Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

Three Incredible Extra Virgin Olive Oils from the Chilean Harvest for Your Warm-Weather Dining Pleasure

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Enticingly fresh, these sensational just-pressed olive oils from award-winning producers are the perfect complement to summertime menus. They’re game-changers!
  • All three are Club exclusives, hand-selected in Central Chile by the Olive Oil Hunter.
  • All were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their amazing flavors, intoxicating aromas, and healthful antioxidants.
  • An independent lab has certified all three to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.

Awaiting takeoff, I rechecked my electronic ticket. Yup. Confirming Santiago International Airport, SCL in airline parlance. This was my first trip—highly anticipated—since 2019 to one of my favorite olive oil destinations.

Finally, the band was getting back together. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

“The band,” of course, refers to my Merry Band of Tasters, the trained palates that helped me select this quarter’s beautiful trio of premium olive oils and so ably channeled me when I was grounded by the pandemic. Joining me and my wife, Meghan, in Chile were Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, a world-renowned olive oil expert from Rome, my longtime friend and logistical genius Tjeerd Beliën, who divides his time between the Netherlands and Canada when he’s not traveling, and Chilean olive oil expert and judge Denise Langevin. (Read more about Denise below.)


It was thrilling to see each other in person once again. We instantly picked up the threads of our friendship as if we’d never been apart, reminiscing about our shared experiences and memories of past trips. Food is never far from our minds, either—particularly foods that can be enhanced with extra virgin olive oil. We’re not shy about putting our own just-pressed oils on tables everywhere, from casual roadside eateries to fine dining establishments such as celebrity chef Francis Mallmann’s Fuegos de Apalta, where we lunched one afternoon.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, and Francisco “Paco” Vañó
What? No Zoom meetings on the calendar? Finally…my Merry Band of Tasters, represented (right to left) by Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, Tjeerd Beliën, and Denise Langevin, were able to join me in one of the world’s best olive growing regions (Central Chile) for the recent olive harvest. The reunion underscored how important these friends and colleagues are to me and how integral they are to the achievement of my goal: to deliver to your doorstep the world’s most extraordinary and unique extra virgin olive oils.

Above all, we prize invitations to eat at family tables—something I dearly missed when I was unable to travel. We enjoyed several such feasts, where a stimulating exchange of ideas always takes place, including one where we met octogenarian Abel Alonso for the first time. Abel is the patriarch of the Alonso clan, which has been producing premium extra virgin olive oil for more than a decade. On the menu? Smoked salmon, a mâche salad, ripe tomatoes, avocados, a Chilean take on shepherd’s pie, and a refreshing array of fresh fruits for dessert.

A Magnificent Triumvirate: The Farmer, the Miller, the Taster

This quarter, I’m paying homage to the extraordinary people whose efforts put these oils in your hands: The trio includes the farmer (el agrónomo, Juan Carlos Pérez); the miller (Miguel Ángel Molina); and the taster (Denise Langevin). All play critical roles in the olives’ journey from tree to bottle.

You would be hard-pressed to find Chilean oils on US grocery store shelves. Few Americans have tasted them. When I first visited this skinny-as-a-necktie country in 2005, I fell in love with the way farmers were putting a New World spin on Old World olive varietals, particularly in Central Chile, with its Mediterranean-like climate. I’ve been sharing my antipodal finds with Club members ever since. Lamentably, the cost of building their own brands was too high for some of these olive oil pioneers, forcing them to sell their oils to the bulk market. It saddens me, as there were award-winners among them. The protracted lack of rainfall hasn’t helped.

The Best Olive Oil Producers Prevail, Overcome Challenges

Wherever my Merry Band and I went, the topic of water—and its scarcity—came up. Officially in its thirteenth year, the “mega-drought,” as it’s called by NASA, is the worst in more than 1,000 years. Consequently, this year’s olive fruits are smaller and drier, decreasing yields. The water stress has, however, raised polyphenol levels—a good thing. Fortunately for you and me, rain fell on the Agricola Pobeña farm at an opportune time—days before the harvest—practically a miracle!

Of all the relationships I’ve cultivated during my tenure as the Olive Oil Hunter, few are more important to me than the one with world-renowned Italian olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. I’ve learned so much from him, especially about blending. When we toured the olive grove above (note both the snow-capped Andes in the background and the cactus, evidence of Chile’s diverse climates), Duccio had been in the country for several days to help me select the most promising olive farms and varietals.

The producers I work with practice extreme water conservation, collecting water whenever possible and limiting evaporation. For example, Olivares de Quepu pays for rights to snowmelt channeled from the Andes. A reservoir services the Agricola Pobeña olive groves; the farm has even been known to engage in extreme pruning of trees to reduce water needs. And it’s not only rural populations that are affected. Officials in Santiago, a city of 6 million people, are anxiously watching water levels in the Maipo and Mapocho Rivers and developing contingency plans.

Happily, the exceedingly dry weather has not diminished Chile’s breathtaking fall beauty. Late one afternoon, I witnessed the sun setting on the magnificent Andes, bathing its imposing peaks with pink and orange light. (As the Pacific does on the west, the Andes range protects the eastern borders of this remarkable country, even helping the directionally challenged—me!—keep their bearings. Andes on the right? You’re heading north.)

Whether you’re a charter member or new to the Club, I hope this timely collection of sensational extra virgin olive oils from award-winning farms bring summer joy and good health to you, your family, and friends.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Koroneiki, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña,
Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

After a drive through the parched countryside from Santiago, catching sight of Agricola Pobeña, the expansive, award-winning farm managed by the Alonso family, was akin to Dorothy seeing the Emerald City. I was delighted—almost giddy with anticipation—at the thought of being able to sit down next to Denise Langevin instead of comparing tasting notes through Zoom as we had during the pandemic.

Club members know that Denise is a luminary in the olive oil world, crisscrossing the globe to judge at the most prestigious competitions. She’s in constant demand because of her technical skills and discriminating palate—she has an enviable taste memory! Denise had just returned from the 19th Olive d’Or Competition presented in Montreal by SIAL Canada, organizers of the country’s largest food show, and it was fun to hear her impressions of recent international offerings.

International judge and renowned olive oil authority Denise Langevin brings her discriminating palate to global competitions, as seen here, as well as to working with our Club to create the best Chilean oils for our members. She’s as passionate as I am about crafting unique blends—I’m thrilled to tap into her knowledge and also to be able to call her my friend.

As the leading Chilean authority on olive oil, Denise has been an invaluable part of my hunt for the very best EVOO for three years now, though we’ve known each other for much longer. She is passionate about her connection to our Club, proud to be part of our mission, and excited to help showcase her country’s finest oils in another elixir bearing her name. For all her professional stature, Denise is warm, gracious, down-to-earth, and generous of spirit. She just started a healthy food movement, complete with a vegetable garden, at one of the schools in the town of Rancagua, near her home. Her goal is to teach the children about fresh foods by getting their hands in the soil—they will grow a dozen vegetables! It’s a program she hopes to expand to help combat the country’s child obesity crisis.

First on the agenda for my Merry Band of Tasters and me was enjoying a beautiful lunch with Denise and our Chilean olive oil family. That always includes Juan José and Ignacio Alonso, brothers who together took on the job of creating and running the olive farm their father Abel bought for all five of his children.

No matter how many times I return to the Pobeña farm, I always marvel at the fact that one property can have so many diverse microclimates, each imparting unique qualities to its olive oils and, in turn, to the distinctive blends I create for the Club. We spent several hours experimenting to find the perfect combination of flavors—ultimately, a blend of two Spanish Arbequinas, gathered from different areas of the farm. Combined in equal amounts, the Arbequinas are enhanced by a big splash of Koroneiki, a Greek varietal, and just the right amount of Coratina, an Italian varietal, to give this blend its distinctive personality and broaden its flavor profile. This is what gets me so excited about the Chilean olive oils: we have the ability to put together cultivar combinations unheard of in the Old World and deliver them to the Northern Hemisphere in time to enliven the summer’s bounty.

Denise is an amazing chef—the pandemic kept me from enjoying her delicious sun-dried tomatoes last year, so she made a double batch as part of the lavish lunch she prepared for me and my Merry Band of Tasters. Being at her home near Rancagua gave us the chance to share and compare flavor and aroma impressions about the oils in person. I love fresh, herbaceous notes in our olive oils yet also appreciate how freshly dried herbs enhance dishes. Let Denise’s drying method inspire you to make your own and have them handy for recipes.

We couldn’t wait to test-drive Denise’s signature blend at Fuegos de Apalta, the restaurant of fire-obsessed Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann. It’s an extraordinary restaurant, nestled in the most exquisite setting—the center of the Montes winery. We shamelessly drizzled the oil we’d brought with us on five-star dishes such as charred eggplant, skirt steak with vegetables, roasted beets with grapefruit and cheese, and pork with grilled cabbage and mustard. Divine!

The oil’s dazzling versatility was in full bloom a few days later when we journeyed to Denise’s house for a spectacular four-course meal she and her husband Luis prepared. We started with large green olives stuffed two ways—with blanched almonds or jamón, all marinated in the Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection—and Denise’s own sun-dried (and slightly warmed) tomatoes on bruschetta, topped with the oil. We next drizzled it on silken asparagus soup, our wonderful second course.

The entrée was a luxurious prime rib, prepared in a special Chilean broiling oven. We anointed the carved slices with the oil—a delicious counterpoint to the crusty edges of the beef. The oil also dressed both a warm spinach salad with bacon, walnuts, and blue cheese, and a second salad of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I’d ever tasted and a mix of greens that, like the spinach, came from Denise’s own garden—a splash of red wine vinegar added the perfect acidic note. Dessert was an indulgent platter of six different French and Chilean cheeses with syrupy vinegars from Denise’s journeys to France—the olive oil, so fruity, was perfect on the younger cheeses. We were all blown away by the oil’s mild yet complex, full flavor and how it enhanced every dish in a different way. And now it’s your turn to savor it!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This blend is fresh and clean, rather sweet on the nose (think vanilla and dried banana), presenting fresh-cut grass, green apple, pear, lettuce, almond, and wild mint. The fresh, sweet impressions continue in the mouth, joined by parsley, thyme, sweet pea shoots, lime zest, and the well-balanced spicy/bitter notes of escarole and baby arugula.

Pair this mild but nuanced oil with scrambled, fried, or hard-cooked eggs; simple pasta dishes (including pasta salads); chicken; mild fin fish, lobster, or shrimp; fresh mild cheeses; salads made with tender greens or avocados; stuffed or sautéed mushrooms; peas, carrots, green beans, sweet corn, summer squash, or asparagus; white beans; rice or other grains; fresh fruit smoothies; yogurt or ice cream; melons; bread or focaccia; or sweet baked goods, such as quick breads.

This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: l Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella,
O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The Olive Oil Hunter is proud to feature for the second consecutive year a signature extra virgin olive oil named “El Agrónomo” to honor the work of one of Chile’s most talented young agronomists, Juan Carlos Pérez. (Agronomy requires extensive knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, economics, earth science, genetics, mathematics, ecology, research protocols, and other related disciplines. Whew!)

His colleagues at Agricola Pobeña respectfully refer to Juan Carlos as “the boss of the farm.” Quiet, with a humble demeanor, you’d never assume he carries on his shoulders the responsibility for 1,100 acres of olive trees and the success of the harvest. (You must have great fruit to make great olive oil!) On a typical day, he tours the property, establishes work-related assignments, and meets with his team, which swells to 80 people during the harvest. He is the final arbiter of which olives get picked, and when.

The story of how Juan Carlos found his current position is an interesting one. After graduating from college, he worked for Olave, a pioneer in Chile’s olive oil industry, as well as another well-known farm in the fertile O’Higgins region in Central Chile. While some people would appreciate the security of working for well-established companies, after 14 years, Juan Carlos craved new challenges. He longed to get involved with an olive farm that was being built—quite literally—from the ground up.

Suspended between the Olive Oil Hunter and Juan Carlos Pérez, the agronomist at Agricola Pobeña, is a bin of beautiful olives. Juan Carlos masterfully orchestrates the harvest, identifying for each varietal (often even for each microclimate) the optimal time for picking and milling to create superb oils. I like to call this period the “magic window” and feel so fortunate that my visit coincided with it this year.

As a matter of fact, that ground, well-suited to growing olive trees, was conveniently located directly on the other side of the fence. Yes, the newly acquired property of the Alonso family was adjacent to the land owned by Juan Carlos’s employer. Intrigued, he tracked down a phone number for the family and made a cold call. He reached Juan José Alonso (aka “Juanjo,” with a soft “j”). The two Juans hit it off immediately. Their conversation lasted more than an hour, Juan Carlos said, ranging in scope from business topics to the best places to surf on the nearby Chilean coastline.

The timing was perfect. Juanjo was eager to hire an experienced, quality-driven agronomist before varietals were selected and olive trees planted, and Juan Carlos found the “from scratch” opportunity appealing. After consulting his family, Juan Carlos accepted the job. He was eager to put all he had learned into practice and to help the farm, now known as Agricola Pobeña, avoid the mistakes he had seen other olive oil producers make.

For years, I have worked with the second generation of the Alonsos at Agricola Pobeña—brothers Ignacio (left) and Juanjo (not pictured). Vicente Alonso (center) represents the third generation. His characterization of fresh Picual (“just born”) will make a great memory.

Today, Juan Carlos has a dozen Agricola Pobeña olive harvests under his belt. Water shortages have accompanied all of them. Though the farm has a 55-acre lake, two reservoirs, and 20 wells, the prolonged drought is worrisome to everyone involved in Chile’s agricultural community, especially those sectors that require large quantities of water. (Five pounds of avocados, for example, require an estimated 63 gallons of water.) To capture and conserve water, Juan Carlos’s team has dug earthen trenches to channel run-off and direct the water to their groves. Currently, new tree stock is often planted in more traditional formations to give the roots more room to search for moisture. Last year, some trees were drastically pruned—Juan Carlos called it the “bonsai” treatment—to reduce their water consumption.

Thanks in no small part to Juan Carlos’s dedication to promoting tree health, the farm’s per-acre yield of olives has remained consistently high. Agricola Pobeña’s strategy (which I heartily endorse) is to maximize oil quality by picking the olives while relatively green, a technique known as “early harvesting.” The olives’ oil content is typically lower at this point of the growing season, but an abundance of fruit helps compensate. Early harvest oils typically have a higher concentration of healthful polyphenols as well as more vibrant flavors and aromas.

Though only 30, Juan Francisco González has been with Agricola Pobeña for more than a decade. For the past two years, he has managed the farm’s state-of-the-art mill. His diligence, patience, and dedication to quality, with which I am well-acquainted, were rewarded recently when Agricola Pobeña was named one of the world’s top 20 producers by the prestigious publication Flos Olei.

I had the opportunity recently to visit the Pérez family home, where Juan Carlos lives with his wife, Romina, and two young daughters, ages 5 and 14. A tour of the couple’s amazing garden confirmed what I already knew—Juan Carlos is blessed with a green thumb! I have never seen such a magnificent backyard plot, replete with fruit trees, walls of living succulents, herbs, vegetables, and lettuces that are lovingly nibbled by a pet rabbit. Naturally, there are olive trees on the property as well; Juan Carlos boasts that his daughters have been consuming olive oil since birth. The family loves olive oil on salads, tomatoes, bread, and a dish made with corn called humitas—very popular in Chile.

I can’t wait to hear how you and your family use this splendid oil. Juan Carlos is so proud to have one named after him that will be enjoyed by discriminating Americans.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Intoxicatingly green on the nose, this blend evokes wheatgrass, Tuscan kale, almond, lettuce, spinach, basil, chicory, green banana, celery, apple, and green tomato. In the mouth, my tasters enjoyed the oil’s herbaceous qualities (“pesto in a bottle”), as well as tomato, artichoke, dark leafy/bitter greens, and rosemary. Expect a kick of black peppercorns on the long, complex, well-balanced finish. It blurs the line between “medium” and “bold.”

This oil is full-flavored, robust enough to complement a wide range of foods. Pair it with grilled vegetables (it’s wonderful with fire-roasted brussels sprouts, sweet corn, celery root, fennel, or cabbage); charcuterie platters; pizza; tomato-based salads or pasta dishes; tuna, salmon, or arctic char; lamb; pork; duck; beef or veal; stronger-flavored cheeses; pesto or herbaceous sauces like chimichurri; bruschetta; and dark chocolate.

This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Don Miguel, Olivares de Quepu, Maule Valley, Chile 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Favolosa, Picual, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Don Miguel, Olivares de Quepu, Maule Valley, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The saying goes that there are just six degrees of separation between each of us, but when it comes to my world of olive oil, I say it’s more like just two or three! This selection, named for Miguel Ángel Molina, the master miller with whom I worked to bring you this amazing, unlikely combination of oils, is the perfect example of such close connections.

Longtime Club members know Miguel as the genius behind previous selections that bore the name “El Favorito,” the favorite of the man whose palate perfectly aligns with my own. In each of those harvests, we were in complete agreement over the farm’s crown jewels—I’ve called him the olive whisperer for years.

The three amigos! This year’s trip to Chile was remarkable because I was able not only to work hand-in-hand again with master miller Miguel Ángel Molina (left) but also to realize my long-held desire to introduce you, my dear Club members, to ultra-premium olive oil from the Quepu farm. Álvero Ignacio Ried Roncagliolo (right) is at the helm of a team whose passion is to grow the olives needed for the highest quality artisanal oils.

Those exclusives were created when Miguel was with the Alonso family farm—he would diligently drive the two and a half hours north from his home in Talca for the workweek, then drive back to spend weekends with his family. When all our lives were upended by the pandemic, Miguel knew he didn’t want to be away from his family on a regular basis anymore. Talca lies within Maule Valley, the southernmost of Chile’s renowned wine-making regions, and also happens to be the location of one of its most forward-thinking olive farms, Olivares de Quepu, run by the talented agronomist Álvero Ignacio Ried Roncagliolo. Álvero brought on Miguel to manage the mill a year and a half ago, starting the journey that ultimately led to this outstanding selection for the Club.

Álvero, too, has deep roots in Talca, where he studied agronomy before earning a master’s degree in business innovation and entrepreneurship in New Zealand. His return to Chile was perfectly timed—Chilean olive oil was just about to step onto the world stage. When Álvero first joined Quepu and embraced their mission of creating ultra-premium olive oils, he visited Old World producers around the Mediterranean to learn from global generations of experience. And because Álvero believes in nurturing talent, he arranged for Miguel to go on a similar journey of Mediterranean mills. Miguel’s knowledge of olives and olive oil deepened even further after he worked with a leading miller in Portugal for an intensive six-week harvest.

Great olive oil starts with the fruit in the grove, says farm manager Manuel Barrera, and I couldn’t agree more. These olives are quite literally the fruits of his labor—he planted the trees himself! As we toured around, Manuel explained how he continually monitors growing conditions and makes tweaks to maximize the bounty from the farm’s olive trees.

I’m just as impressed by Quepu’s company-wide commitment to the land. After each pressing, the olive pits are dried and sold as biomass fuel, and the other organic byproducts are composted and put back into the earth in a virtuous circle. Farm manager Manuel Barrera shared these details when my Merry Band of Tasters and I toured the farm with him, the late afternoon light creating a tapestry of colors on the slopes. He and Miguel work hand in glove, because great olive oil starts in the grove. “Most people think olive oil is made in the mill, but it’s more about the farm and the fruit because if you have bad fruit, you have bad oil,” said Manuel. “We must analyze the conditions continually and make adjustments when there’s not enough rain.”

Another amazing aspect to Quepu is how they’ve handled water needs. As Club members know well, water is ever scarce in Chile, where the drought is in its thirteenth year. Though olive trees need less water than other crops—3,000 cubic meters per hectare compared to 6,000 for grapevines, 9,000 for nuts, and a whopping 12,000 for cherries—they still need it. When Quepu was established, they were able to buy access to the Pencahue water channel that runs from the snow-capped Andes some 80 kilometers away. It runs partly underground, under the nearby Lircay River and under roads. Water storage in the farm’s own reservoir allows Quepu to meet the changing climatic conditions.

Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left)
We lunched at the nearby Parrilladas Caupolicán after crafting our unique Club blend. No tasting is complete without drizzling it on delicious dishes, like these wonderful grilled meats and sides. There’s nothing more convivial than sharing a meal, and I can’t wait for you to share “Don Miguel” at your table this summer.

Of course, the proof of all these efforts is in the pudding or, in this case, the oil. Working with Miguel, I created a unique blend of Favolosa, Picual, and Arbequina, refined over the course of many tastings. I’m especially pleased about the inclusion of the Favolosa varietal, which we’re bringing to you for the first time.

We’d been looking forward to working with the talented Quepu team for many years, and my elation at realizing that dream by presenting you with this alluring and food-enhancing extra virgin olive oil is best echoed in Álvero’s words: “I’m so happy and excited for Club members to taste all our efforts in every drop of this olive oil.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My tasters and I realized we were about to experience a powerful oil when from our tasting glasses wafted the unmistakable scents of artichoke, tomato leaf, celery, fennel, and frisée, underscored with the nuttiness of almonds and hazelnuts and the concentrated sweetness of dried stone fruits. In the mouth, the bitterness of chicory, radicchio, dark greens, celery leaf, and walnut skins harmonized with the spiciness of green peppercorns, watercress, and, surprisingly, cinnamon and bay leaf.

Play up this assertive oil’s best qualities by serving it with aged cheeses; cured meats; salads featuring bitter greens and toasted walnuts; padrón or shishito peppers or other chiles; oily fish like sardines, mackerel, or bluefish; shakshuka; game meats; spicy stews or soups; chargrilled steaks or beef or lamb kebabs; grilled or sautéed onions or leeks; broccoli or broccoli rabe; and chocolate mousse.

Olive Oil and Health

Fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil provides multiple health benefits

Polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil, on its own and as part of the well-studied Mediterranean Diet, has demonstrated significant positive effects on the body and mind.

Heart: Consuming more than 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil a day translates to a “14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 18% lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Replacing 5 grams a day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil was associated with 5% to 7% lower risk of total CVD and CHD.”1

Brain: The Mediterranean Diet has positive effects for “both cognitively impaired and unimpaired older populations, especially on their memory, both in the short and long run.” Plus, boosting the diet with additional intake of foods “such as extra-virgin olive oil…might have a more significant impact on the improvement of cognitive performance among seniors.”2

Gut: EVOO lowers levels of bad bacteria and stimulates good bacteria: “The gut microbiota and health of the intestinal environment are now considered important factors in the development of obesity, metabolic disease, and even certain neurodegenerative conditions via the gut-brain axis. Recently, data are emerging which demonstrate that the health-promoting benefits of EVOO may also extend to the gut microbiota.”3

Biological Aging & Bone: People who stick more closely to the Mediterranean Diet “are on average almost 1 year biologically younger than their chronological age, as compared to those with low adherence,” thanks to its polyphenol-rich foods like extra virgin olive oil. Polyphenols are also linked with higher bone mineral density. “In particular, high consumption of extra-virgin olive oil leads to lower risk of osteoporosis-related fractures.”4

Skin: Olive oil works well in beauty formulas and may enhance your skin because it “provides a safe and stable emulsion delivery system. The antioxidant activity of olives makes them a candidate for moderating the effects of the aging process on the skin by limiting biochemical consequences of oxidation.” Simple translation: It seems to help guard against the ravages of the environment.5


  1. Guasch-Ferré, M., et al. “Olive Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk in U.S. Adults.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 2020;
  2. Klimova, B. et al. “The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Cognitive Functions in the Elderly Population.” Nutrients, June 2021; doi: 10.3390/nu13062067.
  3. Millman, JF, et al. “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and the Gut-Brain Axis: Influence on Gut Microbiota, Mucosal Immunity, and Cardiometabolic and Cognitive Health.” Nutrition Reviews, December 2021; doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa148.
  4. Esposito, S., et al. “Dietary Polyphenol Intake Is Associated with Biological Aging, a Novel Predictor of Cardiovascular Disease: Cross-Sectional Findings from the Moli-Sani Study.” Nutrients, May 2021; doi: 10.3390/nu13051701.
  5. Gonçalves, S. and Gaivão, I. “Natural Ingredients Common in the Trás-os-Montes Region (Portugal) for Use in the Cosmetic Industry: A Review about Chemical Composition and Antigenotoxic Properties.” Molecules, August 2021; doi: 10.3390/molecules26175255.

Kudos from Club Members

Spoiled Forever
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


  • Olive Oil Cake with Honey Yogurt Cream and Strawberries Olive Oil Cake with Honey Yogurt Cream and Strawberries Moist and fairly dense, this fruit-inflected cake is a perfect grand finale to a warm-weather meal. Blueberries can stand in for strawberries. Ingredients 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan 1 1/2 cups almond flour (about 5 1/4 ounces) 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking… view recipe
  • Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint If possible, buy fresh just-picked carrots with the tops still on (you can always make pesto out of the tops). There’s no need to peel them as the skin is thin and tender. Ingredients 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons honey 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil… view recipe
  • Grilled Broccoli Rabe with Salsa Rossa Grilled Broccoli Rabe with Salsa Rossa Broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) is a deliciously bitter green closely related to turnips. To ensure tenderness, the stalks are blanched, then grilled. You’ll find the Salsa Rossa pairs well with many green vegetables—green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc. Ingredients For the Salsa Rossa 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed) Pinch of hot red… view recipe
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Verdant and bold-flavored, chimichurri is one of South America’s finest contributions to the world’s sauces. If available, buy “outside” skirt steak, which is considered superior in flavor and tenderness to “inside” skirt steak. Or substitute flank steak or flat iron steak. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak For the marinade 1/4 cup extra virgin olive… view recipe
  • Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Herb Sauce Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Herb Sauce While we always prefer wild-caught salmon, Chilean Verlasso salmon (farm-raised) is also very good. Feel free to substitute black bass, red snapper, or lionfish if salmon is not available. Ingredients 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional) 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced 1 cup chopped tender fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and/or basil 1… view recipe
  • Beet and Goat Cheese Salad Beet and Goat Cheese Salad You can turn this colorful salad into a main course by adding cooked shrimp. Substituting golden beets for the more familiar red will prevent your hands from staining. Ingredients 1/3 cup sliced almonds 8 ounces beets (red or golden), cooked and peeled 3 ounces goat cheese 4 ounces baby arugula 1 navel orange 3 tablespoons… view recipe
  • Siracha and Lime Corn Salad Siracha and Lime Corn Salad This salad is also excellent when made with grilled corn. Simply lay the husked ears on a hot grill grate and grill, turning with tongs, until patches of brown appear. Slice the kernels off the cobs before proceeding with the recipe. Ingredients 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels sliced off the cobs 4 tablespoons extra… view recipe
  • Lemony Pea and Spinach Soup Lemony Pea and Spinach Soup A generous drizzle of fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil before serving gives this soup richness (we love its jewel-like color). Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 2 medium leeks, trimmed, white and green parts halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced and rinsed (about 4 packed cups) 2 celery stalks, trimmed and… view recipe
  • Garlic and Lemon Aioli with Fresh Asparagus Garlic and Lemon Aioli with Fresh Asparagus This is a recipe my wife, Meghan, and I enjoy as an appetizer when asparagus is in season. We use a Microplane to grate the lemon zest and garlic. Ingredients 1 bunch fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, preferably thicker stalks1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon fresh and finely grated lemon… view recipe
  • Black Bean Dip Black Bean Dip We love appetizers that can be assembled quickly. This recipe uses ingredients you likely have on hand. No fresh jalapeños? Pickled ones can be used, too. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 2 small yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped 4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 1 to 2… view recipe

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

Proudly Presenting Three Exquisite Fresh-Pressed Olive Oils from the Iberian Peninsula

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • From award-winning family-owned groves, these amazing creations have been rushed to you at their peak of flavor and nutritive value.
  • All are Club exclusives, including a blend of rare Portuguese varietals grown nowhere else on Earth.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Feature these stunning EVOOs in regional recipes specially selected to showcase their vibrant flavors.

¡Hóla! ¡Saludos desde España, saudações de Portugal! In my dreams I’m writing this from Barcelona, nibbling a velvety slice of my favorite jamón Ibérico—or from Porto, sipping its namesake wine, perched at the westernmost edge of what was once considered the “known world.”

The Iberian Peninsula—modern-day Spain and Portugal—is my preferred source, this time of year, of ultra-flavorful, harvest-fresh olive oils. Lamentably, in spite of optimistic plans to resume in-person quests as the Olive Oil Hunter, I was unable to travel to the recent Iberian harvest.

When I’m in Spain, my quest is invariably inspired by the story of Don Quixote, the enduring knight errant who, accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Sancho Panza, journeys through the world, encountering real and imagined adversaries as well as forces beyond his control.

As I’ll elaborate below, it was time to rewrite Cervantes, pandemic-style. But first, let me give you the lay of the land…

Iberia, Liquid Gold Mine to the World

The ancient Greeks named it Iberia, the fist-shaped land mass encompassing Spain and Portugal. Sturdy olive trees, introduced first by the Phoenicians and Greeks, have thrived in its sunny, dry climate for thousands of years. Large-scale olive cultivation exploded in Iberia
(renamed Hispania) under the shrewd business management of the Roman Empire, whose citizens prized olive oil from Hispania above all. (Records of olive oil exports from Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region, can be traced to the reign of Julius Caesar, in the first century BCE.)

Today, carpeted with an estimated 215 million olive trees (more than a quarter of the world’s olive acreage), Spain produces the most olive oil of any country on earth. The majority of that production is from Andalucía—specifically, from the province of Jaén (an area about the size of the state of Connecticut), which by itself yields more olive oil than either Italy or Greece.

Portugal, in contrast to Spain, occupies a distinctly “boutique” niche; its rocky, forested terrain is home to rare, indigenous olive varieties cultivated nowhere else on earth.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, and Francisco “Paco” Vañó
On behalf of our Club I’ve cultivated relationships with some of the finest artisanal producers in Spain, including my good friend and mentor Francisco “Paco” Vañó, one of the pioneers of ultra-premium Spanish olive oil. Here, in a photo from a few seasons back, Paco and I survey his expansive Castillo de Canena groves, located near the city of Baeza in the province of Jaén. A deeply knowledgeable olive oil authority and a perpetual innovator, Paco was just appointed president of the Spanish Association of Olive Oil Producers.

Crunching the Numbers: 0.5%

With its massive production volume, Spain supplies olive oil to much of the globe, including its neighbors. If you pick up a bottle of “Italian” olive oil of uncertain provenance, there’s a good chance it’s mostly Spanish oil with a label that says “Italian.” Most of the Spanish yield is bulk oil that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. From my first scouting trip to Spain, in 2005, I have cultivated relationships with the pioneers of ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil production in Spain. In the past I’ve estimated that such quality-focused innovators represent only about 1 or 2 percent of the total.

But when I actually crunched the numbers a few weeks ago, I arrived at an even tinier ratio: the Spanish artisans who produce competition-style EVOOs even approaching the exacting standards of our Club are fewer than 1 in 200. Half a percent, tops—and we know them personally.

Ingenuity and Collaboration

While I, as a grounded Don Quixote, was tilting at Zoom windmills, Sancho Panza led the way on the ground in Europe. Draft in another compadre—dub him “Pancho Sanza”—to depict how my Merry Band of Tasters and I managed, a world apart, to create the incredible trio of Iberian olive oils you now have before you. (Call me “Don Remot-e.”)

Over the past two years, Club members have been introduced to two of my dearest friends and charter members of the Merry Band of Tasters, Tjeerd Beliën and Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. Tjeerd, a gregarious Renaissance man who speaks six languages, traversed the Spanish and Portuguese countryside in a well-appointed RV. Duccio, a world-renowned olive oil expert based in Rome, met up with Tjeerd at the producers’ groves. I trust them both implicitly to channel my palate and preferences.

Ahead of the harvest, I consulted with my old friend, mentor, and longtime collaborator Francisco “Paco” Vañó, maestro of the Castillo de Canena groves in Jaén. Paco reported that Spain had experienced a very hot and dry season, with a peculiar effect on the olive trees’ flowering and fruit: even though plenty of blossoms appeared, in many cases the fruit did not develop. Olive oil yields in Spain were down by almost half compared with last year. Paco, ever ingenious, has implemented multiple water-sparing measures at the Canena groves to ensure consistently excellent EVOO, no matter the weather. Likewise, the innovative family team at Finca Gálvez transcended the challenges of the season to produce superlative oils.

Celso Madeira and his son Filipe and TJ Robinson
Over two decades, Celso Madeira and his son Filipe have transformed an abandoned, ancient olive grove on their family’s land in rural Portugal into a thriving, award-winning boutique farm. At age eighty-eight, patriarch Celso continues to look toward the future—even while quarantined, he managed to purchase new equipment and some land on the sly. I can’t wait to be together again, toasting another successful collaboration over a delicious dish like this one, a hearty Portuguese soup drizzled with harvest-fresh olive oil.

Portugal also endured a cruel season of drought. Yet our friends at CARM, with groves in the mountainous Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro region, reported an excellent harvest. I am honored to share these unique indigenous Portuguese varietals—olives grown nowhere else on the planet—with our Club.

Tjeerd and Duccio tasted oils on site at the groves and overnighted their favorite samples to me. We conducted tasting and blending sessions over Zoom, calibrating the ratios until we had created three absolutely spectacular oils.

As you open these exclusive creations and inhale their lively aromas, take a moment to reflect on the dedicated, passionate artisans behind the scenes. Read on for more details about the award-winning producers; instructive tasting notes for each of the oils; and mouth-watering, regionally inspired recipes to enhance your enjoyment of these Iberian beauties!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Marquês d’Almeida, Filipe de Albuquerque Madeira, Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Portugal
  • Olive Varieties: Negrinha, Madural, Verdeal, Cobrançosa
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

Marquês d’Almeida Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I am thrilled to once again offer Club members a phenomenal extra virgin olive oil pressed from rare varietals native to a remote province of northern Portugal, an otherworldly region whose name means “beyond the mountains.”

Thought to be one of the oldest dominions of prehistoric man on the
European continent—perhaps where Neolithic hominids made their last stand—Trás-os-Montes, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, is starkly devoid of the modern references we use to define our positions on the space and time continuum. Though just 4.5 hours from the bustle and cacophony of Lisbon, a sighting of hobbits would not be entirely unexpected. More common are wolves and foxes!

It seems improbable that agricultural products could thrive on the steep, rocky slopes that dominate the landscape, and yet, declares olive oil producer and winemaker Filipe Madeira, some of the world’s best fruit is grown in the terroir of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, including wine grapes, citrus, almonds, and olives. Here, the earth’s crust is shot through with schist (xixto in Portuguese), a flaky, compressed metamorphic rock created in the process of mountain formation, which sustains plant life by trapping rainfall and snowmelt between its porous layers.

I wonder if the word “schist” was in Filipe’s vocabulary some 20 years ago when his father, Celso, announced he wanted to restore to productivity familial land that hosted olive groves?

Recalled from his medical studies in Italy, Filipe quickly assumed stewardship of the olive trees, some several hundred years old. The fi rst harvest, he told me when we first met in 2012, was nightmarish, requiring him to forgo sleep for days. He was in constant contact with a technician in Italy who was proficient with the newly installed milling equipment, literally telling Filipe which buttons to push and what knobs to turn as he pressed the olives. Astoundingly, the family’s oils began winning awards immediately, even sweeping Portugal’s prestigious OLIVOMOURA competition.

Like all the top producers I work with, Filipe is devoted to pressing the finest olive oils possible, methodically making adjustments in his fields and in his mill. (Because of the rugged terrain, the olives are picked by hand.)
Since my last visit in 2020, he has added a Rapanelli crusher (the machine that turns the olive flesh to a paste before the oil can be extracted) to his line, which he is eager to compare with his Mori crusher in controlled olive oil trials during the next harvest. He also added a new decanter to the mill, which helps him process the olive fruit even faster.

Apparently, Filipe isn’t the only person authorized to make purchases. In a recent Zoom call, Filipe related how he noticed a significant shortage in the family’s accounts. When he investigated, it emerged that his 88-year-old father, though quarantined at the time, covertly bought five tractors and a plot of land that complemented the family’s holdings. “He kept it a secret from me!” laughed Filipe, a mix of love, exasperation, and pride in his voice. The new acquisition, located on a high plateau with a lake, was a worthy one, Filipe admitted; the water will give him unprecedented control over the trees as they mature and bear fruit by allowing him to irrigate. The plot is already nurturing young trees. Readying it for cultivation was no easy undertaking: Several feet of loose rock had to be excavated and pulverized before planting could begin.

Another ambitious project is also underway, says Filipe—the opening of a spacious olive oil and wine center in the nearby village of Almendra. (Filipe is renovating what was essentially a ruin, an effort that will not go unappreciated by the community.) Milling of the olives will continue to take place at the farm, but bottling will be transferred to the new state-of-the-art facility, eliminating some tasks that have been performed manually.

Filipe Madeira and Tjeerd Beliën
Though Filipe Madeira (left) was stunned when his 88-year-old father, Celso, purchased a nearby plot of land without consulting him, he admits it has the potential to be a great investment. He wasted no time in planting the plateau with Cobrançosa seedlings, a rare olive varietal native to Portugal. For the first time, Filipe, shown here with Tjeerd Beliën, will be able to irrigate his grove (notice the lake in the background). The white plastic sheaths at the base of each tree protect the vulnerable plants from rabbits.

Rainfall—and its timing—is often an issue here, as it is elsewhere in the Mediterranean. (I wasn’t able to work with Filipe last year as the olives weren’t up to our exacting standards. The trees likely needed time to recuperate from 2020’s excellent harvest.) This year, the trees flowered profusely, but unseasonably high temperatures affected fruit formation. The harvest was later than usual, but the yield was much better than expected.

And the quality? Outstanding! This is one of the most genial olive oils in my memory. It blooms fragrantly and deliciously when introduced to food. I can’t wait for you to taste it.

Marquês d’Almeida Vineyard and Tjeerd's camper van
You can almost hear the gears grinding as my longtime friend and colleague Tjeerd Beliën maneuvers his motorhome through the rocky, rugged terrain that defines the Portuguese province of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro. For obvious reasons, olive groves here must be harvested by hand from the steep terraced hillsides. Irrigated trees are rare. Most have to draw water through their roots from the porous schist (flaky, mica-like rock) that’s common here.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

A blend of four olive varietals native to Portugal (Negrinha, Madural, Verdeal, and Cobrançosa), this oil is a rare treat. On the nose, it’s redolent of green apple, lettuce, kiwi, mint, baby spinach, lemon, almonds, and vanilla. In the mouth, it exhibits the sweetness of ripe pear along with fennel and spinach. The mild bitterness of walnuts, endive, and lime zest gives it balance. The finish blooms with green tea astringency and the spiciness of celery leaves and white pepper.

This oil’s affinity for food is phenomenal. Try it with the Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup found below. It also complements bread; mild cheeses; eggs; poultry; salads featuring Marcona almonds or walnuts; rice; white beans; mild fi n fi sh; shellfi sh; simple pasta dishes; steamed, grilled, or roasted vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, peas, or farmer’s market finds; or quick breads like the one below.

This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Castillo de Canena, Selección Especial, Jaén, Andalucía, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Castillo de Canena, Selección Especial

How has Francisco “Paco” Vañó orchestrated his “best harvest in memory” when—in the same conversation—he laments, accurately, that for most growers the recent Spanish olive harvest “has been a disaster”?

Let’s start at the (modern) beginning. Paco, with his sister Rosa, founded Castillo de Canena in the early 2000s, staking a claim as one of the pioneers of high-quality EVOO production in Spain, focused on early-harvest oils. Their first efforts, bottled in 2003, immediately raised the bar to new heights, and ever since, Castillo de Canena has set the standards for ultra-premium olive oil across the globe. The farm was named “Best Olive Oil Company in the World” in 2016 by Flos Olei, the guide to the world’s best olive oils, and has been named to the Flos Olei Hall of Fame, one of only seven olive oil producers worldwide to receive the honor.

I met Paco in 2005, on my very first trip to Spain, and over the years our friendship has developed and deepened my own understanding of what makes an olive oil producer great: consistency. As Paco has said, nodding to Mother Nature’s unpredictability, “It’s not a matter of making the very best oil in the world. That is simply not possible, every year. The point is to make consistently excellent oils, year in and year out.”

Consistent excellence requires continuous innovation. In December 2019, the Castillo de Canena team began the construction of a brand-new mill. When I use the term mill (almazara, in Spanish) in this context, I don’t mean just the equipment that crushes the olives and extracts the oil, although that machinery itself is, in fact, the mill. What Paco and his team have unveiled, with full functionality as of this harvest, is a breathtaking olive oil temple: the building has an exterior of sleek white stucco, with burnished metal trim that resembles aged wood, and the ceilings within are up to 30 feet high. The eventual goal is to have three olive presses, each representing a top company (Alfa Laval, Pieralisi, and Westfalia), making Castillo de Canena the very first producer to house all 3 under one roof.

The previous building—which, mind you, produced oils celebrated as among the best in the world—was the size of my first New York apartment, less than 600 square feet. You practically had to stoop to walk around; Paco described its heroic feats, chuckling fondly, as “Homeric.” In the earliest days, the mill ran only one production line, and in 2007 they added a second. The new mill already has three lines up and running and next season will add a fourth. I could hear the relief in Paco’s voice as he proclaimed, “This harvest was so much easier, so much better.”

Mariela Chova Martínez and Duccio
As the Quality Control and Food Safety Supervisor at Castillo de Canena, Mariela Chova Martínez oversees all the factors that go into producing ultra-premium EVOO, including the daily harvest ripeness index—which olives are ready for picking; classification of the oils; cleanliness of the pressing facilities; and temperature control, critical for preserving polyphenol content and aromatic potential in the oils. Here, in front of the sparkling new mill, Mariela and Duccio review her records of the day.

Multiple lines allow the harvest team to mill different batches of olives simultaneously, which gives them more control over what I call the “magic window,” the narrow period of time when the olives are at their peak of polyphenol content and flavor.

Overseeing the entire process, from tree to tank, is Paco’s right-hand woman, “olive master” Mariela Chova Martínez, who has worked with Castillo de Canena as the quality control and food safety supervisor since 2010. In the spring, Mariela follows the olive development in each plot: the first blossoms appear in April or May; then, as soon as the tiny olive fruits emerge, usually in June, the team initiates irrigation and monitors even more closely. Trees are watered once a week from June through August, and two or three times a week from September until harvest time.

During the harvest, the tireless Mariela works both in the mill and in the groves. A warm, upbeat presence, she is in constant contact with the team in the field to detect and troubleshoot any problem, and each morning she samples and evaluates the batches produced on the previous day, directing the pressings to specific tanks based on their quality parameters.

Francisco “Paco” Vañó and T.J. Robinson
When I’m in Spain, award-winning producer Francisco “Paco” Vañó and I usually cap off my visits to his mill, Castillo de Canena, with a delicious meal at a local restaurant to celebrate our collaboration and to toast the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. Paco has great admiration for our Club members, whom he esteems as true connoisseurs of early-harvest, ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil. ¡Salud!

My scouts on the ground, Tjeerd and Duccio, reported that they were smitten with multiple Arbequina oils, harvested on different days from separate microclimates. Excited, I proposed to Paco that we create an Arbequina blend—mingling separate pressings of the same olive varietal helps to bring out complementary aspects of its flavor profile. We’ve created a charming, spirited, extremely food-friendly oil. You, my Club members, will be the first (and only) Americans to savor these exclusive fruits of Paco Vañó’s “best harvest in memory.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

This well-calibrated oil pressed from a stellar harvest of Arbequina olives makes a lovely first impression on the nose. Enjoy the olfactory interplay between grassiness, green banana, tomato, orange peel, black pepper, and fresh thyme and oregano. Repeats the sweetness of banana in the mouth, accented by cashews, tomato leaf, tingly Szechuan peppercorn (polyphenols!), wild mint, and vanilla. The protracted finish is symphonic—bitter, spicy, and elegant.

Pair with whole grain or savory breads; bruschetta; cheeses like Manchego or Idiazabal; cured Spanish jamón; roasted Marcona almonds; lamb chops; pork; tuna or salmon; tomato-based soups like gazpacho; grilled artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks, or Swiss chard; salads featuring nuts, citrus, kale, watercress, endive, or arugula; chocolate; and vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Finca Gálvez, Jaén, Andalucía, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Picual
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Finca Gálvez Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I will always remember my first visit to the Gálvez family’s olive groves and beautiful mill. The year was 2005. I had only recently founded the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club and was eager to meet brothers José and Andrés Gálvez, who were themselves relatively new to the world of olive oil. I recall how excited they were when they learned their oils would be in the hands of discriminating Americans. (They still are!) Who could’ve predicted that almost two decades later, we’d still be collaborating on the top-tier olive oils the brothers produce and that have become favorites among my Club members?

During a lengthy Zoom reunion we organized recently, José and I (Andrés was unable to join us, unfortunately) pondered the fact that we have, in effect, grown up together.

It has been very gratifying for me to watch the brothers evolve into the skilled, confident, and highly respected artisanal olive oil producers they are today. Their oils have earned many prestigious awards in multiple countries, including the International Olive Council-sponsored Mario Solinas Quality Award, and have often been named among the top 20 oils in the world by the authoritative guide Flos Olei.

The family’s journey to the winner’s circle began in 1999. Recognizing there was an emerging niche market for premium Spanish extra virgin olive oils, the family purchased two olive farms in the Guadalquivir River Valley, near the ancient town of Bailén. (The Guadalquivir is Spain’s only navigable river and supports millions of olive trees—the largest manmade forest in the world). José, who’d always planned to join the family masonry business when he graduated from college, was tapped to manage the new enterprise with the help of Andrés, whose natural aptitude for engineering and mechanics has been invaluable. An aside: José later returned to school to learn everything he could about olives and olive oil production.

Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left)
The established olive groves the Gálvez family purchased in 1999 were planted in a
traditional manner that may be unique to Spain. Three seedlings are grouped together and radiate out from a central point like the spokes on a wheel. This gives the trees open, well-aerated canopies. Occasionally, it’s necessary to replace a member of the cluster. Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left) discuss the merits of this method.

Called Los Juncales and La Casa del Agua, both farms hosted olive trees—some over 150 years old—that had been planted in groups of three, with about 30 feet separating each cluster. Though it’s no longer in favor with modern producers, the formation allows for wide, grassy paths between the rows that help retain moisture and nutrients and that are friendly to the region’s abundant wildlife. (To these groves, the family added a third that is more densely planted.) The family’s holdings now exceed 5,000 acres.

Early on, José recognized the key to achieving the family’s goal of producing premium olive oils was control. Major investments were made in an imposing stone-and-brick state-of-the-art mill as well as a sophisticated irrigation system serviced by deep wells. (Only about one-third of Spain’s olive trees are irrigated, which attests to the Gálvez family’s commitment to quality.) Upgrades and improvements to both the building and equipment are routine at Finca Gálvez. I’m looking forward to touring the new addition to their mill when I’m able to resume my visits.

Andrés Gálvez and T.J. Robinson
During a visit in 2017, Andrés Gálvez proudly gave me a tour of the light-filled classroom the family added to the mill to develop through education the public’s appreciation for premium olive oils. Their classes, often led by area chefs who use the brothers’ olive oils in their restaurants, are popular with locals and visitors alike. To my right is an impressive collection of framed olive oil awards, a testament to the family’s achievements. I wonder if, in my absence, they have run out of wall space?

José and Andrés are careful, however, to keep their primary focus on the fruit. (After all, what good is an expensive set of cookware if inferior ingredients are used to prepare the meal?) To the extent they can, the duo does everything possible to ensure the best crop of olives, monitoring the trees’ needs throughout the growing season and the harvest.

This year, the brothers’ considerable skills and experience were put to the test.

There were two challenges: lack of rainfall—zero fell during a six-month period—and blistering hot temperatures, some in excess of 100 degrees. The trees received periodic rations of water that continued through the harvest, the latter a first for Finca Gálvez. José was as stressed as the trees, confiding during our call that he’d lost nearly 15 pounds before the last batch of olives was pressed. (Stress, as you may recall from past Pressing Reports, can actually be good for olives, as it helps develop and concentrate aromas and flavors.)

But once again, the duo triumphed over circumstances that might’ve defeated lesser producers. Their amazing Picual is proof positive that these guys really know what they’re doing. This luscious oil, the boldest in our trio, is complex but exceptionally well balanced. It will hit your palate like a potent, invigorating spring tonic, as you’ll find out when you taste it.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This stunning oil, pressed from Picual olives, is like pesto in a bottle! Basil and pine nuts mingle in the tasting glass, along with rosemary, spinach, parsley, arugula, black kale, celery, and kiwi. On the palate, anticipate the bitterness of radicchio and the spiciness of arugula and black pepper. Note the astringency of green tea and green apple skin, their edges softened by hints of wheatgrass, tomato leaf, bittersweet chocolate, and culinary herbs like tarragon, rosemary, and celery leaf.

Straight from the bottle, this oil makes an outstanding sauce for a variety of foods. Try it with pizza or rosemary-topped focaccia; grilled or roasted meats; seafood stews; fried eggs; grilled beefsteak; paella; tomato-based pasta dishes; salads featuring radicchio, endive, or green beans (see the Spanish Tuna, Potato, and Green Bean Salad below); broccoli rabe, cabbage, fennel, and other stronger-flavored vegetables; green smoothies; and dark chocolate, especially chocolate mousse with sea salt.

Olive Oil and Health

Can Small Amounts of Olive Oil Keep Mortality at Bay?

Adapted from an article by Susanna Larsson in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, January 20, 2022.

Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is also abundant in plant foods. High adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. For CVD, the association with the Mediterranean diet appears most attributable to olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

In the January 2022 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a team of investigators reported results from a study of olive oil consumption and risk of all-cause and cause-specific death in 2 cohorts of more than 90,000 US women and men.

In this large, well-designed study, with long-term follow-up and repeated measurements of dietary intake and other risk factors for diseases, participants who reported the highest olive oil consumption—half a tablespoon or more per day—had a 19% lower risk of all-cause death, 19% lower risk of death from CVD, 17% lower risk of death from cancer, 29% lower risk of death from neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s), and 18% lower risk of death from respiratory disease (such as COPD), compared with those who never or rarely consumed olive oil, after adjustment for known risk factors and other dietary factors. Lower daily olive oil consumption, up to 1 teaspoon, reduced the risk of all-cause death by 12% and death from CVD, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases significantly as well. The authors subsequently performed substitution analyses and found that replacement of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with olive oil was associated with a reduced risk of mortality. However, substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, safflower, and soybean oil) did not confer a reduced mortality risk. This suggests that vegetable oils may provide similar protective benefits.

A novel finding of this study is the inverse association between olive oil consumption and risk of neurodegenerative disease mortality. Alzheimer’s disease is the major neurodegenerative disease and the most common cause of dementia. The authors found a significant 27% reduction in risk of dementia-related death for those in the highest vs lowest category of olive oil consumption. Considering the lack of preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and the high morbidity and mortality related to this disease, this finding, if confirmed, is of great public health importance.

Reference: Guasch-Ferré M, Li Y, Willett WC, et al. Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022;79(2):101–112.

Kudos from Club Members

VERY grateful member!
Hello from a VERY grateful member! I’m a bachelor, and what’s worse, I’m a starving artist. I had an aunt once who gave me a very good piece of advice: “When you are almost broke, go out and buy yourself a bar of very good soap. It will lift your spirits immeasurably when you take your shower.” It’s a philosophy that has lifted MANY moments of despair into moments of genuine gratitude. I have updated my adored aunt’s advice for the 20-teens. “Go out and join the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club!” With the rent for next month not yet in sight, I have NO business enjoying a dinner that brings tears to my eyes. But that is what you did for me! It’s just tomato and roasted red pepper soup from Pacific, with a little homemade chicken stock, some inexpensive red wine, and a weensie bit of heavy cream. But when I drizzled the Nullamunjie all over the top, OMG!!!! I’m SERIOUS … OHHH EMMM GEEE. THANK YOU!!!! Please keep up the VERY good work!!
Very affectionately, Jeff B.Oakland, CA


  • Asparagus and black pepper Asparagus and Crispy Bean Salad with Manchego This is a great use for canned cannellini beans (or use garbanzos). Sprinkle with Spanish smoked paprika, if desired, before roasting. Ingredients One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed Coarse salt (kosher or sea) 8 ounces fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use Freshly ground black pepper… view recipe
  • Pork Marbella Pork Marbella Both salty and sweet, this savory dish riffs on Chicken Marbella by substituting pork tenderloin for chicken. (Please do not confuse small pork tenderloins, usually about a pound each, for pork loin, which is a much larger cut.) Ingredients For the chimichurri marinade/sauce: Two 1-pound pork tenderloins 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1 cup dry white… view recipe
  • Marinated Rib-Eye Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Marinated Rib-Eye Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Called chuletón in Spanish, these rib-eyes can be cooked indoors or out. To get more mileage (aka servings) from the steaks, thinly slice them on a diagonal after cooking and shingle on a large platter with the chimichurri sauce. Ingredients For the chimichurri marinade/sauce: 2/3 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley,… view recipe
  • Sea Scallops with Romesco Sauce Sea Scallops with Romesco Sauce Though we have published recipes for romesco sauce in the past—this iconic sauce is awesome with vegetables, especially the calçots we have enjoyed in early spring in Barcelona—we had never thought to pair it with seafood. Ingredients For the romesco: 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating the vegetables 1 red bell… view recipe
  • Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms Eggs are indisputably popular in Spain, with each Spaniard eating 237 eggs per year on average, according to the latest statistics. Here is a keto-friendly recipe that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a tapa. My wife, Meghan, and I like to give the eggs a final drizzle of extra virgin olive… view recipe
  • Spanish Tuna, Potato and Green Bean Salad Spanish Tuna, Potato and Green Bean Salad Similar to a classic French niçoise salad, this Iberian version uses fresh tuna steaks rather than tinned tuna. Enjoy it for lunch or a light supper. We wouldn’t say no to a glass or two of txakoli or other dry Spanish white wine. Ingredients 2 tuna steaks, each about 6 ounces Extra virgin olive oil,… view recipe
  • Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup Cabbage is ubiquitous in Portuguese vegetable gardens and on Portuguese tables. This flavorful soup reminds me of the wonderful meals I’ve enjoyed at Filipe Madeira’s table, nearly all featuring cabbage in some guise. Ingredients 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced 8 ounces cured Spanish… view recipe
  • Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts While fresh spinach is preferred in this popular Catalonian dish, which can be served as a side dish or appetizer, feel free to use frozen leaf spinach. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach (stem, if the spinach is more mature) 1/4 cup water 2 tablespoons pine nuts 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2… view recipe
  • Zucchini with Onions, Garlic, and Oregano Zucchini with Onions, Garlic, and Oregano Zucchini was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs and is a specialty of Murcia. The following recipe, though simple, makes a great accompaniment to roasted chicken or grilled meats. It is important to keep the heat low to achieve a soft, delicate texture. You can turn the zarangollo into a meal by the… view recipe
  • Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Skillet Banana Bread Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Skillet Banana Bread We love the unexpected combination of dark chocolate, ripe bananas, and olive oil in this visually-appealing skillet dessert. Top, if desired, with whipped cream or a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream, the latter drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Ingredients 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, regular or Dutch… view recipe

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

Presenting Three Fantastici Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Family Farms in Southern Italy

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • These delightful just-pressed olive oils, chosen expressly for you by the Olive Oil Hunter, are from award-winning producers in Sicily, Abruzzo, and Apulia.
  • All were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their extraordinary flavors, aromas, and healthful polyphenols.
  • All three are Club exclusives and are available nowhere else in the US.
  • An independent lab has certified all three to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.

When my phone rang recently at my Asheville, North Carolina, home, it was my friend and colleague, world-renowned olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. He was calling to report that, moments before, he and olive oil producer Claudio Di Mercurio from the Abruzzo region of Italy had concluded a delightful meal at a local restaurant, the food drizzled with just-pressed extra virgin olive oil from Claudio’s farm. How I wish I could’ve joined them for our traditional celebratory post-harvest meal.

The call prompted me to reminisce about all the incredible moments (food-related and otherwise) I’ve enjoyed in Italy, and made me “homesick” for the country that launched my career as the Olive Oil Hunter. I calculate I’ve spent more than a year of my life there. It’s the most olive oil-centric place in the world, home to nearly 550 varieties of olives—an olive oil lover’s paradise. Italy’s relationship with Olea europaea is thousands of years old. It permeates the culture in ways I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Claudio Di Mercurio and T. J. Robinson
In 2018, I made a most fortuitous find: the olive farm of the Claudio Di Mercurio family. For four years now, this family’s lovely oils, pressed from the dependable Dritta olive (it is a native of the Abruzzo region) has graced the winter tables of Club members. Despite the length of our working relationship, Claudio is still astounded that oils from his humble farm are being enjoyed by appreciative Americans.

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

Though it started later than usual in some regions, the current Italian harvest is well underway. The incomparable oils you have received were among the first to be pressed. As a Club member, you know I have always had a strong preference for the vibrant, nuanced flavors and aromas of early-harvest oils. The producers I work with know this and alert me when the moment is just right for the olives. (The “magic window,” I like to call it.)

The last few quarters have been professionally challenging. When it was clear the pandemic would restrict international travel, my team and I adopted an almost militaristic mantra: “improvise, adapt, and overcome.” We marshalled our resources on four continents, ensuring the timely arrival on your doorstep every three months of the world’s finest, freshest extra virgin olive oils.

Duccio Morozzo, Tjeerd Beliën, and Nicola Fazzi
Maintaining and nurturing relationships with the world’s top olive oil producers is extremely important to me. Though unable to travel myself this harvest season, I dispatched Roman olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo (left) and longtime friend Tjeerd Beliën (right) to the Viterbo region to visit Nicola Fazzi (center). Inclusion in my trio of extra virgin olive oils is not guaranteed—or should I say, “set in stone,” unlike this charming Italian village, where the men caught up over cups of espresso.

This quarter, my invaluable “boots on the ground” were Tjeerd Beliën and the aforementioned Duccio. Let me introduce (or reintroduce) them to you.

My dear friend Tjeerd—we met as teenagers in 1996—is a Dutch citizen and an inaugural member of my Merry Band of Tasters. (We hope the Band will be reunited in early 2022!) His beautiful black-and-white photographs have animated the pages of the Pressing Report since 2005. Behind the scenes, he does much, much more: I treasure his help and resourcefulness. This quarter, he put his Europe-based RV at the disposal of the Club, interfaced with prospective and selected producers—he speaks six languages—and went above and beyond to put these extraordinary oils into your hands.

The mellifluously named Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, a much sought-after olive oil sage and master miller based in Rome, has been steering me to some of the Mediterranean’s best producers for over a decade. It was his tip back in 2019 that eventually led to one of this quarter’s most unexpected discoveries—an amazing Coratina from the Di Martino family, whose clan has been in the olive oil business since the 1600s. (Here’s context: the ink was barely dry on Shakespeare’s last plays when this clan, originally from Emilia-Romagna, established a vast olive grove in Apulia.)

Salvatore Cutrera and T. J. Robinson
You look great for your age! And this spectacular tree, located near the mill of olive oil producer Salvatore Cutrera, is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. The age of “old souls” like this is often determined by measuring the circumference of the tree’s trunk and plugging the number into an established formula. Cutrera, who has been producing artisanal olive oil and other Sicilian food products for decades, has many old trees on his farm as well. We wish they could tell us their stories.

Three Distinct EVOOs From Family Farms

And speaking of families, I want to emphasize that all three oils in this sensational trio were produced on family-owned and family-run farms. As Duccio says, we’re talking about Italian families. With brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and cousins. With nonne bustling in the kitchen, making fresh pasta, baking bread, and pretending they’re not listening intently to the conversation at the dining room table. People who are passionate about everything in their lives—especially their familial olive oils.

You can read more about these families and their awesome oils below. But for now, know they are from Abruzzo, Sicily, and Apulia. All thrived in a year that brought disappointment to many Italian olive growers. And all their oils are excellent, clearly potential award-winners. (Competitions for this year’s harvest are not yet accepting entries.)

As always, I anxiously monitored the growing season from afar. Early on, it was clear Central Italy was victimized by a late frost that delayed flowering on the trees. The nascent flowers then wilted in the early, unrelenting heat of summer. An extreme lack of rainfall—zero—exacerbated the problem. I surmised my favorite Tuscan growers would not be in the running for the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club this year. (Last year, some Tuscan oils were superlative, and won big in the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Such is the caprice of Mother Nature.) So I began to focus on southern Italy. And I found gold! “Liquid gold,” that is.

I am especially pleased with the distinctions between the Mild, Medium, and Bold oils I have selected for you, each with different characteristics. Though I always recommend food pairings in the Tasting Notes (see below), I encourage you to experiment in your own kitchen. If you can bear to part with these exclusive olive oils, throw a small tasting party! (Find a guide below.)

I hope these stunning extra virgin olive oils and their accompanying background stories bring joy to you, your family, and friends.

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 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Tonda Iblea, Nocellara del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Salvatore Cutrera Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

This season, Frantoi Cutrera unveiled a spectacular new olive oil producing center. To call it a “mill” seems utterly inadequate: at more than 85,000 square feet, this visionary structure houses a state-of-the-art olive mill, bottling line, warehouse, food production facilities, classrooms for community education and olive oil tasting, and a central gathering area. More than forty years of sweat equity, sacrifice, and internationally award-winning innovation by Salvatore Cutrera and his family have culminated in what could be appropriately characterized as “a cathedral of olive oil.”

You could also call it The House That Olive Oil Built. In 1979, Salvatore’s father, Giovanni, established the family’s first olive mill (frantoio) in Chiaramonte Gulfi, in southeastern Sicily. In time, Giovanni entrusted the day-to-day management of operations to Salvatore and his sisters, Maria and Giusi. Today, Frantoi Cutrera is one of the most decorated olive oil producers in Italy and across the globe. When I first visited Salvatore in Sicily, in 2017, I was astounded to see that the main office was literally plastered with awards: in addition to plaques and statuettes on display, the intricately designed paper on the walls was composed of replica certificates won by Cutrera olive oils. I can only imagine how extraordinary the new office must be!

Frantoi Cutrera is truly a family affair: Salvatore reports that his son, Giovanni, and nephew, Giuseppe, have joined the team, which also includes Salvatore’s wife, his two sisters, and their husbands. “It takes the strength of three families” to produce the finest olive oil, Salvatore notes. The Cutrera mill is always abuzz with creation, noisy and extremely efficient, with round-the-clock hyperkinetic activity during the harvest. Salvatore’s mother, Mary, lives in a house attached to the former mill (only 600 yards from the new workplace), and I wonder how strange it must be for her, now, to have peace and quiet.

The substantial Cutrera groves, which comprise about 250 acres over a patchwork of small farms, nurture just two olive varieties: Tonda Iblea and Nocellara del Belice, both “table olives” (the plump, zesty drupes that, when brined, may make an appearance on an antipasto platter). I am exceedingly fond of EVOO pressed from table olives because the fruit is so flavorful, and so are the resulting oils.

The weather this season, however, had me concerned that there might be no olives at all in Sicily, table or otherwise. First, it was the hottest summer in a century, with no rainfall for five months. According to my trusted colleague Duccio Morozzo, who was on the ground in Italy for the harvest, the slight humidity that accompanied the heat helped to protect the olives from withering on the branches.

Duccio Morozzo and Salvatore Cutrera
Ancient wooden olive presses contrast with the sleek new olive oil production center of Frantoi Cutrera, which pays homage to the historical production methods while raising the bar for technological advancement. Here, master miller Duccio Morozzo (left), my “palate on the ground” in Italy, and celebrated olive oil producer Salvatore Cutrera (right) savor the inaugural creation of the new mill—the dazzling exclusive blend you have just received.

Then, a hurricane hit, bringing two weeks of heavy wind and rain. Olive crops in the eastern part of Sicily were destroyed. Thankfully, the Cutrera groves were shielded by Monte Iblei (the Hyblean Mountains, in English), which span the southeastern provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse, and Catania. The rain was welcome, even if overly intense, as the increase in the olives’ water content allowed the fruit to finish developing, and the blustering winds shook off some defective olives from the trees, effectively “pre-selecting” for the harvest.

Technological advances at the new mill take selection further, as close to perfection as possible. As one of several high-tech experiments of the past few years, Frantoi Cutrera has implemented a system with a sensor that scans the freshly picked fruit as it enters the mill. A targeted blast of air dismisses any substandard specimens at lightning speed. The team can set parameters based on size, shape, coloration, and more, ensuring that only the finest olives make their way to the crusher. Each detail of the milling process has been intentionally planned for optimal quality control. The project was also designed to minimize environmental impact: solar panels generate energy, and water is purified after production for reuse.

Longtime customers feel a sense of collective pride in what the Cutrera family has achieved. “We have grown up together,” Salvatore agrees. The mill could have stayed where it was; the company is world renowned, and they would have continued to excel. But Salvatore and his family do not rest on their laurels. They are always striving to improve, to perfect, to create oil of even more exquisite quality, and to engage more directly with the community.

“This is either an arrival or a new starting point,” proclaimed Salvatore. My response was, “I think it’s both!”

Salvatore Cutrera and T. J. Robinson
I hope the local vendor who regularly stopped at Frantoi Cutrera with gorgeous sun-ripened produce has continued to visit at the new location. (After all, it’s only 600 yards up the road.) In this photo from 2018, Salvatore and I bond as we select tomatoes for dinner—discussing the importance of treating olives as fruit; extolling the virtues of Sicilian eggplant; and recognizing in each other the same intense, slightly crazed commitment to perfection.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

A blend of Sicilian Nocellara del Belice and Tonda Iblea olives, this is the mildest oil in the trio. On the nose, it evokes tomato leaf, lettuce, celery, mint, baby spinach, walnuts, and a whiff of pear, complemented by wheatgrass, Belgian endive, and white pepper. Expect a lush, velvety mouthfeel and distinctly green, grassy flavors with spinach, celery, lime, green tomato, and green apple peel in this well-balanced oil, which also features a bitterness akin to Belgian endive and walnut skins. On the finish, you’ll notice a fresh ginger- and white pepper-like spiciness.

Pair this genial oil with salads, such as those featuring tomatoes, fruit, walnuts, or spinach; chicken and turkey; shrimp, scallops, and lobster; mild fin fish including cod, whitefish, halibut, or sole; fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella, ricotta, or burrata; yogurt; simple pasta dishes; potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, green beans, and carrots; risotto; focaccia or white pizza; and quick breads or biscotti.

This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Mercurius, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Frantoio Mercurius Olive Oil Label

“IT’S THE YEAR OF THE ARTICHOKE!” Claudio di Mercurio exclaimed in a recent social media post announcing this year’s harvest. The savvy producer of Frantoio Mercurius described the eagerly awaited pressings from his olive mill and led with the delightful aromatic profile that had taken him by surprise.

“Sometimes it’s green almond,” he told me, describing the preeminent aroma of the Mercurius oils, when we spoke on a Zoom call during the harvest. “But this year, it is artichoke.” About 70% of the Di Mercurio family’s groves are planted with Dritta, an olive varietal indigenous to the Abruzzo region and, as far as I’ve been able to gather, one that is cultivated nowhere else on earth. (When asked if Dritta grew in other parts of Italy, Claudio said no. Then, after a pause, he mused, “I think there is a cousin, San Felice, in Umbria.” It seemed to me quintessentially Italian to conceive of the related olives as cousins.)

The Italian word dritta means, alternately, “dependable,” “trustworthy,” and “sweet” (genial). The olive Dritta lives up to its name: in all my years as the Olive Oil Hunter, I don’t think I’ve encountered another variety as consistent as this one. Dritta trees produce fruit every year, in contrast to many biennial olive cultivars. To my astonishment, I had never even heard of Dritta prior to the fall of 2018, when I first introduced Claudio’s EVOO to our Club. Now, I’m thrilled to be sharing a dazzling Dritta from Frantoio Mercurius with you for the fourth year in a row. Talk about dependable!

The Mercurius team began producing olive oil in 2010, debuting as Frantoio Hermes, a clever play on the surname Di Mercurio—avid readers of mythology might make the connection between the Greek messenger god, Hermes, and his Roman avatar, Mercury. (Last year, the influential fashion house Hermes—apparently concerned that an ultra-premium olive oil might be confused for a silk scarf—forced the name change.) In its very first pressing year, the producer’s oils won top regional awards and brought the mill to international attention. Ten years of hard work paid off, when its Dritta—the very same oil that you, my lucky Club members, experienced last winter—took highest honors at the 2020 Sirena D’Oro competition, an historical first for Dritta.

Di Mercurio family
The extended Di Mercurio family has warmly welcomed me and my Merry Band of Tasters ever since our first collaboration, in 2018. I have sorely missed our mealtime ritual of carrying a just-pressed bottle of mouth-watering olio nuovo from the mill to the house, passing it around the table, drizzling it on every course: lush greens, harvest soups, meats off the grill, crusty bread, even dessert. I hope you will follow suit, imagining yourselves in Abruzzo, sharing a meal with the Di Mercurios.

I asked Claudio how he had managed to increase production this year, when many other Italian producers have struggled.

“It is the microclimate of Penne,” he confided. The Appenine Mountains divide Italy along its length, he explained, and serve as a protective shield for the ancient city of Penne, which lies in the Abruzzo region to the south. Cradled by the smallish mountain peaks, and with the Mediterranean Sea to its east, Abruzzo typically experiences a very mild spring and is protected from the blistering heat waves of the sort that destroyed many olive crops in the northern half of the country this year.

Location just sets the stage, though—the Frantoio Mercurius team works year-round to facilitate and maintain this kind of consistency. Two years ago, Claudio and his crew experimented with some light pruning of the trees, which increased fruit production. They’re also in the process of building a greenhouse near the mill as a nursery for tiny trees, with the intent of cultivating new varietals on the farm. This season they debuted improvements to the mill that enable accelerated crushing of the fruit, with a cooling system to keep the temperatures low inside the mill.

Claudio Di Mercurio and Tjeerd Beliën
When my colleague Tjeerd arrived at the Mercurius groves this harvest, he immediately noticed the baby olive trees standing next to the main house. Sure enough, the peripatetic Claudio Di Mercurio is building a greenhouse with a nursery and vegetable garden—you can see the framework. I am so eager to travel to Italy once again, to relish the amiable company of Claudio and his family, and, I hope in a few years, to share with my Club the oil pressed from the olives of these young trees.

Aromas—the perfumes of the olive oil, or what we call “the nose” in the tasting notes below—are created in the crusher, when oxygen briefly comes in contact with the aromatic oils released by the fruit. Keeping the crushed olive paste cool is imperative for heightening and preserving those perfumes.

Dritta reflected a different facet of its aromatic profile this year: artichoke. Similar to hazel eyes that look blue, green, or brown in different light, olive varieties manifest different aromas and flavors depending on the variables of the season. Often, of course, one note may be predominant, but many others come into play as well. Claudio cited the cool autumn and a bit of rain right before the harvest as likely influential factors in creating the soft, beguiling artichoke-forward scent of the exclusive oil you have before you. We can’t wait for you to try it.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The nose of this elegant oil captures perfumes reminiscent of shaved raw artichoke, fresh-cut grass, green almond, lime, green banana, kiwi, and escarole, with black pepper and cinnamon. Flavors on the palate include artichoke, almond, and pine nuts balanced with the bitterness of radicchio, arugula, and celery leaf. A protracted, slightly mouth-numbing finish was noticed—“Feel the polyphenols dancing on your tongue,” said one taster.

Pair with hearty salads, such as an Italian chopped salad; charcuterie platters; beans; soups; lamb; veal; duck; salmon; roasted vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, brussels sprouts, and winter squashes, like pumpkin; tomato-based pasta dishes; eggs; crusty breads; vanilla ice cream or panna cotta.

This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Di Martino, Trani, Apulia, Italy 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Frantoio Pruneti Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Because to love a land also means sometimes to clash with it, it means to take on the difficulties and also to value the fruits.

Maria Francesca Di Martino

Meet the dynastic Apulian family that has had a deep and abiding connection to their land and olive groves since 1647. Their vivacious matriarch, olive oil producer Maria Francesca Di Martino, comes from a long line of oil traders who emigrated from northern Italy and settled near Trani, an active port on the Adriatic Sea.

When asked if she was the first woman to run the award-winning farm, Maria Francesca demurred. Family lore, she said, suggests a female ancestor was likely the first, assuming the role when Napoleon imprisoned her husband for revolutionary leanings.

The family’s more recent ancestral history is represented in the company’s official name, which combines the surnames of Maria Francesca’s father and mother. I am reprinting it here in its entirety so you can marvel, as I did, at its length: Aziende Agricole Di Martino – de Luca di Roseto Tupputi Schinosa delle sorelle Di Martino.

Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino  and T. J. Robinson
Acting on a tip from my longtime friend and colleague Italian olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo, I visited the Apulian estate of Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino in 2019. She graciously gave me a tour of her 400-plus acre property and mill. Though I was unable to taste the family’s award-winning oils at that time, the connection I made paid big dividends this year when I secured an amazing Coratina for Club members.

The family’s land holdings were once vast, encompassing some 7,400 acres. Eventually, the farm was divided among the family’s surviving heirs. Maria Francesca astutely acquired contingent pieces of the original property and now manages over 400 acres of monumental centuries-old olive trees, including a grove of gnarled 350-year-old trees fondly called “Oliveto La Dote.” The name roughly translates to “the olive dowry.” Though old photographs on the walls of the family’s stunning antique-filled home picture a vintage mill, most of the olive crop from the 28,000 trees was sold commercially when Maria Francesca took over the business. In 2015, she commissioned a beautiful state-of-the-art mill with a stained-glass ceiling.

The Coratina our Club members received this quarter is an unexpected find, the first single-varietal Italian Coratina I have selected in more than a decade. Originally from Corato, near the ankle of the Italian boot, this sometimes irascible cultivar (the most popular olive in Apulia, which produces 50 percent of Italy’s oil) requires a skilled miller to summon its best qualities. How did I discover this intersection of olive and producer? Acting on a tip from olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, I first visited this historic farm in 2019. Unfortunately, the region’s harvest was not yet underway, so I was unable to sample their oils.

Paolo Saviano and his mother, olive oil producer Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino
In the hands of Paolo Saviano and his mother, olive oil producer Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino, is the culmination of months of work and worry—perfectly ripe, just-picked Coratina olives from trees that are up to 350 years old. Just 22, Paolo recruited the help of olive oil expert Nicolangelo Marsicani, who suggested small but important changes to the farm’s traditional practices that elevated the quality of the oils. The family is eager for you to taste a varietal few Americans experience.

But this year, the planets were in alignment! Several developments put the estate’s Coratina in my sights once again. A chance meeting at a food exhibition between Maria Francisco’s 22-year-old son, Paolo, and olive oil expert Nicolangelo Marsicani set the chain of events into motion. Paolo, then an agricultural student steeped in the nearly 400-year olive oil legacy of the family farm, was fascinated by Marsicani’s more modern approach to olive oil production. (Coincidentally, Nicolangelo is a friend of Duccio’s, an example of how small the world of quality olive oil really is. And how invaluable good connections are!)

Paolo then invited the detail-oriented master miller to the farm to assess the mill and the farm’s agricultural practices. By implementing what Paolo characterized as small changes, such as daily deep-cleaning of the milling equipment and the installation of a filtering system, the next harvest was transformed; the oils were more refined, more elegant. An “ugly duckling to swan” story.

Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino examines Coratina olives with her son, Paolo Saviano
Determining optimum ripeness is one of the most important variables in producing a high-quality EVOO. (Your Olive Oil Hunter generally prefers early-harvest oils.) Here, olive oil producer Maria Francesca Schinosa Di Martino, whose family has grown olives for nearly 400 years, examines Coratina olives with her son, Paolo Saviano—the same olives that were pressed for one of the oils in the trio you just received.

At first, Maria Francesca was a bit resistant to the changes young Paolo insisted on making, citing the family’s long history with olives. But Nicolangelo’s influence has subtly but dramatically shifted this farm’s trajectory. He worked closely with the farm’s miller of three years, Michele Siniscalchi Montereale. With Duccio translating, Michele poetically compared olives to a sculptor’s raw chunks of marble: “You have to find and bring out the beauty in them.” To his credit, Michele has certainly brought out the best in this exquisite, polyphenol-rich Coratina.

The Di Martino family is exceedingly proud to share this extra virgin olive oil with the discriminating palates that populate the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. (I’ve tried to train you well!) They will be so eager to hear your comments. As will I.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Pressed from 100% Coratina olives, this intriguing oil is intensely green—bold, but not overwhelming. On the nose, it presents arugula, basil, kale, artichoke, fennel, rosemary, and golden apple, with bass notes of hazelnut and black pepper. On the palate? It’s like pesto in a bottle.` You might detect chicory, artichoke, watercress, wheatgrass, spinach, lime zest, Tuscan kale, and fresh green almond, with the spiciness of black pepper and the astringency of green tea. It crescendos to a sensational, nuanced finish.

We suggest pairing this muscular yet remarkably food-friendly oil with steak or grilled meats; game meats or birds; hearty soups, stews, and braises; tuna, swordfish, or oilier fish like mackerel; aged cheeses (it could even stand up to blue cheeses like Gorgonzola); grilled radicchio or eggplant; caponata or ratatouille; grains and beans; cruciferous vegetables; dark chocolate, including baked goods like cakes or brownies; and chocolate mousse.

Olive Oil and Health

Mediterranean Diet May Confer Long-Range Health Benefits to Teenagers/Adolescents

Based on the study by Giuseppina Augimeri, et al, published in Antioxidants (July 2021)

Teenagers who more closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood serum, which may have a positive impact on preventing metabolic and chronic diseases later in life, the results of a new study show.

Researchers in Calabria also measured higher levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activity in the serum of the adolescents who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet, compared to teenagers who were medium or poor adherers.

Study Design: The study used the Mediterranean Diet Quality Index for children and teenagers (KIDMED) to assess adherence to the Mediterranean diet among the 77 participants, public high school students ages 14 to 17 (36 girls and 41 boys).

Participants provided reports on their meals every 24 hours through scheduled daily telephone calls with nutritionists. A value of +1 was assigned to the intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, dairy products, fish, nuts, and olive oil. A value of −1 was assigned to skipping breakfast, eating fast food, and consuming baked goods or sweets. Data on the methods of food preparation, ingredients used in prepared dishes, and serving size were also collected.

Daily nutrition results were scored from 0 to 12, and adherence to the Mediterranean diet was classified in 3 groups: a daily average of >8 points (“optimal”); 4 to 7 (“medium”); and <3 points (“poor”). Blood samples were taken at the study’s outset and at the 6-month point.

Results: At 6 months, 43 percent of participants scored in the “optimal” category; 48 percent scored in the “medium” category; and 9 percent scored in the “poor” category.

Among the “optimal” group, there was clear evidence of higher levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activity in blood serum, compared with the “medium” and “poor” adherers. And, although all 3 groups consumed a similar daily amount of calories, the “optimal” group had a significantly higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, found in olive oil and nuts), total dietary fiber, and vitamins B2 and C, compared to “poor” adherers.

These results strongly reinforce the importance of a healthy diet for adolescents. The investigators intend to continue to study the effects on young people of consuming a Mediterranean diet—future areas of focus will include the polyphenol content of various foods.

Takeaway: Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet in adolescents is linked to higher levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activity, which may help prevent metabolic and chronic diseases in adulthood.

Reference: Augimeri G, Galluccio A, Caparello G, et al. Potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of serum from healthy adolescents with optimal Mediterranean diet adherence: findings from DIMENU cross-sectional study. Antioxidants. 2021;10:1172. doi:10.3390/antiox10081172

Kudos from Club Members

Top quality
First let me say that your olive oil is one of the best things that has happened to us in the last ten years. We are SO happy with this membership—the olive oil is top quality and we enjoy the recipes and descriptions of how our oil came to be and from whence it came. One of our favorite things to do is enlighten our friends. Without fail, they are as astounded as we were to realize that they had never before tasted the good stuff! (I know you have at least two other memberships from these private tastings.) There are five large-ish humans in our household and all are now olive-oil snobs. We run out between shipments. I would like to add an additional membership to our same address… but of the smaller bottles. That way we never run out… and if there is extra, we have the perfect hostess gift (and can continue spreading the good word.)
Gianna M.Manhattan Beach, CA


  • Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce Nearly any kind of mild fish can be enhanced with salmoriglio, a centuries-old sauce with uncertain beginnings that is popular in southern Italy. We also love it on potatoes, chicken, and shrimp or other shellfish. Ingredients For the Fish: White vinegar2 pounds fish fillets, such as trout, halibut, or wild salmon, with or without skinCoarse… view recipe
  • Oven-Roasted Eggplant Oven-Roasted Eggplant I enjoy multiple variations of this yummy recipe. Some of my finishing options: 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves; a drizzle of fresh lemon juice; parsley, chives or green onions; a drizzle of honey and chopped, fresh rosemary; a drizzle of good quality aged balsamic vinegar; a dollop of yogurt. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds eggplant (2… view recipe
  • Lemon and Olive Oil Panna Cotta Lemon and Olive Oil Panna Cotta This classic Italian dessert (panna cotta translates to “cooked cream”) is simultaneously rich-tasting, yet light. For a festive touch, substitute orange zest for lemon zest, then garnish with candied orange peel and/or fresh pomegranate arils. We used an olive oil of medium intensity. Ingredients 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin 1 tablespoon cold water 2… view recipe
  • Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta Though sold year round, brussels sprouts are at their best after the first frost. (Near the holidays, you can sometimes find them still on the stalk.) Diced pancetta and balsamic vinegar make these an unforgettable side dish. Another plus? The sprouts can be braised on the stovetop, freeing up valuable real estate in your oven.… view recipe
  • Lentil Soup Lentil Soup You likely have everything you need in your pantry to make this hearty and filling soup. Feel free to use green French lentils or the more common (and less expensive) brown variety. Blending a portion of the soup gives it a creamy texture. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1… view recipe
  • Orecchiette with Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Orecchiette with Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale The sweetness of butternut squash makes the leap to savory when paired with fresh-pressed olive oil, sage, and kale. Of course, butternut squash can be notoriously difficult to peel and cube. We’ve found it’s easier if you slice the top and bottom off with a sharp knife, then microwave the squash for 3 to 4… view recipe
  • Sicilian-Style Meatballs Sicilian-Style Meatballs Sicilian-style meatballs can be distinguished from others by the unexpected but delightful addition of currants and pine nuts. While many traditional cooks fry their meatballs on the stovetop before simmering them in tomato sauce, we prefer to bake ours on a wire rack positioned over a rimmed sheet pan. (The meatballs retain their shape and… view recipe
  • Italian-Style Porchetta Italian-Style Porchetta Loaded with flavor, this fancy version of a pork roast looks stunning when served whole on a platter, or it can be sliced thinly for sandwiches. Olive oil keeps it moist as it roasts. (Be sure to buy the larger loin roast, not pork tenderloin.) Ingredients 4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 1/4 cup… view recipe
  • Garden Pasta Alla Di Mercurio Garden Pasta Alla Di Mercurio My colleague, master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, and I created this dish during a visit to the Di Mercurio farm and mill. The tomato puree we used is called passata. Find it at larger supermarkets or online. Or use another premium tomato puree, such as one made from San Marzano tomatoes. Ingredients Coarse salt… view recipe
  • Italian Chopped Salad-Romaine & Radicchio Italian Chopped Salad Like an Italian deli in a bowl, this salad combines colorful greens with crispy roasted chickpeas, salami, and provolone. The original recipe was heavy on radicchio and endive, both of which can be bitter. We tamed them with the addition of romaine hearts and added tangy pepperoncini as an option. Substantial enough to serve as… view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

Good Fortune Down Under: Three Spectacular Oils from the “Best Harvest in a Decade”

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • These shimmering beauties have been rushed to the US by jet (even in this time of limited travel) to preserve their exquisite flavors and nutritional content.
  • All three are Club exclusive blends, created expressly by yours truly.
  • All three have been independently lab tested to certify they are 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Expand your menus with the Aussie-inspired recipes featuring these vibrant, exceedingly food-friendly oils.

G’day, Mate!

I love Australia—its friendly people, its vibrant food culture melding international cuisines, the bustling, beautiful cities, and the stunning rural landscape. Our annual Australian olive oil quest usually begins in Melbourne and concludes in Sydney, where the Merry Band of Tasters and I regroup to celebrate before heading home. Several years ago, in 2014, the celebration took a special turn for the romantic when my then fiancée, Meghan, and I got engaged (see photo below). You can imagine why Australia has a special claim on my heart.

I held out hope that a trip to Oz would be possible this season, but ongoing travel restrictions shelved those plans. Once again, your trusty Olive Oil Hunter shifted into long-distance-logistics mode to conduct a remote hunt, drawing on the steadfast and treasured relationships I’ve built over the years to fulfill our mission of providing you with the finest, freshest olive oils on earth.

T. J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter and fiancée Meghan Wells
If only I could sing, I would’ve burst out with an aria! This photo documents my 2014 engagement to Meghan (now my wife), and we’re celebrating on the pier near the iconic Sydney Opera House. I’ve spent a total of a year of my life in Australia hunting for spectacular olive oils, delighting in the vivid culture, amazing food, and incredible people. This special land that locals call “the lucky country” has extended its good fortune to our Club again this season with the best olive harvest in a decade.

Australia: The Startup Kid

If you’re new to the Club, you might be wondering, “Australia? I didn’t even know they made olive oil.” They do, and it’s fantastic! Australia produces some of the world’s most acclaimed ultra-premium olive oil, with exquisite flavors and peak polyphenol content. The antipodal olive oil scene is young, energetic, and deeply innovative—described as a “hoodie-wearing tech startup kid in a room full of suits,” in contrast to the fusty approaches of many European producers. And, because Australia’s seasons are the opposite of ours, at this time of year the freshest, most flavorful olive oils in the world come from the Southern Hemisphere.

This year’s harvest is being hailed as the best in a decade, so, if this is your first experience of Australian olive oils, you are in for an extraordinary treat!

I’ve been scouting Down Under for at least 15 years. All in all, I estimate that I’ve spent a year of my life in Oz—after the 10,000-mile air journey from North Carolina, I make it a point to stay a while. My Merry Band and I often cover thousands of miles within Australia itself, as its land mass is 3/4 the size of the US but with about a tenth of the population. Most of my olive-growing contacts are in the southeastern state of Victoria, where traveling between farms can take several hours.

How the Olive Got Down Under

Olives were introduced to “the lucky country” by 19th-century Italian and Greek immigrants who, lore has it, cleverly smuggled olive plants into their new homeland by sewing the cuttings into the hems and lapels of their clothing. With a climate mirroring that of the Mediterranean, Australia provided a welcoming olive habitat. In 1895, industrious growers established an olive research station at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, seeking to promote olives as a viable cash crop. But enthusiasm dwindled and the olive project was abandoned as Australia’s main agricultural focus turned to cattle ranching.

A century later, in 1995, in a wave of renewed interest, the contemporary olive oil scene got a jump start with the founding of the Australian Olive Association (AOA), which established some of the world’s highest standards for olive oil purity and nutritional content. Suddenly, olive groves cropped up across the Victorian countryside—tax incentives helped smaller farmers plant new groves or rehabilitate existing ones, and local fresh-pressed olive oil became a sought-after commodity at farmer’s markets. Many of those growers were weekend warriors with backyard groves, but some of them have endured to develop into celebrated full-time olive oil producers, with dazzling results. In a little more than a quarter century, Australian olive oil has risen to reap top awards at international olive oil competitions and is prized at home and around the globe.

T. J. Robinson, Melissa Wong, and Jill Barson
AuLife founder Melissa Wong (second from right, in 2017) has been instrumental in establishing a foothold for our Club in Australia. Not only do her tastes closely match my own, she also knows everybody in the foodie world, and her thoughtful connections have helped us build a loyal network of Australian olive oil experts. In previous seasons we’ve kicked off the Aussie olive oil quest with a grand tasting of outstanding oil samples at Melissa’s home in Melbourne. This season, the esteemed olive oil connoisseur Jill Barson (pictured here at far left) joined Melissa to curate the contenders that were then overnighted to me in the US.

Hands Across the Water

I’ve forged long-lasting relationships with Aussie olive oil experts, chief among them my dear friends Leandro Ravetti and Melissa Wong, whom you’ll get to know in this Pressing Report. Leandro, one of the world’s leading experts on olive horticulture and olive oil production, wrote the current set of rigorous AOA standards. Melissa is my trusted “heels on the ground” with an impeccable palate, scouting the best of the Aussie season for me in advance. Traditionally, my Merry Band and I begin each Aussie quest with a grand tasting at Melissa’s gracious home in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak (see photo above).

Leandro and Melissa both sent early word that this season’s olive harvest was truly “once in a decade.” Weather conditions were perfect and the fruit quality was fantastic. In a groundbreaking move for the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, Melissa’s legwork yielded a spectacular Picual from Tasmania, the heart-shaped island about 150 miles off of Australia’s southeastern coast, across the Bass Strait. Named for the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, Tasmania is located at the same latitude as Tuscany—just flipped across the equator—and has a similar temperature range.

I fervently missed being there but was relieved that Mother Nature had allowed for a superlative harvest in light of the many logistical challenges to overcome. Leandro, Melissa, and I conducted extensive Zoom tastings and blending sessions to create the brilliant blends that you now have in hand.

I can’t transport you to Australia with your soulmate (although I wish I could), but I suspect strongly that you’ll fall in love when you engage with these magnificent, delightfully food-friendly oils from the opposite side of the earth!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti 2021, Boort, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Leandro Ravetti Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The headline, published by the Australian Broadcasting Company, confirmed what your Olive Oil Hunter already knew: “Victorian Olive Producers Revel in Best Season to Date.” Not only did I have samples of premium oils from this Aussie state lined up on my table, but I’d just concluded a Zoom call with Leandro Ravetti, a valued longtime friend of my Club.

“It’s been a fantastic season, the best in a decade!” Leandro crowed, confirming what my Australian scouts reported. The trees, he said, emerged strong from a wet, cool winter, flowered profusely, and set branch-bending amounts of fruit. A summer with ideal conditions followed, sparing the trees from destructive temperature spikes and bush fires. “Farmers love to complain, but we didn’t have much to complain about this year,” he noted with relief.

There was one peculiarity about this season’s Australian harvest: the olives began ripening earlier than usual, blindsiding some producers. However, a weeks-long lull in the process occurred when cool but stable autumn air descended on Southeastern Australia. This slowdown—call it “arrested development”—effectively prolonged the harvest. The phenomenon delivered big benefits to growers and consumers.

First, extra days on the tree enabled the fruit to develop more nuanced aromas and flavors, even in the early-harvest olives I favor. You’ll notice these sensory expressions when you taste the oils. And the delayed arrival of killing frosts—which quickly slam the harvest window shut on the best olives—made this a banner year for Victoria.

Second, growers had more time to react to one of this season’s biggest challenges: an acute shortage of farm labor. Australia, you see, has long relied on a pool of international workers to harvest its produce. According to Olive Oil Times, as many as 200,000 backpackers were employed as farm laborers prior to the pandemic, fulfilling almost 80 percent of the country’s seasonal needs. Most have returned to their
respective countries.

Leandro conceded that staffing was more difficult this year, but he managed with about 90 percent of his usual harvest crew. The team simply worked longer hours. Anecdotally, Leandro told me some growers of highly perishable produce—he mentioned peaches—were paying significantly higher hourly wages and offering signing bonuses as large as $5,000 to entice workers.

T. J. Robinson and Leandro Ravetti
This photo (from my 2014 album) brought to mind a conversation I had recently with olive oil authority Leandro Ravetti. We agreed that millers often get all the love, but it’s the agronomist or farm manager who makes the magic happen by caring for the trees day to day, making decisions that will directly impact the quality of the finished oils. The award-winning Leandro plays both roles.

In addition to the epic Australian harvest, Leandro is celebrating his 20th year in Australia. (Originally, he intended to stay just two years.) The Argentinean graduated with honors in 1996 with a degree in agricultural engineering from the National University of Catamarca before completing post-
graduate work in Italy and Spain. In 2001, the rising star was recruited by Modern Olives of Lara, Victoria. As the technical director of the company, which offers laboratory and consulting services, Leandro quickly established himself as one of the world’s most influential olive oil experts.

As comfortable in a sweatshirt as a bespoke suit (echoing his ability to diplomatically straddle the crevices between Old and New World producers), the youthful-looking Leandro marvels at the places his training has taken him. “When I came here as an agronomist, it was with the thought of improving olive oil quality standards. I only intended to stay two years. It’s truly been an amazing journey.” And though he recently moved to a lust-worthy waterfront apartment in Geelong, a 3-hour drive from Boort, this guy shows no signs of slowing down.

I have worked closely with Leandro for more than a decade. Our mission? To help my Club members build what we call “taste libraries” in the way wine connoisseurs who know their grapes do. Like me, he is continually refining his own sensory catalogue, and appreciates the top-tier oils I’ve sent him from Europe and Chile—the same oils my Club members receive. (He was very eager to try the rare Tasmanian Picual; read about it below.)

A funny story: Last year, I sent the Australian oils to Leandro’s parents in Argentina, knowing they’d be proud to see his name on the label. “They were,” he reported. “But my mother said she actually preferred the Nullamunjie.” We had quite a laugh over that.

The exclusive Leandro Ravetti blend you just received features two incredible extra virgin oils. One is an intriguing Picual, a Spanish varietal that seldom appears in the Club’s mildest selection. The second is a stunning Coratina, one of the finest he’s produced, says Leandro. What a special privilege it is, dear Club member, to taste the best extra virgin olive oils in over a decade from a passionate producer a half a world away!

T. J. Robinson and Leandro Ravetti
His extraordinary knowledge and expertise are in demand on every continent where olive oil is produced and/or judged. Yet, master miller Leandro Ravetti has always been generous with his time during my visits to Australia. He is very attuned to my preference for premium early-harvest oils, annually reserving the most promising sections of his groves for our Club. Behind us, the striking photo is an enlargement of olive tree cuttings.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This fragrant oil shows the softer side of Picual and Coratina, typically muscular cultivars. It’s a dazzling golden-green in the glass, the nose evoking green banana, endive, golden apple, and marzipan along with the green herbal notes of tomato leaf, sweet basil, and baby spinach. Rich and harmonic in the mouth, redolent of banana, green beans, and celery, with the bitterness of endive. Expect a lingering, white pepper finish.

Try this food-friendly oil with eggs or dairy (yogurt, mild cheeses, ice cream); fruit or vegetable smoothies; granola; pasta; yellow curries; potatoes; roasted yams; crudités; salads; autumn fruits; chicken, pork, and turkey; shellfish, especially lobster, or mild fin fish; baked goods including quick breads.

This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie 2021 Blend, Tongio, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Nullamunjie 2021 Blend Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil label

The late Danish comedian and musician Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Which explains how 10,000 miles and 14 time zones seem to fall away when I speak to one of my dear friends, olive oil producer Annie Paterson, via video conferencing. Because we laugh. A lot. Ask my Merry Band of Tasters, who remember fondly all the chuckles, giggles, and gleeful moments we’ve shared during our many visits to Annie’s hillside olive groves and mill. Hilarity has always run like a strong thread through our relationship with this remarkable woman.

The entrepreneurial fire was kindled in Annie (real name: Annetta) when she was in her early twenties. Captivated by the beautiful olive trees she saw from a tour bus en route to Delphi, Greece, Annie was convinced they would thrive in the rocky, mineral-rich soil of her family’s Victorian cattle ranch. Her instincts were spot-on: Southeastern Victoria and southern Greece are roughly equidistant from the Earth’s equator. Both are located near the 37th parallel and have similar climates. But olive groves were a rarity in Australia at that time, and Annie’s father, perhaps trying to protect her from disappointment, declined to sell the young woman land.

She married and raised four children before realizing her dream. In 1998, Annie acquired property in East Gippsland at the base of Mt. Stawell. Part of the land’s appeal was its proximity to the Tambo River and the scenic Great Alpine Road. Six hundred olive trees were planted initially, including Frantoio, Correggiola, and Leccino. All are Italian varietals that have adapted well to the microclimates of the Victorian Alps. Today, the energetic pearl-wearing grandmother oversees some 3,000 trees. From my perspective, that’s an optimal number for a hands-on grove owner to manage: neither too big nor too small.

And Annie is nothing if not hands-on. In one of my favorite images of her, she is smiling broadly while wearing a hardhat and wielding a chainsaw. “I absolutely love pruning,” she said. She employs a post-harvest technique called vase-pruning that she learned at a New Zealand olive oil conference. Select scaffold branches are pruned to within a foot of the trunk, maximizing sun exposure to the tree’s center and maintaining the tree’s overall health and compact, harvest-friendly shape.

Heneli and Emma Halafihi
“Intelligent, enthusiastic, and best of all, cheerful,” is how Annie Paterson, the proprietress of Nullamunjie, describes Heneli and Emma Halafihi. For the past four years, Emma has helped Annie operate The Pressing Shed Café (in Australia, olive mills are called pressing sheds). She is Annie’s second-in-command. Heneli joined Annie’s team in January and has taken on the duties of farm manager.

Speaking of harvests, Annie had my team and me in stitches recently during a mirthful Zoom-enabled reunion.

With her irrepressible good humor, she recounted her attempts to hire dependable olive pickers. The usual pool of willing and experienced labor including family, “grey nomads” (older roving farm workers), and the occasional backpacker had all but dried up due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Her version of the story could’ve inspired an episode of I Love Lucy. But the resourceful Annie eventually cobbled together a harvest team with “can-do” attitude (including secondary school students on break) that wasn’t afraid of hard work and that treated her tender olives with care and respect.

Near perfect weather conditions meant most producers on Australia’s east coast enjoyed improvements over 2020 in olive quality and yields. Many Victorian producers—Annie included—enjoyed one of their best seasons in a decade.

Social gatherings are still restricted in parts of Australia, meaning Annie’s popular restaurant, The Pressing Shed Café, is temporarily closed. Brisk local sales of her extra virgin olive oils keep her busy, however, and remind her of the renewed interest in home cooking. She also has a new puppy—a rambunctious Cairn terrier—that joyfully joins her on quiet walks in the olive grove.

The extra virgin olive oil you just received is a unique blend created exclusively for members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. It’s a very well-balanced and versatile oil, one I know you’ll enjoy with your seasonal menus.

T. J. Robinson and Annie Paterson
Preparing and sharing meals with Annie Paterson, the founder of Nullamunjie, has always been a joyful activity for me and my Merry Band of Tasters, one we can’t wait to resume. A seat at her table guarantees you’ll eat exceedingly well, consume lots of just-pressed extra virgin olive oil (it’s featured in every course, including dessert), and laugh until your sides ache. In this photo, taken in 2016, Annie and I select portobellos for a stuffed mushroom appetizer we made up on the spot.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

This exquisite blend is grassy and herbaceous on the nose, delivering fresh basil, thyme, parsley, artichoke, and green almond with pear and baby arugula. Romaine lettuce leads in the mouth. Also wheatgrass, green apple, almond, rosemary, and wild mint. Enjoy a green tea-like astringency on the finish as well as the pepperiness of arugula.

Pair with coarse bread and salt; white beans, lentils, and chickpeas; broccoli; flatbreads; roasted or grilled meats; pesto; oilier fish such as salmon, tuna, or barramundi; sturdy greens; roasted squash, turnips, parsnips, or carrots; roasted pears or apples; charcuterie; and chocolate desserts.

This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: AuLife 2021, Toorak, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Correggiola, Picual
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
AuLife 2021 Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil label

Have you ever enjoyed a dish that was elevated to an entirely different plane by the addition of a minuscule amount of a special, maybe even precious ingredient? I’m thinking, for example, of floral-tasting Persian saffron added to Arborio rice to make Risotto Milanese. Just a few golden-red threads do the trick. Or fresh pasta dusted with delicate shavings of earthy but extravagant white truffle.

The outstanding Tasmanian Picual featured in this distinctive blend is one of those transformative ingredients, the gold dust to Homer’s “liquid gold”—the ancient world’s term for olive oil. And we have my longtime friend Melissa Wong to thank for this taste experience, dear Club member.

I first met the vivacious Melissa, a Columbia and Harvard alum, in New York when we were both involved with the Food Network. Later, the worldly Melissa (she was born in British Columbia to Chinese immigrants) indulged her entrepreneurial ambitions by opening an Italian restaurant in Beijing with a Michelin 2-star chef. After relocating to Melbourne with her attorney husband, Robert, she founded AuLife to promote Australian olive oils and other fine foods from Down Under.

I could not have predicted that years later, Melissa would play such an important role in my quest to put the world’s finest extra virgin olive oils on Club members’ tables. She has hosted olive oil tastings for me and my Merry Band of Tasters at her lovely Toorak home, introduced me to several New World olive oil authorities, scouted tirelessly for the best Aussie producers, and managed with her characteristic charm and competence many pesky logistical details.

Melissa’s experience and refined palate—not to mention the discovery of the aforementioned Picual—helped me fine-tune this special blend sourced from Victorian and Tasmanian oils. Melissa’s extensive contacts, even in a pandemic-challenged year, made it possible.

Melissa Wong and T. J. Robinson
Melbourne-based food authority, the indomitable Melissa Wong, has been a dear friend for 20 years. We have similar palates, making our collaboration on the boldest oil in your trio, AuLife, relatively easy despite the necessity of conducting our tastings remotely. Thankfully, she wasn’t intimidated by the logistical challenge I gave her of combining two Victorian oils
with one (a Club first) from the island of Tasmania.

We started with pressings from two award-winning producers, both familiar to us and longtime Club members: an exceptional Coratina from Boort master miller and olive oil expert Leandro Ravetti (read more about him below), and an equally stunning Correggiola from Kyneton Olive Oil. Both varietals are originally from Italy and typically have high polyphenol levels. They make up the bulk of this blend. Though I found the combination brilliant, I craved a tad more structure and intensity. A small dose of a boutique Picual was…well…just what the doctor ordered.

As a matter of fact, Tasmanian producer Fiona Makowski is a medical doctor. She and her husband, Glenn, bought their 50-acre farm (called Freshfield Grove) near Hobart eight years ago. Together, they tend about 1,000 trees, a mix of Picual and Manzanilla varietals, that were planted by the property’s previous owners. A diminutive on-site mill enables them to press their olives promptly, often within minutes! Pre-pandemic, they also hosted a popular community-wide pressing for people with smaller quantities of fruit. They hope to resume the tradition next season.

For Fiona, a native of the UK, living in Tasmania—population 500,000—is a dream come true. (Glenn is originally from Hobart.) The island state is the smallest in Australia, separated from the main continent by the Bass Strait. Nearly half the land is dedicated to national parks, wilderness areas, and World Heritage sites. It hosts some of the planet’s most eccentric wildlife, including the Tasmanian devil, a cute but famously ill-tempered marsupial about the size of a small dog.

Fiona Makowski in the Olive Pressing Room
Fiona Makowski and her husband, Glenn, founded Freshfield Grove in 2014 after purchasing a 50-acre farm in Tasmania’s picturesque Coal River Valley. It was a bold move, given that the couple knew little about olives (Fiona is a physician). So it’s fitting that their bold Picual blew me away. The Makowskis are thrilled that their small-batch boutique oil is in the hands of Club members. Me, too!

Fiona says she and Glenn knew little about olives when they acquired the farm. But she is an enthusiastic researcher. A week’s immersion in Italy’s olive oil culture also helped the young couple get their bearings. Still, Fiona found pruning to be intimidating. “I was so afraid I’d kill the trees,” she laughed. “And some of them did have a weird shape for a while.” Her long-term goal is to maintain the trees’ compact shape for easier hand-harvesting. Today, Fiona is the president of the Tasmanian chapter of the Australian Olive Association (AOA) and mentors other less experienced growers. “I am so excited to send our oils to faraway shores,” she gushed.

Of all the olive-growing regions in the world, Tasmania is among the most extreme. Leandro Ravetti recalls a certain Tassie slogan: “Cool food from wild places.” Frost is a frequent seasonal threat in the higher southern latitudes for the slow-to-ripen olives. Yet Tasmanian oils, Leandro points out, often steal the show at AOA-sponsored competitions.

This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to send my Club members a blend containing a Tasmanian Picual and such outstanding exemplars of Coratina and Correggiola. These New World expressions of Old World flavors will be a thrilling addition to your cool-weather table. Please let me know what you think!

Italian master miller Davide Bruno obtained a special visa to work in Victoria during the Australian harvest; his formidable skills were deemed “critical.” After a 14-day quarantine, he resumed his seasonal duties at Kyneton Olive Oil. Davide, from Liguria, oversaw the pressing of one of the key components of the AuLife blend, an outstanding Correggiola. This bold oil is truly a melding of the Old (Italy) and New (Australia) worlds.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

The grassy olfactory profile of this truly international blend includes Tuscan kale, ripe tomato, kiwi, citrus, thyme, watercress, and a bit of nuttiness. Bitter—almost chewy—in the mouth, but very well-balanced. We tasted lime zest, radicchio, fennel, tomato leaf, dried bay leaf, and parsley. Also the spiciness of watercress and Szechuan peppercorns.

This is a powerful oil, a match for beef or lamb; duck or game birds; salmon or mackerel; tomato-based dishes such as marinara or pizza; aged cheeses; roasted root vegetables; dark, robust greens; cruciferous vegetables; kidney or black beans; and dark chocolate.

Olive Oil and Health

The Effects of the MIND and Mediterranean Diets on Parkinson’s Disease

Adapted from an article by Dr. Rebecca Gilbert, American Parkinson’s Disease Association, May 4, 2021

New research into the best diets for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) reveals the Mediterranean and MIND diets may be associated with later age of onset of PD. Components of a Mediterranean diet include vegetables; fruits; whole grains; legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils; nuts; low-fat proteins, such as fish and poultry; and olive oil.

Another diet, known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, was designed to help treat and prevent high blood pressure and emphasizes many of the same principles as the Mediterranean diet. More recently, experts suggested a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, meant to maximize cognitive benefits. It is entitled the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. Components of the MIND diet include green, leafy vegetables; all other vegetables; berries; whole grains; beans; nuts; poultry; fish; red wine; and olive oil.

The principles of the MIND diet are very similar to the Mediterranean diet, with some notable additions. The MIND diet recommends green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale as the first choice over other vegetables. Berries (such as blueberries) are specifically promoted, as opposed to fruit in general. A small amount of red wine daily is also encouraged. (Please discuss this with your doctor.)

Why do these diets work?

The scientific underpinnings as to why these diets affect brain health are not fully understood and likely consist of a combination of different positive benefits—some of which have been established and others that have not. It is possible that the established heart benefits of the diets drive some of the brain health benefits. That is, the diets promote healthy hearts and clean blood vessels and therefore support excellent blood flow to the brain. It is well established that vascular disease in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline as well as the motor symptoms of Parkinsonism. Therefore, ensuring that the brain achieves good blood flow has positive benefits on brain health for everyone, especially those who have a disease such as PD.

In addition, specific components of the foods encouraged in these diets may work on the cellular level to protect neurons from cell death or decrease neuroinflammation. But knowing which elements are conferring the benefit is not straightforward. To date, researchers have not been able to identify a specific nutritional supplement that achieved the type of benefits in clinical trial demonstrated in this diet study. Currently, therefore, the best way to ingest the nutrients that protect the brain is through a comprehensive dietary plan and not by taking a defined group of supplements.


  • A new study has demonstrated that the MIND and Mediterranean diets are associated with a delay in onset of PD symptoms
  • Both of these diets emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil
  • The MIND diet adds green leafy vegetables and berries as important elements

Reference: Metcalfe-Roach A, Yu A, Golz E, et al. MIND and Mediterranean diets associated with later onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Mov Disord. 2021;36(4):977-984. doi: 10.1002/mds.28464.

Kudos from Club Members

Superior quality product
Received my free bottle yesterday! I immediately got out my “name brand” olive oils from the grocery store to do a mini tasting. WHAT AN AMAZING DIFFERENCE, both in the nose as well as the mouthfeel and taste! My son, who is 23, was here, and I just had to have him sniff and taste, too. At first he was an unbeliever and didn’t want to, but when he tasted it, he quickly became a believer! After explaining the program to him, he asked me how much it was. I was reluctant to tell him, imagining he would deride me for the “extravagance.” But once I told him, he said, “That’s not bad, Mom, because you’re getting a superior quality product.” 😀 Oh! One other thing—I was very much impressed with the brochure containing the history, tasting notes, food pairings, and recipes! A beautiful, delightful addition to the overall experience! This morning, I could barely wait to get up and make scrambled eggs, drizzled with 100% EVOO and garnished with fresh basil! Delish! Like no other eggs I’ve had before— simply flooded my palate with flavor!


  • Grilled Tuna Grilled Tuna with Red Wine, Caper, and Olive Sauce Though deeply rooted in ancient Greece, this piquant dish is sensational when made with premium Australian olive oils and wines. If you can, buy sushi-grade tuna steaks. view recipe
  • Tonnato Tonnato This versatile Italian sauce is traditionally served over poached veal. But we love it on chicken, crudités, cooked vegetables (like green beans), and even as a sandwich spread. For mayo, try Japanese Kewpie, Duke’s, Hellmann’s, or Best Foods. You can customize the tonnato by adding a pinch of red pepper flakes, a splash of hot… view recipe
  • Sheet Pan Chicken and Mushrooms Sheet Pan Chicken and Mushrooms Perfect for a weeknight, this easy meal (it can be served right from the sheet pan, which reduces clean-up time) is more impressive when made with different varieties of mushrooms. Feel free to substitute chicken breasts for the thighs if you or your family prefer white meat. view recipe
  • Burrata with Grilled Grapes and Basil Ottolenghi’s Burrata with Grilled Grapes and Basil Delight family or dinner guests with this decadent cream-filled cheese (a member of the pasta filata, or “pulled cheese,” family). Here, it’s partnered with sweet grilled grape skewers and exquisite best-quality olive oil. For the salt, I recommend Australia’s flaky, apricot-colored Murray River salt. view recipe
  • Smoked Salmon and Nori Rolls Smoked Salmon and Nori Rolls Luscious hot-smoked salmon is a specialty of the island of Tasmania, an offshore Australian state. A bit of wasabi gives these colorful rolls a “devilish” flavor profile. If you prefer, replace the edamame spread with a schmear of cream cheese mixed with wasabi paste. A mandoline is a handy tool for slicing the cukes. view recipe
  • Spice-Rubbed Greek-Style Lamb Burgers Spice-Rubbed Greek-Style Lamb Burgers My wife, Meghan, and I love the bold flavors of these grilled lamb burgers. We suggest a Greek salad (greens, tomatoes, sliced cucumber, Kalamata olives, crumbled feta, and a vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar) as a side dish. If you’re avoiding carbs, you can serve the burgers atop the… view recipe
  • Eggs and Greens in Olive Oil Eggs and Greens in Olive Oil Like many followers of the Paleo lifestyle, we’ve been frying eggs in EVOO for years and have never looked back. We love the crispy edges, the incomparable flavor, and, of course, the health benefits. Ingredients 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use2 large eggs2 cups baby spinach or other tender greens of your choiceCoarse… view recipe
  • Spiced Persimmon Smoothie Wakey-wakey Spiced Persimmon Smoothie Available during the fall and winter months, seedless Fuyu persimmons are prized throughout the world for their nuanced flavors (reminiscent of pear, pumpkin, and brown sugar) and lack of astringency. Olive oil gives this vitamin- and antioxidant-packed smoothie a rich mouthfeel. view recipe
  • Pear Salad with Blue Cheese Pear Salad with Blue Cheese, Olive Oil, and Mint South of Melbourne is Tasmania’s King Island, recognized around the world for its outstanding dairy products. One of them is a particularly unctuous waxed blue cheese known as “Roaring 40s Blue.” It is named after the punishing 100 km/hr winds (62 mph) that bedevil the latitude of 40°S. If unavailable, substitute your favorite blue cheese,… view recipe
  • Cauliflower, Cashew, and Coconut Curry Cauliflower, Cashew, and Coconut Curry Curries have been popular in Australia since the 19th century, reportedly helping newly arrived British colonialists adapt to the island continent’s unfamiliar proteins, like wombat and kangaroo. Here, we offer you a vegan version of the dish. view recipe