Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

Presenting Andalucían Delights: A Trio of Fantástico Olive Oils—Exquisite Elixirs from Spain

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • These Club exclusives, available to no one else, are the finest artisanal oils of the Iberian harvest.
  • Redolent with vibrant, herbaceous aromas and palate-pleasing tastes to match, these early harvest oils are from award-winning farms and custom blended for you by your Olive Oil Hunter.
  • Independently lab certified to be 100 percent extra virgin, they’ve been rushed to our shores by jet at their peak of flavor and to preserve their zesty polyphenols.

Against all odds. That’s what this year’s hunt for superb Spanish extra virgin olive oil felt like. With every olive pressing there’s an air of mystery, anticipation, and even drama. But this year, as I landed in this beautiful country, I felt as though I was walking into a new season of True Detective, rife with intrigue. Olive oil is the heart and soul of Spanish culture and cuisine, and some people will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

News reports of olive production being cut in half (or worse) because of the continuing drought in Spain were overtaken by front-page stories about the criminal consequences of the shortage: Thieves—ladrones—not only ripped 100-year-old olive trees out by their roots (when they weren’t content with sawing off olive-laden branches) but also stole tens of thousands of liters of oil from tanks in mills (easier, because all the work had been done for them). Some unscrupulous characters passed off seed oil, artificially colored to look more like EVOO. Others supplemented ordinary olive oil with inferior-quality lampante, so named because it was once used to light oil lamps. As an olive oil aficionado, you, my dear Club member, can tell the difference, but people who don’t yet appreciate the unique aroma and taste of ultra-premium, fresh-pressed olive oil may easily fall victim to these scams.

As the perfect green fruit arrived at the mill, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster with anticipation—after a year’s wait, it would be only a few more minutes before I tasted fresh-pressed Spanish olive oil again. Adding to the excitement was working with our newest collaborators, Carlos García and Luis Torres of García Torres—though, truth be told, I’ve known Luis for quite some time. I can’t wait for you to taste this special blend.

Rest assured that you have in your hands the proverbial cream of the crop—three magnificent olive oils, delivered to your door thanks to the combined efforts of my Merry Band of Tasters and me and our outstanding Spanish producers. Despite the crisis they are living through, with even mediocre oils selling for triple the price of just three years ago, the three masters we worked with on this curated collection came through for us. Indeed, I’ve known two of them for nearly 20 years—since I created the Club, in 2005—and they don’t want to disappoint you any more than I do.

Here Comes the (Burning Hot) Sun

Top artisanal farms almost always use the latest irrigation techniques to compensate for drought conditions and take extraordinary measures to quickly transport just-picked olives from the grove to the mill, keeping them cool at every stage of the process. This preserves their aromas, taste, and healthful polyphenols. But a weather catastrophe happened relatively early in the growing cycle this season—and for many producers, there was no coming back.

When I toured the Finca Gálvez mill with my dear friend Jose Gálvez, he explained that early rains had spurred the growth of fantastic olive blossoms. “Everyone anticipated a great crop, but then at the start of spring we experienced temperatures you would expect to have in early summer. That hot sun burned 70 percent of the blossoms, and they fell off the trees,” he said, adding that Jaén, the Andalucían province where Finca Gálvez is located, experienced the worst of it. “Even though we had relatively normal weather after that, we cannot create new blossoms—we knew that the harvest was going to be only a third of normal.”

In an attempt to satisfy orders, we heard that many commercial mills in Spain opted for heat extraction to get more oil from the fruit, a process that lowers quality because it essentially cooks the olive paste. They also set stratospheric prices for what they were able to produce, telling clients, “Here’s my floor price and I’ll wait for your offers,” just like at an auction—they were announcing a starting point for negotiation. This means that consumers buying EVOO in stores will be paying higher prices for lesser-quality oil.

A Topsy-Turvy Season

Under normal conditions, Andalucía provides 30 to 50 percent of the world’s olive oil. In this upside-down year, rather than exporting its oil to Italy—which, to the surprise of many people, doesn’t produce enough to satisfy local demand—Spain had to buy oil from Italy. Consider, too, that only a third of Spain’s production is extra virgin—premium producers make up only a small niche, and this year, they represented barely a dot. There wasn’t going to be much ultra- premium olive oil to go around. But thanks to the mutual admiration that our partners and I have for each other, the longevity of our collaborations, and your appreciation of their liquid gold, they were ready, willing, and able to allocate their finest for you, dear Club members.

My travels often allow me to reconnect with many of the people I admire in the world of olive oil and whom I’m fortunate to call friends. It was international Spanish food and olive oil expert Santiago Botas who first told me years ago about the growing interest among certain Spanish farms in crafting premium EVOO. He led me to producers in the heavily mountainous town of Priego de Córdoba in Andalucía, a hidden gem barely 40 miles from the better-known Jaén.

I love that all the trials and tribulations we go through have a silver lining. This quarter it was crafting our exceptional Castillo de Canena Arbequina, our Picual created from olives grown at various elevations at Finca Gálvez to give it a complex taste profile, and our magnificent García Torres Hojiblanco with a healthy addition of the rare Picudo—co-creator Luis Torres describes this season’s Picudo oil as the best he’s tasted in his 23-year career.

Why do certain olives produce a spicier oil from one year to another? It’s all thanks to Mother Nature. Francisco “Paco” Vañó of Canena shared this observation with me when we were able to compare impressions: “If someone promises you the same oil profile every year, don’t trust them—every year you’re going to be surprised by different flavors and aromas from the same olives grown by the same producers.” That kind of surprise is, in fact, a delight to true olive oil lovers.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

Over the years, I have amassed thousands of photos chronicling my many visits to the Iberian Peninsula in pursuit of the finest, freshest extra virgin olive oils. But my most treasured images—call them memories—are in my mind: the massive black metal bulls (originally erected along highways to promote Osborne brandy) that have become iconic symbols of Spain; the fabulous road food at gas stations, such as salty olive oil–roasted Marcona almonds and bocatas (sandwiches); or calçots, elongated green onions charred in ovens fueled with olive wood and served on clay tiles with garlicky romesco sauce.

But the views, my first from the balcony of the Renaissance-era castle known as Castillo de Canena, are among my favorite early memories of Spain. Gazing at the landscape below, I saw nothing but olive trees, draping the hills like sage green corduroy cloth. These storied trees, I thought to myself, are the glory, the very soul of Andalucía.

I first encountered Francisco “Paco” Vaño at the Fancy Food Show in New York City about 20 years ago. He and his sister, Rosa, had recently left high-profile corporate jobs to reimagine their family’s centuries-old olive oil business. (It was founded in 1780.) They dedicated themselves to producing ultra-premium olive oils, a rare and relatively under-appreciated commodity at that time. When we met, Paco had only two olive harvests under his belt, but I made sure I was on site for the third.

I’ve been going back to Castillo de Canena ever since. (The fifteenth-century castle mentioned above is actually the Vaño family’s home. It was declared a National Artistic Monument in 1931.)

When asked recently what he remembered about our first fortuitous meeting, Paco sheepishly revealed he was a bit skeptical when I explained my concept of a Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club to him. Though he admired my enthusiasm and passion, he admitted he had quiet doubts that Americans—most raised on the chemically refined oils labeled “light”—would accept the more robust aromas and flavors of premium extra virgin olive oils. “I’m so glad I was wrong!” he exclaimed. Me, too!

From the beginning, Paco and I had the same goal: to introduce discerning palates
to the joys of premium fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils. He has been a magnificent collaborator and friend for the past two decades, delighting my Club members with exclusive olive oils and never failing to impress me with his monastic dedication to his craft.

Even experienced tasters like Francisco “Paco” Vaño and the Olive Oil Hunter occasionally encounter a cough-inducing extra virgin olive oil; the lively throat-tickling sensation, often described as pepper or spice, is common in early harvest oils like the Arbequina you just received. In the background is a stunning photograph of Castillo de Canena (Paco’s family home) taken by a local photographer during a dramatic full moon.

He is one of the most knowledgeable and innovative olive oil producers in the world, constantly developing and/or employing clever strategies to improve his family’s award-winning oils. Though he’s not afraid to make bold changes—like the stunning stucco-and-metal state-of-the-art mill he built three years ago—it might be the smaller, incremental improvements he implements every year that make Castillo de Canena’s oils consistently extraordinary. During this harvest season, Paco added a fourth production line to expedite the handling of just-picked olives (multiple lines also mean opportunities for experimentation) and installed a water-cooled pipeline that transports the olive pulp from the crusher to the malaxer.

The fact that Paco and his team—principally, farm manager Álvaro Pulido Garrido and quality control supervisor Mariela Chova Martínez—were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat during this challenging harvest year was no surprise to me. Paco estimates that warm temperatures in early spring scorched approximately 80 percent of the flowers in his groves, with the Picual being hit harder than the Arbequina, which formed buds about a week earlier. To preemptively protect the nascent olives that survived, he supplemented the trees’ water ration with water purchased from local rice farmers. This was a first, he said. But it was a brilliant move, as this season’s Arbequina proves.

Farm manager Álvaro Pulido Garrido (left) and quality control supervisor Mariela Chova Martínez (center), are instrumental in maintaining award-winning Castillo de Canena’s extraordinary record of quality and consistency. During the year (particularly during the harvest) this detail-oriented pair is in nearly constant contact in the groves and in the mill, monitoring all aspects of the olives’ development and making hundreds of discrete decisions to ensure the best oils possible. Both have been with Paco for over a decade.

What I like to call “the magic window”—the opportune time to harvest the olives—was shockingly brief this year, Paco said. Olives, he reported, ripened at unprecedented and accelerated rates, going from green to yellow to black in days. Mariela relentlessly tracked the olives’ sensorial profiles, enabling Paco to direct his harvest team, laser-like, to fruit that was at its peak and eligible for Paco’s premium extra virgin olive oils. One of these—a Club exclusive—is now in your hands.

This Arbequina is not only exquisite but precious—a real Spanish gem. Paco asked me to convey to you how proud he and his family are to share their labor of love with discriminating olive oil lovers like yourselves.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This Arbequina leads with a fragrant bouquet of fresh fruit—on the nose you’ll appreciate apple, green banana, citrus, golden kiwi, and pear, along with rich aromas of almond and wild mint, vegetal notes of green grass and lettuce, and a pleasant hint of white pepper. On the palate, it’s very complex and balanced, with intense flavors of almond, grass, and herbs, the elegant bitterness of endive and escarole, and the lingering spiciness of white pepper.

Lavish it on salads with fruit and nuts, such as mixed green salad with citrus and sherry vinaigrette,* eggs, chicken, white fish, delicate pork and veal entrées, roasted carrots, ensalada de remolacha* and other sweet root vegetable dishes, spring green peas, sautéed mushrooms, vegetable paellas, soft-rind cheeses, vanilla ice cream, yogurt parfaits, chiffon cakes, and nut- or apple-based desserts.

*Denotes an original recipe featured in this report.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

When I sat down with José Gálvez in the brand-new main building of Finca Gálvez, it was apparent that the family’s 2023 gold-medal wins at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition—one for a Picual and another for a Frantoio—were squarely in the rearview mirror. Many honors have been bestowed on the Gálvez family since José’s father, Francisco, pivoted from the family’s masonry business to artisanal olive oil 25 years ago, but it’s not in their nature to sit back and polish trophies. They’re always looking ahead, setting new goals, and adding to their knowledge of the food world. Indeed, José had recently returned from Madrid Fusíon, an annual culinary symposium, brimming with ideas.

Considering all the countless awards that adorn the walls of their company offices, it’s hard to believe that the family felt any trepidation when they started out, but they knew they would be going head to head with olive mills run by fifth-generation millers. Olive cultivation has been part of the culture of Andalucía for millennia. The Gálvez family were the new kids on the block.

A few years in, José had the idea to distinguish Finca Gálvez from most other farms by crafting early-harvest olive oil from ultra-green fruit—something that almost no one was doing 25 years ago. After getting his diploma in business studies at the University of Jaén in 1999, José had immersed himself in the study of olive oil, first earning a certificate as a “technician in preparation of oils and juices” at the I. E. S. El Valle, then, over the following seven years, a masters in oliviculture and elaiotechnics and the title of expert in virgin olive oil tasting (he knows the learning never ends).

Yet patriarch Francisco wanted to proceed cautiously into this untapped area. “The first year we decided to craft ultra-premium oil, we made only 10 percent of our production in this early-harvest style, and it sold out,” José recounts, noting that I was one of his first buyers because I believed fervently in what he was doing. “So we allotted 25 percent the following year, and it sold out. My father had concerns, but once he saw that every drop was sold, he was fully on board.”

I was thrilled to meet Andrés and José’s mother, Felisa, for the very first time— here I am with the family in front of their beautiful stone-facade mill. It was amazing to hear her recount how she first became enamored of ultra-premium olive oil. Even though olive oil is part of the local culture, she’d been using ordinary olive oil until Finca Gálvez created their own ultra-premium. Now, she’s quick to request more whenever she runs out—so reminiscent of the experiences of Club members who won’t go back to run-of-the-mill after tasting early-harvest oils!

José’s mother, Felisa, who had cooked all her life with ordinary olive oils, was quickly won over by the early-harvest style, much like our Club members are when they first taste it—and there was no going back for her either. “When she’s running low in her kitchen, she’ll call one of us to ask for more!” says Andrés, José’s brother, who joined the business in 2009. Andrés’s first career was as an engineer—a great foundation for managing the workings of a modern olive mill.

Close as children yet with different personalities, Andrés and José remain enthusiastic about working together and view their shared responsibilities not as jobs but as their life. Though their roles are delineated, with José mostly involved in land management and Andrés mostly in production through packaging, they share the same vision, including respect for the environment. I always enjoy hearing Andrés’s perspective when we tour the groves.

José is meticulous about the care he gives his fruit, starting with pruning after every harvest, to get the most flavorful olives—even the best milling operation can’t compensate for inferior fruit, he explains. I love that they refuse to set quotas for the number of liters they will produce each season—they’re guided by the yield of the trees and the quality of that fruit.

With two-thirds of their blossoms gone, the olive trees concentrate their energy into the fruit that survives. That leads to fast ripening and the need for all hands on deck to harvest quickly and efficiently during the magic window. Andrés and I talked about the constant curveballs Mother Nature throws their way, yet he and José remain undaunted. This year was not their first rodeo!

This year, our beloved Finca Gálvez Picual is once again our medium selection, yet it’s deliciously unique, a blend of two different batches of early-harvest Picual, both from the same orchard but planted at different elevations and harvested on separate days to create the complex style favored by Club members. We toasted another brillant collaboration over a wonderful meal at Restaurante Payber, with luscious meats, grilled vegetables, and an amazing array of shellfish—fabulous whole shrimp, razor clams, cockles, and a seafood soup. “We’ve been working together for a long time, we grew together, and it’s important to us that Club members are happy,” José told me. With this Picual, you will be!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The green and grassy aromas of this Picual enchant—inhale chopped culinary herbs such as thyme, oregano, and rosemary, bay leaf, Tuscan kale, baby spinach, and walnut with hints of green apple and kiwi. Taste the flavors of dark leafy greens like kale, along with tomato leaf, basil, micro-greens, wheatgrass, and parsley; the sweetness of pine nuts; bitterness of radicchio and baby arugula; and the spiciness of celery leaves and freshly ground black peppercorns.

It will enhance fried eggs, grilled steak, lamb merguez meatballs,* tuna, salmon, grilled octopus, caprese, tomato salads, salads with radicchio and spring greens, meat sauces for pasta, farro- and barley-based soups, gazpacho, pizza and focaccia, steamed artichokes, grilled vegetables, white beans and bean soups, herbal vinaigrettes, chocolate mousse, and almond orange cake.*

*Denotes an original recipe featured in this report.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: García Torres, Selección Exclusiva, Almazaras de la Subbética, Carcabuey, Córdoba, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Hojiblanca, Picudo
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

It’s wonderful to be back in this mystical, magical, almost primeval place, a national refuge for wildlife and ancient olive trees called the Subbéticas Natural Park. It’s a 73,000-acre mecca for rock climbers and spelunkers. But a leisurely walk here might find you dropping instinctively to the ground as Griffon vultures (six-foot wing spans, lest you laugh), peregrine falcons, or many species of migratory birds do overhead fly-bys.

More important to me and my Club members, this extraordinary region is home to one of Spain’s most well-respected olive oil cooperatives, Almazaras de la Subbética. Founded in 2007, this award-winning mill supervises the growth and harvest of many family olive groves in and around the Priego de Córdoba region in southeastern Spain.

Motivated by a tip from international olive oil expert Santiago Botas (see below), who assured me I was likely to encounter there fresh-pressed olive oils that matched my high standards, I first visited the area in 2009. I was enchanted by the municipality’s ancient churches, Moorish ruins, and charming rural towns and villages, their whitewashed outside walls festooned with colorful geraniums. It was in Priego that my Merry Band of Tasters and I met Luis Torres, then the general manager of the small, family-owned co-op Aroden.

Another thing that lured me to this incredible place was the prospect of finding the olive varietal Hojiblanca for my Club members. Its name means “white leaf.” There’s an interesting story behind Hojiblanca: A Spanish olive farmer named Cornelius lived in fear of decrees from Julius Caesar, whose Roman subjects had developed an insatiable appetite for olive oils from Andalucía. The latest imperial writ demanded that farmers increase their olive oil production. Cornelius owned a few olive trees, none too prolific. Then he remembered an olive tree cutting a traveling merchant had given him: Cornelius planted it on a hillside but did not have high hopes for its survival. Amazingly, it thrived. He harvested a few additional cuttings and planted them around the “parent” tree. And a Hojiblanca grove was born!

T. J. Robinson and Carlos Garcia in Spain
Meet Carlos García, whose skills and experience have helped propel Almazaras de la Subbética to the top of Spain’s olive oil game. (The mill won four awards at the most recent New York International Olive Oil Competition.) I honored our partnership by naming this exclusive Hojiblanco and Picudo blend García Torres, after Carlos and another key member of the team, Luis Torres (see the photo above).

The affable Luis Torres joined Almazaras de la Subbética after Aroden changed hands. I was thrilled for him, as the Carcabuey-based co-op is also near his family home in Priego. I didn’t want to lose track of Luis, as it often takes years to develop the mutual understanding that allows for inspired collaborations on extraordinary oils for our Club. Luis “gets” me. We’ve known each other for more than a decade. He is one of the most disciplined and talented olive oil tasters I know, often quaffing 20 olive oil samples before most of us have enjoyed our first sip of morning coffee.

Because Almazaras de la Subbética is a larger entity, Luis has more olive oil–educated palates he can trust to back up his decisions, most notably manager Carlos García. Aided by Luis, Carlos is the supremely capable, hands-on conductor of the olive harvest, deftly orchestrating the season’s symphony of olive fruit. It’s been a privilege to work with this duo.

Luis Torres and I gave our olfactory senses a workout when we met recently at Almazaras de la Subbética’s mill near Priego de Córdoba. We’ve been tasting extra virgin olive oils together since 2009: Luis instinctively knows what I’m looking for in the premium oils I share with Club members. I was thrilled to learn that he’d joined forces with the esteemed cooperative I had first worked with in 2011.

The harvest window was incredibly short this year, requiring the entire crew to work long hours. But everyone has to eat, right? Luis took my team and me to a restaurant we’d enjoyed before—La Pianola. Their baby clams are so succulent. Of course, we always bring our own bottles of olive oil!

Although it comprises only eight percent of this blend, the Picudo varietal plays an important supporting role in the fresh-pressed olive oil I’ve just sent you. Like Hojiblanca, Picudo can be used as a table olive. (Luis still laments that his grandmother’s recipe for cured Picudos has been lost…) It fine-tunes the Hojiblanco, polishing any rough edges. I love it. My Merry Band of Tasters and I tried the blend with varying percentages of Picudo and settled on this ratio.

This Club exclusive is magnificent, a fantastic reason to throw a tasting party. Check out our guide below.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

On the nose, this blend of Hojiblanco and Picudo sings with grassy and herbal notes of basil, parsley, peppermint, and tomato leaf, which give way to hints of raw carrot tops, celery, rhubarb, Belgian endive, wheatgrass, fennel, and honeydew. On the palate you’ll taste hints of nasturtium and rose, along with green tomato, baby spinach, celery, Asian pear, and the nuttiness of hazelnut, the pleasing bitterness of arugula, and spiciness of a peppercorn mélange.

Enjoy it in asparagus frittata,* pork, lamb, game, cured Spanish meats, salmon, swordfish, grilled calamari, shrimp and other shellfish, zarzuela de mariscos y pescado* and other seafood soups, roasted or baked potatoes, beans, lentils and other pulses, tomato-based dishes like pan con tomate, crusty bread, aged and fresh goat cheeses, hard cheeses like Manchego, vanilla custard, and chocolate desserts.

*Denotes an original recipe featured in this report.


Olive Oil and Health

Phenols in EVOO are the primary source of its heart-health benefits

Reference: Flynn MM, Tierney A, Itsiopoulos C. Is extra virgin olive oil the critical ingredient driving the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet? Nutrients. 2023;15:2915.

A recent scientific review, published in the journal Nutrients, provides strong evidence that the phenols in EVOO—which are not present in lower grades of olive oil—play a primary role in the heart-health benefits associated with olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. 

Phenols are bioactive compounds in plant-based foods. EVOO is rich in phenols, whereas refined olive oils are stripped of these health-promoting compounds by chemical production processes. 

Study Objectives

Dr. Mary Flynn, PhD, registered dietician, and associate professor of medicine at Brown University, identified 34 randomized, controlled trials published between 2000 and 2022 that evaluated the effects of EVOO on risk factors for heart disease: blood pressure, levels of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight. 

A main aim of the review was to isolate the effects of the phenols in EVOO from the potential effects of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are present in all grades of olive oil and other vegetable oils. Flynn hypothesized that the MUFA content is not responsible for the many health benefits of EVOO. 

Another objective was to identify a minimum daily amount of EVOO required to experience its health benefits and the timing for improvements in heart-health risk factors to be observed.

Findings

Across the 34 studies, EVOO improved multiple risk factors for heart disease as compared to other grades of olive oil, other plant oils, and low-fat diets: 

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered LDL and increased HDL
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Proved effective in weight-loss diets and improved long-term weight management

Daily dose of EVOO

According to Flynn and colleagues, “Daily use of EVOO starting at approximately two tablespoons a day will improve a plethora of risk factors in as few as three weeks.”

Phenomenal phenols

It is the phenols in EVOO that confer its heart-health benefits, the authors concluded. In order to obtain optimal levels of phenols, they recommend consuming the freshest olive oil: “The phenol content of extra virgin olive oil is highest in olive oil made close to the harvesting of the olive and will decrease with age and storage. Thus, for maximum health benefits, the EVOO should be produced and consumed as close to harvesting the fruit as possible.” 

The authors noted some limitations of this review: most studies did not include the specific phenolic content of the EVOO used, and many were conducted in the EU, where EVOO has been a part of the diet for centuries. More investigation, especially studies that identify the specific levels of phenols, is needed to confirm and build on these findings. 


Kudos from Club Members

TJ, I’m half Sicilian and thought I had tasted wonderful EVOO. My friend told me to give your club a try. I have never tasted more flavorful, delicious EVOO! Just an FYI…I have never belonged to a food club nor have I ever taken the time to email a review of any kind. Congratulations on a fantastic product. Just had to tell you…
Dianne A.Colorado Springs, CO

This report’s recipes shine a spotlight on a few quintessential Spanish ingredients that you’ll be able to use time and again: pimentón, the country’s smoked paprika; Marcona almonds; piquillo peppers, a unique chile that grows only in northern Spain; Manchego, a firm, mild sheep’s cheese; and cured chorizo, the spicy cooked sausage. Many are readily available at upscale supermarkets and gourmet stores as well as online purveyors of Spanish foods.

Recipes

  • Stuffed pork tenderloin Stuffed Pork Tenderloin Its impressive appearance belies how easy this dish is to make, whether for a weeknight meal or guests. Small potatoes roasted in olive oil and our citrus salad make appetizing accompaniments, as does piquillo pepper sauce. Ingredients 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 1/2 pounds Extra virgin olive oil Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly… view recipe
  • Zorongollo Zorongollo This colorful salad, popular in Cáceres in western Spain, makes a great starter, light lunch, or midnight snack. Do not confuse it with zarangollo, a dish from Murcia that features stewed zucchini and scrambled eggs. Ingredients 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, or a mix 4 Roma tomatoes 1 small head of garlic, the… view recipe
  • Barcelona Bikini Sandwich Bikini Sandwiches Back in the 1950s, the Barcelona nightclub La Sala Bikini started serving croque monsieur, the French grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Because the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco didn’t allow French (or English) words in the lexicon, it was simply called the home sandwich, but patrons soon referred to it as the Bikini. Delicious when made… view recipe
  • Lamb Merguez Meatballs Lamb Merguez Meatballs Highly spiced lamb merguez is traditionally a dish from North Africa, just across the Mediterranean from Spain. To add a Spanish influence, orange zest is included with the other aromatics, and the finished meatballs are drizzled with a citrus sauce. Ingredients For the spice mix: 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 2 teaspoons fennel seeds 2 teaspoons coriander seeds 4 teaspoons pimentón 1 teaspoon… view recipe
  • Pinxtos - Chicken Kebabs Chicken Kebabs with Hot Honey (Pinxtos/Pinchos) Is it just us, or does food served on skewers taste better? We have made these kebabs with chicken thighs (our favorite), breasts, and tenders. You could even use boneless pork if that’s what you have on hand. Serve with crusty bread and sliced tomatoes or a green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil,… view recipe
  • Roasted beets Ensalada de Remolacha Beet salad is a centuries-old Spanish favorite. Recent versions cut the prep time by using canned beets, but roasting fresh ones brings out their sweetness. Serve it warm or chilled. To turn it from a side dish into a main course, serve on a bed of greens, such as arugula, and top with hazelnuts and… view recipe
  • Zarzuela de Mariscos y Pescado Zarzuela de Mariscos y Pescado One of the most popular shellfish (mariscos) and fish (pescado) dishes in Spain, zarzuela is actually the name of an eclectic type of musical theater—think variety show. The dish, believed to have originated in Barcelona more than a century ago, bears the name because it’s best made with a variety of seafood. Cook up your… view recipe
  • Trinxat de Col Trinxat de Col (Potato and Cabbage Cakes with Bacon) Think of this as a kind of Spanish potato pancake—comfort food at its best, with potatoes, cabbage (or kale), and bacon. Traditionally, it’s served as a frying pan–sized cake. But individual servings are easier to manage and look beautiful on a plate. Ingredients Coarse salt (kosher or sea) 4 medium-size russet potatoes (each about 10… view recipe
  • Roasted broccoli with prosciutto Oven Roasted Broccoli with Serrano Crisps Many supermarkets now sell broccoli crowns—the top few inches of the bunch. While I don’t mind trimming off and peeling the lower part of the stalks (they’re great in stir-fries), the convenience of the crowns is appealing. A dusting of crisp serrano ham bits takes this easy side dish over the top. Ingredients 1 1/2… view recipe
  • Almond orange cake Almond Orange Cake This is a very moist, gluten-free single-layer cake topped with sautéed orange slices. A mix of oranges, such as blood orange, mandarin, and Cara Cara, slightly overlapping atop the cake, creates a beautiful presentation. Tip: Zest the oranges you’ll sauté for the topping and use the zest in the batter. Ingredients For the batter: 2 cups almond… view recipe

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

Straight from the Heart and Soul of Italy, Highly Coveted Artisanal Extra Virgin Olive Oils Rushed to You at Their Height of Flavor and Freshness

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Each of these exclusive olive oils perfectly embodies the flavor characteristics of its region and was meticulously crafted from cultivars nurtured on award-winning family farms.
  • The best of the best has been secured just for you, as the world experiences an EVOO shortage never before seen.
  • All three oils have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, brimming with healthful and zesty polyphenols to wow your palate.


Landing in Rome, the Eternal City and my launching pad when hunting for fresh-pressed olive oils in Italy, is something I look forward to every year—visits to historic villages, reuniting with producers who have become friends, and, of course, the food. But I embarked on this journey with some trepidation.

As longstanding Club members know, my search for the world’s greatest extra virgin olive oil is largely influenced by Mother Nature. She determines so many aspects of olive cultivation, right down to harvest dates. But when the consequences of her handiwork make the front page of the New York Times with the headline “Why Olive Oil Is So Expensive Right Now,” well, you can imagine how serious the situation was. Less available fruit, lower yield, higher prices. Every last drop was in high demand, and I knew this quarter that I was going to rely heavily on the relationships I’ve nurtured for nearly two decades. I also knew that nothing would stop me from coming home with the very finest liquid gold for you!

A Year Unlike Any Other

Concerns had been swirling since late spring. To quote master miller, olive whisperer, and perma-member of my Merry Band of Tasters, Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, “There has never been a year as complicated as this one and with as little extra virgin olive oil throughout the entire Mediterranean area—the last few months were unlike any pattern the olive trees were used to.”

The typical growing season goes like this: spring rains lead to olive blossoms emerging in May and June, hot weather through August encourages growth, some rain in September nurtures the trees, and the temperatures cool in October. This year, the spring rains lasted well into June, with heavy downpours knocking many blossoms off the trees—no flowers, no olives. For those growers who did have some olives, the second shoe to drop was the streak of summer-like temperatures lasting well into November. You can’t make flavorful olive oil when the weather and the olives themselves are hot. That’s why recent innovations at top mills have been focused on chilling—cooling down each step of the process to preserve the aromas and flavors when the olives are pressed.

Duccio Morozzo della Rocca and T. J. Robinson in olive grove in Umbria, Italy
As Duccio and I toured groves in Umbria, we talked about Mother Nature’s double whammy of heavy rains followed by prolonged heat. This meant that inferior olive oils were coming to market: many mass producers decided to squeeze out as much as they could, sacrificing quality for quantity to reap profits and selling inferior oils at prices that rivaled those of the best EVOO. Instead of paying up, locals were trying to track down even the most distant relative who might have oil from private groves to share. 

The Fruits of Strong Relationships

The heightened urgency of the hunt set the cadence of our trip—after just one night in Rome, we hit the ground running. Duccio and I had already been in touch with the country’s most highly skilled, award-winning producers. It was heartbreaking to hear how many simply had no oil available, but then a relief to learn that a few had successful harvests because their groves stretched across many microclimates, yielding great fruit and great oil.

As always, though, the proof is in the pudding—would these oils be of the exceptional quality I insist on and you expect? After our rounds of tastings, I’m happy to answer with an emphatic “Yes!” Each one is deliciously unique, and together they represent three very important and distinct olive growing regions of Italy. And our producers were thrilled to know that their precious oil would be enjoyed by people who truly appreciate it—you, my dear Club members.

Claudio Di Mercurio, Luciano Di Giovacchino and T. J. Robinson
Claudio Di Mercurio (center) and I were enthralled as we talked with olive oil scientist Luciano Di Giovacchino. Luciano has authored dozens of research papers on every aspect of making olive oil and speaks around the world on the topic. Discussing the fine points of milling and how it has evolved over the centuries from crushing the olives with stone to using metal blades was fascinating (yes, I’m an admitted Olea europaea nerd!).

Making Memorable Oils and New Memories

As my apprehensions faded away, my excitement and joy over being back in Italy swelled with every stop we made. What a pleasure to once again spend time around the table with my producer families, catching up on their news and sharing amazing food—platters of salumi, bowls of fresh pasta, and fabulous meats and seafood, all of it enhanced by just-pressed olive oil.

My Merry Band of Tasters and I first traveled to Penne in Abruzzo, to Frantoio Mercurius, the family operation of my good friend Claudio Di Mercurio. I was happy to congratulate him in person for his recent silver star win at the famed Sol d’Oro competition! Claudio’s dedication to the land and meticulous care of his olive trees has made him a formidable match for Mother Nature. His Dritta varietal, the most consistent grower, is the star of this trio’s bold oil.

Many locals come to Claudio’s frantoio, or mill, with their own olives to press, perhaps none more respected than Luciano Di Giovacchino, one of Italy’s pioneering olive oil scientists. It says a lot that this esteemed expert chooses Claudio’s frantoio to press his own olives, and, although the Mercurius mill is extremely modern, the convivial atmosphere of bringing one’s homegrown olives to a community mill is a centuries-old part of the social fabric of this town as it is in so many others.

Stefano and Andrea Brunetti with T. J. Robinson in an Ape
It’s very exciting for me to work with talented brothers Stefano and Andrea Brunetti and share their oil with you—they’re honored to know it will be enjoyed by those who really appreciate it. I couldn’t resist snapping a pic with their little Ape vehicle on the farm.

Then it was on to the historic town of Trevi, in Umbria, the heart of Italy, to work with the Brunetti family. I’m elated to introduce to the Club not only this amazing producer but also to a wonderful indigenous varietal called San Felice, a highlight of this quarter’s mild oil.

From there it was off to Sicily to reunite with Salvatore Cutrera. He says that each harvest is always a nail biter until the olives are pressed and the beautiful fresh green perfume of extra virgin olive oil fills the air in the mill. This quarter’s medium selection is made with the exquisite Nocellara del Belice, a cultivar from the Valle del Belice area, and it brought only smiles to both our faces.

I invite you to read more about each of these amazing producers and then indulge in the Pressing Report recipes to share with friends and family—you’ll be transported to Italy with every bite.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Famiglia Brunetti, Trevi, Umbria, Italy 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Moraiolo, San Felice, Frantoio, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

The excitement was palpable when my Merry Band of Tasters and I departed Abruzzo in Duccio’s car. Our destination? A new producer, the Brunetti family, in the picturesque Umbrian hill town of Trevi, home of an olive tree estimated to be 1,700 years old. It was a two-hour drive, plenty of time to savor how perseverance and carefully tended relationships with the world’s top olive oil experts and producers have favored the Olive Oil Hunter and his Club members during this most challenging harvest year.

Located mid-calf on the Italian boot, land-locked Umbria is known as “the green heart of Italy.” Italians have long lauded the region’s high-quality olive oils and wines, the former resurrected by monks during the Middle Ages after centuries of war, civil strife, and neglect.

Equally as excited to meet us were the Brunetti family and their friendly dog, a truffle-hunting Lagotto Romagnolo named Lilla. (Umbria is second only to Piemonte in its harvest of truffles.) Brothers Andrea and Stefano were proud to show us around their mill and thriving olive groves. To my delight, we toured the farm in a vintage Ape that was small enough to negotiate the groves’ grassy aisles.

Finally, we returned to the mill for the tasting I had so eagerly anticipated. The brothers offered their finest liquid gold to us to “play” with. Duccio and I got right to work—tasting, blending, and re-tasting. Hours later, we hit on an incredible blend of cultivars Moraiolo, Frantoio, Leccino, and San Felice. The latter, a smallish drupe indigenous to the area (one of 550 varietals grown in Italy), is new to the Club’s repertoire. I am so pleased to introduce you to it. I love the spicy and grassy notes it adds—the key to perfectly calibrated flavor and balance.

Like any family producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil, the Brunettis have a story to tell. Andrea and Stefano’s grandfather, Vittorio, owned thousands of trees in the area in the 1950s. But postwar pragmatism led him to sell his groves, retaining about 200 trees for the family’s use. Meanwhile, his son Francesco went to work in the aviation industry. In 1994, Francesco, tiring of the corporate world, steered the family back to its roots and began the long and arduous process of expanding the groves and cultivating amazing olives. Today, his sons care for 45,000 trees spread over three microclimates at varying elevations. The reopened mill, now outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment from Alfa Laval, allows precise temperature control of the olives and olive paste, a critical tool in the hands of any miller intent on producing the highest-quality EVOO. The family’s hard work has paid off, as evidenced by their many prestigious awards—among them inclusion in Flos Olei’s Top 20 and Gambero Rosso’s coveted star honoring a decade of excellence.

Brunetti Family and T. J. Robinson
We were all happy after creating a unique and extraordinary blend from the extra virgin olive oils this quality-obsessed family produced in what can only be described as a difficult year. I feel so lucky to have met and had the opportunity to work with (and eat with!) the Brunettis. And the family is so proud to have their oils tasted and used by discriminating Club members! From left are Stefano, Marianna, Francesco, myself, Andrea, and Ilaria. 

There’s nothing like tasting quality olive oils to whet appetites, of course. My favorite meal of the visit was a simple but absolutely delicious pasta e fagioli. Prepared by Stefano’s wife, Marianna, it contained carrots, celery, onion, cabbage, tomatoes, cannellini beans, peas, vegetable broth, and a special pasta from her village called cubetti. This was our first family meal together, hosted in a private room at the back of the mill. It was evident many meals happen around this table; I was deeply humbled to be offered a seat. We ladled the thick, warm soup into our bowls, then lavishly topped them with freshly grated Parmesan and glugs of fresh olive oil. Meanwhile, Stefano’s exuberant two-year-old, Francesco, cavorted happily around us. It was obvious he was very comfortable using the mill as his personal playground.

As a final farewell to Umbria and our new friends and partners, my Merry Band of Tasters and I eagerly accepted an invitation to visit a restaurant in the heart of medieval Trevi, Osteria La Vecchia Posta, with Andrea and his wife, Ilaria. Toting a bottle of our newly created blend, we entered the eatery from the town square, which is dominated by a thirteenth-century watch tower. A highlight of the meal was a seasonal dish featuring black celery, a vegetable unique to Trevi. (Only five local farms are authorized to grow this special celery, which, contrary to its name, is actually green.) When splashed with our Club’s exclusive blend it was a perfect way to close out our time in Trevi. I know this splendid oil will bring much joy to your winter table, too. Buon Appetito! 

Stefano Brunetti and T. J. Robinson with truffles
Can you spot the two hunters in this photo? I have a nose for extra virgin olive oil but must admit that Lilla (center) has me beat when it comes to truffles. Trained from a pup by Stefano to sniff out one of Umbria’s most popular gustatory delights, Lilla is of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed. Now, I am eager to make pasta with fresh-pressed olive oil and shaved truffles.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

From the heart of Umbria, this wonderful oil features San Felice, a prized olive varietal new to the Club. On the nose, we sensed the aroma of freshly cut grass, along with artichoke, green almond, apple, green banana, and escarole. There’s also the sweet scent of fennel, mint, and vanilla. On the palate, this oil comes alive with artichoke, spinach, and rosemary; a bitterness reminiscent of dandelion greens; and a pleasant spiciness that evokes celery leaves and white pepper. 

It will lusciously enhance citrus salads, bean and other legume dishes including soups like pasta e ceci; risottos; potatoes; sauteed wild mushrooms or cabbage; and other cruciferous veggies. Drizzle it over freshly steamed artichokes or cold artichokes in vinaigrette. It’s delectable on grilled octopus or shrimp; on dishes featuring chicken, turkey, rabbit, or lamb; and in baked goods. 


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Salvatore Cutrera Exclusive Signature Selection, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Nocellara del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Frantoio Mercurius Extra Virgin Olive oil Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club

Salvatore Cutrera is one of the most driven, provocative characters I’ve encountered during two decades of olive oil hunting. I smile when I remember our first meeting in 2017: evidently testing the palates of myself and my Merry Band of Tasters, Salvatore seeded our inaugural tasting with several unremarkable oils. It was only when we proved ourselves to be very discriminating that he shared his “secret stash” of his finest oils with us. This “vetting” indicated to me that the value Salvatore places on his precious oils cannot be underestimated. He simply doesn’t want to sell them to anyone who can’t or won’t appreciate them. We have made his cut, dear Club member! 

The Cutrera family has been involved in the olive oil business since 1906. In 1979, Salvatore’s father, Giovanni, established an olive mill adjacent to the family home in Chiaramonte Gulfi, a beautiful village in southeastern Sicily that’s been called the “Balcony of Sicily,” thanks to its stunning views of the Hyblean Mountains and the irascible Mount Etna. Salvatore’s wife, son, sisters, in-laws, and other extended family members now staff the business, which comprises some 250 acres of native olive trees and an incredible multi-purpose building about 600 yards from the original mill. Duccio calls it “a cathedral of olive oil.”

Opened in 2021 and encompassing 85,000 square feet, it is a truly magnificent facility, unique in Italy and the world. It features a light-filled classroom for education and tastings as well as top-of-the-line milling equipment from innovative companies Mori and Pieralisi. Dual machinery arrays enable Salvatore and his team to test which equipment works best for individual batches of olives. (No wonder Frantoi Cutrera has won over 700 awards and inclusion in Flos Olei’s Top 20 multiple times!)

Salvatore Cutrera and T.J. Robinson in Sicily, Italy
Many olive varietals have thrived on the island of Sicily for more than 3,000 years. Plump, meaty table olives like Sicily’s Nocellara del Belice (you might know the olives as Castelvetrano) are wonderful when pressed into oil, too. Since meeting in 2017, artisanal olive oil producer Salvatore Cutrera and I have bonded over our preference for early-harvest oils and our passion for oils of extraordinary quality. Notice how the branches behind us droop with beautiful olive fruit—a miracle in this challenging year.

Salvatore is especially proud of two high-tech sorters that identify and dispatch with puffs of air any flawed olive specimens (he calls them “mummies”) with ruthless precision. The system is fascinating to me. Salvatore claims Mother Nature herself is the best judge of olive quality, sometimes condemning substandard fruit to the ground with her windy wrath.

Understandably, given the dire olive news coming from Europe the last few months, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find the high-quality extra virgin olive oils my Club members expect. But Salvatore gave me hope. He assured me his perfectly green Nocellara del Belice olives were thriving. And, barring catastrophic weather, they would be ready for me and my team. (I love this varietal, also known as Castelvetrano, often seen on charcuterie platters.) But he was one of few Sicilian producers who had exceptional oils this season, and he was being actively pursued by other persistent buyers, many of whom were desperate to buy any oil, regardless of quality. Thankfully, Salvatore honored his commitment to me and to my Club members.

I never expected to use the word “giddy” in same sentence as “Salvatore Cutrera.” In our interactions, he has always been a bit reserved. But during my recent visit, our conversations were often punctuated by his laughter, a delightful and unexpected sound. I believe the successful harvest (after a nail-biting year) and the flawless performance of his new mill lifted anxiety off Savatore’s shoulders and gave him a certain lightness of being.

The last evening of my visit, Salvatore treated me to a memorable dinner at Ristorante U Dammusu, a local place that had special meaning to him: he’d celebrated his 18th birthday there. It’s a homey restaurant decorated with antiques. Because the area is famous for its pork dishes, I ordered gelatina di maiale (pork in aspic). Now I’m hooked, and I intend to recreate this dish at home. Naturally, we brought our just-pressed olive oil and used it liberally on our food. Salvatore seemed so happy and relaxed, and it was a great pleasure to spend time with him. He seems like a man who has realized his dream, yet he still looks eagerly toward the future and the future of his olive trees, always searching for ways to make his award-winning extra virgin olive oils even better. I hope you love this outstanding oil as much as I do. 

Salvatore Cutrera and T. J. Robinson in the Sicilian town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, Italy
Salvatore Cutrera and I enjoyed a relaxed and convivial evening at one of his favorite restaurants, U Dammusu, in the charming Sicilian town of Chiaramonte Gulfi. Pasta and pork are specialties, and they didn’t disappoint—especially when splashed with the lovely fresh-pressed olive oil we brought with us. Salvatore is so proud that your family and friends, dear Club member, will have the opportunity to enjoy the oil he and his family produced this harvest season. A toast to you! Use the oil in good health.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

This enchanting Nocellara del Belice is Sicily in a bottle! It tempts with aromas of tomato leaf, freshly cut grass, walnut, celery, baby spinach, lemon peel, and herbal notes of dill and basil. The walnut comes through on the palate as well, along with wheatgrass, celery, the delicate fruitiness of Asian pear, and the lingering spiciness and bitterness of arugula and Szechuan peppercorns. 

This oil belongs in your tomato-based recipes, from sauces to pizza to bruschetta. Use it in homemade focaccia; egg dishes like Italian breakfast strata; noodle dishes like pasta with breadcrumbs; and to braise greens and roast pumpkin, other squashes, and root vegetables. Drizzle it over avocados, rice and other grains, and grain- or legume-based sides and salads, especially those with nuts. Perfect for pork as well as fatty fish like tuna and salmon, and to enhance fruit and veggie smoothies. 


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Mercurius, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Colli Etruschi Extra Virgin Olive oil Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club

When my Merry Band of Tasters and I pulled up to Frantoio Mercurius, near the ancient city of Penne, our dear friend, the gifted producer Claudio Di Mercurio, came out to greet us with open arms, clad in a billowy white linen shirt and white shorts. He looked like a guardian angel wearing “summer casual” on holiday. I was well aware of the unseasonably hot temperatures as I sweltered inside my safari vest, but Claudio’s out-of-sync outfit drove home the crisis conditions facing many Mediterranean olive growers this season. 

Weeks before, I had been ecstatic to receive word from my scouts on the ground that, in this season characterized by uncertainty, Frantoio Mercurius looked forward to an excellent harvest. This marks the sixth year in a row—an unprecedented winning streak—that I have selected a Mercurius EVOO for our Club. Claudio and his family, pursuing perfection from the outset, produced their first ultra-premium EVOO in 2010. In that inaugural season, the farm’s oils reaped regional awards for excellence, an award-winning trend that has only strengthened over the years, including a silver medal at the recent, prestigious Sol d’Oro competition. 

About 70 percent of the family’s groves are planted with a rare varietal native to the Abruzzo region, Dritta (rhymes with Rita), a small, firm fruit with a moniker that translates as “dependable, genial, trustworthy.” When I first visited the Mercurius farm, in 2018, I was astounded to encounter this cultivar I’d never heard of, and even more delighted, over the following years, to learn that it more than lives up to its name. Usually, olive trees alternate between seasons of high production and low, yet the Dritta trees at Frantoio Mercurius have produced consistently stellar fruit year after year.

Claudio Di Mercurio and T. J. Robinson in the Di Mercurio Olive Mill
Here I am with Claudio Di Mercurio in the mill. If you were expecting mules, pulling a millstone in a circle, think again—the best artisanal EVOO producers operate with the most advanced equipment. Behind us are three malaxers, which separate the olive paste into olive oil, water, and pulp. The chalkboards with my name are to label the tanks with our oil produced from Claudio’s groves—the dazzling Dritta that is now ready for your table.

Claudio attributes the dependable excellence of Mercurius oils to the farm’s location in the Abruzzo region, south of the Appenine mountains, which divide Italy in half along its length. The diminutive, 60-acre farm is nestled in a microclimate among small mountain peaks, with the Mediterranean Sea to its east—natural geographic barriers that help protect against weather extremes. This year, though, the area was nonetheless exposed to the same large-scale trends that affected other parts of Italy. 

After a banner start to the season, with enough moisture in spring to sustain vigorous trees and plenty of initial blossoming, the rain intensified and kept falling until June. The Leccino trees in the grove lost most of their flowers to the downpours. The Dritta trees, in contrast, bloomed later, exactly as the rain was tapering off, so their development was safe. 

The team started the harvest extra early, during a dip in the heat, but temperatures rose again and stayed high. “Hot olives make bad oil with no aromas,” noted Claudio. The team worked when the fruit was cooler—in the early morning, in the evening, on less blistering days, stopping and starting. The technologically advanced mill employs a refrigerated crusher, installed in 2019, which keeps the olive paste cool and helps preserve the precious polyphenols and perfumes in the olives.

T. J. Robinson with the Di Mercurio family
One of the greatest joys of my annual Italian trip is the food. I was under the impression that a mouth-watering porchetta (a seasoned Italian pork roast that is out of this world) was a weekly occurrence at the Di Mercurio family table, but the whole clan corrected me: “No, we only make this for Christmas, Easter, and T. J.” At my left (your right) is Mamma Di Mercurio, along with her daughters Graziella and Annamaria. The food-focused family raises gorgeous vegetables, cures sausages (in olive oil), and prepares luscious jams and preserves, all the produce grown on their land in Abruzzo. 

Not only does Frantoio Mercurius produce superlative EVOO from its own fruit, it is also where quality-minded growers across the region bring their olives to be pressed. While I was at the mill, eagerly awaiting the Dritta, I was delighted to meet a soft-spoken elderly gentleman who’d come to press his family’s olive oil for the season. His name was Luciano Di Giovacchino (see photo below). Luciano is one of the world’s foremost olive oil scientists, a pioneer in the study of organoleptics (sensory impressions, such as flavor, aroma, appearance, and mouthfeel). For 30 years, he was the director of the l’Istituto Sperimentale per la Elaiotecnica (Institute for Olive Oil Technology Research) in Pescara, where he and his colleagues developed the concept and practice of olive oil tasting panels. And here he was, bringing bins of freshly picked olives to his local olive mill, chatting with me. I felt like I had one foot in the past and one foot in the now, as Luciano told me about scaling ladders to pick olives as a boy. 

I wish he’d been able to help me describe the extraordinary Dritta you have just received, but I think my Merry Band of Tasters and I have evoked it extremely well. Read on to whet your appetite for this fantastic EVOO from Frantoio Mercurius and the little varietal that could. 

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

The essence of central Italy is captured in this oil starring the Dritta olive. On the nose, this oil is redolent of Tuscan kale and Belgian endive, almonds, baking spices, and wild mint, plus the aroma of black peppercorns and sage. Our tasters enjoyed waves of flavor—dark leafy greens; the wonderful bitterness of radicchio, cacao nibs, and green tea; and the spiciness of those peppercorns, plus notes of parsley and hazelnut.

Lavish this oil on brussels sprouts, broccoli, dark leafy greens, and string beans. Drizzle over cheese-and-salumi boards, grilled slices of crusty bread, and sliced grilled steak. Whisk into vinaigrettes for salads like insalata tricolore and artichoke carpaccio. It adds depth to tomato-based meat and sausage sauces; intensity to chocolate desserts, flourless pistachio cake, and ice cream; and zest to your morning granola and yogurt.


Olive Oil and Health

Phenols in EVOO are the primary source of its heart-health benefits

Reference: Flynn MM, Tierney A, Itsiopoulos C. Is extra virgin olive oil the critical ingredient driving the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet? Nutrients. 2023;15:2915.

A recent scientific review, published in the journal Nutrients, provides strong evidence that the phenols in EVOO—which are not present in lower grades of olive oil—play a primary role in the heart-health benefits associated with olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. 

Phenols are bioactive compounds in plant-based foods. EVOO is rich in phenols, whereas refined olive oils are stripped of these health-promoting compounds by chemical production processes. 

Study Objectives

Dr. Mary Flynn, PhD, registered dietician, and associate professor of medicine at Brown University, identified 34 randomized, controlled trials published between 2000 and 2022 that evaluated the effects of EVOO on risk factors for heart disease: blood pressure, levels of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight. 

A main aim of the review was to isolate the effects of the phenols in EVOO from the potential effects of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are present in all grades of olive oil and other vegetable oils. Flynn hypothesized that the MUFA content is not responsible for the many health benefits of EVOO. 

Another objective was to identify a minimum daily amount of EVOO required to experience its health benefits and the timing for improvements in heart-health risk factors to be observed.

Findings

Across the 34 studies, EVOO improved multiple risk factors for heart disease as compared to other grades of olive oil, other plant oils, and low-fat diets: 

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered LDL and increased HDL
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Proved effective in weight-loss diets and improved long-term weight management

Daily dose of EVOO

According to Flynn and colleagues, “Daily use of EVOO starting at approximately two tablespoons a day will improve a plethora of risk factors in as few as three weeks.”

Phenomenal phenols

It is the phenols in EVOO that confer its heart-health benefits, the authors concluded. In order to obtain optimal levels of phenols, they recommend consuming the freshest olive oil: “The phenol content of extra virgin olive oil is highest in olive oil made close to the harvesting of the olive and will decrease with age and storage. Thus, for maximum health benefits, the EVOO should be produced and consumed as close to harvesting the fruit as possible.” 

The authors noted some limitations of this review: most studies did not include the specific phenolic content of the EVOO used, and many were conducted in the EU, where EVOO has been a part of the diet for centuries. More investigation, especially studies that identify the specific levels of phenols, is needed to confirm and build on these findings. 


Kudos from Club Members

Now I know what the good stuff tastes like!
In the last few days, I have eaten more bread with this Finca Galvez and my fresh herbs than I’ve had in the last 10 years…this stuff is amazing!! Apparently I just didn’t know what the good stuff actually tastes like! I’m in love now. Thanks.
Kathy M.Charlotte, NC

Recipes

  • Vanilla and Olive Oil Custard Cream Vanilla and Olive Oil Custard Cream Delicious spooned over the Flourless Pistachio Cake, this custard also makes a luscious pudding you can enjoy on its own. Ingredients 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 cup granulated sugar Pinch of fine sea salt 4 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups whole milk 1/2 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons pure vanilla… view recipe
  • Pistachio pesto Chicken with Pistachio Pesto As my team knows, I love pistachio anything. And this version of pesto has earned a place in my repertoire. While my wife Meghan and I enjoy it on skin-on chicken thighs or breasts, it can be used on boneless skinless chicken pieces (or whole birds) as well. Leftovers are amazing on bruschetta, on sandwiches,… view recipe
  • Roasted Monkfish with Burst Cherry tomatoes and olives Roasted Monkfish with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Olives Monkfish, sometimes called “poor man’s lobster,” is deliciously meaty. If you can’t find it, substitute grouper, swordfish, halibut, or tuna. Greens sautéed with garlic or a green salad would make a nice accompaniment. Ingredients Extra virgin olive oil 1 1/2 pounds monkfish fillets 1 cup cherry tomatoes 1/2 cup brined Castelvetrano olives, pitted 1 lemon,… view recipe
  • Pasta e Ceci Pasta e Ceci This popular Roman soup pairs small tube-shaped pasta and chickpeas. Using broth instead of water, along with a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, really amps up the flavor—save your leftover rinds in the freezer to drop in stews as well as soups. You can also adjust the ratio of chickpeas to pasta as you like. Ingredients 2 tablespoons… view recipe
  • Baked Acorn Squash Halved Baked Acorn Squash with Asiago Flan and Fried Sage Leaves Squash stuffed with a cheesy flan is a beautiful cool weather dish, whether served as a side or as a meatless entrée. Feel free to use other varieties of squash, though baking times will vary according to their size. Ingredients For the squash: 2 acorn squash Extra virgin olive oil Coarse salt (kosher or sea)… view recipe
  • Fennel Gratin Fennel au Gratin A member of the carrot family (though its bulbs grow above ground), anise-y tasting fennel is a popular ingredient in southern Italy. This easy gratin is a good accompaniment to roast meat or chicken. Ingredients 3 large fennel bulbs 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use, plus extra for oiling a casserole dish 2… view recipe
  • Shrimp Marsala Shrimp Marsala Marsala is a wine made near the town of the same name in Sicily using local white grapes for a sweet flavor profile. Shrimp are a great alternative to the classic chicken preparation. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds peeled raw shrimp, rinsed and patted dry 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, more if needed 4 tablespoons extra virgin… view recipe
  • Pasta with Breadcrumbs Pasta with Breadcrumbs (Pasta con Mollica di Pane) Also known as pasta ca’ muddica in Sicily, this southern Italian dish is rustic food at its best. My version enhances it with walnuts and diced tomatoes. Though the breadcrumbs stood in for cheese when the latter wasn’t affordable, feel free to serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Ingredients 1 pound linguine 2… view recipe
  • Brussels Sprouts Crostini with Pancetta and Balsamic Brussels Sprouts Crostini with Pancetta and Balsamic Although they’re named after a Belgian city, this popular member of the brassica family is thought to have been first cultivated in Rome. To shave the sprouts safely, I recommend using the thinslicing disk on your food processor—not a mandoline or knife. Ingredients 12 slices of day-old Italian bread or a French baguette (sliced on… view recipe
  • Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Nothing sets the tone for a festive day—or a leisurely one—better than a well-made Bloody Mary. It starts with a homemade mix with just the right amounts of spice and acid—so much zestier than commercial mixes. And the bright and bountiful skewers will really impress your guests. Ingredients For the mix: One 46-ounce can or… view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

From the Other Side of the World, Flown Here at Their Peak of Freshness: Three Food-Friendly Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oils for Your Fall Table

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Crafted by award-winning artisanal producers who meld Old World traditions with state-of-the-art techniques, these exclusive oils are among the freshest on the planet, delivered to the US by jet for you to enjoy with friends and family.
  • Personally selected by your Olive Oil Hunter and available nowhere else, this trio will enhance every meal and elevate your fall and holiday dishes.
  • All three oils have been certifi ed by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil and rich in polyphenols, prized for their healthful benefits.

One of the greatest taste pleasures in life comes from the annual trek your Olive Oil Hunter makes to Australia. For me, “the great Oz” isn’t the wizard who helps Dorothy and Toto get back home in the L. Frank Baum classic but the enchanting land in the Southern Hemisphere. (Australia’s beloved nickname “Oz” comes from the quick pronunciation of its first three letters.) I like to think of its beautiful, shimmering olive groves as mini “emerald cities,” and as its wizards, the men and women who create the liquid gold that I jet home for you.

With opposite seasons to countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia is the perfect place to source fresh-pressed olive oil this time of year. And no matter how knackered—local lingo for exhausted—I am from the 20,000-mile round-trip odyssey, I look forward to it every year. Once you taste the magic in these three bottles, you’ll understand why.

The Olive Oil Culture Down Under

Oleiculture— the production and processing of olives—Down Under has a history dating back more than two centuries, albeit with fits and starts. By the turn of the 20th century, 60 different olive cultivars were thriving in their new home, primarily on a specially designed farm with a research station in Wagga Wagga, in the heart of New South Wales, the Aussie state that’s also home to Sydney and the country’s capital, Canberra. But despite the best of intentions, over the course of that century, olive cultivation came close to the point of completely faltering. In 1995, the Australian Olive Association (AOA) was formed to revive it and set standards for EVOO quality. There was new interest—and investment—in Australian olive oil, especially in Victoria, considered the country’s garden state because of its temperate, Mediterranean-like climate that is conducive to farming.

Melissa Wong, Jill Barson and T. J. Robinson
Once on the ground, it was straight to the home of my treasured friend, Melissa Wong (center) for our much-anticipated Grand Tasting of extra virgin olive oils under consideration for this quarter. Joining us was Aussie olive guru Jill Barson, a poet of a taster with the greatest command of olive oil descriptors I’ve ever heard. There’s always a high level of excitement as we begin: What treasures will we find?

The parallels to the Australian wine industry are remarkable. Not long after the first olive trees were planted in the 1800s, grape cuttings from Spain and France were introduced to the region. Yet it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that the country’s wines reached the international stage. Wine connoisseurs now rave about Aussie Shiraz, Cab Sauv (their shorthand for cabernet sauvignon), Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and the uniquely aged white Semillon. For olive oil connoisseurs like me, it’s the Australian Picual, Coratina, and Frantoio olives, among others, that get my attention and are taking their place in the spotlight.

A Land of Extremes, A Buffet of Cuisines

With six different climate zones (plus numerous microclimates, important for growing olives), Oz lets me enjoy the sun at Sydney’s Bondi Beach and, after a day’s drive, witness snow in the Australian Alps along the Great Alpine Road from Wangaratta to Metung.

What makes the country even more fascinating to me is that, throughout its contemporary history, Australia has attracted immigrants not only from England but from all corners of the globe—from waves of Italians and Greeks in the 1800s and again after World War II to more than 3 million newcomers since 2000, many from across Asia, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and India. Their cultures and cuisines are now all part of the Oz landscape. Some of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had were in small family-run restaurants from Sydney to Melbourne, and they inspired many of the dishes in the recips below.

My Network of Amazing Aussie Experts

I’ve spent nearly two decades developing and strengthening relationships with the most important olive oil influencers on the continent to ensure that I can always bring you the finest, freshest oils for this quarter. My Merry Band of Tasters swells in Oz to include our close friend and longtime Club collaborator, Melissa Wong—we’ve known each other since our days at the Food Network in New York in the ’00s! Few people Down Under have more experience in sourcing superior specialty foods than Melissa, a former Michelin-star restaurateur and fine food aficionado.

I also love reuniting with Australian olive guru and esteemed taster 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. I always look forward to gaining insights from John and Marjan Symington of Oasis Olives, who
are both committee members of the Victoria-based Goulburn Strathbogie Olive Oil Association and whose expansive farm often serves as our logistics hub.

Melissa Wong, John and Marjan Symington, T. J. Robinson, Meghan Wells and Tjeerd Beliën
With John and Marjan Symington of Oasis (flanking me), Melissa Wong, my wife Meghan, and charter Merry Band of Tasters member Tjeerd Beliën at South of Johnston, a cafe in Melbourne, where coffee culture is huge (inside secret: don’t overheat the milk in your lattes!). The Symingtons are trusted partners—with multiple groves around the world, they have the inside track on what’s happening in the realm of olives and olive oil.

In Oz, ultra-premium olive oil producers understand that making artisanal olive oil is both an art and
a science and will incorporate Old World sensibilities into the modern practices on their family farms. In the following paragraphs, you’ll meet them: Kyneton’s estate manager, Mick Labbozzetta, whose own parents came from Italy; Annie Paterson, founder of Nullamunjie Olive Groves, one of the most passionate growers I know; and my dear friend Leandro Ravetti, a master miller, international panel judge, and olive oil consultant who racks up even more frequent flyer miles each year than I do!

Though their respective oils might compete to be part of the Club’s selections in any given year, all these award-winning producers share my goal of bringing you the tastiest, freshest oils. And this quarter was yet another triumph.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Leandro’s Master Miller Exclusive Selection, Boort, Victoria, 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Leandro Ravetti, Boort, Victoria, 2022 Australia Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

My longtime friend Leandro Ravetti is one of the most influential olive oil experts in the world. His oils have won top awards in the most prestigious competitions on earth, from Tokyo to Los Angeles to Madrid and beyond. He was even a keynote speaker at what is Mount Olympus for the planet’s olive oil producers: the New York International Olive
Oil Competition.

Leandro is my ace in the hole when I hunt fresh-pressed olive oil Down Under. Like an alchemist, Leandro has helped me put some of the most exquisite Australian extra virgin olive oils into the hands of discriminating Club members for more than a decade.

One of the many notable things about Leandro is his consistency. No matter what obstacles he encounters, weather-related or otherwise, he manages to vault over them, coaxing the best fruit from his trees—and, from that fruit, the best extra virgin olive oils.

Leandro is a master miller, one of only a handful in the world. He graduated with an honors degree in agricultural engineering from the National University of Catamarca, doing post-graduate work in Spain and Italy before returning to his native Argentina to assist its fledgling olive industry. Leandro is uniquely qualified to straddle the olive oil cultures between the old and new worlds. In 2001, he accepted the position of technical director at Modern Olives in Lara, Victoria. This science-based company interfaces with Australian olive growers and maintains a state-of-the-art laboratory to study planting and cultivation techniques, natural flavor and aroma optimization, tree health, harvest efficiencies, and milling methods. There is virtually no facet of olive cultivation and olive oil production that Leandro is not intimately familiar with. One of his most laudable accomplishments was drafting the Australian Standard for Olive Oil, which set some of the highest standards among all olive-growing countries.

You can understand why it’s such a delight to spend time with this scientist, technical whiz kid, and artisan on his home turf. I always learn something new.

Leandro’s Master Miller Olive Grove, Boort, Victoria, 2023
Rain rutted the road, but wild ’roos couldn’t have kept me away from this tour of the groves. I was on site when these olive trees were planted in 2015 and am thrilled to know the fruit they’ve produced contributed to the sensational food-friendly blend you’ve just received. Leandro is very attuned to my olive oil preferences—fresh and green with nuanced flavors and high polyphenol levels—which is why our collaboration has been so successful over the years.

During a trip to his olive groves, Leandro explained the season’s peculiarities to us. An unseasonably cool, damp spring delayed the olive trees’ flowering by about two weeks, meaning the fall harvest was delayed as well. (The olives were slow to ripen, which can be a good thing, as it gives the fruit a chance to develop more complex flavors.) Producers like Leandro, who prefer early-harvest oils, avoided the rains that bedeviled some harvest teams.

I was especially eager to tour the mill at Boort, as it underwent a complete renovation since my visit in 2022. Because the project was completed just before the harvest, it was a bit of a nail-biter. I was very impressed. The mill is an example of the technological edge Oz has been honing for 25 years. Most intriguing was a device that sorts olive fruit. Guided by cameras and preset parameters, this “inspector” culls less-than-perfect fruit from the herd, banishing it to a separate bin with a well-aimed puff of air. It’s fun to watch!

Leandro Ravetti
For the past 25 years, Leandro Ravetti’s knowledge and experience have been in high demand among olive growers from both hemispheres. He is the equivalent of an olive oil rockstar! One benefi ciary of his expertise is the world-renowned Olive Oil Center at UC Davis. Leandro not only oversees thriving olive groves in California’s Yolo County but also teaches a popular course in milling olives. (I am an alumnus.)

Leandro promotes extra virgin olive oils with the fervor of a Southern-born evangelist. He hopes refined oils with misleading descriptors like “Pure” or “Light” will disappear from market shelves—those oils have been altered by heat and/or the addition of chemicals, destroying their healthful properties.

Leandro is an avid home cook and an ardent user of olive oil in his own kitchen in the coastal city of Geelong. He’s especially proud of his schnitzel, aka “schnitty”; carrot cake with cream cheese and olive oil icing; and a version of Italy’s bagna cauda (“hot bath”), enriched with heavy cream and served with crudité.

Just writing about this oil and its accomplished producer makes me excited to get back to my kitchen to find new ways to use this fresh and flavorful extra virgin. Once you taste it, you’ll find my enthusiasm contagious!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My tasters and I agree this oil, though mild, has loads of personality. Exceptionally fragrant, evoking tomato vine and the fruitiness of Asian pear and green banana. Notes of celery leaves and white pepper are accompanied by the nuttiness of walnuts and the freshness of mint. Pleasantly green and grassy in the mouth, with the mild bitterness of green walnuts and Belgian endive and the subtle spiciness of celery leaves. Floral notes—fresh rose petals?—ride the long finish.

This Picual and Coratina blend has range. I recommend it for salads featuring pears or walnuts; bread; roasted tomatoes or root vegetables; stir fries; mild fi n fi sh; lobster or other shellfi sh; chicken; pork; brie, camembert, or even aged cheeses like pecorino; eggplant; eggs; legumes; rice; popcorn; smoothies; vanilla ice cream; panna cotta; or baked goods.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie Blend, Tongio, Victoria, 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Oasis Olives, Kialla, Victoria, Australia, 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Annetta “Annie” Paterson, the founder of Nullamunjie, credits an unknown benefactor with ultimately changing her life.

She was about six years old when bookshelves and books to fi ll them appeared at her one-room schoolhouse in the Victorian bush. The new “library”—likely part of what Aussies call a “clear out” (a rummage or estate sale)—fascinated Annie, especially the books on Greek history and mythology. Later, after graduating from the University of Melbourne, Annie splurged on a trip to Greece.

Today, she can still describe in detail the view from her tour bus window as it wheezed up the steep slope of Mt. Parnassus to Delphi, famed home of the Oracle: the silvery, grey-green leaves of the olive trees rustling in the breeze, the sun-kissed Aegean Sea just beyond their crowns. For Annie, it was love at fi rst sight. She intuited that olive trees would thrive on her family’s East Gippsland ranch. Unconvinced by her argument that the Mediterranean-like climate (warm days and cool nights) and rocky, mineral-rich soil would support olives, Annie’s father urged her to table her dream.

Fortunately for us, dear Club member, the story didn’t end there. In 1998, Annie—by then married and the mother of four—purchased land bisected by the Tambo River at the base of Mt. Stawell. She started out small, initially planting a few hundred olive trees—all Italian varietals. Now a septuagenarian, Annie shows no signs of slowing down. She recently added 300 acres to her holdings, planting them with 2,500 olive trees. No leisurely afternoon games of mahjong for this remarkable woman! You’re more likely to find her deep in the olive grove, wielding a chainsaw and wearing a hard hat over her perfectly coiffed hair, her outfit accessorized with a string of South Sea pearls. “I like to prune,” Annie admits. If I failed to schedule a visit with Annie during a trip to Oz (unthinkable), my Merry Band of Tasters would mutiny! She is down-to-earth yet patrician in her bearing. (“I feel like I’m with royalty when we’re together,” I told a friend.)

With the help of Riley, her new operations manager, Annie’s in the process of adopting regenerative farming techniques. This government-backed program goes beyond sustainability. Its goal is to sequester carbon in the soil and promote biodiversity.

Laughter is always on the menu when my Merry Band of Tasters and I join Annie Paterson, the effervescent proprietress of Nullamunjie, for a meal. On the evening these photos were taken, Annie invited us to her lovely antique Victorian home near Melbourne’s CBD. A talented cook, for years Annie ran a popular café at her farm called The Pressing Shed (Aussie-speak for an olive mill). Her Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake is a favorite at my house.

Dining at Annie’s table is something my Merry Band of Tasters and I always look forward to. During our recent visit, we gathered at the beautiful home she shares with her husband, John, near Melbourne’s central business district (CBD). A classic Victorian, this architectural antique features the intricate gingerbread trim common to houses built in the latter half of the nineteenth century as well as stunning pressed-tin ceilings that reverberate with laughter when we’re together.

We relish our trips to the farm, too, some 250 miles northeast of the city. The home Annie and John built there is an example of Australia’s “rammed earth” construction. After a day at the mill, it’s a pleasure to stargaze from the veranda. Though deep in the bush, we even found a great little pizzeria whose pies went exceedingly well with Annie’s just-pressed olive oil!

One evening, over a typically mirthful dinner of stuffed mushrooms, olive oil–poached salmon with capers, roasted fennel and tomatoes, and a salad of pear and seasonal greens—all accompanied by stellar Aussie wines—we devoted ourselves to catching up.

Kangaroo in Olive Grove, Australia
“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy murmured to Toto as she got her fi rst look at Oz. That’s the same feeling I get when I spot a kangaroo in the olive groves or keeping pace with our car. The marsupials (among other things) remind me that I’m a long, long way from home. Australia is a magical place dear Club member, populated by friendly people, unique forms of wildlife, and some of the planet’s fi nest extra virgin olive oil.

Annie’s beloved trees, she said, endured another unusually cool, wet, overcast summer, delaying the olives’ ripening by two weeks. However, the East Timorese harvest crew arrived at the prearranged date as per their contract. Was their early arrival a problem? Not for me: Longtime members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club know my strong preference for early-harvest oils, with their complex fl avors and higher polyphenol counts.

It’s thrilling for Annie to imagine Club members tasting her extra virgin olive oils, lovingly crafted from her favorite varietals. (Usually, it’s a privilege only locals have!) She is so very proud of their versatility and their ability to elevate nearly every food they touch. I predict this oil, produced by a plucky but determined grandmother, will soon become your favorite “secret ingredient,” taking your cooking to glorious new heights.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

This Italian-varietal farm blend refl ects the geniality, beauty, and elegance of its producer, Annie. It’s incredibly food-friendly, as you’ll discover. Almond is predominant on the nose, supported by Belgian endive, golden apple, citrus zest, freshly ground black pepper, oregano, fennel seed, and cinnamon. A whiff of baby spinach lends mineral-like grace notes. Very harmonic on the palate, blending green almonds, wild mint, and the complex bitterness of radicchio, green tea, and walnuts. Arugula and black pepper appear on the spicy tail.

Pair this exceptionally versatile oil with salads featuring winter greens (like kale) and nuts; curries; bruschetta; white pizza; pesto; lamb; turkey; roasted new potatoes or sweet potatoes, pumpkin or other squash, radicchio, broccoli, brussels sprouts, or caulifl ower; white beans; steamed green beans or edamame; mushrooms; yogurt; granola; or ice cream.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Kyneton Olive Oil, Bylands, Victoria, 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Frantoio
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Kyneton Olive Oil, Bylands, Victoria, 2023 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Each time I prepare to taste the just-pressed oils from the Kyneton farm—a destination for me and my Merry Band of Tasters since 2009—I feel an adrenaline rush of what I can only describe as Christmas-morning anticipation. It’s the same feeling I got as a child, wondering what could be inside a mysterious package that had appeared under the tree overnight. Was it that special gift I had wished for? Or was it something else—possibly even more wonderful?

Since 2016, Kyneton has been tended by the genial and generous estate manager Mick Labbozzetta, whose team presses the top-quality Kyneton olives as well as those from several other artisanal farms. “You can’t rely on just one grove,” Mick says, nodding to the fickleness of Mother Nature and also to the smaller-scale operations of Australian olive farms, many of which do not have a mill on site. With its state-of-the-art Pieralisi olive mill, Kyneton is the destination for the finest fruit in the area.

I think of Kyneton as a mini Italy in rural Victoria. Mick, whose family immigrated to Oz from Calabria, is supported year-round in the groves by a fellow Calabrian, Carmelo Tramontana. They join forces each harvest season with an Italian master miller, Davide Bruno. Together, this trio merges Old World character with New World practices to generate a great Italian-Australian synergy They are faithfully carrying on Kyneton’s Italian lineage: the original grove was planted by Calabrian transplant Felice Trovatello and stewarded expertly by his children until it was acquired, in 2015, by the Inturrisi family, originally from Sicily—to whom Mick is related by marriage.

Nineteenth-century Italian immigrants 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 largest waves of Italian immigration to Victoria were during the postwar period, especially the 1950s and ’60s.

Mick Labbozzetta and T. J. Robinson at D. O. C. Delicatessen in Melbourne’s Lygon Street
At D. O. C. Delicatessen in Melbourne’s Lygon Street, Mick Labbozzetta, the estate manager at Kyneton, and I shop for authentic Italian specialties (sugo pomodoro and pasta) to showcase the tantalizing Italian-style blend we created together for the Club. Next door is D. O. C. Espresso, serving Italian pastries and caffè in all its permutations. For Mick and thousands of other Italian Australians in Victoria, these shops help sustain the culinary traditions of the homeland.

As we caught up at D. O. C. Espresso, an old-school Italian café on Lygon Street in Victoria, I asked Mick what it was like when he was a boy. “Every couple of months,” he said, “there were boatloads of Italians arriving.” He reminisced about the ships that transported the newcomers, switching effortlessly between his gentle Aussie lilt and mellifluous Italian: the Achille Lauro, the Angelina Lauro, the Sydney, the Galileo Galilei, the Marconi. Many of these migrants—most hailing from the southern Italian regions of Sicily and Calabria—became entrepreneurs in their new country.

“All the flavors and traditions from back home were imported, along with the families,” Mick recalled. Immigrants opened Italian bakeries, cafes, delicatessens, and restaurants that created and sustained a thriving Italian-Australian culture in Victoria for decades.

You’re no doubt wondering—as I was—about the olive oil. As Mick explained, in the ’60s and ’70s, all the olive oil was imported. Mick’s grandfather wanted to make olive oil for his family, so he planted about 20 trees in his backyard in Adelaide. “I remember picking the olives,” Mick smiled. Those olives were pressed into oil at a neighbor’s home.

Mick’s grandfather would be incredibly proud that his grandson now oversees about 7,000 trees at Kyneton, most of them Italian varietals. Since 2018, master miller Davide Bruno, a gifted and passionate Ligurian native, has collaborated with Mick during the harvest. As Davide’s visa permits him to work in Australia for three months out of the year, he arrives in time to monitor the olives’ development and then pinpoint what I term the “magic window,” the ideal time to press the fruit in order to maximize the perfumes and flavors in the resulting oils.

David Bruno and T. J. Robinson
After this quick photo op, master miller David Bruno and I trucked those bins of gorgeous, just-picked olives to the mill for immediate pressing. Working harvests in both Australia and his native Italy enables Davide to double his experience and share techniques across the globe. I especially admire how Davide reserves each batch of olive oil that he presses in a separate tank. (Many millers, even excellent ones, combine pressings.) I was extra-delighted to be able to create a spectacular bold blend for my Club from the most specific palette of flavors.

When I arrived at the farm, the Kyneton team presented eight different Coratina pressings for me and my Merry Band to taste, each of them distinct. I tinkered with them and added a small but strategic amount of an excellent Frantoio to craft a harmonious, one-of-a-kind bold selection for the Club.

Mick expressed what an honor it is to work with our Club, as he continues to learn from me, and from you, about the qualities we seek in premium EVOO—the healthful polyphenols, the range and nuance of perfumes and flavors. He and his team hold their plans until they know whether a Kyneton oil will be a Club selection. “You’re very important to us,” he said, a sentiment I echo right back. We are thrilled to share this exclusive Italian-style blend with you.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Dominated by the assertive Coratina varietal, this oil leads with the herbal scents of thyme and sage (for me, the latter always flags a desire for cool-weather cooking), as well as green tea, almond, banana, escarole, and green peppercorns. It’s bold on the palate but with an intriguing, well-integrated bitterness. We noted rosemary, macadamia nuts, cocoa nibs, lemon zest, and bay leaf. The bitterness of arugula and dandelion greens and the spicy tingle of Szechuan peppercorns deliver a vibrant finish.

This oil is perfect for fall, a great complement to your seasonal menus. I urge you to try it with grilled or roasted meats; jacketed baked potatoes; pizza; hearty soups, stews, and braises; tomato-based sauces, like Bolognese; meat pies (see a recipe for this Aussie favorite below); Chinese broccoli; duck; game meats; Japanese eggplant; or chocolate desserts.


Olive Oil and Health

Dementia: Olive oil could help protect brain health, according to new study

Adapted from the original research and an article by Robby Berman in Medical News Today, August 2, 2023

Consuming half a tablespoon of olive oil per day could substantially lower your risk of dying from dementia, a new study shows.

According to a presentation on July 24 at the NUTRITION 2023 conference in Boston, the study found that people who consumed half a tablespoon or more of olive oil daily had a 25% reduced risk of dying from dementia compared to people who did not consume olive oil.

What’s more, higher olive oil intake was linked to greater brain benefits. “We found a clear linear dose-response association between higher daily olive oil intake and lower risk of fatal dementia,” said presenter Anne-Julie Tessier, RD (registered dietician), PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

This US-based study is the first to investigate the relationship between diet and dementia-related death. The investigators analyzed the health records from 1990 to 2018 of more than 90,000 people in the US who did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study. During the study’s 28 years of follow-up, 4,749 participants died from dementia.

Replacing even a single teaspoon of margarine or commercial mayonnaise with olive oil was also associated with a 5-12% reduced risk of dying from dementia, according to the research team. These benefits were not seen with other vegetable oils.

The link between higher olive oil intake and lower risk of dying of dementia was observed regardless of the overall quality of people’s diets. This may indicate that components of olive oil provide unique benefits for brain health.

“Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain,” said Dr. Tessier. “It is also possible that olive oil has an indirect effect on brain health by benefiting cardiovascular health.” She noted that only a few individuals in the study consumed more than 15 mg (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil daily.

A body of previous research has established an association between olive oil intake and a lower risk of heart disease, and incorporating olive oil as part of the Mediterranean diet has also been shown to help protect against cognitive decline.

Dr. Tessier reflected on the characteristics of olive oil that may confer its effects on the brain: “Olive oil may play a beneficial role in cognitive health through its rich content in monounsaturated fatty acids, which may promote neurogenesis [growth of brain cells]. It also contains vitamin E and polyphenols that have antioxidant activity.”

The research team advised that an observational study such as this is only able to identify an association and does not prove that olive oil is the cause of the reduced risk of dying from dementia. Randomized, controlled trials are needed to confirm the study’s findings and to help establish the optimal quantity of olive oil to consume in order to experience the most benefits.

Reference: Tessier JA, Yuan C, Cortese M, et al. Olive oil and fatal dementia risk in two large prospective US cohort studies. Poster presented at NUTRITION 2023 conference, Fairfax, VA, July 24, 2023.


Kudos from Club Members

Now I know what the good stuff tastes like!
In the last few days, I have eaten more bread with this Finca Galvez and my fresh herbs than I’ve had in the last 10 years…this stuff is amazing!! Apparently I just didn’t know what the good stuff actually tastes like! I’m in love now. Thanks.
Kathy M.Charlotte, NC


Recipes

  • Ma'amoul (Date-Filled Cookies) Ma’amoul (Date-Filled Cookies) These buttery date-filled cookies featuring olive oil hail from the Middle East—potentially from ancient Egypt—and are an unexpected addition to holiday cookie trays. Ingredients 1/3 cup roasted, salted pistachio nuts, chopped 1/3 cup pitted whole dates, chopped 1/4 cup apricot spreadable fruit preserves or jam 1/2 teaspoon orange zest 1 cup white whole wheat flour… view recipe
  • Baby Bok Choy Baby Bok Choy Looking for a simple side dish for an Asian-influenced meal? We love baby bok choy. You could substitute rapini or broccoli florets if baby bok choy isn’t available. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 pound baby bok choy, stalks separated, washed and spun dry 1/4 cup fresh orange juice 2 tablespoons natural rice… view recipe
  • Baked Salmon with Basil and Garlic Baked Salmon with Basil and Garlic A quick romp in an olive oil-based marinade for as little as 30 minutes, a brief stint in a hot oven, and dinner is served! If desired, serve with the Braised Fennel and Lentils. Rice or couscous work well with the salmon, too. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets, skin off Coarse salt (kosher or… view recipe
  • Zucchini Bolognese Zucchini Bolognese No, it’s not a typo. You really do cook zucchini for 4 hours for one of the most unctuous iterations of this vegetable we’ve ever encountered. The foodie website “delish” claims Meghan Markle shared this pasta dish with them before she married into the Royal family. Regardless, we were impressed when we made it for… view recipe
  • Pork Schnitzel Pork Schnitzel with Giardiniera Duck into almost any pub in Australia, and you’ll find schnitzel on the menu—chicken, beef, or pork. “Schnittys,” though nicked from European immigrants, are now one of Oz’s iconic foods. Giardiniera is a versatile Italian condiment that can be used as an antipasto or on eggs, sandwiches (a must-have on Italian beef), and even hot… view recipe
  • Greek Lamb Chops (Paidakia) Greek Lamb Chops (Paidakia) Melbourne, a sister city to Thessaloniki, is home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Greece and Cyprus. It’s no wonder, then, that the local cuisine thrums with Hellenic influences. Ingredients 8 large lamb rib chops 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for searing and serving 6 cloves garlic, crushed with… view recipe
  • Prawn Tacos with Asian Slaw Prawn Tacos with Asian Slaw Nagi Maehashi is one of Australia’s most popular food bloggers. We were inspired by her recipe for tacos made with prawns, and paired them with one of our favorite Asian cabbage slaws featuring extra virgin olive oil. Ingredients For the prawns: 1 pound large prawns or shrimp, peeled (tails, too) Zest and juice of 1… view recipe
  • Roasted Cauliflower Soup Roasted Cauliflower Soup Silky and rich-tasting (though it contains no cream), this is one of our favorite fall soups. Ingredients 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into bite-size florets 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for garnish Fine sea salt 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced1 quart… view recipe
  • Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki My wife, Meghan, and I often order souvlaki (both chicken and lamb) during our stays in Oz. We present it as an appetizer here, but it can easily become a main course—especially when served with a Greek salad and pita. Ingredients For the chicken and marinade: 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2 cloves garlic,… view recipe
  • Turkish Shepard's Salad (Çoban Salatasi) Turkish Shepherd’s Salad (Çoban Salatasi) If you find dicing vegetables and chopping herbs relaxing, you’ll enjoy making this healthful salad. It makes a great accompaniment to grilled meats. Find sumac and Aleppo pepper online or at well-stocked spice stores. Ingredients 1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and diced 1 European (English) or 4 Persian cucumbers, diced 1 green or red pepper,… view recipe

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

Three Spectacular Chilean EVOOs from One Extraordinary Farm

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Custom-blended to attain perfect harmony, balance, and food-friendliness, these just-pressed oils will be the stars of your summer table.
  • All three were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their vivid, tantalizing flavors and healthful properties.
  • All three have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent pure extra virgin olive oil.
  • All three are Club exclusives, available nowhere else!

I’ve just returned from the vibrant, fertile land of Chile, with its world-class olive groves, generous people, fantastic local food, and plenty of la buena onda—good vibes. I’m thrilled to present you with the fruits of my most enjoyable labors: three glistening bottles of the freshest, finest extra virgin olive oil on Earth right now.

Heading South

Shaped like a rumpled necktie, Chile undulates along 2,600 miles of the Pacific coast of South America and lies more than 5,000 miles due south of the US east coast. Its antipodal orientation means, of course, that its seasons are the opposite of ours—when we are entering spring in the Northern Hemisphere, Chile is experiencing autumn and, with it, the annual olive harvest. At this time of year, with the Mediterranean harvests several months off, I head below the equator to hunt for liquid gold for my Club members.

My first journey, in 2005, was to assess “the Chilean threat,” as anxious European producers dubbed the fledgling ultra-premium olive oil scene in Chile. Starting in the early 2000s, Chilean upstarts bypassed centuries of Old World tradition, employing state-of-the-art growing and milling techniques to wow olive oil connoisseurs around the globe with their high-quality, fresh, fragrant EVOOs.

Carola Dümmer Medina and T. J. Robinson in Chile
Olive oil educator Carola Dümmer Medina and I were reunited after 18 years. She remembered me (it was probably my hat) from a grand tasting back in 2005, sponsored by Chile Oliva, the national Chilean growers’ association. Carola publishes an influential guide to educate Chilean consumers about the benefits and characteristics of high-polyphenol, fresh-pressed EVOO. We bonded over stories of the first time we tasted olive oil fresh from the harvest—she remembers exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, what is this amazing stuff?”

In the intervening years, I have collaborated with many of the quality-obsessed Chilean pioneers, and these connections have deepened into friendships. We share delicious meals, hearty laughs, big dreams, hot tips, occasional fears, and an abiding passion for olive oil. (Sometimes we even share surfboards – see the photo below.)

Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, longtime friend of the Club and key member of my Merry Band of Tasters, met up with me and the rest of the band when we landed in Santiago. Before anything else: food. At a little local chain called Tip y Tap, I devoured a lomito Italiano, my favorite sandwich, with roast pork, avocado, and tomato, slathered with house-made mayonnaise and piled on a crusty Chilean roll. So, so good.

A Break from Megadrought

If you folded a paper map of the globe along the equator, Central Chile’s latitude (between 32 and 35 degrees) would line up with that of Southern Europe. Its climate is accordingly Mediterranean style, with hot, dry summers, mild winters, warm days, and cool nights. This agricultural powerhouse bursts with mouthwateringly lush, outsize fruits and vegetables, including celery stalks the size of baseball bats and the best avocados in the world.

But, for more than a decade now, the Chilean agricultural sector has battled a megadrought—a long-term lack of rain, the worst in a thousand years. Olive growers with irrigation systems have managed to compensate for the lack of rain, but every season has been a nail-biter. Last year, in which Mother Nature not only served up dry and blistering heat but also threw in an early frost, was one of the worst on record for Chilean olive growers.

In a miraculous turnaround, this year Chile enjoyed a fantastic olive growing season and harvest. The weather was ideal—a genial spring; a hot summer, but not so intense as to cause concern; and a temperate autumn with a well-timed rain at harvest time, just enough to plump the olives without diluting the intensity of their oil. Chilean producers were ecstatic, as was I.

A quick primer on current EVOO-nomics: global prices for bulk-commodity-level oil are the highest they’ve been in a generation, owing to the dismal most recent harvest in Spain, the world’s largest source of olive oil. Many Chilean producers, who’ve suffered in recent years, strategized by leaving the fruit on the trees longer, which maximizes the oil yield. Given this dynamic, I suspected that finding the early-harvest, super-herbaceous Chilean EVOO I prize might be a challenge.

Juan José (Juanjo) Alonso and T. J. Robinson Holding Surf Boards in Chile
Juan José (Juanjo) Alonso and I take a break from the harvest to stroll on the beach near Agricola Pobeña, the celebrated olive farm he manages along with his family. Back when the farm was just a dream, Juanjo was tasked with scouting a location for the Alonso clan’s future olive groves. His siblings joke that Juanjo chose the eventual Pobeña plot because it is only half an hour from this prime surfing beach—an allegation that Juanjo, an avid wave rider, has yet to deny.

Quality, Not Quantity

As we traditionally kick off the Chilean quest, Duccio had arranged a Grand Tasting, at which we sampled dozens of harvest-fresh oils. Seven single-varietal olive oils quickly emerged as winners – we pronounced them “near perfect.” In an extraordinary turn of events, all were produced by the same farm, Agricola Pobeña. I have worked many times with the multitalented Pobeña team, so I had anticipated their oils would be excellent. But for every single contender to come from the same groves, reflecting such a range of varietals, flavors, and personalities, was astonishing.

Agricola Pobeña is the joyous, innovative, 100 percent-quality-focused, and immensely successful venture of the Alonso family. The Pobeña mill pressed its first EVOO in 2014 and almost immediately drew international accolades, with more than 140 prestigious awards to date. Last year, Pobeña was named one of the Top 20 Olive Farms in the World by Flos Olei, the international guide to ultra-premium EVOO.

With olive groves carpeting 850 acres of land in Chile’s agriculturally blessed O’Higgins Region, as well as a 10-acre lake and multiple rain wells, Pobeña grows a veritable Ellis Island of Southern European olive varietals: Italian, Spanish, and Greek. The farm’s many microclimates foster nuance and contrast, not just among the cultivars but within them—the same olives grown at various elevations will take on subtly different flavor profiles.

How to improve upon near-perfection? Teamwork. I was thrilled at this opportunity to collaborate with three of my favorite EVOO impresarios: Denise Langevin, Duccio Morozzo, and Juan Carlos Pérez. Read on to learn about these multitalented and passionate producers, and whet your appetite with Chilean-inspired recipes and food pairing suggestions. I can’t wait for you to taste these magnificent oils!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Before treating me and my Merry Band of Tasters to a lavish lunch showcasing her just-pressed extra virgin olive oil blend, Denise Langevin drove us to a local grade school that benefits from an initiative she spearheaded—a program that promotes healthy eating among schoolchildren. (It’s similar to the “Edible Schoolyard Project” started in Berkeley by restaurateur Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame.) As the olive oil-obsessed daughter of a Chilean fruit farmer, Denise delights in acquainting the students with the joys of gardening and eating what they grow. Currently, a dozen vegetable varieties are being cultivated in raised beds built by Denise and her husband, Luis. During summer break, each child—hopefully, future olive oil lovers all—is given a tomato plant to nurture.

It was a pleasure to witness in person her exuberant schoolyard reception. “Tía Denise! Tía Denise!” shouted the children as they mobbed my friend on the playground. Denise is clearly a hit with the youngsters in the town of Codegua, some 45 miles south of Santiago. Tía (aunt) and tío (uncle) are the proper Spanish words to respectfully address teachers, Denise explained.

As expected, garden-fresh vegetables starred in the multi-course lunch. But the MVP award went to the oil: it elevated each dish. Starters included almond-stuffed olives and Denise’s addictive oil-cured sundried tomatoes, followed by a velvety pumpkin soup, a green salad, seafood and spinach crepes, an Andean corn casserole called pastel de choclo, and, for dessert, profiteroles.

Denise Langevin and T. J. Robinson with Children in Chile
When not judging olive oil competitions, Chilean EVOO expert Denise Langevin champions healthy eating habits by teaching local schoolchildren how to grow and prepare their own fresh vegetables. It’s important, she believes, to impart this lesson when they’re young. I heartily support her mission, having dedicated the past 20 years to schooling people about the pleasures and health benefits of exquisitely fresh extra virgin olive oil.

I first met Denise, a diminutive dynamo, a decade ago during a visit to a Chilean olive farm where she was the director of exports. She is a self-made woman who parlayed a keen interest in olive oil into a successful career as a global olive oil consultant. Like me, she found her first taste of fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil to be life-changing—so different from the supermarket oils she was accustomed to. She wasted no time in educating herself, honing her formidable tasting skills by traveling extensively, and building experience in sensory evaluation. Soon, invitations to judge international olive oil competitions began arriving at her home—which she shares with her husband, maintaining fruit trees, an enviable garden, and a small menagerie. Among competitions she judged this past year were the prestigious Olive d’Or competition in Montreal, Canada, as well as a contest in glamorous Monte Carlo.

Thanks to an exceptional harvest, yours truly, Denise, and my Merry Band of Tasters had a stunning palette of fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils to work with when creating this blend, all wrought by the amazing Pobeña farm and its passionate and talented team.
(Not to mention the well-timed rain in advance of the harvest, courtesy of Mother Nature.) The 2023 Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection features two outstanding early-harvest Arbequinas, each pressed from olive fruit that matured in different microclimates. A bit of Koroneiki adds balance and complexity. I have named our mild blend after Denise in honor of her immense past and present contributions to the Club. Its flavor profile mirrors her gentle demeanor and soft-spoken nature, yet is enticingly bright and vibrant, even a little spicy. Denise is enthralled with the result and named for us her three favorite uses for this elixir: salads, cakes, and ice cream.

I can’t wait to hear how you and your family use this splendid extra virgin olive oil. Denise is so proud to have one named after her that will be enjoyed by discriminating Americans.

Denise Langevin and T. J. Robinson enjoying fresh pressed olive oil in Chile
Denise hosted a sumptuous luncheon at her lovely rural home for my Merry Band of Tasters and me. It was exciting to try the Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection on her delicious food! We drizzled the oil liberally over nearly everything, from salads to seafood. Imagine all the ways you and your family and friends will enjoy this wonderfully fresh oil, the perfect way to complement warm-weather menus.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

The aroma wafting from our tasting glasses leads with fruit, featuring green banana, apple, lettuce, and tomato leaf. Also thyme and hints of citrus zest and vanilla. On the palate, we detected the bitterness of green walnuts, Belgian endive, and baby spinach. Expect a celery leaf and black pepper-like spiciness on the finish, which is surprisingly long for a mild oil.

Suggested food pairings include vanilla ice cream; smoothies; fruit salads; chicken; shellfish, such as lobster, shrimp, or scallops; mild fin fish such as halibut or sole; eggs; mild cheeses like burrata or mozzarella; bread; creamy or cold soups; simple pasta dishes; rice; boiled potatoes; prosciutto-wrapped melon like cantaloupe or honeydew; fresh corn or peas; strawberries with mascarpone or whipped ricotta; and quick breads.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Duccio Morozzo Signature Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Duccio Morozzo Signature Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Once again, I am indebted to the man with the mellifluous name—Duccio Morozzo della Rocca—who helped me create for you one of the most dazzling fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils in memory. Custom blended exclusively for our Club, this oil is an eloquent expression of Chilean olives, featuring an enchanting quartet of fruitiness, sweetness, bitterness, and spice.

At the same time, this selection, as Duccio insists, has a “Tuscan soul.” The label fronts a unique blend of olives native to Italy and thriving on the Pobeña farm, namely, Frantoio, Coratina, and Leccino: it’s a beautiful marriage of varietals. There were no “or forever hold your peace” objections—only plenty of enthusiastic toasts—from me and my Merry Band of Tasters to this delightful, almond-forward EVOO.

Longtime Club members are acquainted with master miller Duccio Morozzo, one of the world’s most highly respected olive authorities and in-demand judges of international olive oil competitions. If you are new to the Club, let me introduce you: a 2005 graduate of the Università of Pisa olive oil quality and cultivation program, Duccio quickly established himself as an olive and olive oil consultant. An International Olive Council (IOC) taster and recognized professional, he now travels the world, using his knowledge in nearly every country that is hospitable to olive trees—Japan, Australia, South America, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and other locations. I know no one with a more profound knowledge of olives and olive oil than Duccio.

Master miller Duccio Morozzo and T. J. Robinson in Olive Grove in Chile
Just look at those beautiful jewel-like olives, harvested within what I call the “magic window,” in other words, the perfect moment. They are on their way to the conveniently located mill (it’s in the middle of the olive grove) to be pressed with the Alonso family’s state-of-the-art equipment. Duccio and I take so much pleasure in pooling our knowledge and experience to bring you the freshest, most flavorful extra virgin olive oils in the world today.

I first met this agricultural impresario in 2010 during a farm visit to Central Chile. And what a serendipitous meeting it was! Duccio, I learned, shared my belief that early-harvest oils are the best, deigning to work only with the world’s top producers. He’s like my brother from a different mother.

But it wasn’t just his knowledge that impressed me: I loved his unbridled enthusiasm for the fresh-pressed juice of olives and the joy he brought to the mill and the table. He was so hands-on when we toured olive groves together, leaping out of whatever vehicle we were driving to examine the fruit up close, tasting it to gauge its ripeness and oil content. His valuable post-grad experience with mill manufacturer Alfa Laval cemented the deal. Alfa Laval is the manufacturer of the equipment used at the Alonso mill, one of the finest mills in South America.

A side note: before immersing himself in the study of olive oil, Duccio was a degreed musical composer. Duccio brings a musician’s appreciation of harmony, interplay, and resonance to the creation of an optimal olive oil blend, keenly attuned to any sensorial changes in olive oil. Add a drop of another cultivar to a tasting glass, for example, and he will detect it immediately.

Duccio’s extensive experience with Old World varietals allows him to expertly contrast and compare their Chilean offspring. Yes, the trees share the same DNA with their Old World ancestors, but the transplants have changed and evolved. It’s similar to the way wine grapes are influenced by their terroir. Duccio’s remarkable taste memory, his extensive knowledge of Chilean olive oils, and his blending genius make him an ideal collaborator.

This year, he assured me, we would be working with “near perfect” olive oils that, when blended with simpatico olive oils, would yield an oil greater than the sum of its parts. I was thrilled that Duccio was able to join me and my Merry Band in Chile and was grateful for his help in organizing the Grand Tasting that kicked off this year’s second-quarter odyssey. (Read more about the Grand Tasting below.)

Master miller Duccio Morozzo and T. J. Robinson enjoying olive oil tasting in Chile
Blending is both an art and a science, requiring the nose of a perfumer and a trained and highly sensitive palate, one that’s able to detect minute differences between oils. Here, Duccio adds a small amount of a second oil to the base varietal in the tasting cup in my hand during a blind tasting. (Note the numbered bottles.) We tasted dozens of oils—single varietals as well as the blends we created with them—to bring you extraordinary EVOOs, dear Club member.

In a private conversation with me, Duccio credited the Alonso family’s success—they’ve won dozens of awards—to their New World willingness to adapt and disengage from entrenched Old World ways that don’t always produce the finest olive oils.

This is one of the most delightful Chilean fresh-pressed olive oils I’ve sent to Club members. As Duccio would say, “Buon appetito!”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Although Chilean, this oil, comprised of Frantoio, Coratina, and Leccino olives, has an Italian pedigree. Almonds, fresh-cut grass, hops, and mint tease the nose, along with green apple, kiwi, baby arugula, black pepper, chopped sage, and a touch of cinnamon. In the mouth, we tasted the complex bitterness of radicchio, dark chocolate, and green almonds. The finish showcases the astringency of green tea and mint as well as the freshness of raw fennel and the pepperiness of nasturtiums and Szechuan peppercorns.

Try this beautiful oil with grilled meats, fish, or vegetables, as the flame-kissed food will benefit from the oil’s well-calibrated bitterness. Perfect with chicory, endive, or Swiss chard; green beans; summer squash; carrots; yams; salads featuring nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts; white beans or bean dips; guacamole; crudités; chocolate desserts; and truffles.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Arbequina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2023 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

Agricola Pobeña is the model for anyone daring enough to attempt to grow olives, and a key reason for its success is the man in charge of all 1,100 acres, Juan Carlos Pérez. I always look forward to reconnecting with Juan Carlos—it’s exciting to work with someone as obsessed as I am with creating the perfect EVOO for you. He knows that great olive oil starts on the tree and is finished in the mill—that all the work done in the field has a direct correlation to the quality of the oil produced. Even the most gifted miller can’t work his magic if the olives themselves aren’t of the highest quality.

As longstanding Club members know, Juan Carlos is one of Chile’s most talented agronomists. That title means he’s trained in all the fields required for optimal cultivation: earth science, ecology, and genetics, plus biology, chemistry, physics, economics, and more. 2023 marks Juan Carlos’ 14th year at Agricola Pobeña—he’s been there practically from day one—and the third consecutive year that your Olive Oil Hunter is presenting you with a blend named in his honor, “El Agrónomo” (The Agronomist).

Juan Carlos and T. J. Robinson in Olive Grove in Chile
Our producers jump through hoops to grow olives that deliver the rich taste and high polyphenols that Club members expect. But the harvesting process is its own labor of love, as I was reminded in the field with Juan Carlos. This battery-powered olive harvesting comb gently coaxes the olives from the branches. Many of Agricola Pobeña’s trees were planted in a traditional style that lets the roots spread out to take in more water. It all adds up to a more eco-friendly way to farm.

For Juan Carlos, growing the finest olives is not merely a job. It’s who he is; it’s in his DNA. Dubbed “The Boss” at Agricola Pobeña (and he is much like Bruce Springsteen in the way he leads an amazing band of talented professionals), he spends his weekends farming his own land—the ultimate busman’s holiday. On an impressive five hectares (more than 13 acres) that have been in his family for over 100 years, he grows olives (of course), grapes, cherries, and peaches as well as walnuts. His recent nut harvest was snapped up by an Indian buyer, but Juan Carlos kept enough for us to sample. They were the best I had ever tasted!

At Agricola Pobeña, Juan Carlos’ meticulous oversight of the groves, which he was instrumental in planning and planting, is in evidence everywhere you look. I loved being able to feast my eyes on and savor so many varieties of olives, not only the Picual, Arbequina, and Koroneiki that so masterfully come together in this quarter’s Bold selection, but also Frantoio, Leccino, Coratina, and more. Only in the New World do Italian, Greek, and Spanish varieties grow alongside each other. Each has its own magic window for harvesting, depending on where and at what elevation it is on the farm—just imagine all the permutations that come along with that!

Each bountiful harvest for Juan Carlos and his team of 80 dedicated workers is rooted, literally, in his dedication to promoting tree health and anticipating solutions for variables beyond their control (yes, you guessed it, the weather). While the aim is always to have enough water for the whole farm—optimally, one million cubic meters, or roughly the equivalent of 400 Olympic swimming pools—you can be smart about it and plan. There’s no way to control Mother Nature, but sometimes you can outfox her. We reminisced about last year, when three frightening nights of frost right before the harvest had threatened to damage the olives (remember that their seasons are the opposite of what we have here in the Northern Hemisphere—as you were enjoying spring and looking toward summer, their fall was coming to a close and, along with it, the worry over a premature gust of winter). “This year, as a country, we started harvesting earlier to avoid the consequences of an early frost,” Juan Carlos told me.

T. J. Robinson Juan Carlos and Sergio
“We need to be a team and need to be in tune,” Juan Carlos said. An invaluable member of that team is Sergio, better known by his nickname, Cachito, which means someone who’s both skilled and willing. This description perfectly fits the 77-year-old, who has no desire to retire. Cachito is in charge of irrigation and, like Juan Carlos, has been with the farm from the beginning.

He and I are of one mind when it comes to Agricola Pobeña’s strategy of picking the olives when they’re relatively green and have a higher concentration of healthful polyphenols as well as more vibrant flavors and aromas—exactly why Club members appreciate them so much. This technique of early harvesting translates to the best tasting and freshest EVOO. The olives’ oil content is much lower at this point in the growing season than it will be later on, so, producers who prioritize quantity over quality are happy to wait, envisioning the green of dollar signs rather than that of premium olive oil.

Last year’s El Agrónomo blend was our Medium selection. This year it is our Bold, with an entirely different flavor profile. With Picual, the Andalusian standout, at its core, it has a decidedly Spanish personality. Though in supporting roles, the Arbequina and the Koroneiki are no wallflowers—you can taste so many distinct and harmonious notes in this blend! This robust oil will tingle your tastebuds.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My tasters and I were enthusiastic about the abundant tomato leaf we discovered on the nose, as well as Tuscan kale, pear, parsley, basil, and green pepper. Bold, grassy, and herbal on the palate, evoking fresh chopped culinary herbs, artichokes, and wild mint. Bitterness is represented by notes of chicory and dark chocolate. You’ll experience a spicy symphonic finish featuring crushed green peppercorns and watercress.

We recommend splashing this robust oil on a caprese or panzanella salad (very good in vinaigrettes, especially green goddess dressing); bruschetta; pasta or potato salad; broccoli rabe; cabbage; pesto; tuna, salmon, or swordfish; fresh or sun-dried tomatoes; aged cheeses or a charcuterie board; bell peppers or shishito peppers; ratatouille; kale salads; game meats; lamb; duck; chocolate ice cream; or yogurt.


Olive Oil and Health

Olive oil is shown to improve brain health and memory in individuals with mild cognitive impairment

Adapted from an article by Matt Crouch, Auburn University (auburn.edu), March 6, 2023

Extra virgin olive oil may have positive effects on individuals with mild cognitive impairment, according to a recently completed study published in the journal Nutrients. The study’s findings suggest that compounds found in olive oil positively affect brain health and help improve the blood-brain barrier.

In the study, 25 adult participants experiencing mild cognitive impairment consumed 30 ml (about three tablespoons) of olive oil per day for six months. Thirteen of the participants consumed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and 12 consumed refined olive oil (ROO), as a control group. EVOO is rich in phenols, while ROO has been purified of phenols.

Study participants took several tests before and after consuming olive oil, including MRI scans, cognitive tests, and blood analysis to measure biomarkers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

This study evaluated the blood-brain barrier and its permeability—the degree to which it protects the brain. The blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels and tissue made up of closely spaced cells, plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy brain by protecting the brain from exposure to blood-related neurotoxins and in the clearance of brain waste products.

The study also measured levels of beta-amyloid and tau, two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, levels of beta-amyloid and tau are increased.

The benefits of olive oil consumption were more pronounced in the EVOO group, but participants in the ROO group experienced improvements as well: Both EVOO and ROO improved cognitive function, as determined by the improved clinical dementia rating and other behavioral scores. Additionally, “our findings showed that EVOO and ROO altered two major biomarkers related to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kaddoumi. “These alterations collectively could have played a role in improving the blood-brain barrier and improving function and memory.”

This study in individuals with mild cognitive impairment is the first to evaluate what happens to the human brain as a result of consuming olive oil.

“These results are exciting because they support the health benefits of olive oil against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kaddoumi. “Based on the findings of this study and previous preclinical studies… we can conclude that adding olive oil to our diet could maintain a healthy brain and improve memory function.”

Reference: Kaddoumi A, Denney TS, Deshpande G et al. Extra-virgin olive oil enhances the blood-brain barrier function in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2023;14(23):5102. doi.org/10.3390/nu14235102.


Kudos from Club Members

Now I know what the good stuff tastes like!
In the last few days, I have eaten more bread with this Finca Galvez and my fresh herbs than I’ve had in the last 10 years…this stuff is amazing!! Apparently I just didn’t know what the good stuff actually tastes like! I’m in love now. Thanks.
Kathy M.Charlotte, NC


Recipes

  • Lamb Asado with Molho de Campanha Lamb Asado with Molho de Campanha Lamb is a popular meat at Chilean asados (barbecues). Seasoned simply with salt and pepper, then grilled over mature coals, the meat is often served with freshly made rustic sauces or salsas. Ingredients For the lamb: One butterflied leg of lamb, about 5 pounds Coarse salt (kosher or sea) Freshly ground black pepper For the… view recipe
  • Summer Squash in Tomato Broth with Quinoa Timbales Summer Squash in Tomato Broth with Quinoa Timbales Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro nearly eradicated quinoa from the world during his quest to destroy the Incas. But high in the mountains, some plants survived. A seed rather than a grain, quinoa gives this dish substance. Ingredients For the quinoa timbales: 1 cup pre-washed white or black quinoa Vegetable broth Extra virgin olive oil for… view recipe
  • Tomatoes a la Plancha Tomatoes a la Plancha If you don’t own a plancha, you can make this recipe on a stovetop using a cast iron pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. This recipe also works well with bell pepper halves (stem, slice vertically, and seed them). Ingredients 4 large or 8 medium ripe tomatoes 6 ounces grated Manchego cheese,… view recipe
  • Pineapple Santiago Slush Santiago Slush Olive oil, especially one with a sweeter flavor profile, pairs well with creamy ingredients like cream of coconut. Pineapple juice gives the cocktail zing, and a single leaf of fresh basil adds an herbal grace note. Very refreshing on a warm day! Garnish with a fresh pineapple spear, if desired. Ingredients 1 tablespoon extra virgin… view recipe
  • Grilled Chicken with Creamy Green Sauce Grilled Chicken with Creamy Green Sauce A wonderful ingredient common in Andean cooking is ají amarillo paste, made from yellow chiles. Happily, it’s readily available online and at Latin American markets—you’ll find yourself reaching for it for many marinades and sauces. If desired, the chicken can be spit-roasted on a rotisserie or roasted in an oven. Ingredients For the chicken and… view recipe
  • Sugar-crusted Grilled Pineapple with Pisco Sugar-crusted Grilled Pineapple with Pisco Though simple, this is a stunning dessert. Serve, if desired, with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. Pisco is a South American brandy available in well-stocked liquor stores. Ingredients 1 cup turbinado sugar (also called Sugar in the Raw) 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 1/4 teaspoon ground… view recipe
  • Chocolate Olive Oil Loaf Chocolate Olive Oil Loaf This cake is delicious as an afternoon treat or with a scoop of coffee or vanilla (or both!) ice cream for dessert. Ingredients 2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted to remove lumps 2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1 cup sugar 2 extra-large… view recipe
  • Red Snapper and Pebre Roasted Red Snapper with Patagonian Pebre Sauce Every Chilean household seems to have its own recipe for pebre, a table sauce that complements everything from eggs to grilled meats and seafood. Originally from the Spanish province of Catalonia, it is especially good when fresh tomatoes are in season. Ingredients 4 red snapper, each about 1 pound, scaled, cleaned, and gutted Extra virgin… view recipe
  • Grilled shrimp salad with corn Corn and Shrimp Salad with Serrano Salsa This recipe uses a simple technique for grilling corn, but you can make the corn on the stovetop in a hot cast iron pan by cutting off the kernels and charring them in 3 tablespoons of olive oil; boil the shrimp if not grilling. Calamari, steamed mussels, or lobster chunks make delicious variations. Ingredients For… view recipe
  • Chilean Ceviche Chilean Ceviche Ceviche (pronounced ceh-BEE-chay) is a popular appetizer in Chile, which boasts over 2,600 miles of Pacific coastline. The name comes from the Quechuan word siwichi, which translates to “tender fish.” Salmon can be substituted for white fish. Ingredients 1 pound sushi-grade boneless, skinless white fish, such as red snapper, halibut, or grouper 1 small red… view recipe