.

Campo Imperatore
Just over the ridge from the Di Mercurio family farm is an alpine meadow that starkly contrasts with the region’s olive groves and medieval villages. Known as Campo Imperatore (“Emperor’s Field”), its uncanny resemblance to the American West has long made it a popular cinematographic set. In the 1960s and ’70s, a number of “spaghetti Westerns” were shot there by American, Spanish, and Italian filmmakers. Movie buffs might also remember the dark 1985 title Ladyhawke, starring a young Michelle Pfeiffer. If not, Claudio will fill you in! The area is home to a large variety of wildlife, including the Apennine wolf, the endangered Abruzzo chamois, golden eagles, and wild boar.

In another new development, the Di Mercurios’ 19-year-old son, Antonio, has taken a year off from his schooling to learn the olive oil business from the ground up, a source of great pride for his parents.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Abruzzo is a region in South-Central Italy about 60 miles east of Rome. The Di Mercurio farm, its beautiful hills studded with olive trees, is located near the Adriatic Sea and the ancient city of Penne. Just over the ridge is an otherworldly area resembling the American West where American-made films, such as “spaghetti Westerns,” were shot in the 1960s and 70s. (See the photo above.)

I can’t wait for you to taste this exclusive and very special olive oil, which is available only to members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. I promise it will be a singular experience.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

For the third consecutive year, this personable oil, pressed from rare Dritta olives, stays mostly in character. Herbal and grassy, it’s evocative on the nose of almonds, artichokes, green bananas, golden apples, cinnamon, mint, red peppers, and chopped winter greens. Abundant polyphenols give it a Szechuan peppercorn-like spiciness in the mouth, tempered with the flavors of arugula, radicchio, artichoke, hazelnuts, celery, and lime zest. Beautifully calibrated. Anticipate a pleasant and protracted finish.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Pruneti, San Polo in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Moraiolo, Leccino, Frantoio, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Frantoio Pruneti Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

When you walk into Frantoio Pruneti, the air is alive and tingling with peppery, spicy, pungent polyphenols and the scent of fresh, green olive oil. I fervently missed that olfactory experience this season; if I close my eyes and imagine standing in that space I can smell the greenness, and my throat practically tickles from the oleocanthal in the olives.

Brothers Gionni and Paolo Pruneti are fourth-generation olive oil producers with gold-medal-winning, diversified groves located sixty miles from Siena. Their extra virgin olive oils consistently reap the most coveted honors, with at least four appearances on the Top 20 list of Flos Olei, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s best olive oils. On my very first visit, in 2012, I was so smitten that I presented one of their brilliant oils as a Club selection, and we have collaborated a number of times since. The impeccably maintained groves, comprising more than 30,000 trees, carpet the hills in and around the town of San Polo in Chianti, along the storied wine route between Siena and Florence.

Gionni shared exuberant news early: “This is going to be a great season!” For the first time in fifteen years, the Pruneti groves enjoyed normal weather (or, rather, what used to be considered normal weather)—a hot summer, with enough rain to create plump fruit, but not too much moisture; and a pleasingly cool fall. This provided for an early harvest—my timing preference for maximizing the complex flavors and plentiful perfumes in the resulting oils—and for a manageable, standard workday for the harvest team. (The hotter temperatures of the past several years have dictated that harvests start before dawn and end before midday in order to protect the picked fruit from the blistering heat.)

I can’t lie to you—I was deeply disappointed to miss the best Tuscan harvest in more than a decade. But I couldn’t ask for a better virtual reality experience than via my two most trusted colleagues, Tjeerd Belien and Duccio Morozzo, who served as my nose, palate, eyes, and ears in the Remote Italian Olive Oil Hunt of 2020.

Pruneti harvest team
The Pruneti harvest team, including Paolo and his daughter Elisa, 9, displays the fruits of this season’s harvest. Moments after this photo, Paolo and Elisa carried the bins filled with just-picked fruit to the small Jeep in which Paolo buzzes back and forth between the grove and the mill several times a day. The goal is to press these beautiful olives into liquid gold as soon as possible after they are plucked from the tree.

Tjeerd shared a steady stream of details, starting with “Gionni is thrilled with the olives… and beyond exhausted.” During peak harvest time, the mill runs round the clock, and the brothers swap shifts: Gionni works from 8 a.m., when the harvest day starts, past midnight, then sleeps four to five hours on a pullout bed. Paolo covers the second shift, from about 10 p.m. to the early morning.

Running the olive mill (frantoio) and the business is truly a family affair. Gionni oversees the production process while Paolo handles marketing and also fills in at the mill. Their father, Gilberto, is retired but continues to make rounds, while the youngest generation enjoys hanging out with the harvest team and witnessing the olives’ journey from the tree to the mill to the table. Little Lorenzo, Gionni’s 7-year-old son, wears big earmuffs to protect his ears from the whir and din of the equipment as he marches around, monitoring the progress. You can see one of Paolo’s daughters, Elisa, in the groves with the harvesters and her papa above.

This season, Gionni explained, they installed a new disc crusher with a differently shaped grid that helps maximize the aroma in the resulting oil. (Olive crushers are of three varieties—knife, hammer, or disc—each with particular attributes.) The team also shortened the pipe that transports the olive paste, keeping it cooler and further optimizing the aroma and flavors in the final product.

Gionni Pruneti and Duccio Morozzo
The dynamic duo of master millers Gionni Pruneti and Duccio Morozzo examine the discs for the mill separator, which removes the last little bit of water from the oil. Knowing how to manage the discs separates great millers from the less than great, as disc sizes must be changed frequently to accommodate the different water content of olives as they ripen, or after a rain.

Gionni and Duccio share a history going back to 2006. They met while working for Alfa Laval, the renowned manufacturer of world-class olive-milling equipment, and both are master millers, the highest level of expertise in olive oil production. As longtime colleagues and friends, it was meaningful to them both to collaborate on this exclusive, quintessentially Tuscan-style blend for our Club.

Gionni experienced a moment of confronto (reckoning) as Duccio reminded him how receptive the Club would be to a bold, robust oil: his eyes lit up and he got a big smile on his face. The two olive oil geniuses put their (curly) heads together, “channeling T. J.,” as they put it, and arrived at a gorgeous blend that embodies the finest qualities of Tuscan olive oil: it’s bold, dazzling, harmonious, and exceedingly food friendly.

Paolo and Gionni asked that I extend their congratulations to the Club for helping educate Americans about high-quality extra virgin olive oil. From Tuscany, in the form of the shimmering bottle of liquid gold you hold in your hands, they send their very warmest “Saluti” and “Grazie!”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

In the past, I have referred to a robust Pruneti blend as “Tuscany in a bottle,” and the description is still apt. The nose is dominated by the scents of almonds, green bananas and apples, vanilla, fresh oregano, fennel, and wheatgrass with white pepper for spiciness and marzipan (almond paste) for a touch of sweetness. So substantial, it’s almost chewy in the mouth, reprising almonds along with wild greens, black kale, nasturtiums, sage, and the assertive spiciness of mixed peppercorns. Pulls no punches, but was described by one of my tasters as “a joy ride on the palate.” Indeed.


Olive Oil and Health

Healthy habits are key to maintaining health even while taking multiple prescriptions

Adapted from an article in Science Codex, November 9, 2020

Lifestyle habits including adherence to the Mediterranean diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking can reduce the risk of death, even for people taking multiple medications, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020. The meeting, held virtually, Friday, November 13 – Tuesday, November 17, 2020, was a premier global exchange of the latest scientific advancements, research and evidence-based clinical practice updates in cardiovascular science for health care worldwide.

“We’ve long known about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle. The results from our study underscore the importance of each person’s ability to improve their health through lifestyle changes even if they are dealing with multiple health issues and taking multiple prescription medications,” said lead author Neil Kelly, Ph.D., a medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University in New York City.

The study analyzed data from more than 20,000 participants of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study (average age of 64; 56% women). At the start of the study, 17% were taking 10 or more prescription medications, 39% were taking five to nine prescription medicines, and 44% of participants were taking four or fewer prescription medications.

Researchers evaluated the number of medications taken, level of participation in four healthy behaviors and all-cause death rates. The types of medications and the conditions they were used to treat (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cognitive impairment, etc.), varied widely among study participants. The healthy lifestyle behaviors were physical activity; smoking abstinence; low sedentary time; and following a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, and moderation for dairy products and wine.

At follow-up roughly 10 years later, the analysis found that a healthy lifestyle decreased the risk of death regardless of the number of medications a person was taking; and the higher the number of healthy lifestyle habits a person had, the lower their risk of death.

“It’s especially important for health care professionals to counsel patients and develop interventions that can maximize healthy lifestyle behaviors, even among patients with several prescription medications,” Kelly added. “It’s important for the public to understand that there is never a bad time to adopt healthy behaviors. These can range from eating a healthier diet to taking a daily walk in their neighborhood. A healthier lifestyle buys more time.”

Reference: Presentation P929, American Heart Association Virtual Scientific Sessions 2020, November 13 -17, 2020.


Kudos from Club Members

I’m so sad…I just used the very last drop of my bottle of Finca Galvez Picual oil sent several months ago. I’d love another bottle or 2 if you have any extra stock! This oil is perfect with a summer salad of fresh herbs and baby greens from the garden. Addictive even. I joined because of Dave Asprey’s recommendation (“Bulletproof” guy) and at first didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with all that oil. Having little exposure to good olive oil, I must confess I just didn’t get the EVOO craze. Store-bought oil didn’t smell or taste good to me, and that’s all I’d ever really experienced. So I decided to enroll because Dave is a compelling guy and I trust him. I figured I’d try it and cancel my subscription in a few months. But over time, as I read your quarterly booklet (love it!!) and tasted the different oils, I began to feel so lucky and looked forward to finding recipes just for the oils. I’ve given bottles as gifts (including a copy of your write-up so the receiver knows just how special that bottle is!) to rave reviews. I’ve even taken to using the wonderful oils on my skin—the color and aroma are an amazing lift and olive oil is second to none as a moisturizer! Total luxury. I hope you are not insulted by this! Thanks for offering these oils for subscription. I love that the oils come from small growers dedicated to quality. The places you visit sound amazing (a travel blog would be fascinating)! Someday, if you ever decide to offer excursions to outsiders, I can think of nothing more interesting than visiting olive groves. “Olive Oil Hunter Excursions”? Has a nice ring. Bucket list! You’ve made me a fan. So appreciate what you do—it has such incredible value to us and brings a bounty of simple delight with each pour. Abundance in a bottle. Thanks again!
Kristen H.Oak Park, IL


Recipes

  • One-Pot Pasta with Sausage and Spinach One-Pot Pasta with Sausage and Spinach Hearty, filling, and needing only one pot, this comforting dish will warm a three-dog night. I first cooked with passata (strained uncooked tomato purée) during a visit to Italy, but have since found passata on some upscale American supermarket shelves. view recipe
  • Italian Apple Olive Oil Cake Italian Apple Olive Oil Cake Rustic and moist, this Ligurian cake deserves a place in your olive oil baking repertoire. It will infuse your kitchen with the scents of late fall—apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg. No frosting is required, but we wouldn’t say no to a drizzle of warm honey or a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream. view recipe
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Onions with Mushroom Lardons Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Onions with Mushroom Lardons Some of our favorite members of the Brassica family, brussels sprouts, star in this vegan-friendly mélange of seasonal vegetables. Large king oyster or shiitake mushrooms can be found at many supermarkets or Asian food emporiums. Feel free to substitute other meaty mushrooms, such as portobellos or creminis. view recipe
  • Sicilian-Style Grilled Artichokes Sicilian-Style Grilled Artichokes Longtime friend of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, author and TV host Steven Raichlen, shared this recipe from his forthcoming book, How to Grill Vegetables. It pays homage to Italians’ love of grilled artichokes. Here, this delectable botanical (yes, artichokes are technically flowers) are grilled directly in the embers of a wood or charcoal re. view recipe
  • Dry-Rubbed Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce Dry-Rubbed Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce Nothing says “special occasion” more eloquently than beef tenderloin. To make sure the mild flavor of the meat is front and center, we rub it with a fragrant paste of fresh herbs, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil before ovenroasting. You can even skip the red wine sauce and drizzle the sliced meat with more… view recipe
  • Maine Downeast Pumpkin Bread Maine Downeast Pumpkin Bread Make a double batch of this moist bread, as it freezes well and is great for sharing with family and friends. If you’re a “from scratch” kind of person, you can make your own pumpkin purée from pie pumpkins. view recipe
  • Antipasto Bites Antipasto Bites For a carb-free version of these colorful, festive skewers, replace the cheese tortellini with cherry tomatoes, marinated mushroom caps, or pepperoncini. view recipe
  • Ribolitta Ribolitta In the spirit of cucina povera (poverty cuisine), Italian mothers and grandmothers have repurposed for generations a thick vegetable stew (every family has their own recipe) by submerging bread and cheese in it and reheating. view recipe
  • Sweet Potato Soup with Sage Pesto Sweet Potato Soup with Sage Pesto A cornucopia of seasonal flavors comes together in this creamy vegetarian soup. It’s homey, yet you can serve it to the most sophisticated palates in your best china or rustic soup bowls. It gets a double hit of fresh-pressed olive oil, which is used in the vibrant, herbaceous pesto as well as the soup. view recipe
  • Kale Salad with Grana Padano Kale Salad with Grana Padano Tuscan kale is sold under several names and might be labeled dinosaur kale, black kale, cavolo nero, or lacinato kale. Grana Padano is an aged cow’s milk cheese from Emilia-Romagna. If you can’t find it, substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano. view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

No Worries, Mate! Against All Odds, Your Olive Oil Hunter Proudly Presents Three
Magnificent Fresh-Pressed EVOOs from Australia

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Enticingly food-friendly and brimming with antioxidants, these dazzling EVOOs were rushed to our shores by jet (no small feat).
  • All are custom blends created by yours truly, procured from award-winning Australian producers (also no small feat).
  • All are Club exclusives, available nowhere else in the US.
  • All are certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.

G’day, mate! It’s that Down Under time of year—when the freshest, most flavorful olive oils on earth come from Australia, our seasonal opposite. Mother Nature doesn’t shift the global harvest schedule, even while a pandemic continues on her watch.

Nor does your Olive Oil Hunter. At this point in the calendar I’m usually knackered from the 20,000-mile round trip to Oz. I love the annual journey, visiting groves that I’ve watched develop and flourish over the past decade and collaborating with the ingenious Ozzie producers, many of whom are now dear friends. In just 25 years, Australia has given rise to a charismatic, innovative olive oil culture, pioneered by scrappy small-scale growers and guided by cutting-edge agricultural science. My appetite is also geared up for Australia’s vibrant and exciting food scene, which reflects and reinterprets Asian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences.

The Oz-Stars

As you’ve likely surmised, though, this year I was not able to travel. Even before it was clear that any trips to the Southern Hemisphere would be confined to Zoom, I began drafting the team for a remote olive oil quest. The clutch players in Australia would be two longtime friends of the Club: Leandro Ravetti, best described as an “all-around olive oil genius,” and the incomparable Melissa Wong, whose meticulous judgment and discerning palate I trust implicitly.

Leandro predicted early that Australian growers would have a challenging year. The hot, dry weather that olive trees crave failed to materialize; summer was cooler than normal, with a lot of rain, which restrained the olives’ development. As harvest time approached, average temperatures were a full 3ºC below average, and the rainfall hit record marks. As Leandro described it, “Winter came early to Australia,” and Mother Nature closed the door on the growing season.

Highly skilled producers are no strangers to strategizing around lousy weather, and I was heartened to learn that two of my favorite award-winning Australian farms, Annie Paterson’s Nullamunjie Olive Groves and the Oasis farm of John and Marjan Symington, were seeing gorgeous fruit on their trees. Leandro’s expertly cultivated groves in Boort would be my third ace in the hole.

RVs line the edge of Leandro Ravetti’s grove in Boort, Victoria. This bubble of single-unit housing enabled the grove workers to maintain distance and stay on site for the duration of the harvest (complete with grocery delivery). Because many seasonal workers were unable to enter the country this year, a majority of the harvest team consisted of industrious rookies, who learned on the go. Leandro, a master miller and friend of the highest caliber, pulled out all the stops to help me source Australia’s very finest fresh-pressed oils for my Club.

Going the Extra Mile

For the growers, the pressing question was how to staff the harvest safely. Australian olive farms rely heavily on seasonal workers, who range from youthful European backpackers to “grey nomads,” retired farmers in their 60s. There are also the “double-timers,” who work the harvests in both hemispheres, as well as the invaluable tech experts. With international travel at a halt, however, many of the workers this year were rookies. Usually they would lodge in a nearby town, but, understandably, this year that was not feasible. Leandro and his team came up with an ingenious solution: the creation of an “RV bubble” on the farm, so each harvest worker or couple was able to stay safely isolated in a private RV, with all the amenities.

(More Than) a Little Help from My Friends

Enter Melissa. She and I have been friends for more than 20 years, going back to my days at the Food Network in New York City. In recent seasons, she has hosted Grand Tastings for me and my Merry Band of Tasters at her beautiful home in Melbourne. She is an ultra-savvy scout and always has the scoop on up-and-comers on the olive oil scene.

Melissa served as my “palate on the ground,” shipping me a weekly batch of promising EVOO samples, which I’d evaluate to identify any Club contenders and report back. From those select few, I would curate exclusive blends. When a time-sensitive delivery from Leandro’s grove was delayed, the ever-resourceful Melissa booked an Uber to courier the sample to her home so she could send it on to me.

Intuitively, Melissa anticipated our needs far in advance—things one would ordinarily take for granted, such as thermal blankets to insulate the oils while transporting them to the States. Cargo space on planes was extremely scarce, as very few flights were going in or out of Melbourne’s Tullamarine terminal, so Melissa and I spent weeks beforehand negotiating for travel spots for your precious oils.

Here I am with my delightful friend Melissa Wong, back in the days when people could hug. For several years running, she has welcomed me and my Merry Band of Tasters to the Southern Hemisphere with an elegant Grand Tasting at her gracious home in the Melbourne neighborhood of Toorak. A gourmet food purveyor, award-winning former restaurateur, and expert taster, Melissa found herself stepping into a new role this year as my proxy—she operated as my “palate on the ground,” scouting promising premium oils and sending me samples, as she knows better than almost anyone what I seek in an EVOO for my Club.

Scott Sanders, the globe-trotting consultant and miller who’s spent the last 3 seasons with the Oasis team, joined Melissa to oversee the blending of this quarter’s selections, matching the blends on a larger scale—perfectly—to those I’d created stateside.

When I reflect on all the extra efforts that went in to creating the trio of liquid gold you have before you, I am deeply moved. I don’t think I could say it better than Leandro Ravetti, who asked me to share his words with you:

“During these very difficult times, when people are forced to be separated from friends and family, and when things are so different from what we are accustomed to, we put more emphasis than ever on ensuring consistency for the Club members—to do everything possible to put great oil on your table.”

These extremely food-friendly, health-promoting Australian gems will brighten your menus and expand your culinary repertoire, whether you’re a home baker, backyard griller, or avid gardener with more produce than you know what to do with. Explore the mouth-watering recipes below and read on to learn more about how our Oz-Star Team made it happen.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti 2020, Boort, Victoria, Australia
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Leandro Ravetti 2020, Boort, Victoria, Australia Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I can’t think of anyone who has done more to advance the quality and appreciation of extra virgin olive oil than my friend Leandro Ravetti, whose influence extends to every olive-producing region on the planet. His time and expertise are always in demand—I rejoice when we are in the same country at the same time, because on any given day obligations might find him in Japan, for instance, adjudicating an international olive oil competition, or in California, where he teaches a master milling course at UC Davis. (Yours truly is a proud alum.)

But this year, as with almost everything during the pandemic, was different. “I haven’t left Australia in 6 months,” Leandro reflected in disbelief when we spoke recently. A fantastic cook—as accomplished in the kitchen as he is in the olive grove—Leandro confided that during quarantine he’s become a pastry chef. “I was always a savory cook, but now, it’s tarts and cakes, most of them made with olive oil!” He also described baking a batch of traditional Argentinian croissants, scrumptiously different from the French version. “They’re crunchier, less spongy, very flaky and delicious,” he mused, while I got intensely hungry on the Zoom call.

What I missed most about Australia was the opportunity to catch up with friends face to face. Because we share the English language (to my lament, it’s the only one I speak fluently), in my global travels I have forged close bonds with the artisans in Oz. Australia’s preeminent olive expert Leandro Ravetti and I have known each other for 15 years, and he’s always excited to collaborate on an exclusive oil for my Club. (He looks forward to receiving my quarterly trios as much as you do!)

Born in Argentina to parents of Italian heritage, Leandro’s affinity for olives evolved while he was an agricultural engineering student at the National University of Catamarca.

After postgraduate studies in olive horticulture in Italy and Spain, he returned to Argentina to help nurture its nascent olive oil industry. Then, in 2001, he was recruited by the Australian company Modern Olives to be its scientific and technical director. He relocated to Victoria, where he thought he’d be staying just a year or two, but ever since, he’s called Australia home.

Leandro and I check in regularly during the growing season (as you know, Oz is on the opposite timeline). Months in advance, he declared that he and his team would do anything and everything to ensure that my wonderful Club members were provided with the finest olive oils, no matter what. True to his word, Leandro kept the Club at the forefront of his mind.

“I felt more responsibility, as the person on site,” he said, as we reflected on the extraordinary efforts this season. “I tried to think as if you were here.”

From our years of collaboration, Leandro knows my preferences, shares my insistence on the very best, and understands how discriminating my Club members are. He is also a born problem-solver, a pragmatist as well as perfectionist after my own heart.

This season, the best fruit came from the youngest trees—those on their first, second, or third harvest. In this photo from a few years back, I’m with Leandro Ravetti in his grove, with a cart before us holding tiny saplings about to be planted. It’s hard to believe those green wisps are now full-grown trees, lovingly nurtured to fruition. Leandro, with his PhD in horticulture and decades of hands-on experience, is a font of knowledge about olives and olive oil, from pits to polyphenols. I am an avid student, eager to soak up as much as I can—and share it with you.

Leandro oversees two thriving groves in Victoria, located about 150 miles apart. In order to comply with Australia’s lockdown directives, he and his team established an RV campground at the farm (see page 2), enabling the harvest workers to be in residence in a bubble, each in private accommodations with food delivered.

Early on, Leandro intuited that his Coratina and Picual olives were destined to be the standouts of this unconventional season. (As it turns out, I was present for the planting of these very trees as saplings, so in an inter-species way I feel like their godfather.) A few years back, Leandro and his team had removed scores of Barnea olive trees—though they produce lovely fruit, Barnea trees are prone to pests and other damage—and replaced them with the hardier, more versatile and flavorful Coratina, Picual, and Hojiblanca varietals.

The young trees, Leandro explained, blossomed earlier than their counterparts, and the fruit ripened sooner, which meant that the younger trees’ fruit was at an ideal place in its maturing process when the cold temperatures hit. For some of these trees it was the second or third harvest, and for some the very first.

We created an exquisite blend of Picual and Coratina: this Picual is uniquely delicate, one example of the ways that Old World varietals express themselves differently in the Australian terroir and climate. The spirited Coratina imbues the blend with additional dimension and complexity. I am so honored to be able to share this exclusive oil with you, as it represents the fruits of the labor of people on the other side of the world, pulling together in very tough times. Leandro put it perfectly: “This was a chance to give each other a hand to do what we love—sharing excellent oils with the people who appreciate them.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

The union of a Spanish Picual and an Italian Coratina yields an oil with a lovely, complex perfume. It’s green and grassy, presenting tomato leaf, green apple, Belgian endive, parsley, basil, vanilla, and a touch of celery leaf. Leafy greens are echoed on the palate, too—Belgian endive, romaine lettuce, along with green apple skin and a hint of mint. We tasted pine nuts as well, and enjoyed the arugula-like pepperiness and the subtle bitterness of celery leaves on the finish.

Though it’s our mildest selection, this is a very flavorful oil, one that will complement a variety of foods. We suggest mild white fish, such as cod, monkfish, or sea bass; roast chicken; shellfish, such as lobster, shrimp, scallops, or octopus; composed salads with mild lettuces and fruit and/or nuts; bruschetta; pizza; eggs; fresh cheeses; and simple pastas and risottos.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie 2020 Blend, Tongio, Victoria, Australia
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Arbequina, Frantoio, Correggiola, Leccino, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Nullamunjie 2020 Blend, Tongio, Victoria, Australia Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

For the first time in years, I spent my summer on my home turf in the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Though I have always marveled at the hazy, blue-gray beauty of the range (the oldest in North America), my heart drifted during this time to a different mountain range on the other side of the planet: the Australian Alps.

The rolling highlands in eastern Victoria are home to one of my favorite olive growers in the world, Nullamunjie’s Annetta “Annie” Paterson. I so look forward to my annual visits to her farm. Tethered to home this year, I felt the rift in my routine rather keenly. I lamented that there would be no star-gazing from her expansive veranda, no surveillance of kangaroos cavorting in the olive groves, no olive oil-splashed meals at Annie’s table with my mirthful Merry Band of Tasters.

Most of all, I missed my time with Annie, the irrepressible woman who founded Nullamunjie Olive Groves in 1998. Now a grandmother, Annie fell in love with olive trees in her twenties during a visit to Greece and recognized growing conditions there—hot, dry summers and mild winters—mimicked those of her native East Gippsland. Decades passed, however, before Annie acquired the family-owned land at the base of Mt. Stawell—formerly used to graze her father’s cattle—that enabled her to realize her dream.

Today, the farm hosts about 3,000 olive trees, all Tuscan varietals: Frantoio, Leccino, Today, the farm hosts about 3,000 olive trees, all Tuscan varietals: Frantoio, Leccino, Correggiola, and Pendolino. They have adapted well to the microclimates of Oz, the award-winning oils taking on distinctly Down Under flavors and characteristics that have captivated members of my Club.

Via Zoom, I was pleased to see Annie’s incandescent smile some 14 time zones and 10,000 miles away. She’d been hunkered down on the farm for months, having briefly returned once to her Melbourne home to collect her dogs and her husband, John.

“It’s beginning to feel a bit biblical,” Annie quipped, referring not only to the pandemic but to other major threats to her life and livelihood. Drought-related bush fires, driven by sustained high winds, raged for several months in East Gippsland. Alarmingly, the conflagration came within six miles of Nullamunjie, reaching the opposite side of the mountain and cutting off the farm.

My Merry Band of Tasters and I have enjoyed many mirthful meals in the home of Annie Paterson, the fearless and vivacious woman from the Australian highlands who founded Nullamunjie more than 20 years ago. Laughter and extra virgin olive oil suffuse nearly everything that comes out of Annie’s kitchen, and the decadent flourless chocolate hazelnut cake she taught me to make five years ago was no exception. (Find the recipe at freshpressedoliveoil.com. It is one of my favorites.) But our ever-present levity never distracts from the seriousness of our shared mission: to introduce my Club members to the finest extra virgin olive oil Annie and her beloved olive trees can produce.

Torrential rains followed, which caused flooding and landslides on the re-ravaged land, but providentially helped extinguish the flames and cleanse the smoke-choked air. The storms also engorged river basins like the Tambo, which had been nearly depleted. Annie was especially happy about that as she depends on the Tambo to irrigate her trees.

Fearing the encroachment of winter, Annie wisely harvested her olives early. As always, she relied on local grove professionals Tom Morgan and Jack Diamond. She employed locals as pickers, too, including two stranded Belgian backpackers.

Wind exposure affected trees on the higher slopes, Annie reported, depressing yields. But the quality of the farm’s oils was stellar, a fact confirmed by olive oil expert Melissa Wong (read more about her below). Fans of Nullamunjie will recognize immediately this blend’s distinctive aroma and flavor profile.

Though she misses her children and grandchildren, Annie has savored the unexpected time she’s been able to spend on the farm this year with the trees she cherishes. Inspired by a New Zealand-based olive oil expert, a speaker at a growers’ conference, she has initiated a post-harvest pruning program. The method he advocates, called vase-pruning or center-pruning, is popular in Oceania and calls for removing select scaffold branches to within a foot of the trunk. It maximizes sun exposure in the tree’s center, encourages good air circulation, and maintains the tree’s compact shape.

Never underestimate a grandmother with a chainsaw! Though missing family and friends in Melbourne, farm-bound Annie has relished the extra time and attention she’s been able to lavish on her olive trees. Post-harvest, she shared the above photo with me. She’s been dabbling with a pruning technique she learned about at a prepandemic growers’ conference that opens the center of the tree to air and sunlight. Her goal is to encourage more bountiful harvests so she has enough premium olive oil to continue to thrill Club members and sell locally at her café and restaurant, The Pressing Shed.

“I absolutely love pruning,” Annie gushed. Dressed in work clothes and a hard hat and brandishing a chainsaw, Annie had been pruning what she calls her “shop windows”—the trees that front the road and surround her mill and restaurant, The Pressing Shed Café (temporarily closed). “I pat each of them on their little trunks when I finish and say, ‘Great job! Keep up the good work!’” Amen.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

A whiff of this oil will transport you to the Tambo River Valley in southeast Victoria. It’s fragrant with sweet grass, like wheatgrass, as well as fennel, almonds, kiwi, green banana, white pepper, and wild mint. It’s a bit nutty in the mouth—again, almonds—or perhaps hazelnuts. A little green, too, evoking baby lettuces and haricot vert. Intriguingly, I noticed the freshness of bruised pine needles, the spiciness of white pepper, and the bitterness of radicchio. This is an exceptionally well-calibrated oil that you’ll enjoy on many seasonal foods.

Try it with white beans or other pulses; rice; winter squash or sweet potatoes; tomato-based dishes; pork or veal; turkey; duck; cold-weather soups; mild cheeses; salads featuring sturdy greens like kale or chicory; salmon; and even chocolate.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Oasis Olives 2020, Kialla, Victoria, Australia
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Frantoio
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Producer: Oasis Olives 2020, Kialla, Victoria, Australia Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I remember well the day I sampled a magnificent olive oil during a Grand Tasting some eight years ago. It came from a fledgling company, then unknown to me, in rural Victoria. That was my introduction to serial olive oil entrepreneurs John and Marjan Symington, the founders of Oasis Olives and now, dear friends.

In hindsight, the couple’s ambition to acquire an olive grove in Peru in 2007 and name it Oasis seemed a bit imprudent, even to them. They realized they actually knew very little about olives. Not wanting a “stuff up” (Aussie slang for mistake) on their records, John and Marjan decided to begin their Olea europaea education closer to their Melbourne home.

Scott Sanders, shown here in one of the frequent timezone-straddling FaceTime calls I exchanged with him during the harvest, was instrumental in ensuring the blends I created were meticulously replicated. Scott is an itinerant olive oil expert, usually engaged in harvests in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

The Symingtons then purchased an olive grove in the Goulburn Strathbogie region near Kialla, 120 miles northeast of Melbourne. The area has been described as “a climatic sweet spot” for olives with warm summers, adequate average rainfall, and mild winters. John immersed himself in the technical aspects of growing and pressing premium olive oils. Meanwhile, Marjan—also a miller—refined her olive oil evaluation skills and got involved in the Goulburn Strathbogie Olive Grower’s Association (GSOGA), an active group that is a valuable resource for local producers.

The 111-acre grove was terribly run-down when the couple bought it. The trees were bushy and wild and badly needed pruning. The irrigation system was broken. But the property spoke to these adventuresome rehabbers, the Chip and Joanna Gaines of the olive oil world. (If you’ve seen the Gaineses’ shows on HGTV, you’ll understand.) Since then, the tireless couple has turned the aforementioned Peruvian grove into an award-winning farm and bought a third fixer-upper in South Australia.

Oasis pressed its first Australian extra virgin olive oils in 2010. A mere two years later, Oasis won the prestigious Marco Mugelli Award given by the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition to recognize the “Best of the Best” from the winner’s circle.

“When we heard we had won this award, we had to find out what it meant and who Marco Mugelli was,” John said.

How I miss this remarkable couple, John and Marjan Symington, founders of Oasis, whose entrepreneurial spirit is as strong as my own. When I first spoke to them in 2012, they intuitively channeled my high expectations for the oils I share with Club members. Since then, they have graciously given me first dibs on their finest and always evolving extra virgin olive oils.

As it happens, I knew Dr. Mugelli personally. I once spent several privileged hours with this olive oil visionary. He was an agricultural scientist and engineer whose lab outside of Florence, Italy, was genius in a Rube Goldberg sort of way. He was obsessed with increasing levels of healthful polyphenols in olive oil. John and Marco would have had a lot in common, as John, a retired software engineer, is also fascinated with the potential of technology to improve agricultural products like olive oil.

In the early years, the Symington family manned the olive press themselves, so are accustomed to working with a small tight-knit team. They adapted easily to the new paradigm. In recent years the invaluable Scott Sanders, an international olive oil expert long affiliated with Oasis, has been on hand to help, joined this year by his father, wife, and harvest team from Scott’s home town.

“We’re too old to work with people we don’t enjoy,” commented John during one of our Zoom conversations.

One of the most attractive features of the olive grove John and Marjan Symington purchased in 2007 was a sparkling pond—an actual oasis for the kangaroos, exotic birds, and nearby trees during the region’s dry weather this spring. (Can you see the pond in the foreground? Also notice the colossal red gum trees. And John with the Olive Oil Hunter in an earlier collaboration.) The Symingtons have recently purchased another grove to rehab, this one in South Australia. They are as thrilled and relieved as I am that our exclusive Tuscan-style blend is now in your hands.

Though always up for a challenge, John and Marjan struggled with the curve balls Mother Nature threw at them this season. A “complicated” spring—exceptionally dry—affected the fruitset of the trees. Conditions continued through early summer. Just before the harvest, epic rains fell. The onslaught turned the groves’ red clay to boot-sucking mud. Fortunately, a tractor/harvester equipped with tank-like treads arrived in the nick of time.

Despite all, the quality of the fruit was excellent. The oil’s heady aromas and bold flavors will pair beautifully with your fall menus. Though I couldn’t be there in person this year, I trust the mad skills of the Symingtons. When Meghan and I married in October 2017, we gave our wedding guests bottles of fresh-pressed Oasis olive oil. People are still talking about them!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Our boldest oil has a very green, evocative nose. It leads with an almond-like sweetness with hints of baby spinach and peppery arugula. Herbs like rubbed fresh thyme and sage, and spices like cinnamon, suggest this oil could elevate a holiday meal. Pleasantly bitter in the mouth and warm with spice, this oil required a large tasting vocabulary. Among the vegetal descriptors were artichoke, baby spinach, chicory, kale, green pepper, rosemary, and wild greens. Darker, spicier flavors then emerged: dark chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves. Such a refreshing astringency on the long finish, with a perfect balance of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness.

Reach for this oil when serving grilled meats like beef or lamb; duck; oilier fish such as mackerel or sardines; hearty soups or stews; roasted root vegetables, including cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts; dark breads; and stronger cheeses. Splash it on chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or drizzle over yogurt.


Olive Oil and Health

Replacing Unhealthy Fats with Olive Oil Is a Heart-Healthy Choice

Adapted from an article in Duke Medicine Health News, September 2020, Vol. 6, No. 9

Go ahead. Dip that crusty Italian bread in a saucer of seasoned olive oil and take a big, guilt-free bite. Research shows that consuming more olive oil is associated with less risk of heart attack among Americans, especially when it replaces butter, mayonnaise, or margarine. A study performed at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, showed that replacing 1 teaspoon of butter, margarine, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil lowered the risk of any cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 5 percent and lowered the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 7 percent. People who consumed even higher amounts of olive oil—half a tablespoon daily—had a 15 percent lower risk of any kind of CVD and a 21 percent lower risk of CHD.

This study took place between 1990 and 2014 and included 63,867 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 35,512 men from the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study. All participants were free of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases at the start of the study. Every four years for about three decades, study participants answered questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle. Participants were asked how often, on average, they had consumed specific foods, as well as types of fats, oils, and brand or type of oils used for cooking and added at the table in the preceding year. Total olive oil intake was calculated from the sum of three questionnaire questions related to olive oil intake: olive oil salad dressing, olive oil added to food or bread, and olive oil used for baking and frying at home.

Among the researchers’ noteworthy observations were: Olive oil can have favorable effects on endothelial dysfunction, hypertension, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, and diabetes. Previous studies have shown that olive oil—especially the virgin grade—that is richer in polyphenolic compounds is associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers and a better lipid profile; and despite olive oil being a high-fat food, it has not been associated with weight gain.

The researchers stress the importance of substituting olive oil for other fats. The main thing is to replace unhealthy fats with olive oil, and that can improve cholesterol, reduce inflammatory biomarkers, and improve cardiovascular health. The results echo a 2013 study that found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil for five years had a 30 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke. They also showed a slower rate of cognitive decline and were better able to control their weight.

Reference: Guasch-Ferré M, Liu G, Li Y, et al. Olive oil consumption and cardiovascular risk in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;75(15):1729-1739.


Kudos from Club Members

You, and the Band Of Merry Tasters, have spoiled me on olive oil FOREVER! I can no longer stomach the bulk cans I used to buy. I take spoonfuls of straight oil as a treat! It is so healthy and delicious, I go through my order in a fraction of the time before the next installment. You have ruined me! While I prefer the stronger varieties, the milder ones are still better than anything I’ve had before. Like fresh maple syrup, fresh olive oil nourishes the whole being. Many thanks (you rascal!)
Tim F.Surry, ME


Recipes

  • Lemony Greek-Style Potato Wedges Lemony Greek-Style Potato Wedges One of my Merry Band of Tasters highly recommends these crisp potato wedges. If desired, substitute Dijon for the yellow mustard, or chopped fresh rosemary for the dried oregano. Parboiling the potatoes (especially with the added alkalinity of baking soda) contributes to their crispiness. Ingredients 2 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into… view recipe
  • Prawns with Zingy Avocado Dip Prawns with Zingy Avocado Dip Shrimp cocktail gets a much-needed makeover! Make the dip just before serving. Ingredients 2 fresh jalapeños, stemmed and seeded1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped1/4 cup sour cream1 lime, rind finely grated, juiced1/2 cup at-leaf parsley leaves1/2 cup fresh mint leaves1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or… view recipe
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Roasted Butternut Squash Soup The appeal of this autumnal soup lies in its simplicity. The sweetness of the butternut squash is enhanced by roasting and by the addition of a small amount of maple syrup. Ingredients 1 large butternut squash (about 3 pounds), halved lengthwise, seeds removed3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling1/2 cup… view recipe
  • Asian Cabbage Salad Asian Cabbage Salad There’s no need to follow this recipe slavishly. Feel free to add shredded purple cabbage, snow pea pods, sliced water chestnuts, and so on. You can even turn the salad into a light lunch or dinner entrée by topping it with shredded rotisserie chicken or thinly sliced grilled steak. Ingredients For the dressing 1 to… view recipe
  • Roasted Barramundi Roasted Barramundi with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, and Basil Native to Australia and the Indo-Pacific, barramundi means “large-scaled silver fish” in the Aboriginal language. If it is unavailable, substitute any sustainable firm-fleshed white fish, such as halibut, sea bass, cod, or snapper. Ingredients 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, preferably mixed colors4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided useSalt and freshly ground black… view recipe
  • Grilled Lamb Chops with Charred Lemon Vinaigrette Grilled Lamb Chops with Charred Lemon Vinaigrette Lean and low-fat pastured lamb is a popular protein in Australia, where per capita consumption per year is about 18 pounds. Here, tender loin chops are grilled quickly over a hot fire and paired with a tangy olive oil vinaigrette that can be modified by your choice of fresh herbs. Ingredients For the lamb: 2… view recipe
  • Cheese, Herb, and Olive Frittata Cheese, Herb, and Olive Frittata This meatless, keto-friendly frittata can be thrown together in minutes, perfect for times when you have unexpected lunch or overnight guests. For a carnivorous version, add diced ham, cooked bacon, cooked breakfast sausage, or even slivered pepperoni. Great served with a simple green salad. Ingredients 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil1 medium onion, peeled and… view recipe
  • Fred’s Steak Fred’s Steak Though this marinade was developed in the 1950s by Los Gatos, California, meat market owner Fred Schaub, Vegemite is a thoroughly Australian pantry ingredient. If you don’t have it, you can buy it online or substitute a good concentrated beef base. We also like this marinade on tri-tip or T-bone steaks. Ingredients 2 to 3… view recipe
  • Chicken with Candied Cashews Chicken with Candied Cashews Per capita, Australia has the largest population of people with Chinese ancestry of any country outside Asia. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and even Cairns house densely populated Chinatowns, which make for a lively restaurant scene. Ingredients 1/4 cup granulated sugar3/4 cup unsalted roasted cashews5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use, plus extra for drizzling2 garlic… view recipe
  • Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemons Sheet-Pan Baked Feta with Broccolini, Tomatoes, and Lemons Greek food has taken pride of place in Australia’s vibrant dining scene, from souvlaki served from food trucks to high-end restaurants. (Most of Australia’s Greek immigrants arrived after World War II.) This sheet-pan dinner showcases some of Greece’s iconic flavors. Sturdy halloumi cheese can be substituted for feta. Ingredients 1 bunch broccoli rabe, ends trimmed,… view recipe