Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Distinct EVOOs From Family Farms

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Salvatore Cutrera Exclusive Signature Selection, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Tonda Iblea, Nocellara del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Salvatore Cutrera Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

Maria Francesca Di Martino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

Best Money Spent
I have been a member for 6 years and love the oils that we get. I look forward to my quarterly shipment, enjoy the newsletter that comes with it and try the recipes that are given. It is the best money I spend in my kitchen on a regular basis.
Julian R.Yorktown, IN

Recipes

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

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

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


G’day, Mate!

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

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

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

Australia: The Startup Kid

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

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

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

How the Olive Got Down Under

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

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

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

Hands Across the Water

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

Leandro Ravetti Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie 2021 Blend, Tongio, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Nullamunjie 2021 Blend Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: AuLife 2021, Toorak, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Correggiola, Picual
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

AuLife 2021 Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

Why do these diets work?

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

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

Takeaways

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

I'll never go back to store-bought oil
Oh. My. Goodness. Sometimes the simplest preparation is the best. I was dining solo at home while my husband and son were at their activities. I needed “comfort food.” My “go-to” is always pasta. Not being in the mood to make a fancy dish, I simply cooked linguine, then whipped up the “sauce” of Picual “bold” olive oil, fresh minced garlic, Italian seasoning, “sweet heat” pepper from Flat Iron Pepper, and freshly ground salt and pepper. A quick toss, and dinner was DONE. The Picual was absolutely amazing in this simple, yet satisfying dish. I cannot wait till our June shipment arrives—I’m just about out of our three olive oils from this spring. I will NEVER, EVER go back to “store-bought” EVOO again! Thank you, TJ, for sourcing the world’s BEST EVOO!
Kimberly S.Macungie, PA


Recipes

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

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Chile, Why Now?

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

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

Juan José, T. J. Robinson and Ignacio Alonso in Chile 2019
Taken in 2019, this photo reminds me yet again of the enormous importance in the premium olive oil world of relationships. Juan José (left) and Ignacio Alonso (right) are like my brothers from another mother, intuitively knowing what’s needed to satisfy the evolved palates of my Club members, even when thousands of miles separate us. I’m hopeful that next year we can resume our in-person collaborations, our visits to the Pobeña farm, and our casual olive oil-soaked suppers. In the meantime, the family is thrilled to share with you one of their best harvests in years.

And Why This Producer?

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

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

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

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

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

Liquid Gold, Meet Summer Produce

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2021
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Alonso Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T. J. Robinson in Chile
¡Gol! as the Chileans cheer when they score in soccer. In this photo from the Chilean trip a few years ago, I have just scored a sack of gorgeous avocados (palta); it perfectly captures my jubilation at having scored three exquisite fresh-pressed olive oils for you, my Club members. It also reassures me that I’ll be back in Chile next year to re-experience its friendly people, striking landscapes, bountiful fresh produce, and the thrill of the olive oil hunt on your behalf.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

Was blown away
Good Morning, I received my sample bottle yesterday. I opened it up, read the included information, and then began to feel the beginnings of buyer’s remorse. Had I just believed the hype when I signed up? I had decided to take better care of myself and part of that was by eating better. When I got your email I read it through and signed up. Since I already had had a disappointing day, I didn’t open the bottle. This morning I decided to taste it since maybe I might make eggs for breakfast. I dab a little on my finger, tasted it, and was blown away. It really tasted a million times better than any olive oil I had ever tasted! Then I decided to taste the oil I already had in my pantry. You guys were right! It tasted rotten to me! My first impulse was to throw it away, but then I decided to make a body scrub with it since I did pay good money for it. I’ve got a feeling that I am going to be a member for a long, long time!
Take care, Deryl G.Chicago, IL


Recipes

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

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

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

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

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

Of Pandemics and Peninsulas

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

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

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

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

The Ultra-Premium Pioneers

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

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

The Merry Band Steps In

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

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

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

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

EVOO Connects Us

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Finca Gálvez, Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Finca Galvez Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Castillo de Canena, Selección Especial, Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Castillo de Canen Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

Heart health: Mediterranean versus low-fat diet

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

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

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

Heart disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

Reminds me of childhood
I tried the first bottle you sent to me and I love it. It has a flavor that reminds me of my childhood some 70 years ago. My grandmother and mother used it all the time from the Italian store that they shopped at. I can hardly wait until the [next] quarter comes, by then I would have finished the gallon of olive oil we have in the house now. Again, thank you. P.S. My grandson was pouring it on bread and couldn’t get enough. He is 15 and he really noticed the difference.
Paula C.Rancho Cucamonga, CA


Recipes

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