Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

From the Iberian Peninsula to Your Table—Presenting Three Spectacular Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Spain and Portugal!

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Bursting with healthful polyphenols, all have been rushed to you by jet at their peak of flavor and nutritive value.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Feature these dazzling EVOOs in regional recipes specially chosen to showcase their vibrant flavors.
  • All are Club exclusives, hand-selected by the Olive Oil Hunter, including a blend of rare Portuguese varietals grown nowhere else on Earth.

As the Olive Oil Hunter, I identify with seekers in life and in literature. And when I’m in Spain, my quest is inspired by the figure 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. Do I, like Cervantes’ iconic hero, tilt at windmills, believing them to be monsters? Sure. There are certainly olive farms I could call “windmills”—those that taunt me with the promise of liquid gold yet leave me empty-handed. Through it all, my Merry Band of Tasters travel by my side, offering their plentiful wisdom, humor, excellent navigational skills, and discriminating palates.

The true object of Don Quixote’s quest is never made known to the reader. With me, however, things are not quite so mysterious: as my Club members know, I’m searching for the finest, freshest olive oils on Earth.

From Antiquity to Ubiquity

Spain is the world’s leading producer of olive oil. Carpeted with an estimated 215 million olive trees (more than a quarter of the world’s olive acreage), Spain produces about 40 percent of the olive oil consumed on the planet. The majority of that production is from Andalusia— 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.

T.J. Robinson, Portugal
Cumprimentos de Portugal! Greetings from the terraced vineyards of the Madeira family, in the mountainous Alto Douro region. These gifted and motivated artisans produce internationally acclaimed wines and almonds alongside their exemplary extra virgin olive oil, pressed from rare, indigenous Portuguese cultivars.

Spain has been an olive oil powerhouse for thousands of years, assisted by Portugal to its west. (The two countries cleave to form the fist-shaped Iberian Peninsula.) On Caesar’s orders, the city of Rome imported most of its olive oil from Iberia. Many thousands of clay amphorae full of olive oil were transported via boats from Iberian olive mills to the ports of ancient Rome.

Over the centuries, Arabic influences in southern Spain improved production techniques and introduced new olive varieties, as well as the modern terms for olive oil: aceite (Spanish) and azeite (Portuguese) come directly from the Arabic term for “olive juice,” al-zayt.

Quality, Not Quantity

Today, olive oil courses through every aspect of Spanish culture, shaping its landscape, cuisine, and economy. Portugal, for its part, is undergoing a 21st-century transformation, as super high-density olive groves (with trees planted very close together) and advanced milling techniques have dramatically increased the olive oil output, especially in the southern region of the country. Currently ninth in the world, Portugal could rise by 2030 to be the third largest olive oil producer, even edging out Greece.

These advances in Portuguese olive oil production are exciting, especially if they result in raising the bar across the board, but my relationships are with the artisanal farmers who prize quality over quantity. In particular, I want to champion those growers working to preserve the unique, indigenous Portuguese olive varieties, which are at risk of being crowded out in favor of more prolific, popular Spanish cultivars.

Mother Nature’s Wrath

Without Mother Nature’s cooperation, though, none of this can happen. She was not kind to Iberia this harvest, hinting at a great season early on, with high yields and high quality, then dashing hopes with damaging weather patterns—a very hot autumn that gave way to rain. This combination left many producers with low yields and low quality, as the conditions were initially too hot to harvest, and then too wet. Jaén, the main producing region, was able to designate only 20 percent of its oil as extra virgin.

To find three superlative oils I knew I’d have to be strategic, drawing on the relationships I’ve cultivated over the years with savvy and conscientious producers whose crops would transcend the trials of this season. But first, some food!

T.J. Robinson and Arantxa Lamas, Madrid, Spain
In Madrid I prepared a delectable meal alongside Arantxa Lamas, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. With gorgeous seasonal produce and fresh seafood from a local market, we whipped up a tapa of mushrooms in garlic and traditional paella, using plenty of ultra-flavorful fresh-pressed olive oil. Arantxa and I both agreed that olive oil is as essential to Spanish cuisine as water. I hope you’ll try your harvest-fresh Club selections in these dishes and other tantalizing recipes, included below.

Paella Pit Stop

Upon landing in Madrid, I headed for the central mercado to meet up with Arantxa Lamas, a Cordon Bleu- trained chef and internationally celebrated foodie. Mutual friends had connected us from afar, and we were excited to cook together before I set out on my quest. After selecting beautiful produce and seafood from her favorite local vendors (I also picked up the most delectable jamon ibérico, for later noshing), we repaired to her apartment to prepare traditional paella. I was happy to put my chef skills to the test, relieved that I can still prep vegetables like a pro. We shared a laugh over the recent outcry that greeted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver when he posted a photo of his paella containing chorizo: sausage is a big choriz-NO if you’re looking to be authentic.

Arantxa was thrilled to hear me describe the Club and applauded our efforts to educate Americans about the extraordinary health benefits and tantalizing flavors of fresh-pressed olive oil. If you can believe it, she was almost as excited about polyphenols as I am.

Don Quixote Strikes Gold

Fueled for the adventure ahead, my Merry Band of Tasters and I hit the trail. We started in the Guadalquivir River Valley in Jaén, at the lauded farm of Francisco “Paco” Vaño. A longtime friend of the Club and a perennial award-winning producer—Paco’s oils just received an outstanding “perfect 100” from the olive oil bible Flos Olei—he took an ingenious route around the stultifying heat: his team harvested at night in order to deliver cool fruit to the mill. (Heat degrades the fruit, destroying its aromas and flavors, if the olives are not pressed quickly after picking.)

Paco and I collaborated on a complex, robust blend to secure the bold selection for this season’s trio.

Next, I was delighted to revisit the spirited collective of producers at Aroden, in the picturesque region of Priego de Córdoba. This dedicated, talented young team has won my heart with their earnest energy and my palate with their fantastic single-varietal Hojiblanco.

The final leg of our journey took us to northeastern Portugal, to the steep and gnarled forests of the Alto Douro region. Here, the Madeira family creates exquisite oils from rare and unique Portuguese olive varieties you’ll encounter nowhere else on Earth.

Your humble knight lays these treasures at your feet.

Read on to learn more about the incredible artisans who created these beauties. You’ll also find mouth-watering recipes below that showcase this liquid gold on your dining table. I can’t wait for you to taste these spectacular oils!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

P.S. Cold weather may cause cloudiness in your bottles of olive oil. Pay it no heed, as this has no effect on quality or flavor. Simply bring your oils to room temperature and most of this cloudiness should disappear. For best results, always store your oil in a cool, dark place, preferably in a cabinet away from heat and light.


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

When I tell my Club members that I travel to the ends of the earth in my quest for the finest olive oils, it’s no exaggeration. Ancient Romans believed that Portugal’s southwestern-most point, at Sagres, was the end of the world, rocky cliffs that dropped down to a hissing ocean with monsters in its depths, the place where the sun sank into the sea.

About 4 hours north and 50 miles inland lies the province of Trás-os-Montes, whose name means “beyond the mountains.” Here, in the remote Alto Douro region, the Madeira family has defied expectations to become one of the finest olive oil producers in the world.

Two decades ago, Celso Madeira, an acclaimed engineer, announced to his children that in his retirement he aspired to produce premium olive oil on the family’s land in the Alto Douro countryside. At that point the ancient olive trees—some up to 900 years old—were untended, and nobody in the family knew the first thing about producing olive oil anymore. One of Celso’s sons, Filipe, put his university education on hold and returned home to immerse himself in the practices of producing premium EVOO.

A quick study and meticulous, caring manager, Filipe transformed the overgrown, mossy groves into a first-class olive farm, with technologically advanced and temperature-controlled pressing facilities. The Madeiras’ oils rose rapidly to dominate national olive oil contests, including a five-award sweep of Portugal’s OLIVOMOURA competition with their very first entry. Their trees represent rare, indigenous Portuguese olive varieties grown nowhere else on Earth.

I was thrilled when advance word from my scouts indicated that the Madeiras anticipated an excellent harvest. Over the years I have developed a warm friendship with 86-year-old Celso and Filipe, and a visit to their grove and gracious home is always on my itinerary. But Mother Nature calls the shots from year to year.

In Alto Douro the olives must be picked by hand, and the trees receive water from rainfall or not at all. The rugged, mountainous terrain is not rocky or sandy, like Mediterranean terroir; it is made of schist (xixto, in Portuguese), a flaky, metallic volcanic rock that traps water between its layers. A plant’s roots must burrow down and break through layers of schist in order to reach the moisture.

T.J. Robinson, Celso Madeira, and Filipe Madeira
Here I am, sandwiched between two generations of Portuguese pride. Over two decades Celso Madeira and his son Filipe have transformed what was an abandoned, ancient olive grove on their family’s land into a thriving, award-winning boutique farm. At age eighty-six, patriarch Celso continues to look toward the future—during my visit, he proclaimed excitedly that he’d recently purchased new parcels of land. He turned to a surprised Filipe and announced, “Your job is to plant the trees.”

Because of these challenges, production costs in Alto Douro total about six times more than elsewhere. Thus the Madeiras focus solely on quality, not quantity. Their recent acquisition of an advanced Mori olive crusher (using knives rather than the more traditional hammer) has more than paid off—this year their oils were the best I’ve ever experienced from this grove.

Filipe and his team had to work strategically and quickly this season. Early predictions of “the best vintage ever” were defied when heavy rains in the middle of the spring disturbed the pollination process, reducing the number of blossoms (and, consequently, the volume of olives). Their production would only be about 40 percent of the expected harvest. The summer was very dry. (“We had no water,” Filipe reported, in an understatement.) Sometimes, though, as veteran Club members know, periods of water deprivation and stress to the olive trees can produce more intense flavors and aromas in the fruit, which works to your benefit.

Madeira family farm, Spain
This part of Portugal looks like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth—rugged and timeless. Some of these trees on the Madeira family’s farm, in the Trás-os- Montes province, are 900 years old, planted during the time of the Holy Roman Empire. They were producing olives when Magellan circumnavigated the globe. And now you can savor an exquisite extra virgin oil pressed from their fruit. These enchanting olive varieties are unique to Portugal—they are cultivated nowhere else on the planet.

Filipe and his team harvested early to avert the impending ripening of the fruit and ran the mill 24 hours a day for 25 days straight. The effort was worth it. Having savored the oils from this farm for several years, I can proclaim this a breakout season— one that takes their product from world-class to “out of this world.” Filipe, Celso, and their team are so excited for you to taste this oil—a beguiling and verdant blend of unique Portuguese cultivars. In honor of Filipe’s mother, we are presenting this Club exclusive with the label Maria de Lourdes, featuring the family crest.

Clearly, there shall be no resting on laurels for this family. During my visit Celso announced that he had just bought more land. “We must work for the future,” he insisted, inspiring me with his passion. “We must plant trees for the future.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Green, grassy, and alluring on the nose, presenting green tomato, basil, thyme, fennel, celery, and mixed salad greens punctuated by sweet hints of marzipan (almond paste), peppermint, and pear. In the mouth the flavor of green almonds blooms, along with nuances of tomato, basil, celery leaves, and mâche, The finish is deliciously long, revealing the palate-teasing pepperiness of arugula.

This oil complements a variety of foods: chicken, pork, turkey, and veal; codfish, halibut, swordfish, sea bass, lobster, mussels, and scallops; chicken, duck, or goose eggs; mild cheeses; breads; white beans; salads, especially those made with citrus or other fresh fruits, such as a spinach salad with pear, goat cheese, and walnuts or almonds; rice or simple pasta dishes; asparagus, green beans, fennel, okra, mushrooms, peas, and potatoes. Use it to make quick breads or drizzle it over yogurt, vanilla ice cream, pound cake with fruit, or chocolate mousse.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Cladium, Finca Aroden España, Priego de Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Hojiblanca
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Cladium Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Restaurante Rio’s main dining room in the whitewashed Andalusian town of Priego de Córdoba didn’t open for lunch for another 30 minutes, so our party—there to celebrate my selection this quarter of Aroden’s Hojiblanco as the Club’s medium olive oil—was directed to the lower bar-like level, an atmospheric room with, I was amused to note, a gumball-style vending machine stocked with roasted marcona almonds. Within minutes, we were served small glasses of cold beer, called cañas, and appetizer portions of crisp zucchini batons fried in olive oil. We promptly ordered another round of beers to get seconds of that “you-can’t-eat-just-one” zucchini. (It’s a myth that you can’t use olive oil for frying. One of the town’s signature products is olive oil-fried potato chips. We always pick up a few bags for the road.)

While we noshed, a parade of elderly people filed in and seated themselves—men at one table, women at another. They, too, ordered the diminutive beers. It was a Tuesday, but they were dressed in their Sunday best. We surmised the convivial gathering was a well-established ritual, not a one-off special occasion. The group was still there when we reluctantly left the restaurant. I learned a new Spanish word that day: sobremesa. It has no English equivalent, but the term refers to the delightful time (minutes or hours) you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating, enjoying the afterglow of the meal and especially, the company. I love the concept.

The mood at our table, where we passed a bottle of Aroden’s aromatic just-pressed Hojiblanco, was festive, too. Not expecting to be selected for the Club for the second harvest year in a row, the small co-op’s general manager, Luis Torres, and business manager, Clara Isabel Parejas, were over the moon. The inclusion of their enticing single varietal in this quarter’s trio of olive oils is a testament to the team’smaturing skills and consistency. To underscore the point, Cladium was recently named one of the world’s top ten olive oils by Evooleum, a highly-respected guide published in Spanish and English by Mercacei.

Miguel Gámiz, T.J. Robinson, and Cristobol Gámiz
Cristobol Gámiz, right, president of the small co-op Aroden, can trace ownership of the family olive groves in Priego de Córdoba to the thirteenth century, when they were acquired by a Basque ancestor, Miguel Gámiz. Also pictured is Aroden general manager Luis Torres, who oversees the operation. He and Cristobol are thrilled that Club members will be able to enjoy fresh- pressed Cladium for the second year in a row.

Aroden’s home, the Sierras Subbéticas National Park, is breathtakingly beautiful, truly screenshot worthy. It covers over 73,000 magnificent acres. Thousands of olive trees cling tenaciously to the steep slopes of the Subbéticas mountain range. Some are hundreds of years old, their trunks as fissured as the limestone escarpments that loom above them. Eagles, falcons, and Griffon vultures nest on the craggy cliffs, their six-foot wingspans casting shadows on the landscape.

The rugged topography of the region has challenged generations of Iberian farmers going back to Neolithic times. One of Aroden’s five founding families, the Gámiz clan, can trace its land ownership in Priego de Córdoba to the thirteenth century, when their Basque ancestor, Miguel Gámiz, planted his first olive trees. I can picture him crushing his olives with millstones and pressing them between woven mats of native esparto grass.

How I wish Miguel could, through some miracle of time travel, taste the fabulous oils his descendants and their partners in this small cooperative are producing today in their modern state-of-the-art mill. They built the facility— called an almazara—in 2002 to avoid dependence on the community mill. Initially, they pressed oil for their own use, selling any surplus to the bulk market. Then they realized their oil was exceptional—way too good to commingle with run-of-the-mill oils. In 2005, the co-op proudly introduced their premium bottled oil, Cladium.

Rugged slopes of the Sierras Subbéticas mountain range
As you can imagine, harvesting olives on the steep and rugged slopes of the Sierras Subbéticas mountain range is challenging for both men and machines. (Tractors that transport the olives to the mill have to be fitted with special treads.) Aroden general manager Luis Torres routinely runs here, inspired by Mount Tiñosa, which he calls “the Magic Mountain.” Occasionally, he encounters Griffon vultures, peregrine falcons, and intimidating free-range bulls!

This season’s harvest was trickier than the previous one, Luis said, requiring him and longtime mill supervisor Fernando Sánchez to be even more discerning than usual. Only three percent of the olives were worthy of Cladium’s stunning mosaic label. Most of olives were harvested from the foothills of Mt. Tiñosa, what Luis calls “the Magic Mountain.” At 5,740 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Sierras Subbéticas.

The mellifluous word Aroden is actually an acronym for aromas de la naturaleza, “scents of nature.” A very appropriate moniker given the enchanting olfactory profile of this extraordinary oil. (See my notes below.) CLADIVM—more precisely, Cladium mariscus—is the Latin name for a sawgrass-like plant that thrives on the site of the Aroden mill. The spelling (with a “V” replacing the “U”) pays graphic homage to the Romans, former occupiers of Córdoba. The region was, historians say, the empire’s favorite source of “liquid gold.” Perhaps it will be yours, too. Enjoy.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The hardy cultivar Hojiblanca, able to endure harsh winters and calcareous soils, was planted to satisfy Caesar’s writ demanding more Andalusian olive oil. Wheatgrass, fennel, celery, green apple, tropical fruit, citrus peel, vanilla, and Belgian endive consort with eucalyptus and green walnuts on the intoxicating nose. On the palate my tasters and I detected baby spinach, pear, celery leaf, and walnuts, with a bold and spicy finish, featuring notes of white pepper and arugula.

Reach for this lovely oil when these foods are on the menu or you need an uncomplicated sauce: lamb (chops or leg of lamb), game birds, chicken legs or thighs, veal shanks, rabbit; salmon, tuna, or whitefish; shrimp or fried anchovies; tomato bruschetta; gazpacho; aged cheeses like Manchego; country-style or whole grain breads; artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, yams, and romanesco; chocolate; and sweet or savory baked goods.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

Francisco “Paco” Vañó recently shared some momentous news with me and my Merry Band of Tasters: the latest edition of Flos Olei, a guide to the world’s best olive oils, awarded his family-owned business, Castillo de Canena, 100 out of 100 points, one of only seven olive oil producers out of 500 worldwide to be named to the publication’s newly established Hall of Fame.

Olive oil expert and Flos Olei publisher Marco Oreggia says the perfect score—the equivalent of an Oscar in olive oil circles—is reserved for farms that have not only distinguished themselves in the various categories of the competition, but have achieved sustained growth and maintained “a stable goal of excellence.”

Castillo de Canena is very deserving of the recognition. I am so proud of Paco, my longtime friend, whom I consider to be one of the most capable, consistent, and well- respected ultra-premium olive oil producers I’ve met.

He has also proved himself to be an exemplary steward of the land that has been in the Vañó family since 1780. (The family home, an imposing fifteenth century castle overlooking the village of Canena, was named a National Monument in 1931.) Committed to biodiversity, the 3,700-acre farm hosts beehives, a large herd of sheep, and native wildlife. Five years ago, Castillo de Canena joined the Spanish Olive Groves Alive Project, and to date, has identified 114 species of birds on its property. (A color guide is in the works.) Last summer, two artificial vegetation-covered islands were floated in the farm’s large pond/water storage reservoir; they are expected to attract waterfowl and other nesting birds.

An important aside: perhaps you’ve heard that nighttime harvests were temporarily suspended in Andalusia and Portugal to protect migratory birds. The current ban applies only to groves that qualify as “super high-density.” SHD is the acronym used for olive groves laid out in compact trellis- or stake-supported rows. More common in the New World than the Old, they are harvested using special foliage-straddling equipment. Castillo de Canena is not subject to the restriction as their traditional groves are planted with several feet separating the canopies of the trees.

T.J. Robinson at Taberna El Pájaro
As usual, Paco Vañó and I had much to talk about during a celebratory lunch at Taberna El Pájaro (“the bird tavern”) in Baeza. He’s one of the most well-informed producers I know, and stays abreast of the latest news as it relates to olive oil. We also chat about the harvest’s specific challenges; planned improvements to the farm; family; and of course, food. If you someday find yourself at this restaurant, do not fail to order the peeled, crosshatch-cut tomato with oregano and finely diced onion in a pool of extra virgin olive oil. Anchovies optional.

We lunched, appropriately, at Taberna El Pajáro (“tavern of the bird”) in Baeza, one of Paco’s favorite local restaurants and a popular stop on Jaén’s official olive oil tour.

It was an excellent choice. My Merry Band of Tasters and I dined there on a previous visit and remembered well the kitchen’s tender pork secreto (a cut resembling skirt steak that we have encountered nowhere else), olive oil-soaked whole peeled tomato appetizer with finely diced onion and oregano, and luscious, velvety crema Catalana (brûléed custard).

Thrilled with the balanced and elegant Picual we custom-blended for Club members, I was surprised to hear Paco proclaim this season’s harvest “the toughest” of his life. My Merry Band and I exchanged knowing glances, because he almost always says that. Overall quality was very high, he affirmed, but yields were down about 10 percent. (Oils that don’t meet Paco’s unyielding standards are sold to the bulk market; he focuses his energies on ultra- premium oils.) An arid summer and unseasonably high temperatures accelerated the harvest, he said. To protect the olives’ flavors and aromas, he dispatched his skilled and experienced harvest teams between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. each day, recalling them around 1 p.m. The olives were pressed under strict temperature-controlled conditions.

Always open to innovation and new research, Castillo de Canena partnered this year with a Spanish company known for its expertise with table olives, each of which must be perfect when cured. Together, they developed a game-changing scanner that evaluates individual olives for ripeness and defects. Called EVOOlution, the prototype performed exceedingly well during tests and was used during the current harvest to vet olives used in the farm’s premium olive oils. In other planned improvements, the mill is undergoing a substantial renovation and expansion that will double its capacity. The addition of two milling lines featuring the state-of-the-art equipment will shave eight to ten days off the harvest period, minimizing the olives’ exposure to wind, rain, or frost. Paco looks forward to pressing four varietals at the same time, a real advantage when his test plots—recently planted with Italian and Syrian cultivars—mature.

The bold and beautiful Picual I’ve procured for you represents olive juice from three different plots. With 2,600 acres of Picual at varying altitudes, we could be incredibly choosy. Only the best fruit, harvested at its peak, was used to make this rare and exclusive blend.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Expect complex aromas when you open this assertive, vibrantly green blend of three Picuals. Rosemary, tomato leaf, parsley, wild fennel, kale, green banana, sage, cinnamon, and arugula rise from the tasting glass like a sassy culinary perfume. Unsurprisingly, it pulls no punches in the mouth, either, leading with intense flavors of green tomato and wheatgrass. Close behind, but in perfect harmonic step, are parsley, kale, arugula, green banana, and rosemary. You will notice the bitterness of Belgian endive and radicchio, along with a ginger-like spiciness.

Enjoy this oil with beef or game meats (especially grilled); oilier fish, such as mackerel or tuna; grilled octopus; tomato- or meat-sauced pasta dishes; herbed breads; paella and other savory rice dishes; fried eggs; cabbage, broccoli rabe, turnips, grilled fennel, rutabagas, Swiss chard, beets, grilled radicchio or Belgian endive; tomato salads, or salads featuring sturdy bitter greens; minestrone soup; Greek yogurt; and dark chocolate.


Olive Oil and Health

Study shows extra virgin olive oil staves off multiple forms of dementia in mice

Adapted from an article in Science Codex by the Temple University Health System, November 25, 2019

Boosting brain function is key to staving off the effects of aging. And if there was one thing every person should consider doing right now to keep their brain young, it is to add extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to their diet, according to research by scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM).

Previous LKSOM research on mice showed that EVOO preserves memory and protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.

In a new study in mice published online in the journal Aging Cell, LKSOM scientists show that yet another group of aging-related diseases can be added to that list—tauopathies, which are characterized by the gradual buildup of an abnormal form of a protein called tau in the brain. This process leads to a decline in mental function, or dementia. The findings are the first to suggest that EVOO can defend against a specific type of mental decline linked to tauopathy known as frontotemporal dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is itself one form of dementia. It primarily affects the hippocampus—the memory storage center in the brain. Frontotemporal dementia affects the areas of the brain near the forehead and ears. Symptoms typically emerge between ages 40 and 65 and include changes in personality and behavior, difficulties with language and writing, and eventual deterioration of memory and ability to learn from prior experience.

Senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, describes the new work as supplying another piece in the story about EVOO’s ability to ward off cognitive decline and to protect the junctions where neurons come together to exchange information, which are known as synapses.

“The realization that EVOO can protect the brain against different forms of dementia gives us an opportunity to learn more about the mechanisms through which it acts to support brain health,” he said.

In previous work using a mouse model, in which animals were destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Praticò’s team showed that EVOO supplied in the diet protected young mice from memory and learning impairment as they aged. Most notably, when the researchers looked at brain tissue from mice fed EVOO,

they did not see features typical of cognitive decline, particularly amyloid plaques—sticky proteins that impair communication pathways between neurons in the brain. Rather, the animals’ brains looked normal.

The team’s new study shows that the same is true in the case of mice engineered to develop tauopathy. In these mice, normal tau protein turns defective and accumulates in the brain, forming harmful tau deposits, also called tangles. Tau deposits, similar to amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, block neuron communication and thereby impair thinking and memory, resulting in frontotemporal dementia.

Tau mice were put on a diet supplemented with EVOO at a young age, comparable to about age 30 or 40 in humans. Six months later, when mice were the equivalent of age 60 in humans, tauopathy-prone animals

experienced a 60 percent reduction in damaging tau deposits, compared to littermates that were not fed EVOO. Animals on the EVOO diet also performed better on memory and learning tests than animals deprived of EVOO.

Dr. Praticò and colleagues now plan to explore what happens when EVOO is fed to older animals that have begun to develop tau deposits and signs of cognitive decline, which more closely reflects the clinical scenario in humans.

Reference: Lauretti E, Nenov M, Dincer O, Iuliano L, Praticò D. Extra virgin olive oil improves synaptic activity, short-term elasticity, memory, and neuropathology in a tauopathy model. Aging Cell. 2020;19(1):e13076.


Kudos from Club Members

Dear T.J.—My family prefers your Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil over all others, because in addition to the full and lively flavors, I know that I’m using something that was harvested this season and is indeed still fresh! Before using this oil, I didn’t know that the olive oil on the store shelves is typically from prior years’ harvests and is therefore most likely rancid…yuck! I definitely prefer fresh-pressed and have enjoyed using it in many different family meals. Many thanks!
Meg S.Golden, CO

A Cordial Invitation from T. J. Robinson to Meet, Mingle, and Have Some Fun in Our Members-Only Facebook Group!

We’re having lots of fun over at our new Members Only page on Facebook. I and my Merry Band of Tasters invite you to join us! Your privileges include direct access to me, and I’d love to correspond with you and hear your opinions on the various food topics we like to chew on. You’ll also enjoy lots of my favorite recipes I share exclusively with Club members, behind-the scenes looks into my latest Olive Oil Hunter adventures, and much more. Drop in on our movable feast any time you feel like it. Simply request to join the group. We’ll quickly approve your access, and you can join in our lively (and delicious) conversation.

Recently I invited members of our group to answer this intriguing question: “If you could use fresh-pressed olive oil in just one recipe for the rest of your life, which would it be?” Here’s a taste of their answers:

Sourdough Carrot Cake, In My Daily Yogurt, Sautéed Veggies, Dressing, As A Drizzle, Roasted Chicken, Baked Potato, On My Three-Minute Eggs on Toast, My Daily Salad, Roasted Vegetables, Marinara Sauce, Drizzled on Veggies, With Spices Added to Dip Bread In, Marinated Mozzarella Balls, Drizzle It On EVERYTHING, Hummus, Junk Pot: Kielbasa, Potatoes, Onions and Kale; On A Spoon, Mixed with Grated Home-grown Garlic, White Pizza, Steamed Veggies, Tabouli!, Broccoli Rabe, On My Eggs, Cacio e pepe, EVERYTHING!, On Bronze Cut Linguine, A Shot – Straight Up every day! Spaghetti aglio e olio…

There were scores more, inspiring us all to conclude that choosing only one way to use fresh-pressed EVOO just won’t work!

Recipes

  • Milk Chocolate Cremosa with Espresso Parfait Milk Chocolate Cremosa with Espresso Parfait Miami chef and restaurateur Michael Schwartz (a friend of a friend) reports that this is one of his best-sellers. “(The) olive oil reinforces the richness of the cremosa,” he says. view recipe
  • Six-Minute Meyer Lemon Custard Six-Minute Meyer Lemon Custard Luscious with the sweet/tart notes of Meyer lemon (a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange), this soft custard is the perfect ending to a Mediterranean meal. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, substitute the juice and zest of regular lemons, blood oranges, or mandarin oranges. view recipe
  • Romesco Sauce Romesco Sauce Romesco is one of Spain’s iconic sauces, good not only with grilled onions or leeks but also asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts. You can even pair it with scrambled eggs or grilled meats, poultry, or seafood—it’s that versatile. view recipe
  • Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco (Calçots) Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco (Calçots) A specialty of Catalonia, these leek-like onions—traditionally grilled over olive wood fires and served with nutty, brick-red romesco—are messy but delightful! view recipe
  • Big-Flavour Broccoli with Manchego Big-Flavour Broccoli with Manchego Reducing food waste is an objective we’d all do well to adopt. Part of the appeal of this recipe is its utilization of broccoli stems, which are often condemned to the trash or garbage disposal system. If you’re not a fan of umami-rich anchovies or don’t have them on hand, substitute 1/2 teaspoon of Worcestershire… view recipe
  • Paella Paella Food historians say that paella (literally,“pan”) first appeared near the coastal city of Valencia in the 18th century. It’s a festive meal, one I enjoyed preparing recently at a private cooking class in Madrid taught by chef Arantxa Lamas, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate. Though traditionally grilled, you can also cook it on your stovetop. view recipe
  • Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary The province of Aragon in northeastern Spain (between Barcelona and Madrid) is known for its lean and tender lamb. Lamb cooked in clay ovens is a specialty, in fact, of a Spanish restaurant chain called Asador de Aranda. In the meantime, satisfy your lamb cravings with this easy-to-prepare rack of lamb flavored with garlic, rosemary,… view recipe
  • Portuguese Barbecued Chicken (Frango no Churrasco) Portuguese Barbecued Chicken (Frango no Churrasco) Centuries ago, the seafaring Portuguese established trade routes throughout the world, an endeavor that brought them into contact with many exotic foods. Among them was a potent little chile called piri-piri. Today, incendiary piri-piri sauce is a popular condiment in Portugal and on the African continent. If you can’t find it in the international aisle… view recipe
  • Gazpacho Gazpacho Here’s another great recipe I picked up from chef Arantxa Lamas during my time in Spain. It’s keto-friendly, too—a plus in my book. view recipe
  • Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce Madrid native and private cooking class instructor Arantxa Lamas, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, graciously shared with me her recipe for this much-loved dish. If you are interested in taking a class from Chef Lamas, you can contact her through her website, www.arantxalamas.com. view recipe

Quarter 4—Italian and Greek Harvest

From Italy and Greece, Three Alluring Extra Virgin Olive Oils Pressed by Award-Winning Artisanal Producers

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Fresh from the current harvest, this trio of hand-selected, custom-blended oils will be a splendid addition to your winter table.
  • Rushed to the US by jet to preserve their healthful antioxidants, these oils will stun your family and friends with their extraordinary flavors.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.
  • All three are Club exclusives and are available nowhere else in the country.


Ciao! The fourth quarter of the year always finds me in the Mediterranean for the festive annual olive harvest. Italy, where my identity as the Olive Oil Hunter was forged, welcomes me back each fall like a returning son. My life literally changed when I was introduced to just-pressed extra virgin olive oil, called novello or olio nuovo (“new oil”) at a harvest party on a Sicilian olive farm. As if it were yesterday (and not more than 15 years ago), I remember vividly the picturesque whitewashed barn, festooned with fuchsia-colored bougainvillea, where the family gathered to celebrate—the still-warm fresh ricotta made by the white-haired matriarch, the crusty bread, the home-cured olives, the grilled meats—all drizzled liberally with the freshest, most amazing olive oil I’d ever tasted.

I want every Club member to experience that life-changing moment of sensory discovery, the one where, like me, you realize you and your family and friends need and deserve this everyday luxury: inferior olive oils no longer satisfy you.

A “Complicated” Year

The Mediterranean Basin has always been a much-anticipated destination in my global olive oil itinerary. Archeologists trace the origins of the olive tree to this area, having found fossilized leaves of wild olives that are over 23 million years old. For millennia, mankind has viewed the olive tree as the most important fruit tree in the world, with symbolic value in religious and social rituals—rituals like the autumnal harvest.

Italy was my first stop on this trip. Cumulatively, I estimate I’ve spent over a year there since I founded the Club, visiting the country’s premier producers and cultivating new and valuable contacts. This season, my scouts on the ground in that region predicted an unusually early harvest.

T.J. Robinson, Piaggo Ape 50
The utility of the small vehicles used in Italy’s cities, towns, and villages cannot be overstated. Here, I’m using myself to illustrate the scale of the Piaggo Ape 50 mini-truck and the narrow streets and lanes in the ancient walled village of Barbarano Romano, where a cat sunning itself in the road can pause traffic. Barbarano Romano is near Blera, where I secured one of the three magnificent olive oils you’ve just received.

The year had been a “complicated” one for growers, said my longtime friend, master miller and olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo. In an inversion of normal patterns—brought about by cold weather in the critical month of May, when trees are beginning to bloom—farmers in southern Italy expected to harvest their crops later than farmers farther north. Early owering trees showed more promise this year, as they had already set their fruit before the cold snap. As always, Duccio said, Italy’s many micro-climates would be my friend. Together, we identified groves that were positioned to enjoy exceptional harvests.

He warned that when the harvest happened, it would happen fast! The “magic window” would open and close quickly. I felt like a reman waiting for the signal to slide down the brass pole.

Maneuvering Into Position for a Jack Rabbit Start

Happily, family members—my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and their two sons, ages 3 and 4, were planning a trip to Italy in October. My wife, Meghan, and I decided to depart the US around the same time so I could hit the ground running when the harvest got under way.

The plan worked perfectly. For me, it was a thrill to see or experience familiar things and places through the family’s eyes. For example, the boys were captivated by the cartoonishly tiny vehicles Italians use to zip through the narrow stone-paved streets—making deliveries, cleaning streets, selling produce, etc. Diminutive Apes (ah-pay; the name means “bee”) seemed to be buzzing everywhere. (See a photo above.) A visit to Puglia, where I visited three olive oil producers, introduced us to trulli—cylindrical huts constructed of limestone and topped with fanciful cone-shaped roofs. Built without mortar in the eighteenth century, they were designed to be disassembled quickly so that residents could avoid being taxed.

Temple of Zeus, Greece
Like millions of visitors to Athens, Greece, I bought a ticket to examine the Temple of Zeus up close. But as you can see, I was more interested in the olive trees on the grounds of the ancient structure! Built over several centuries, starting in 174 BCE, only 15 of the temple’s original 108 columns remain standing.

It’s Go, Go, Go Time!

The day I learned the harvests were beginning in Blera, about an hour’s drive north of Rome, and in Abruzzo, a region on central Italy’s eastern coast, I said “addio” to the family and donned my Olive Oil Hunter hat.

Award-winning Colli Etruschi was delighted to work with the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club again, our last collaboration being in 2015, the co-op’s fiftieth anniversary. Nicola Fazzi, the supervisor of Colli Etruschi, was ebullient that Club members would once again savor an exclusive oil the community produces from Canino olives. Read more about Nicola and the co-op below.

Spirits were also high at the lovely Di Mercurio farm in Penne, Abruzzo. (Their mill is named Frantoio Hermes.) Claudio and his family rejoiced over another spectacular harvest—the second in a row! Veteran Club members will likely remember my excitement last year at the serendipitous discovery of the farm and its Dritta olive. Newer Club members will now have an opportunity to taste an Italian monovarietal rarely available outside the region.

Colli Etruschi, 2019, Blera, Lazio, Italy
Along with with master miller Duccio Morozzo and Nicola Fazzi of Colli Etruschi, I’m tasting and refining the Caninese blend that was ultimately selected for Club members. Many producers have won top awards by exactly replicating my blends and then entering them in some of the world’s most prestigious olive oil competitions.

With all the advance legwork, the first two olive oils fell into place. But the third Club selection proved to be more elusive. Enter NOAN, a quality-
obsessed Greek co-op I was gratified to work with in the past. Hopes were high for this year’s crop of Amssa olives. The indefatigable Duccio confirmed that the harvest, which had just started, was indeed turning out to be a great one. Within 24 hours, I was on the Pelion Peninsula, tasting an intensely green olive oil I knew would dovetail beautifully with my other two selections.

Now back on American soil, I marvel at how eager I am for you to try these incredible hand-picked extra virgin olive oils. During my travels, I also collected scrumptious recipes I know will highlight the oils’ best qualities and help you create lasting food memories for family and friends. Buon appetito!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

P.S. Cold weather may cause cloudiness in your bottles of olive oil. Pay it no heed, as this has no effect on quality or flavor. Simply bring your oils to room temperature and most of this cloudiness should disappear. For best results, always store your oil in a cool, dark place, preferably in a cabinet away from heat and light.


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: NOAN, Pelion Peninsula, Greece 2019
  • Olive Varieties: Amssa
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

After a long but satisfying day at the NOAN groves and mill on the Pelion Peninsula, olive farmer Kostas Agrigiannis invited founder Richard “Richy” Schweger, production manager Mario Sageder, my Merry Band of Tasters, and me to his bohemian-style home for a spontaneous dinner of whatever he could forage from the fridge and eld. Being a Sunday, most businesses were closed, so a quick run to the markets was out of the question.

Sporting his signature “man bun,” Kostas produced an incredible meal in the summer kitchen of the farmhouse he shares with his partner, Greek lifestyle authority and TV personality Eleni Tsihouli. A former chef, Kostas served meze of grilled bread, cured olives from the trees that surround the house, and local cheese. As I recall—though the edges of my memory were fuzzed by his potent home-brewed tsipouro (anise-flavored brandy)—there was a Greek salad and an improvised pasta containing fresh tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers, and shredded morsels of the stewed lamb Eleni had made earlier. We liberally doused everything, of course, with the cruet of intensely green, just-pressed olive oil we hand- carried from the mill. (You can make a simple meal out of very little when you have such wonderful olive oil on hand!)

The rustic kitchen is actually excavated from the hillside. Exposed olive tree roots protrude from the back wall, and farm cats patrol the thatched roof and earthen ridge above it. “Kostas has created his own piece of heaven,” Richy remarked. If you are a veteran Club member, you may remember Kostas is part of the core group of olive farmers who has helped NOAN build its reputation as one of Greece’s premier olive oil co-ops.

Richy, the former CEO of an IT company, and his wife, Margit, both from Austria, started NOAN in 2008. It has been a godsend to a part of Greece that has a bit of experience with gods (and goddesses): this peninsula was once the playground of mythological A-listers like Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Achilles, whose father, Peleus, lent his name to Mount Pelion.

The Pelion Peninsula is one of the most stunning places I’ve seen in my travels. On the azure-colored Aegean Sea, halfway between Athens and Thessaloniki in central Greece, its hillsides are forested with fruit trees, oak, r, and chestnut as well as millions of wild olive trees that thrive in the rocky soil and many micro-climates. The latter are descended from the olive stock planted by monks centuries ago to replace timber felled by the shipbuilding industry.

The Schwegers were captivated by the region’s beauty, but it was the olive trees and the potential to achieve their philanthropic goals that reeled them in. First, though, they had to address some entrenched habits. Although playing host to one of the world’s unique olive varietals, the voluptuous Amssa (it resembles a tiny Granny Smith apple), local farmers seemed discouraged to the point of inaction. They’d collect the fruit once it fell to the ground, cure some (Amssa can be used as a table olive), then take the remainder to the mill for pressing into bulk oils for the export market, keeping only enough for the family’s use. (Greeks consume more olive oil per year than any culture on the planet.)

NOAN, Pelion Peninsula, Greece 2019
I joined the hardworking team at NOAN for an afternoon to help harvest the plump and beautiful Amfissa olives. Native to the Pelion Peninsula, most of these olives are usually cured and sold as table olives. (That’s why I was so excited to find NOAN pressing them for its unique oil.) Upper body strength to control the long-handled electric rakes and the willingness to work extraordinarily long hours—the olives have to be pressed at their peak—are requirements of the job. Pictured are NOAN founder Richy Schweger (fourth from left), Mario Sageder (third from left), Kostas Agrigiannis (in white T-shirt next to me), and other key players in the co-op.

With no background in agriculture, the ambitious Schwegers masterminded the rejuvenation of some of the Peninsula’s long-neglected olive groves, organized a co-op of roughly 30 quality-conscious farmers, rekindled a sense of community, and began financially supporting children’s causes with proceeds from olive oil sales. Along the way, NOAN has won many awards. In 2014, it was named a “Frontier Farm” by Flos Olei, an annual guide to the world’s best olive oils. (NOAN is named after the Schwegers’ children, Noah and Anouk.)

It has taken time to build up trust between the co-op and the community and nurture a sense of cooperation and esprit de corps. But the involvement of locals such as miller extraordinaire Jorgo Evangelinos, who not only recruits the area’s top producers to join NOAN but also coaxes award-winning oils from their olives, and Alexia Kalovidouri, who capably liaises with the farmers (she grew up with many of them) has helped bridge any cultural gaps.

Jorgo Evangelinos, NOAN
Jorgo Evangelinos, a third-generation Greek olive miller, is a highly respected local who has been instrumental in developing NOAN into a world-class olive oil producer. (He has invested his own money and sweat equity in upgrading the milling equipment.) Because Jorgo mills nearly 70 percent of the area’s olives, he is quick to recognize which farmers could be trained to meet NOAN’s high standards and shepherds them through the application process. His pride in having “his” oil picked for the discriminating Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club is palpable.

NOAN is also known for paying a fair wage for excellent fruit, for supporting local projects (especially public schools), and for lending a hand to co-op families that have suffered misfortune.

After a disappointing 2018, the just completed harvest was a very good one for the co-op. A cold and snowy winter helped suppress the olive fly population (still a scourge in some parts of the Mediterranean) and yielded to an idyllic spring with ample amounts of rain. The summer months were relatively dry. Trees were loaded with olive fruit, but ripened earlier than usual, meaning the 2019 harvest “magic” window was a tight 11 days. Seldom did Richy, Mario, or Jorgo leave the mill before 1 or 2 a.m.

Richy reminded me of a comment I’d made during one of my first visits to the co-op—that NOAN’s Amssa was one of the food-friendliest olive oils I’d tasted. “It never dominates what you pair it with,” he exclaimed. So true. You will love it, dear Club member.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Golden-green in color, very aromatic and elegant in the glass. We noted aromas of cut grass, artichoke, basil, mint, pea shoots, celery, baby spinach, tomato leaves, Belgian endive, chopped parsley, and white pepper.

When we sipped this beautifully calibrated oil we invoked these descriptors: artichoke; romaine lettuce; green tomato; spinach; thyme; green pepper; Belgian endive, and green walnuts, with the spiciness of celery leaf and a green tea-like bitterness.

This versatile, herbaceous, early-harvest Amssa is delicious with egg dishes, drizzled over Greek yogurt, fresh cheeses, warm pita bread, grilled halloumi, chickpeas, eggplant, potatoes, rice, simple pasta dishes, pumpkin, and butternut squash. Lovely with delicate sh, shellfish, chicken, veal, and mild pork dishes. Use it on creamy soups, asparagus, green beans, caulfliower, broccoli, and in vinaigrettes for dressing delicate salads. It’s perfect for baking, too. Use in quick breads (pumpkin or banana) or biscotti.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Colli Etruschi, 2019, Blera, Lazio, Italy
  • Olive Varieties: Canino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

I am thrilled to feature a single-varietal EVOO from my friends at Colli Etruschi, an esteemed olive-growing cooperative about an hour’s
drive north of Rome, in Italy’s Lazio region. This award-winning producer is named for the ancient Etruscans—“The E-who-scans?” I can hear you asking—an indigenous Italian people who controlled this region for six centuries before the Romans. Their empire, known as Etruria, extended north to Gaul and as far south as Campania (the “shin” of the modern Italian boot), and also included the island of Corsica. Etruscan culture was heavily influenced by ancient Greece, with a system of government based on city-states and a Greek-derived alphabet, which the Etruscans passed along to the Romans. The name “Rome,” in fact, comes from the Etruscan language, referring to the Ruma, an Etruscan tribe.

Colli Etruschi, founded in 1965 by a dozen local farmers, is a source of deep pride for the surrounding community as well as a landmark tourist destination, noted in travel guides as a prime example of “capturing a territory through its green gold.” Even as this worker-run cooperative has grown in strength to nearly 400 members, it has continued to uphold its mission of producing extraordinary extra virgin olive oil, paying its workers a living wage, covering expenses, keeping the growers happy, giving back to the community, and turning a small profit that goes back into operations.

Nicola Fazzi, supervisor of the celebrated cooperative Colli Etruschi, and I inspect a bin of beautiful just-picked olives that have been rushed to the mill for pressing. A local farmer—one of almost 400 co-op members—has transported his produce via Piaggio Ape, the buzzing three-wheeled argo vehicle you are likely to see (and hear!) navigating the narrow medieval town roads as well as traversing the paths of olive groves.

During the past two decades, the co-op has risen to the top of the international olive oil scene under the superlative leadership of Nicola Fazzi, whom I first met several years ago. Nicola, with sparkling eyes and a wry sense of humor, joined the co-op when he was fresh out of agronomy school. Immediately he set about upgrading the co-op’s mill to state-of-the-art equipment and implementing rigorous quality controls. All the members adhere to the co-op’s high professional standards.

Nicola’s insistence on impeccable quality paved the way for one of Colli Etruschi’s oils to be named “Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil of 2014” by Flos Olei. This past year, Colli Etruschi reaped the award for “Best Single Varietal Oil” from Gambero Rosso, a food-lovers’ publication I’d describe as “Flos Olei for Italians.” In other words, we (the rest of the world) consult Flos Olei to learn what the Italians regard as the best of the best in olive oil, and the Italians in turn consult Gambero Rosso. (In earlier times GR was focused only on ne wine, but now it reviews ultra- premium olive oils and other fine foods.)

Unlike many of the producers I work with, whose groves are planted with multiple olive varieties, the growers of Colli Etruschi cultivate a single one: Canino, its oil known as Caninese. This small, hard, feisty fruit is unique to the Lazio region, thriving in its limestone-rich, porous soil, and especially resistant to olive pests. Colli Etruschi’s member farmers deliver their lovingly plucked produce in small bins, which are transported to the mill post-haste. (You can see me and Nicola inspecting the latest batch of gorgeous olives in the photo above.)

As the Canino varietal is rarely seen outside Italy, you, my dear Club members, might otherwise never have the opportunity to relish a beautifully harmonic Caninese! Although comprising a single cultivar, this EVOO is a blend of distinct pressings of Canino olives. You can witness Nicola, master miller Duccio Morozzo, and me as we test different ratios in the photo above. The oil pressed from fruit picked on the very first days of the harvest was, for instance, greener and spicier than the oil pressed from olives harvested a few days later, which revealed nuance and dimension. We tweaked our blend until it was perfectly calibrated and exceedingly food friendly.

Nicola Fazzi, Colli Etruschi
A toast to you! Nicola Fazzi and I raise our glasses in celebration of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, eager for you to taste the fruits of another brilliant collaboration. An astute agronomist who also loves to laugh, Nicola introduced me several years ago to this fantastic restaurant in nearby Vetralla that specializes in seasonal locally foraged porcini mushrooms. Moments before this snapshot, the cooks had prepared a tantalizing bistecca on an open-fire grill. With a generous splash of our just-pressed selezione esclusiva it was molto delicioso!

Nicola and I celebrated our triumphant collaboration at my favorite local repast, Ristorante Dal Sor Francesco, in the nearby town of Vetralla. This restaurant specializes in seasonally foraged porcini mushrooms, a celebrated rarity, and my Merry Band of Tasters and I tend to refer to it as “the porcini place.” They also do an incredible bistecca— grilled on an open fire and brought sizzling to the table on a hot stone, it continues to cook while your appetite whets. We drizzled the meat and the coveted ’shrooms generously with our just-pressed Caninese and toasted you, my lucky Club members! Salute!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Dark green in color, this oil is very complex and vegetal on the nose, proffering micro-greens, juiced wheatgrass, some oral notes, and the sweetness of vanilla bean and apple. Straddling the savory and the sweet are fennel, green banana, green almond, and a touch of white pepper. Bright and voluptuous on the palate. My tasters and I detected shaved raw artichoke, Swiss chard, rubbed sage, apple peel, and hazelnuts. Slightly bitter, reminiscent of walnut skins, Belgian endive, and cocoa nibs. Expect a long, white-peppery finish.

There is hardly any dish that this richly flavored oil would not enhance: warm crusty bread, polenta, pasta, lentils, and beans; n sh such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, and sardines; kale or carrot top pesto; roasted root vegetables; cabbage or brussels sprouts; grilled or roasted chicken, turkey, or game hens; and hearty pork and beef dishes. Also lovely with aged cheeses, grilled vegetables, creamy soups, and antipasti platters.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Hermes, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2019
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta, Leccio del Corno, Castiglionese, Carboncello
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Lightning does indeed strike twice!

Let me rewind. Last year, I was delighted to introduce Club members to an extraordinary new producer, Frantoio Hermes, the brainchild of Claudio Di Mercurio and labor of love of the entire Di Mercurio family. Despite my extensive network of contacts in the olive oil world and Hermes’s impressive record, the 2018 harvest was the first time I had even heard of this mill—thanks to one of my scouts—and in the process I encountered a luscious new olive variety. The Dritta from Frantoio Hermes that was featured as a Club selection went on to garner armfuls of awards, and the season culminated with Hermes being named “Mill of the Year” by Gambero Rosso, the influential fine food magazine.

I never expected Hermes to boast back-to-back spectacular seasons, given that olive trees usually alternate between high seasons of production and low. Yet Hermes blew me away two years in a row. How?

One major factor is the olive variety: Dritta, which translates as “direct” or “trustworthy,” produces consistently every year. About 70% of the Hermes groves are planted with Dritta. It blooms early, which was a blessing this season—a spring frost doomed some later-blooming olives, but the Dritta fruit was spared, as were some other varieties. Many of the Dritta trees are 90 to 100 years old.

Another factor is Claudio’s unremitting dedication to producing the nest EVOO possible. This season he added a refrigerated crusher, further improving the already technologically advanced mill. With warm weather at harvest time raising the temperature of the fruit, the cooled crusher helped preserve the precious polyphenols and perfumes in the olives.

Frantoio Hermes, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2019
I have never seen such glorious produce as from the Di Mercurio family’s garden in Abruzzo. Pictured here—looking a bit like Peter Rabbit and his friends—are myself in the middle, Claudio Di Mercurio on the right, and his sister, Graziella, on the left. During my visit, the extremely generous clan treated me and my Merry Band of Tasters to three feasts rivaling a traditional US Thanksgiving, with platter after platter of gorgeous food, all grown on their land and prepared with the very same harvest-fresh olive oil you have before you.

Claudio reported that the Abruzzo region experienced an early spring, with an unanticipated May frost damaging some blossoms. For the surviving olives, the summer was ideal, with just enough rain to keep the trees healthy, as well as strong hot spells, which helped intensify the flavor in the fruit.

We created a bold, intriguing blend of about 70% Dritta, with the balance apportioned among Leccio del Corno, Castiglionese, and Carboncello. This is one of the many things I love about Italy: its extensive roster of olive varieties. Every time I visit I hear names I could swear I’ve never heard before. Likewise, other kinds of Italian produce beguile me with their specificity. Claudio and his family raise vegetables, cure sausage (in olive oil, of course!), and prepare jams and preserves, all produced from their land. The most scrumptious figs I have ever consumed came from their garden. I am still dreaming about those figs.

Dritta olive tree
Fear not—this Dritta olive tree hasn’t been struck by lightning. I learned from the crew at Frantoio Hermes that it is common for a Dritta tree to split, revealing the gnarled wood beneath the bark, yet the tree continues to grow without harm. Many of the trees in the Hermes groves are 90 to 100 years old. Standing next to this one I was humbled by its age and resilience and felt deep gratitude for the gift of its fruit.

Remarkably, none of the Di Mercurio siblings has a career in agriculture—this is all a labor of love. “We all have other jobs,” says Claudio, who works as a systems engineer. He founded Frantoio Hermes in 2009, a scant decade ago, with the mission of producing premium extra virgin olive oil, in spite of never having pressed a drop. Starting right at the top, Claudio consulted with Giorgio Mori, the master behind Mori olive mills, who helped put the new venture en route to brilliance. In its very rst pressing season, 2010, Frantoio Hermes earned regional medals for excellence, and the award-winning streak hasn’t stopped, including the honor of being selected for my Club—as I say, lightning does strike twice. Claudio, his family, and I are so excited for you to relish this exquisite oil!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Beautiful green color, bright and aromatic on the nose. We caught the aromas of chopped baby greens, fresh-cut grass, kale, snipped culinary herbs such as thyme, oregano, and mint along with celery, Asian pear, and tomato leaf. A hint of cinnamon and black pepper.

This oil is sophisticated, verdant, and exciting on the palate, with hints of rosemary, lime zest, Tuscan kale, radicchio, hazelnuts, dark chocolate, and black pepper. On the finish, anticipate the bitterness and spiciness of arugula and the hallmark sign of abundant polyphenols—a mouth-warming, tingling sensation that lingers.

Inspired pairings with this bold, well balanced, and remarkably food-friendly oil include hearty winter soups, stews and braises, salads with sturdy greens—especially if they include nuts and fresh citrus. Generously splash this oil on white beans, chickpeas, lentils, and grains. Drizzle on bruschetta (see a recipe below); hearty tomato-based pasta dishes; or grilled or roasted meats, including pork, beef, and lamb. Also cruciferous vegetables, aged cheeses, oilier fish, kale, chicory, baked yams, and roasted eggplant. Drizzle over vanilla ice cream or pair with dark chocolate.


Olive Oil and Health

Study shows Mediterranean diet associated with better cognitive function in older adults

Adapted from an article for Medical Express by Fayeza Ahmed, September 11, 2019

Adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been associated with less cognitive decline over five years in older adults in the United States, according to a new study led by University of Maine and the University of South Australia researchers.

The study, conducted by researchers Alexandra Wade, Merrill Elias, and Karen Murphy and published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, examined the relationship between Mediterranean diet adherence and cognitive function in a sample of older adults in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS).

MSLS, a study of aging, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive function, was launched in 1974 by Elias. It has obtained longitudinal data from young adulthood to the elder years for 1,000 individuals, and cross-sectional data for more than 2,400 individuals initially recruited from central New York and followed throughout the U.S.

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a range of health benefits. However, the majority of Mediterranean diet studies have been conducted in Mediterranean populations, and findings from non-Mediterranean populations are mixed.

Wade and colleagues found that participants who reported consuming a higher intake of foods associated with a Mediterranean diet, including olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, whole grains, and red wine, experienced moderately lower rates of cognitive decline in visual spatial organization and memory, attention and global cognitive function over a five-year period.

Causal relations cannot be inferred as the study was observational, according to the researchers. However, the findings indicate that adherence to a Mediterranean diet may be capable of delaying age and disease-related cognitive decline, one of the leading risk factors of dementia.

Future studies must examine possible associations between Mediterranean diet, such as biological factors or general good health as a positive influence on cognitive function, the researchers say.

The research reflects a longtime collaboration between researchers at the University of South Australia and the University of Maine.

Reference: Wade AT, Elias MF, Murphy KJ. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with cognitive function in an older non-Mediterranean sample: findings from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2019; doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2019.1655201.


Kudos from Club Members

“I now get most of my oil from T. J. Robinson’s Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, and every time I open a bottle, my kitchen literally fills up with the smell of fresh crushed olives—the scent explodes out of the bottle. Just breaking the seal transports me to Italy or Spain or Chile.”
Larry OlmstedNew York Times bestseller Real Food / Fake Food (Algonquin, 2016)

Recipes

  • Fig and Almond Olive Oil Cake Fig and Almond Olive Oil Cake There are several things I love about this cake: it’s easy; it’s gluten-free; it’s Paleo-friendly; it uses a modest amount of extra virgin olive oil (some cakes call for as much as a cup of your precious liquid gold); and it utilizes figs, which forever more will remind me of my latest idyll in Abruzzo.… view recipe
  • Slow-Roasted Zucchini Spears Slow-Roasted Zucchini Spears Olive oil’s affinity for roasted vegetables is well known. Here, it coats zucchini, a somewhat watery vegetable that benefits from a long roast. Serve it with chicken pork, beef, or tofu. view recipe
  • Greek Okra Stewed with Tomatoes and Olive Oil (Bamies Ladera) Greek Okra Stewed with Tomatoes and Olive Oil (Bamies Ladera) In Greece, stewed okra is colloquially called bamies (pronounced bum-yes) and is a staple in many homes, restaurants, and even the cafeterias attached to gas stations. view recipe
  • Shaved Fennel Salad Shaved Fennel Salad Fennel is ubiquitous in the Mediterranean, growing wild in many areas. All parts of it are utilized, from the seeds that give Italian sausage its unique flavor to the bulb to the celery-like stalks and fronds. Its anise-y flavor goes well with a medium to bold extra virgin olive oil. view recipe
  • Garden Pasta Alla Hermes Garden Pasta Alla Hermes My Merry Band of Tasters and I were treated to this colorful dish for lunch at the Di Mercurio family’s farm, and master miller Duccio Morozzo and I liked it so much we decided to recreate it back in his Roman kitchen. The tomato purée we used is called passata. Find it at larger supermarkets… view recipe
  • Monkfish with Olive Oil and Tomatoes Monkfish with Olive Oil and Tomatoes Sometimes called “poor man’s lobster,” mild, sweet-tasting monkfish has a pleasantly rm texture. Fancy enough for a dinner party, it simply begs for a drizzle of exquisitely fresh EVOO. Serve with a mixed green salad lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. view recipe
  • Turkey Roulade with Prunes and Prosciutto Turkey Roulade with Prunes and Prosciutto On my recent trip, I noticed stuffed turkey breast on a couple of occasions and was determined to make it in my home kitchen. While some people might be tempted to make a pan gravy from the drippings, I prefer to splash extra virgin olive oil on my turkey—the sauce of the gods! view recipe
  • Pork with Green Sauce (Maiale con Salsa Verde) Pork with Green Sauce (Maiale con Salsa Verde) Not to be confused with Mexican salsa verde, the Italian version of green sauce is a bright-tasting condiment made with parsley, garlic, capers, and extra virgin olive oil. Here, we’ve paired it with pork. But it’s a versatile sauce that can accompany a variety of meats and seafood. view recipe
  • Lamb Skewers from Abruzzo (Arrosticini Abruzzesi) Lamb Skewers from Abruzzo (Arrosticini Abruzzesi) One of Abruzzo’s most beloved foods is arrosticini—skewers of cubed lamb grilled over a charcoal re and served with olive oil–soaked bread (also grilled). The tradition originated with the region’s shepherds hundreds of years ago. Be sure to serve the arrosticini with a plummy Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. view recipe
  • Chickpeas with Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds Chickpeas with Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds This combination of ingredients, served to us at the Di Mercurio family’s farm, was a revelation. And stunningly good when liberally dressed with the Hermes oil. Fresh pomegranate seeds, called arils, are sometimes sold in small vacuum-sealed cups if you can’t find whole pomegranates. view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

Introducing Three Magnificent Fresh-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Australia, the “Lovely Island” 

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Created exclusively for Club members by the Olive Oil Hunter and award-winning Aussie producers, all have been rushed to you at their peak of freshness and flavor. 

  • An independent lab has certified these oils to be 100 percent extra virgin. 

  • This dazzling trio represents an exciting range of flavors with a unique New World flair. 

  • Accompanied by astute food-pairing suggestions and tantalizing recipes, these exquisite oils will invigorate your autumn menus! 

G’day, mate! Greetings from Down Under, my favourite source of the finest olive oils on earth this time of year. ’Strewth! I’m thrilled to be heading home (logging 20,000 miles round trip) with three gorgeous, harvest-fresh, and healthful oils, each an exclusive collaboration between me, your globe-trotting Olive Oil Hunter, and expert Aussie artisans I know and trust. 

Australia is home to a lively and thriving extra virgin olive oil culture characterized by its attention to quality and generous collegial spirit. In my annual visits over the past decade I’ve seen Aussie olive oil production transform from scrappy small-time hobby farmers (many of whom started raising olives as a “second-home” tax break and found they loved it) into an award-winning roster of artisanal producers—still scrappy, always collaborative—who implement some of the most advanced growing and pressing techniques on the globe.

One man, above all others, has been instrumental in helping maintain the quality-focused movement in Australian olive oil production: my dear friend and longtime collaborator Leandro Ravetti. Whenever I’m in ’Straya I hope to collaborate with Leandro, if he’s on the continent—a master miller, horticultural scientist, and expert panel judge, Leandro is always in high demand. Any given moment might find him evaluating EVOOs in Japan or consulting with olive growers in California.

This Harvest, No Worries

My scouts sent word that Oz had seen a good harvest this year. “Good” is relative, of course, as Mother Nature is fickle—our dear friend Annie Paterson, the irrepressible proprietress of Nullamunjie Groves and a perennial Club favorite, did not have such luck, so as soon as I’d landed in Melbourne she and I made a point of collaborating on lunch instead.

Award-winning producer Jill Barson toured me through her groves, pointing out where she’s planting a new plot of Frantoio trees. Jill, a devoted naturalist, nurtures not only olives but also flowers, vegetables, and chickens on her land on the Mornington Peninsula (an hour’s drive from Melbourne). Back at her spectacular and gracious home, Jill—who serves on the board of the Olive Wellness Institute—shared her thoughts on her favorites from this season’s excellent harvest while treating us to a delicious lunch.

The weather this season was normal, with no extremes of temperature, no heavy rains, a mild autumn, and no premature frost. A few areas were drier than usual. Several producers experienced that the super-green fruit I prefer was difficult to pluck from the trees, but they persevered because they know how passionate I am about early-harvest olive oil. Leandro attributed the issue to green fruit’s lower levels of ethylene, a natural hormone in plants that induces fruit to be released from the branches. (When you smell the sweetness of an overripe banana, that’s ethylene.)

Ordinarily, if I’m presented with ten EVOOs that are considered “great,” I’ll find few that impress me. Yet so many of the Aussie offerings this season were truly outstanding. It was an embarrassment of riches.

Our first stop was to consult with expert taster and Australian olive guru Jill Barson, who sits on the board of the Olive Wellness Institute, an organization dedicated to educating the public about the health benefits of EVOO. My Merry Band of Tasters and I journeyed about an hour outside Melbourne to visit with Jill at her stunning home and olive groves in Mornington, a lush, green enclave I compare to the Hamptons. Jill’s home is extraordinary—a hybrid of modern and classic, it has a nearly panoramic view of her groves, with the sea in the distance. 

Jill loves to get her hands in the soil, raising flowers and vegetables as well as olives. She also has a brood of about 30 hens, a rare breed with feathered feet (they look like they’re wearing shaggy boots), and shares their eggs with her neighbors in Toorak, the Melbourne suburb where she lives in the off-season. (Back in Toorak, Jill is a walking buddy of our close friend, longtime Club collaborator, and honorary member of the Merry Band of Tasters, Melissa Wong. Learn more about Melissa below.)

This iconic Australian seemed more interested in the crackers I was holding than in my quest for olive oil. Otherwise, though, Melly and I got along great! Melly is one of the rescued ’roos fostered by Lisa and Jim Rowntree, the talent and sweat equity behind Longridge Olives in South Australia. As a baby, Melly was bottle-fed; as she grows and gains independence, she’ll eventually join a mate in the wild. For now, she roams as she likes, popping in to say hello and grab a snack from the Olive Oil Hunter.

Jill treated us to a scrumptious lunch she dubbed a “pick and dip,” with several tasty Middle Eastern meze dishes, including roasted eggplant and tomato with a spicy red pepper relish, smoked Tasmanian trout and salmon, pickled carrots, and crusty local bread. Everything was made even more delicious with generous drizzles of just-pressed olive oil.

Kangaroos and Olives, Too

Another key figure on the Aussie olive oil scene is Lisa Rowntree, past CEO of the Australian Olive Association (she served from 2011 to 2017). Created in 1995, the AOA helped jump-start modern Australian olive oil production and set the standards for EVOO quality. 

Lisa, her husband Jim (an engineer), their four children, and their children’s partners live and work on their olive farm, Longridge Olives. “It’s like a kibbutz,” Lisa quips. An eight-hour drive from Melbourne, Longridge is near the town of Coonalpyn, in the state of South Australia. Last year the Roundtrees built their own mill—true to the resourceful Aussie spirit, they bought high-quality components from fellow producers and combined them (with the family’s engineering expertise) into a truly state-of-the-art mill.

The family shares its space with an active animal menagerie: three dogs; two goats (the billy may saunter through the kitchen when the door is ajar); and kangaroos. Lisa works with a local animal rescue to foster baby kangaroos, which she bottle-feeds. You can see me with one of the ’roos, Melly, in the photo above.

Finally, we made our way back up to collaborate with our good friends at the Kyneton groves. The estate manager, Mick Labbozzetta, whose parents came from Italy, and an Italian master miller, Davide Bruno, combine an Old World sensibility with New World practices to create a great Australian synergy. That seems symbolic to me, as it was Mediterranean immigrants who brought the first olives to Australia, with cuttings smuggled inside the lapels of jackets, in order to plant trees from their homeland in the soil of their future.

The three dazzling Down Under discoveries that await you are bursting with personality and polyphenols. How they will enliven your fall-weather menus! (Get your culinary inspiration flowing with the enticing recipes below.) And know that each of these exquisite oils is the product of the passion and dedication of artisans halfway around the world. Oath!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti 2019, Boort, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

“What?” you might be thinking, about the descriptive details above. “Picual? As a mild selection? Is this an upside-down world?”

Well, yes, it is, in more ways than one. Australia takes great pride in its idiosyncrasies, whether inscrutable slang or mammals that lay eggs. Here, water drains counterclockwise, autos drive on the left, and, to my delight, olive varieties often take on pleasingly different aromatic and flavor traits from their Old World counterparts.

Veteran Club members may note that my global Picual selections over the years have traditionally occupied the “bold” position in the trio. More than a few times I’ve described a robust Picual as “pesto in a bottle.” So how has this olive variety accomplished such a stretch—as if an operatic baritone could also sing coloratura soprano?

Enter Leandro Ravetti, longtime dear friend of the Club, master miller, and international olive oil expert. Among his multiple global engagements, Leandro is the technical director of Modern Olives, a uniquely influential company in Lara, Victoria, that provides consulting services to olive growers and conducts cutting-edge horticultural research with its on-site olive nursery and laboratory. A native of Argentina, Leandro came to Australia in 2002 to help launch the company, anticipating that he might stay for a couple years. He’s lived in Victoria ever since and has played a leading role in shaping the contemporary Australian olive oil scene. 

As my Merry Band of Tasters and I pulled up to Leandro’s grove in Boort, Victoria, our jaws dropped simultaneously as we witnessed hundreds of olive trees uprooted, ripped out of the ground, lying on their sides. I nearly had a panic attack! Imagine gigantic toy soldiers toppled over—but olive trees, with their root systems like huge, dirt-encumbered boots. I could see that the trees were healthy and alive, but nonetheless I steeled myself. (No one can say I’m not a worrier!)

He blinded me with science! Or, I should say, he opened my eyes with phytochemistry! Longtime friend of the Club Leandro Ravetti is one of the world’s foremost authorities on everything to do with olive oil. After graduating with honors in agricultural engineering in his native Argentina and postgraduate work in Italy and Spain, Leandro relocated to Australia to be the technical director of Modern Olives. Here, he’s teaching me how a few of the health-promoting compounds in fresh-pressed olive oil are generated in the developing fruit.

In mellow, typical Aussie style, Jay Brown, one of Leandro’s team, reassured me, “No dramas. Everything’s good.” As it turned out, these were all Barnea trees. Leandro explained that Barnea is a finicky olive tree, prone to botanical maladies, so over the past several seasons his team has systematically removed the Barnea trees, plot by plot, replacing them with different olive varieties.

One of those plots was replanted with Picual trees in 2015. This is their debut harvest—the first season their fruit has been ready for pressing. And what a triumphant debut! “They had the best-looking fruit,” Leandro praised. “Just perfect, green, with just a hint of pink in the flesh.”

Each time Leandro and I collaborate on an exclusive oil for my Club, I learn something (actually, often several things). This time around, I encountered the surprising “young tree” aspects of Picual—lighter, with a fruitiness you don’t get from a robust, early-harvest Picual, which is traditionally all about the dark-green aromatics. The young Picual still puts forth a very green roster, including the characteristic green tomato and tomato-leaf qualities, but it manifests different, more delicate variations on the expected theme.

We added a bit of Koroneiki to the blend to enhance the complexity and increase its polyphenol content. The Koroneiki, too, amazed me with its unexpectedly fruit-forward nature Down Under.

Leandro, my Merry Band of Tasters, and I celebrated another brilliant collaboration with lunch at a café inside Federal Mills, a mixed-use industrial space in the nearby town of Geelong. The popular destination houses offices, artist studios, and restaurants inside a massive former woolen mill. We enjoyed grilled lamb over salad, Aussie beef burgers, and a vegan platter with hummus, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves, all enhanced with exuberant splashes of this exceedingly food-friendly blend! 

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

A sweet, subtle perfume is released when you open the bottle. Most prominent on the beautiful nose is the scent of wheatgrass, along with green banana, golden apple, white pepper, celery, the herbal notes of wild mint and parsley, tomato leaf, and butter lettuce. In the mouth it’s pleasantly creamy, presenting green banana, green tomato, fennel, macadamia nut (native to Australia), and vanilla bean. Exhibits a delicate bitterness, like celery leaf or romaine lettuce, and mild pepper. The finish is fruity, long, and nuanced.

My tasters and I envision this beguiling oil on fruit, root vegetables (especially carrots, parsnips, beets, and sweet potatoes), pumpkins, acorn or butternut squash, tomatoes, rice or cauliflower rice, mashed or roasted potatoes, poultry, lobster, shrimp, and mild white fish. It would also be great in banana bread or olive oil cake (see a recipe below). Try it drizzled over yogurt, ice cream, or cottage cheese.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: AuLife 2019, Toorak,Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

One of my most valuable olive oil resources on the Australian continent is the stylish and worldly Melissa Wong, whom I met at the original Food Network studios years ago when we were both living and working in New York City. Little did we know she would become my high-heeled “boots on the ground” when I initiated my search for the Southern Hemisphere’s premium extra virgin olive oils. 

Few people Down Under have more experience in sourcing superior specialty foods than Melissa, particularly olive oil. Born to immigrant parents in Vancouver, Canada, the former Hong Kong resident exhibited her multicultural moxie when she partnered with a 2-star Michelin chef and opened an Italian restaurant—Ristorante Sadler—in Beijing. Eager to re-establish active connections to the food world when she and her husband, Robert, relocated to Melbourne, Australia, Melissa founded AuLife to promote the country’s extraordinary olive oils and other top-shelf food products. 

Thanks to her, I’ve become acquainted with some of the most influential people in Australia’s close-knit olive oil community, including authorities Lisa Rowntree, the former CEO of the Australian Olive Association, and Jill Barson, a board member of the Olive Wellness Institute. Read more about these two accomplished women above.

It seemed only natural that two old friends would celebrate their collaboration on a stellar Australian olive oil by cooking a meal together for their respective spouses. Here, food and olive oil authority Melissa Wong and I assemble our ingredients in her well-equipped kitchen. We’ve just returned from the market where we agreed on a menu of grilled barramundi with arugula, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Tying it all together will be a lovely vinaigrette improvised from fresh lemon juice and zest, cider vinegar, fresh dill, and our beautiful food-friendly olive oil. We used the vinaigrette to marinate, baste, and sauce the fish and dress the salad. Find the recipe (and others) below.

Today, Melissa and Robert, a lawyer, live in Toorak, an affluent suburb about three miles from Melbourne’s Central Business District. With a population of about 12,000, it’s well known for its posh boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Toorak is like the Beverly Hills of Melbourne, its postal code of 3142 as coveted as 90210. (The fictional Jed Clampett family might have taken up residence in one of Toorak’s surviving eighteenth-century Victorian mansions had the Beverly Hillbillies been filmed in Australia.)

Many times, Melissa has hosted grand tastings for my Merry Band of Tasters and me in the couple’s beautiful home. This year, thanks to careful planning and advance work by dedicated scouts like her, I already had several promising producers and olive varieties in my sights when I landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

One olive variety that intrigued me was proposed by Melissa herself. Through her many contacts among Australian olive oil producers, she discovered two potentially exceptional Coratinas being produced by skilled millers—one in northern Victoria, and one farther south. Once pressed, either oil, she reasoned, might meet my extremely high standards (with which she is well-acquainted).

The Coratina cultivar, which has adapted well to Victoria’s soil and Mediterranean climate, is originally from Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. It can be described as both spicy and fruity, and often exhibits high levels of phenolic compounds. (It is these compounds that contribute to fresh-pressed olive oil’s much-touted health benefits.)

When I finally tasted the two Coratinas, I liked both samples very much. Each one brought something different to the table. It was an easy decision to combine them, creating a unique boutique blend that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Never before have I been able to offer Club members a single varietal Australian Coratina. This is an exciting oil, one I know you’ll enjoy with fall menus.

Speaking of cooking, Melissa and I celebrated our latest successful olive oil collaboration in her well-appointed kitchen. (See the photo above.) We shopped for dinner at one of the city’s gourmet markets, deciding on a main course of grilled barramundi. (Barramundi is a sustainable fish native to Australia and the Indo-Pacific that is also known as Asian sea bass.)

Of course, we were eager to pair our fresh-pressed Coratina blend with food. It did not disappoint! A simple vinaigrette made with fresh lemon juice and zest, a sweet apple cider vinegar, and fresh herbs showed off the Coratina’s intrinsic spiciness and rich mouthfeel. We used the vinaigrette three ways—as a marinade for the fish, a dressing for the arugula and tomato salad, and as a sauce. (Veteran Club members, you know what I always say: Fresh-pressed olive oil is Mother Nature’s finest sauce!) For a recipe, see below. I can’t wait to try this versatile oil with pumpkin, root vegetables, and roasted meats.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The aroma of fresh-cut grass is evident in this marriage of two Coratinas, followed by chopped fresh culinary herbs, green pear, green peppercorn, arugula, lime zest, kiwi, and celery leaf. We sense a minty freshness and the subtlety of artichoke and green almonds. In other words, this oil is a green dream! The verdant theme continues on the tongue with walnuts, endive, fennel, arugula, green apple, artichoke, dandelion greens, and fresh thyme. Well-balanced, exhibiting both fruitiness and bitterness, with a spicy kick of Szechuan peppercorn on the prolonged finish.

This oil is a perfect companion for Italian dishes, from eggplant to chopped salad with crusty bread to pasta and stews. We’d love it with pork, lamb, or chicken, green beans, eggs, white beans, broccoli, broccoli rabe, braised onions, kale, a fennel/citrus salad, stuffed peppers, ripe tomatoes, aged cheeses, tuna or salmon steaks, or fresh sardines.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Kyneton Olive Oil, 2019, Bylands, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Corregiola, Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

About an hour north of Melbourne lies the rural community of Bylands, population 136 at last count.

Rolling in a rental van on the Northern Highway with my Merry Band of Tasters, my destination is Kyneton Olive Oil. It is a storied farm, circumscribed by the hopes, dreams, and hard work of several intergenerational Italian families. When I enter the now familiar gates, it feels as if I’ve magically found in Central Victoria a portal to Italy and the Old World.

Upon arrival, we’re met by Mick Labbozzetta, the genial general manager of Kyneton. He belongs to the extended Calabrian-Sicilian-Australian family that acquired the Kyneton name and assets from Sam and Sandra Trovatello, including an impressive Pieralisi olive mill, in 2016. I enjoyed working with the Trovatellos, of course, and frequently selected their oils for my Club members. But the new team, led by Mick, has already earned my respect. Last year, Kyneton took home an impressive 33 awards in olive oil competitions in the Southern Hemisphere.

One of the contributors to Kyneton’s success is Italian master miller Davide Bruno. Heis “on loan” for the two-month Australian harvest from his native Liguria. Davide is joined by Carmelo Tramontana, who learned his way around olive trees in his native Calabria, but who has lived in Australia for about eight years. We had a lively discussion about the differences between the Italian and Australian approaches to growing and pressing olives.

I met Italian master miller Davide Bruno at Kyneton during last year’s visit and was happy to learn he returned for the 2019 harvest to reprise his important role. From Liguria in northern Italy, Davide is in Australia for two months, and will then return home in time for the olive harvest there. His familiarity with New World methods and techniques combined with an Old World sensibility to makes him a courier between the two very different olive oil cultures, benefiting both Italian and Australian producers. Here, the award-winning miller shows me his technique for determining olives’ maturity and deciding if the optimum time for picking has arrived—what I call “the magic window.”

The primary difference, Davide observed, is “quality versus not-quality.” Many Italian olive farmers, he explained, continue to do things the way their grandfathers did them. This is particularly true in northern Italy, where olives are picked by hand and languish until they can be pressed at the community frantoio (mill). In contrast, most Australians monitor their olives at every stage and do whatever possible to ensure the oils are of the highest possible quality. Because of the distance that separates them, many Aussie farmers have installed their own mills, meaning they can minimize the time between picking and pressing. They have readily embraced technology or new methods when they have the potential to improve their oils.

Though he is an agent for the cross-cultural pollination of ideas and methods, Davide hasn’t abandoned the old ways entirely. Before his arrival on the farm, Davide said, Mick had been submitting olive samples to a lab to pinpoint the optimum time for picking. The lab pronounced the olives “too green.” Using his Old World know-how, Davide squeezed a few of the olives between his fingers. He determined the flesh was separating from the pits, and declared that the harvest had to begin immediately! We shared a good laugh over the accuracy of his “Charmin test.” I’m sure Davide will relish telling that story when he returns to Liguria for the upcoming harvest.

Mick, too, grew up around olive trees and exhibits the kind of passion I always look for in the producers I work with, wherever they might be in the world. He oversees some 7,000 olive trees, most of them Tuscan varietals. Their well-being is his highest priority as a farm manager and drives his attention to detail. This year, he said, yields were down by 50 percent over last year, due to localized higher-than-normal summer temperatures combined with lower-than-normal rainfall. (I noticed the water level of the beautiful palm tree-rimmed lake on the property appeared to be down since my visit last year.) Luckily, the Kyneton trees are irrigated with ground water. If not extreme, controlled water deprivation can actually improve the quality of the fruit by concentrating the flavors and aromas of its oils. Which—happily!—is what happened.

Here’s an interesting side note: Half the farm’s olive trees are irrigated with a drip system, and half with sprinkler heads. Soon, Mick said, the sprinkler heads will be replaced with drip hoses. Not only is the drip system more efficient—there’s less evaporation, and the water gets to the trees’ root systems where it’s needed most—but in the long run, the system will be less costly to maintain. Every morning, you see, the grove is invaded by a gang of kangaroos that sometimes destroy the sprinkler heads by inadvertently jumping on them. That’s one thing Davide won’t have to worry about in Liguria!

What a find! Mick Labbozzetta (right), the general manager of Kyneton, introduced me to a real gem located between the farm and Melbourne, That’s Amore Cheese of Thomastown. It was founded in 2008 by Giorgio Linguanti (center), a very talented Sicilian immigrant. The cafe is a magnet for workers (called “tradies”) throughout the region, especially those of Italian extraction. By 10 a.m. each morning, Giorgio has sold out of freshly made buffalo or cow’s milk ricotta (which is sublime with just-pressed extra virgin olive oil), but patrons will find about 40 other varieties of cheeses. The attached factory and laboratory use an astounding 25,000 liters (6,600 gallons) of milk daily! Giorgio’s spice-roasted porchetta sandwiches alsohad me at “Hello”—I mean “G’day.”

This year, the spicy Corregiola varietal appeared to be the beneficiary of the 2019 growing season’s idiosyncrasies. It became the backbone of the delightful, robust Tuscan-style blend Mick and I created for you with the help of Davide and Carmelo. This is not, as you’ll discover when you taste it, your grandfather’s oil.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The most robust oil in this quarter’s trio, it’s loaded with healthful polyphenols. Inhale its fragrant aromas, and you’ll pick up the dark green influences of wheatgrass and Tuscan kale, as well as minerally hints of baby spinach. We also noticed sweet almonds, green tea, baking spices, green tomato, rose petals, and walnut skin. Intense, yet very well calibrated. Embrace the bitterness, and allow it to bloom in the mouth into lime zest, arugula, watercress, radicchio, rosemary, oregano, and freshly ground black pepper. The finish is sensational and long-lasting, with a peppery pinch in the throat.

This muscular, herbal oil is the one to reach for when grilled meats and/or vegetables are on the menu—beefsteak, lamb shoulder or chops, kebabs, etc. It will also complement sautéed bitter greens; cabbage; baked, pan-fried, or roasted potatoes; tomato sauce; wild mushrooms; black bread; mackerel or bluefish; or stronger cheeses. We also urge you to try it with premium dark chocolate. Amazing!


Olive Oil and Health

Vegetables’ health benefits increase when cooked with extra virgin olive oil

Adapted from an article from the University of Barcelona, June 13, 2019 

Cooking the vegetables in sofrito (the traditional Spanish sauté of garlic, onion, and tomato) with extra virgin olive oil increases the absorption and release of the bioactive compounds in the vegetables, according to a study conducted by a research team from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences at the University of Barcelona (UB), from the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Networking Biomedical Research Centre (CIBERobn), and the Diabetes and Associated Metabolic Diseases Networking Biomedical Research (CIBERDEM), led by Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventós. These results, published in the scientific journal Molecules, allow for insight into the mechanisms by which gastronomy could play a relevant role in the health-improving effects of the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet, which involves a high consumption of phytochemicals from vegetables, fruits, and legumes, has been correlated to health-improving effects in cardiovascular and metabolic health. This correlation has largely been established by findings from the extensive PREDIMED study, a multicenter clinical trial carried out from 2003 to 2011 with more than 7,000 participants.

However, the healthful effects of the Mediterranean diet have been challenging to reproduce in non- Mediterranean populations—possibly, according to the researchers, because of differences in cooking techniques. With this study, researchers have attempted to assess whether the Mediterranean gastronomy imputes its health benefits not only via its food components but also via the way those foods are cooked.

The objective of the study was to assess the effect of the extra virgin olive oil on bioactive compounds in tomato, onion, and garlic—the traditional ingredients in sofrito, one of the key cooking techniques in the Mediterranean diet. According to the researchers, this sauce has forty different phenolic compounds and a high amount of carotenoids, and its consumption is associated with an improvement of the cardiovascular risk parameters and insulin sensitivity.

“The main result of the study is that cooking vegetables with extra virgin olive oil [allows] the bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids and polyphenols, that are present in vegetables we find in sofrito to move to the olive oil, which enables the absorption and bioactivity of these compounds,” says Lamuela -Raventós, director of the Institute for Research on Nutrition and Food Safety (INSA-UB).

The study also identified a new property of olive oil. Previous researchers had noted that the combination of olive oil and onion produces isomers of certain carotenoids. These isomers are more bioavailable and have a higher antioxidant content. This study found that olive oil facilitates this process not only with carotenoids but also with polyphenols, which are transferred from the vegetables to the oil.

These results could explain earlier findings by this research group that the presence of olive oil increases the anti-inflammatory effects of sofrito. “We saw that this increase can occur due to the migration of bioactive compounds (carotenoids and polyphenols) from the tomato, onion, and garlic to the oil during the cooking process, which [improves] the absorption of these compounds,” concludes José Fernando Rinaldi de Alvarenga, INSA-UB member and lead author of the paper.

Reference: de Alvarenga JF et al. Using extra virgin olive oil to cook vegetables enhances polyphenol and carotenoid extractability: a study applying the sofrito technique. Molecules. 2019;24(8): DOI: 10.3390/molecules24081555.


Kudos from Club Members

Hi — Just a short note to let you know how much I love the olive oils you are choosing and sending. They are absolutely delicious and I refuse to share them other than for a taste. I use them every day in my cooking and with a variety of foods. I never knew that olive oil had a taste or that it should have flavor. Every time I taste they remind me of new-mown hay or what a fat honey-filled clover blossom tastes like.
Mary G.Jackson, MI

Recipes

  • Avocado and Prosciutto Wraps Avocado and Prosciutto Wraps This pleasing appetizer goes together in 5 minutes or less, and is a perfect way to showcase fragrant fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil. view recipe
  • Olive Oil Smoothie Olive Oil Smoothie A couple spoonsful of antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil boosts the nutritional value of your pre- or post-workout smoothie. view recipe
  • Japanese Eggplants with Olive Oil and Tomatoes Japanese Eggplants with Olive Oil and Tomatoes A few years ago, I met Australian celebrity chef Kylie Kwong at the Eveleigh farmers’ market in Sydney. Kylie’s well known for her Asian fusion food, which often features extra virgin olive oil. Serve this as a starter or side dish. view recipe
  • Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro) Tomato and Bread Soup (Pappa al Pomodoro) Fresh tomatoes usually get all the love, obscuring the fact that canned tomatoes, preserved at their peak in their own juices, are wonderful, too! This soup, though made of humble ingredients, is transformed when drizzled with exquisitely fresh olive oil. view recipe
  • Grilled Halloumi and Greek Salad Wraps Grilled Halloumi and Greek Salad Wraps Halloumi, a brined goat’s milk cheese from Cyprus, is having a moment in Australia. On my most recent trip, it seemed to be everywhere! Because it has a high melting point, this firm, somewhat salty cheese can be grilled, fried, or sautéed without losing its shape. You can cut it into cubes, sauté it, then… view recipe
  • Curtis Stone’s Pan-Roasted Salmon and Beets Curtis Stone’s Pan-Roasted Salmon and Beets Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone champions healthy eating while minimizing dinner dishes with this recipe. Generally, we’ve noticed Aussies love their beets, even putting them on hamburgers. view recipe
  • Kylie Wong’s Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Sweet and Sour Sauce Kylie Wong’s Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Sweet and Sour Sauce If you typically accompany your beef with Port wine or horseradish sauce, trade those for this bright, Asian-inflected “dressing” from Australian chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong. view recipe
  • Lamb Chops Scottadito Lamb Chops Scottadito Australians love their lamb, eating more than ten times per year the amount Americans eat. “Scottadito” translates from the Italian as “burned fingers,” as these chops are so good, people eat them with their fingers as soon as they come off the hot grill. view recipe
  • End-of-Season Vegetable Casserole End-of-Season Vegetable Casserole This is a great casserole to make while gardens are still yielding—substantial enough to serve as a vegetarian main course. We love recipes that command you to drizzle extra virgin olive oil straight from the bottle! Yes, I’m a profligate drizzler. view recipe
  • Barramundi on a Bed of Fresh Greens Barramundi on a Bed of Fresh Greens One of the most pleasurable evenings on this trip was cooking dinner in the kitchen of food entrepreneur Melissa Wong and her husband, Robert. A simple vinaigrette whipped up in minutes became the unifying factor in this dish, serving as a salad dressing, a marinade, and a sauce. If you can’t find barramundi (a popular… view recipe

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

For Your Summer Dining Pleasure, Three Exquisite Fresh-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Chile!

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Rushed to your table from “the ends of the Earth” by jet at their peak of flavor, these beauties are all from award-winning New World producers.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • You will be among the few lucky Americans to enjoy fresh-pressed olive oil with summer’s bounty.
  • All three were pressed exclusively for Club members and are available nowhere else!

Sandwiched between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is Chile, a slender, sinuous country that for me, has become an invaluable hunting ground for premium extra virgin olive oil. The colorful fall harvest is just winding down there, and once again, my relationships with Chile’s best producers ensure you will have only the freshest, finest olive oils on your table to splash on sun-ripened tomatoes and other delights when they appear in gardens and markets.

Chile is a horticultural wunderkind, one of the New World’s largest alternate-season suppliers of apples, blueberries, stone fruits, and grapes, the latter often exported as wine.

Growing olives, which are also fruits, was an easy next step.

Realized Dreams, Despite Prolonged Drought

About 15 years ago, I envisioned a unique club that would put fresh, amazing olive oils in the hands of North Americans. Meanwhile, farmers in central Chile were formulating plans to grow olive trees, inspired by the region’s Mediterranean climate, rocky, well-drained soil, and ready access to an agriculturally gifted workforce—you can’t throw an avocado here without hitting an agronomist. A decade later, these rookie growers were pocketing golds, silvers, and “best in class” awards in prestigious olive oil competitions. (The producers of your oils have all been named in the top 20 of the best in the world by the olive oil bible, Flos Olei.) Many Old World producers, sensing they were being bested at their own game, were stunned by this upstart on the other side of the globe. There were even whispers about “the Chilean threat.”

Chile actually produces less than 1 percent of the world’s olive oil, a drop in the bucket. Which explains why its oils are rarely spotted on US shelves. Also, few growers have the resources to promote their own brands, meaning the majority of Chile’s oils end up in the bulk market. They are either consumed domestically or exported to Brazil, Asia, or Italy, which is currently experiencing a serious olive oil shortage due to a string of disappointing harvests.

ChileOliva, an olive grower’s association and a tireless champion of Chilean olive oils, introduced me in 2005 to Chile’s top olive farmers. Its small team has done much since then to improve quality, sustainability, and yields while fostering a sense of community. During my recent visit, I met with ChileOliva agronomist and professional taster, Pamela González. We discussed the impact of Chile’s drought, up-and-coming producers, the fascinating agronomy research being done at the University of Chile, and local chefs who are doing creative things with Chile’s premium extra virgin olive oils.

Natural barriers protect Chile from many of the scourges that have bedeviled olive growers in other countries, including pathogens and pests. However, Chile’s been battling a severe drought for several years. As my plane cleared the Andean peaks upon descent (whew!), I noticed they were capped with even less snow than last year. (Many farmers rely on run-off to irrigate their trees, so lack of snow is a problem.) The landscape looked more parched than I remembered, populated with cacti and thorny espiña bushes. Water levels were visibly down in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Controlled water deprivation can actually enhance an olive oil’s complexity even as it depresses yields. Quality-conscious producers sometimes stop irrigating prior to the harvest to concentrate oils’ aromas and flavors.

In less than two decades, Chile has become a trusted New World source of premium extra virgin olive oil, more than 90 percent of it extra virgin. Located at the 34th parallel south, Central Chile is especially well suited to olive trees, thanks to its Mediterranean climate, well-drained volcanic soil, and agriculturally experienced workforce.

The farmers I worked with this quarter—as always, Chile’s most passionate and consistent producers—assured me they kept a close eye on their trees’ needs, even monitoring soil moisture levels with high-tech probes. Yes, rainfall had been less than average, but the olives were healthy. I toured the groves myself, of course, accompanied by olive expert and master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. We wasted no time in selecting the fruit we wanted in our blends, knowing unexpected frosts are a devastating side effect of dry weather. By the way, Chilean olive growers tend to focus on a handful of olive varietals, including Arbequina, Arbosana, Picual, Coratina, Leccino, Koroneiki, and Frantoio. Blending them is like working with a palette of bright primary colors: a pleasing exercise that yields clean, elegant, vibrant results.

T.J. Robinson and María
Having enjoyed empanadas on previous visits to olive oil producers’ homes, I was determined to learn how to make them myself. The Alonso family’s cook, María, was happy to oblige. As you can see, the language barrier didn’t prevent us from sharing a laugh over my pastry fail. (Her circles are perfect!) Later, the dough was stuffed with a traditional filling called pino—cooked ground beef, onions, olives, and hard-cooked egg—then baked. Do try them with a glass of Chilean red wine, using the recipe below.

From the “Ends of the Earth,” Oils for Your Summer Table

When in an olive-producing country, I like to consult with university affiliates, trade organizations, professional tasters, etc. These meetings are mutually beneficial as we share knowledge, insight, and perspective. This time, I met with Pamela González, an agronomist at ChileOliva, an organization I’ve worked closely with since 2005. She explained that scientists at the University of Chile are analyzing 25 years’ worth of satellite images to better understand and predict patterns in Chile’s agricultural life. She’s hoping practical strategies will emerge to help olive farmers improve quality and production. Intrigued, I did a little reading on my own and learned that large experimental screens have been erected near Chile’s coastline to capture and condense fog, an untapped water resource for farmers. Genius!

On the long plane ride home, I reflected on how my long-ago dream dovetailed with the dreams of a few fearless farmers 5,000 miles and a continent away. Because of that fortuitous coincidence, you’ll soon have a wonderful taste experience, one I hope you’ll share with family and friends. (Do try one or several of the recipes I’ve included below.) I truly wish you could witness for yourself the farmers’ obvious pleasure and pride when their olive oils—the oils they’ve put their everything into—are selected for our Club. In a perfect world, you’d meet them personally and learn how thrilled they are to share their oils with discriminating palates. Please enjoy these lovely extra virgin olive oils in good health.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Duccio Morozzo Selección Exclusiva, Colchagua Valley, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2019
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

I feel a frisson of anticipation each time my Merry Band of Tasters and I escape Santiago’s urban sprawl for the rural Colchagua Valley. The landscape during the harvest season is stunningly beautiful—reminiscent of a Cézanne painting, splashed with cobalt blue, burnt sienna, chrome yellow, viridian, and deep burgundy.

I’m not only eager to taste just-pressed olive oils from Chile’s most masterful producers, but my travel companions and I also have a reservation at Fuegos de Apalta (Fires of Apalta), a highly regarded restaurant owned by Patagonian celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. (He was featured on Chef’s Table, an original series by Netflix.) Mallmann endeared himself to me when he named the ingredients he couldn’t live without: “Very good salt, very good olive oil, very good red wine vinegar. With that you can do anything.” (See a Mallmann recipe I have adapted for your enjoyment below.)

The Colchagua Valley, about the size of Delaware and well endowed with natural resources, was carved by Pacific-bound runoff from the Andean peaks, particularly the Tinguirrica volcano. Colchagua means “valley of lakes” in the language of Chile’s indigenous people, the Mapuche. (Some 2 million Mapuche still live in South America, three-quarters of them in Chile.) In the late 1400s, the valley was invaded by the Incas, who introduced irrigation and farming to the region. But the Incas were really there for the gold. Not the maize or beans.

It’s ironic that I am also there for the gold—“liquid gold,” that is, the ancient world’s term for olive oil.

Olive trees are fairly new to Chile; most are less than 20 years old. One of the country’s olive pioneers was Alfonso Swett. A former berry farmer, Alfonso was vacationing in Spain in 2001 when inspiration struck: he realized the Colchagua Valley, with its fertile, volcanic soil and temperate Mediterranean climate, could provide olive trees with conditions similar to those found in Spain. Swett promptly enlisted the help of agricultural consultants before planting thousands of olive trees. He bottled his first extra virgin olive oil in 2006 and has been winning awards ever since.

For years, my friend, olive oil expert and master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, has been advising the Swett family. When possible, he and I meet at the farm during the harvest. The team Alfonso assembled, including agricultural and operations manager, Ismael Heiremans, has dedicated itself to producing the finest olive oil possible.

My longtime friend and collaborator Duccio Morozzo della Rocca is one of the world’s most respected olive oil experts. How lucky Club members and I are to have the knowledge and counsel of this master miller at our disposal. Here, on the Swett family farm, Duccio and I are discussing the merits of blending two Arbequinas that had been exposed to different amounts of sunlight during the growing season—a strategy that turned out to be brilliant. The final blend, we excitedly discovered, was optimized by adding a small amount of Coratina for structure and balance. We can’t wait for you to taste it!glass of Chilean red wine, using the recipe below.

Duccio arrived a day ahead of me, and thanks to a preliminary tour of the farm’s vast acreage and many microclimates, tentatively identified groves with promise. The farm had half of its normal rainfall for the second year in a row—less water than the Sahara—but its irrigation system (fed by a large lake) provided the olive trees with sufficient moisture, Duccio assured me. He was especially captivated by two pockets of the varietal Arbequina—one on a sunny hillside and the other in a more shaded area.

Duccio is always compelled to touch the olives, to roll them between his fingers, even to take a bite. Ripeness, he says, cannot be determined by visual cues alone.

The Arbequinas Duccio and I selected were harvested and pressed within a day of each other at very cool temperatures. (All the olives harvested here are pressed within two hours of being picked.) We loved our first taste of the blend, the way the more aromatic oil from the sunnier slopes complemented the greener flavors of the other Arbequina. We could have left well enough alone. But no. A tiny amount of a powerful just-pressed Coratina, we discovered, completed the blend. So exciting! We couldn’t stop dipping Chilean bread in it—“Like a drug,” Duccio deadpanned. The combination is addictive.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Delicate and clean on the nose, a connoisseur’s olive oil. Expect whiffs of green tomato, butter lettuce, celery, green apple, chervil, fennel, green almond, citrus zest, and cinnamon. Very nutty (walnuts, almonds) and sweet in the mouth—think lemon meringue pie—with the subtle spiciness of white pepper and celery leaves, and grace notes of tender greens and white chocolate. Mild with a pleasant, lingering finish.

This elegant, well-balanced oil would complement shrimp, lobster, cod, sea bass, sole, fruit salads, chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, eggs, cauliflower, fresh peas and green beans, and raw vegetables. Try it with dairy, too, like mild cheeses, yogurt, or ice cream. Salad dressings or baked goods are other fantastic uses.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: “El Favorito,” Miguel Ángel Molina Selección Exclusiva, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2019
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Leccino, Koroneiki, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

What a pleasure it was to return to the groves of the esteemed Miguel Ángel Molina, master miller and bonafide “olive whisperer.” Miguel and I met five years ago, and he continues to astound me with his ingenuity, technical skill, tireless devotion, and the consistent excellence of his olive oils.

In a parched season such as this one (continuing several years of severe aridity, initially called “mega-drought,” now seemingly the “new normal”), the Chilean olive growers who succeed despite the lack of moisture are those who have mastered the art of optimizing their scarce water resources.

As Miguel and I toured the groves by dirt bike and 4-wheel-drive ATV, he described the electronic sensors that his team has embedded in the earth to measure the moisture in the soil. Sensors are buried at 20cm (8-inch) intervals beneath the surface, with the deepest at 60cm (about 2 feet), in a network strategically distributed among the olive trees. This enables Miguel and his team to know when the trees have received adequate water—merely measuring the water administered above ground wouldn’t indicate how much reached the root system. With the high-tech accuracy of the sensors, just the right amount of water can be delivered to the trees.

Miguel was excited to show me the gorgeous fruit on the branches, eager to set aside the very best olives for my Club. (You can see us transferring a basket of just-picked olives to the bin on the back of his ATV in the photo on opposite page.) He oversees a dedicated team—numbering as many as 80 people during the harvest’s peak—that runs as smoothly and precisely as a Swiss watch. It’s no coincidence that Miguel manages time as efficiently as he manages water (both scarce, both precious), as he’s always on the move. On Mondays he commutes almost 3 hours to the farm, and on Friday afternoons he makes the return trip to spend the weekend with his wife and children in the town of Talca, in the south of Chile.

Miguel’s affinity for fruit developed during his earlier years of work in the agricultural industry, as a packer of apples and pears. I’ve noted that most of the best Chilean harvest teams include former fruit packers—they know, via experience and intuition, how to handle perishable produce. You can see it in the way Miguel moves through his groves, the way he picks and ever so gently squeezes an olive to test its maturity—as if it were a miniature avocado.

I love to traverse the groves with Miguel Ángel Molina, cruising the terrain on the ATV and dirt bike and stopping in specific sectors to sample the olives he’s identified as the best of this season. A skillful master miller and estate manager, Miguel has one of the finest, most discerning palates I’ve ever encountered, and I trust his judgment implicitly. The name we’ve given the dazzling oil from his groves, El Favorito, comes from the question I found myself asking, year after year: “Miguel, what’s your favorite?”

Miguel turned his focus to olives in 2004 when he set out to learn the fundaments of olive horticulture, expert milling, and blending from the famed Don Willy of the TerraMater groves, one of the pioneer artisans of the Chilean premium olive oil industry. (TerraMater, Latin for “motherland,” is the oldest producing olive grove in Chile, dating to the 1940s.) Miguel is on a constant mission of continuing self-education to optimize the olive’s journey from tree to table. Since 2014, he’s been the estate manager of the Alonso farm, located in Chile’s central O’Higgins region.

One sector of the groves is home to thousands of Frantoio and Leccino trees, planted together as cross-pollinators. These two Tuscan olive varieties are then harvested and pressed together, commingling their flavors from the start, which in my estimation creates more than just a blend—it’s a magical synergy of their qualities.

To this beguiling blend we added a bit of Greek Koroneiki, its flavors especially intense this harvest, to enhance the oil’s dimension, and a finishing touch of Spanish Arbequina, for its piquant spiciness and herbal notes. As the name “El Favorito” makes plain, this spectacular oil is an all-star roster of Miguel’s favorite olives this season. (Like a doting grandparent reassuring his clamoring grandchildren, though, I must insist that there is no “favorite” oil among the three I select for my Club members.)

Appetites whetted, we debuted this extremely food-friendly blend at a local workers’ joint, Don Achilles, a midday meal destination for the staff of several olive groves and fruit farms. The restaurant serves delicious home-style cuisine, the Chilean equivalent of “comfort food,” perfect for generous splashes of just-pressed olive oil. The staff at Don Achilles knows me and my Merry Band of Tasters by now (one of the many perks of this job, after years of cultivating relationships around the world), so when we requested extra pebre, the zesty Chilean version of salsa, they knew to bring us an entire plateful!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Several super-hero varietals from the Mediterranean meet on Chilean soil. This is truly an international oil! In the tasting glass, it’s both sweet and green (but very complex) evocative of vanilla, almonds, dark leafy greens, wheatgrass, and white pepper with hints of green banana, arugula, and wild mint. Intensely green in the mouth with bitterness lent by the flavors of radicchio, arugula, parsley, and dark chocolate.

A protracted and spicy finish makes this oil a natural with red meats (especially grilled meats), lamb, veal, white beans, tuna or swordfish, pasta salads, herbed potatoes, grilled sweet corn, vegetable soups, roasted carrots or broccoli, kale or spinach salads, avocados, sweet potatoes, or chocolate desserts. We’d even splash it in fruit smoothies!


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2019
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki, Frantoio
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Nothing makes me happier, as the Olive Oil Hunter, than witnessing the ongoing successes of people I met when they were starting out. In less than a decade of production, the Alonso groves—run by brothers Juan Jose and Ignacio Alonso, founded by their father, Abel—have achieved an astounding degree of quality and consistency in their award-winning olive oils.

Their farm comprises about 960 acres of rugged terrain in central Chile’s O’Higgins Region, about an hour south of Santiago. None of the Alonsos had a background in olive oil production or even in horticulture: Abel, a self-made man whose family fled Franco’s regime in Spain when Abel was a teenager, had worked tirelessly to become Chile’s top shoe manufacturer. Upon announcing his retirement from the business, he set his sons to the task of helping build a family legacy of olive groves, which would remind him of his boyhood home in Spain’s Basque country.

As New World olive growers, they were able to construct and refine their practices from the ground up, with “no bad habits,” as I like to observe. Juan Jose explained, with characteristic enthusiasm, that as Chilean producers they have to be “quality actors.” In other words, because they cannot compete with global bulk producers such as Spain or Greece, artisanal farms such as Alonso must make their mark via excellence. Juan Jose laughed as he recounted that, in their first harvest season, they brought in a consultant from Italy. The Italian expert sized up these ambitious newcomers and recommended they dilute their oils during the pressing process to make them milder, which would also wash away the healthful polyphenols. “We waited until he left,” Juan Jose confided, “and then were, like, ‘Noooooo!’ That year, we won medals.”

Their streak of excellence is unbroken, with regular appearances on Flos Olei’s list of “Top 20 Farms in the World.” To give it personal context, consider that when I arrived at the mill this harvest, Juan Jose set before me an array of 10 just-pressed samples. Eight of the 10 blew me away—they were all contenders, and I knew we could make an extraordinary blend. Usually, even with top-tier farms, I’ll find only 1 or 2 oils out of 10 that make an impression on me.

Ignacio Alonso and T. J. Robinson
Ignacio Alonso and I toast another brilliant collaboration over lunch at the family farm, enhanced by generous splashes of our glorious Picual blend. The Alonsos are passionate about introducing the marvels of premium fresh-pressed olive oil to a wider public, and they enthusiastically embrace the mission of our Club. Says Ignacio, “It’s wonderful there are people like you, doing what you’re doing, to show the benefits of great olive oil to the world.”

Great oil depends on great equipment, and I’ve never seen such well-maintained machinery as the Alonsos’ state-of-the-art Alfa Laval olive mill. Juan Jose agreed, “It’s perfect—allows no air in.” This protects the olive paste from oxidation and preserves the perfume and flavor in the resulting oil. In the several years I’ve been visiting their farm, there’s never been a breakdown; the mill staff are as quick and savvy as an Indy 500 pit crew.

The Alonsos and I are perfectly aligned in our passion for educating the public about the wonders of fresh-pressed olive oil. Here, you’re reading my Pressing Report. Down in Chile, the Alonsos are running two thriving retail stores, with plans for a third (and dreams of someday having even more). Cozy, ground-floor storefronts—one in downtown Santiago, the other in a more upscale neighborhood—sell monocultivars (oils pressed from a single variety) as well as delectable blends, reflecting the season’s harvest, with trained and knowledgeable clerks to offer insight and answer questions. The Alonsos sell about one-fifth to one-quarter of their olive oil in their retail stores.

“Because people are used to lousy oil,” explained Juan Jose, “at the beginning they were freaked out by quality olive oil.” But quickly, once they taste the difference of excellent fresh-pressed oil, customers can never go back to the inferior stuff. It’s very much a brick-and-mortar parallel to the mission of my Club!

The Alonso brothers, Juan Jose (left) and Ignacio (right) were stunned, close to 20 years ago now, when their father announced that his retirement dream was for the family to mill premium extra virgin olive oil. In the decade since its groves began producing, the Alonso farm has won dozens of major awards, in Chile and also on the world stage. Juan Jose, left, oversees the milling and production while Ignacio, right, handles the business end. Their father, Abel, spry and ambitious at eighty-four, is so proud to share the fruits of the family’s legacy with you.

Juan Jose and his family are so proud to know my Club members will be enjoying the oil from their farm. “To think some person in Vermont, for example, will be tasting my fresh oil—that makes me so proud!” he said.

This robust blend is powerful and exciting, and I predict it’ll knock your socks off. In homage to the family’s Spanish heritage, it’s predominantly Picual, at its most intense, super-green and spicy. The addition of Koroneiki and Frantoio, just a touch, makes it “jump out of the glass,” Juan Jose notes. (He likes to call bold oils like this “medicine,” which, given the health benefits of olive oil and its millennia of history as a medicament, is entirely accurate.) We can’t wait for you to try it!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

The most robust olive oil in this trio, an excellent example of an early harvest Picual, is intensely aromatic. We’re assailed with the scents of microgreens, tomato leaves, celery leaves, green apple, kiwi, and chopped fresh culinary herbs like sage, rosemary, parsley, and mint. It’s a juicy symphony in the mouth, teasing the tongue with healthful phenolic compounds and flavor harmonies. Green and grassy, incorporating the spiciness of celery leaves and the bitterness of green walnuts and Belgian endive. Chopped herbs, artichokes, kale, hazelnuts, and lime zest chime in. Expect an exciting, peppery finish.

A powerful oil such as this is the one to reach for when sun-ripened tomatoes are on the menu—bruschetta, caprese salad, gazpacho. Splash it on pizza, artichokes, hearts of palm, pasta, hummus, salmon, sardines, game meats, pork, duck, grilled chicken, potatoes, rice, aged cheeses, or salads made with dark leafy greens (spinach or kale) and fruit.


Olive Oil and Health

Diet including olive oil may reduce blood-clotting risk in healthy obese adults

Adapted from an article by the American Heart Association, March, 7, 2019

In a group of healthy obese adults, eating olive oil at least once a week was associated with less platelet activity in the blood, which may reduce the tendency of blood to clot and block blood flow. These findings are according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2019, a premier global exchange of the latest advances in population-based cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

Platelets are blood cell fragments that stick together and form clumps and clots when they are activated. They contribute to the buildup of artery-clogging plaque, known as atherosclerosis, the condition that underlies most heart attacks and strokes, according to lead study author Sean P. Heffron, MD, MS, MSc, assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine and the NYU Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in New York, New York.

Using food frequency surveys, researchers determined how often 63 obese, nonsmoking, nondiabetic study participants ate olive oil. The participants’ average age was 32.2 years and their average body mass index (BMI) was 44.1. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI)—a ratio of body weight to height—over 30.

Researchers found that those who ate olive oil at least once a week had lower platelet activation than participants who ate olive oil less often, and that the lowest levels of platelet aggregation were observed among those who ate olive oil more frequently.

“People who are obese are at increased risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event, even if they don’t have diabetes or other obesity-associated conditions. Our study suggests that choosing to eat olive oil may have the potential to help modify that risk, potentially lowering an obese person’s threat of having a heart attack or stroke,” Heffron said. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess the effects of dietary composition, olive oil specifically, on platelet function in obese patients,” said co-author Ruina Zhang, BS, an NYU medical student.

Some limitations of the study are that it relied on questionnaires completed by the participants; it measured how often they ate olive oil, but not how much olive oil they ate; and because it was observational, the study could not prove that eating olive oil will reduce platelet activation in obese adults.


Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

  • Black Bean Hummus Black Bean Hummus Unexpected company? You likely have everything you need in your pantry to quickly put together this twist on conventional hummus. view recipe
  • Chilled Tomato Soup with Créme Fraiche Chilled Tomato Soup with Créme Fraiche Like a refined version of gazpacho, this soup is refreshing and can be served as a starter or light main course. Make the soup and the herbed crème fraîche a day ahead of time, if desired, and refrigerate. (Let the crème fraîche come to room temperature before serving.) view recipe
  • Chimichurri Shrimp Chimichurri Shrimp The bright flavors of freshly made chimichurri (one of South America’s most popular sauces) complement shrimp beautifully. Try it with other kinds of seafood, too, like grilled salmon, sea bass, or lobster. We have also enjoyed it with eggs and chicken. view recipe
  • Grilled Salmon with Watercress and Cherry Tomatoes Grilled Salmon with Watercress and Cherry Tomatoes With nearly 3,000 miles of coastline, you can imagine how wonderful Chile’s seafood is. We prefer to grill salmon with the skin on, as it protects the fish from the high heat of the grill. view recipe
  • Broccoli Rabe with Chile and Garlic Broccoli Rabe with Chile and Garlic Blanching in salted water before sautéing takes some of the bitterness out of broccoli rabe. view recipe
  • Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache This moist cake proves chocolate and olive oil have an affinity for each other. On its own, the cake itself is vegan, as it contains no eggs or dairy. You can leave off the ganache and simply serve the cake with a dusting of powdered sugar and a few raspberries. view recipe
  • Dry-Brined Peppered Filets Mignons with Cutting Board Sauce Dry-Brined Peppered Filets Mignons with Cutting Board Sauce Feel free to substitute rib-eyes, T-bones, Porterhouses, pork chops, or even skirt steaks for filets mignons. (Cooking times may change, however.) You will love the way the olive oil-enhanced sauce complements the meat. view recipe
  • Perfect Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde Perfect Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde Perhaps you have brined poultry in heavily salted water to season and tenderize it. But dry-brining accomplishes the same thing without taking up as much space in your refrigerator. A hot oven promotes crisp, golden-brown skin. The salsa verde (green sauce) is a piquant and colorful accompaniment. view recipe
  • Chilean Empanadas De Pino Chilean Empanadas De Pino These are made the traditional Chilean way, filled with beef, onions, spices, and stuffed with hard-cooked egg quarters and brined green olives. view recipe
  • Chilean Salsa (Pebre) Chilean Salsa (Pebre) Lilly, the talented cook/housekeeper at the Don Rafael farm in Chile’s Lontue Valley, shared her recipe for Chile’s favorite condiment during one of our many visits to the farm. Serve it with bread, meat, or seafood. It’s best, she says, when made less than 2 hours ahead. view recipe