Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Created exclusively for Club members by the Olive Oil Hunter and award-winning Aussie producers, all have been rushed to you at their peak of freshness and flavor. 
  • An independent lab has certified these oils to be 100 percent extra virgin. 
  • This dazzling trio represents an exciting range of flavors with a unique New World flair. 
  • Accompanied by astute food-pairing suggestions and tantalizing recipes, these exquisite oils will invigorate your autumn menus! 

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

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

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

This Harvest, No Worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kangaroos and Olives, Too

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

My tasters and I envision this beguiling oil on fruit, root vegetables (especially carrots, parsnips, beets, and sweet potatoes), pumpkins, acorn or butternut squash, tomatoes, rice or cauliflower rice, mashed or roasted potatoes, poultry, lobster, shrimp, and mild white fish. It would also be great in banana bread or olive oil cake (see a recipe on page 19). Try it drizzled over yogurt, ice cream, or cottage cheese.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, we were eager to pair our fresh-pressed Coratina blend with food. It did not disappoint! A simple vinaigrette made with fresh lemon juice and zest, a sweet apple cider vinegar, and fresh herbs showed off the Coratina’s intrinsic spiciness and rich mouthfeel. We used the vinaigrette three ways—as a marinade for the fish, a dressing for the arugula and tomato salad, and as a sauce. (Veteran Club members, you know what I always say: Fresh-pressed olive oil is Mother Nature’s finest sauce!) For a recipe, see page 12. I can’t wait to try this versatile oil with pumpkin, root vegetables, and roasted meats.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

My husband and I decided to be daring and just now tried the bold selection on vanilla ice cream for dessert. Who would have “thunk” it! We’re astonished—it’s so good! I think it will be a new comfort food in our house. A beautiful surprise!
Erin R.Davenport, IA

Recipes

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

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Rushed to your table from “the ends of the Earth” by jet at their peak of flavor, these beauties are all from award-winning New World producers.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • You will be among the few lucky Americans to enjoy fresh-pressed olive oil with summer’s bounty.
  • All three were pressed exclusively for Club members and are available nowhere else!


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

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

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

Realized Dreams, Despite Prolonged Drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

There is only one word to describe the Ravetti selection—SENSUAL! An amazing blend. Many thanks.
Tim F.Surry, ME

Recipes

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

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

From the Historic Olive Groves of Andalucía to Your Cocina—a Stunning Trio of Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Spain! 

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Hand-chosen by yours truly, each of these dazzling oils is pressed from a single native Spanish cultivar (a Club first)!
  • Brimming with vibrant flavors and health-promoting polyphenols, all have been rushed to you at their peak—just in time to enliven your springtime menus.
  • All three have been independently lab-certified to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • All three are Club exclusives, available nowhere else in the US! 

Saludos desde España—greetings from Spain! This land has been an olive oil–producing powerhouse for millennia. Cultivated olive trees were introduced to Spain and Portugal an estimated 3,000 years ago, by the Phoenicians. It was the ancient Romans, though, who really got the millstones rolling. Spanish olive oil was highly prized, especially that of the Bética region (modern-day Andalucía). The Romans had insatiable appetites for olive oil—at the height of the empire, around 100 AD, the city of Rome consumed an estimated 25 million liters of olive oil annually—about 7 gallons per person, per year. Almost all of it was imported from Bética, and most was used for cooking and eating.

This massive flow of olive oil was transported in terra cotta jugs called amphorae, which were stacked in ships’ holds and sailed down the Guadalquivir River to the coast of Spain, then across the Mediterranean to Roman ports.

The same export dynamic continues to this day—much of the olive oil consumed in Italy and the rest of the world actually comes from Spain. To give you a sense of the output, the Spanish province of Jaén—an area about the size of Connecticut—produces more olive oil than the entire nation of Greece.

The Rime of the Olive Oil Hunter

“Sounds like you’d be in heaven,” I’ll bet some people are thinking. But the conundrum is that most of it is mediocre bulk oil. A sea of low-quality bulk olive oil. Olive oil, olive oil everywhere, nor any drop to drizzle.

The talented producers I aspire to work with, who are dedicated to creating olive oils of the very highest quality, comprise less than 1 percent of the growers in Spain. From an economic standpoint, I understand the bulk approach. The same grove will yield twice as much low-quality lampante (literally, lamp oil) than EVOO. Selling lampante to a refiner, who chemically strips the oil until it is flavorless and scentless, then tops it off with just enough actual olive oil to give it an aroma, is by far the “superior” economic proposition. But it’s inferior in every other way that counts—nutritionally, environmentally, culturally, and gastronomically.

Kindred spirits: In downtown Madrid I met with Juan Peñamil Alba, the CEO of Mercacei, a publishing firm devoted to ultra-premium olive oils, and Pandora Peñamil Peñapiel, the firm’s director. Juan and Pandora quickly won my heart with their mission of educating growers, millers, and the public about top-quality EVOO. We all agreed that fresh-pressed liquid gold is so far beyond “olive oil” it warrants a new name!

“It’s an Entirely Different Product”

As soon as I touched down in Madrid, I was off to meet with Juan Peñamil Alba, the CEO and editor of Evooleum, an annual ranking of ultra-premium EVOOs from around the world. Juan and his daughter, Pandora, wanted to hear my thoughts on Spanish premium oils. I described how, over the course of more than a decade, I had admired the technological advances and the unstinting pursuit of excellence among the top Spanish producers. Juan concurred, adding that he felt the biggest changes had happened in the past five years—that we were all witnessing the birth of something new and transformative.

The three of us agreed emphatically on the importance of educating people about the worlds of difference—in flavor, aroma, and nutritional benefits—between top-tier fresh-pressed EVOO and supermarket oil. “It’s an entirely different product,” Juan proclaimed. “It should have a different name.” I agree!

One of Spain’s most esteemed producers labels his elixir “olive juice” to make this exact point: it is pressed, not extracted; fresh, not chemically preserved. (Read more about this incredible man below.)

Heading South

My scouts on the ground reported a challenging season, regionally. Portugal had a terrible year, as did the northern parts of Spain. Our friends at Finca la Gramanosa, near Barcelona, saw only a quarter of their usual olive crop, and none of it was up to my exacting standards.

So, my Merry Band of Tasters and I piled into a rented SUV to head south, to Andalucía. The weather had been odd there, too. “This was the rst ‘normally timed’ harvest in ten years,” one of my scouts noted, meaning that the warmer temperatures during the past decade had moved up the schedule, so many producers were taken by surprise this year.

When we stopped for gas, I went inside to stock up on my favorite Spanish road-trip snacks: perfectly roasted and salted Marcona almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. Up at the checkout, on a wooden stand, were two wine glasses, each with an inch or so of olive oil: it was an olive oil tasting, in a gas station. This little setup perfectly illustrates the impact of olive oil in this part of the world. It ows through the culture, touching every aspect of life. (I wish I could report that the olive oils at the pit stop were spectacular—wouldn’t that be a great story?— but I suspected they had been sitting out and getting stale for quite some time. I took a sniff, then opted to preserve my palate for the road ahead.)

Three Single-Varietal Stunners

I’d learned that Finca Gálvez, in the province of Jaén, had excellent results from their newest parcel of land, a grove of Arbequina trees planted six years ago. Arbequina is rare in Jaén, where close to 98 percent of the olive crop is Picual. How delighted and relieved I was to taste the very rst fresh-pressed oil from these young trees and pronounce it a winner!

Onward, to the province of Córdoba. Several years ago, one of my Spanish experts tipped me, “Great things are happening in Priego de Córdoba,” and he wasn’t talking about the mountain vistas and bubbling spring water. Five major olive mills are located within a ten-mile radius. Here, at Finca Aroden, I secured the rst-ever single-varietal Spanish Hojiblanco for my Club, and I am ecstatic—as are the devoted artisans who produced it.

What could we do for an encore? As my dear friend, the lauded producer Paco Vañó, has said time and again, “Consistency is key.” His sizable groves at Castillo de Canena, in the Guadalquivir River Valley, give him extra discretion over which special fruit he can earmark for me and my Club. You are in luck, my friends—Paco and I blended an extraordinary Picual from two separate plots, just for you.

These three exclusive extra virgin olive oils, each featuring a unique Spanish cultivar, represent the very nest Spain has to offer. Enjoy them, share them, use them in your favorite dishes, and celebrate one of the greatest historic collaborations between humans and Mother Nature.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

When we saw the familiar brick-and-stone façade of Finca Gálvez, with its pile-up of antique millstones out front, my Merry Band of Tasters and I laughed over our unsettling reception the previous year. You may recall we were halted in the parking lot by members of Spain’s intimidating Guardia Civil—police officers dispatched to safeguard the notary responsible for guaranteeing the authenticity of an olive oil sample Finca Gálvez was submitting to a government-sponsored competition. Fortunately, my messenger bag passed inspection!

I first visited this family-owned mill in 2005, soon after it harvested its inaugural crop of olives. In the ensuing years, I’ve watched with satisfaction as Finca Gálvez evolved into the top-tier olive oil producer it is today.

Unlike many producers I’ve met, the Gálvez clan did not start out in the olive oil business, with inherited olive groves and a long history of olive oil production. Recognizing that there was an unsatisfied need for premium Spanish olive oils, the family invested in two local olive farms in 1999, La Casa del Agua and Los Juncales. (The land is rich with flora and fauna, the spaces between the trees roamed by deer, lynx, and even the occasional Egyptian mongoose.)

The family also built a state-of- the-art almazara (olive mill) to ensure they had as much control as possible over the olives. As much control as Mother Nature will allow, anyway!

For nearly two decades, the Gálvez brothers, José and Andres, have worked tirelessly to produce the best extra virgin olive oil they can, winning numerous awards, including first place in the intense fruitiness category in the prestigious Mario Solinas Quality Award in New York City.

Encouraged, the family added more acres to their holdings in the Guadalquivir River Valley. The oil I selected for you this quarter—a stunning Arbequina—came from Finca Gálvez’s newest grove, which is, Andres said, at a higher elevation than their other properties. Compacted red soil minimizes tree growth, which is actually beneficial to the olives, as they have less competition from foliage for water and nutrients; this amplifies their flavors and aromas.

From my vantage point in one of the original Finca Gálvez groves, I could see thousands of olive trees rolling across the provincial landscape of Jaén like a silver-green carpet. Up close, as you can see, they are even more beautiful, like living sculptures. Standing in the life-giving Mediterranean sunlight with Andres Gálvez, I could sense the intense connection he and his family have with the trees they’ve nurtured for 20 years. Much success and many awards have come their way. They are so grateful to have had the support of Club members since 2005, the year Finca Gálvez bottled its first premium extra virgin olive oil. And they continue to strive for perfection!

This is only the second time I have selected an Arbequina from this producer. Generally, Arbequina as a varietal did not fare as well in other parts of Spain this year. This example is exceptional, a testament to Finca Gálvez’s unwavering commitment to quality.

Weather-wise, the region enjoyed fairly good conditions overall during the growing season. The olives flourished during the hot days and cool nights (characteristic of the Mediterranean) throughout the summer months, and the harvest was well-timed. (All the Finca Gálvez groves are within easy driving distance, meaning the fruit can be milled within two hours of being picked.)

In addition to making consistently fine olive oils, Finca Gálvez has committed substantial resources to teaching consumers about the special benefits of premium olive oil. In 2016, they added a bright classroom to the mill, where they host olive oil seminars, tastings, and food pairing exercises for tour groups from all over the world, as well as a small but handsome tienda (retail store).

Their wall of awards continues to expand; this year, they were once again named a Jaén Selección, one of only eight farms (including Castillo de Canena) to receive the honor from a eld of more than 70. They also won gold medals in 2018 in the world’s largest olive oil competition, the NYIOOC, held annually in New York, as we learned during a bountiful lunch at a local taverna. Their oils have often been included in Flos Olei’s top 20, earning the phenomenal score of 98.

The family’s passion and talent will be evident from the moment you open your bottle. I am thrilled to be able to bring this delightful, food-friendly olive oil to your table.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

An appealing golden green in the glass, this oil is very vegetal on the nose, teasing with whiffs of grassiness, sweet baby greens, and golden apple. A secondary wave of aromas carries Tuscan kale, green banana, white pepper, honey, macadamia nuts, and almonds. Very clean-tasting in the mouth—mild, but surprisingly full-avored. My tasters and I noticed the nuttiness of fresh walnuts, almonds, and macadamias, along with fennel, lemon peel, and Belgian endive. Basil-like sweetness with a touch of bitterness. The nish is lingering and well balanced, with a touch of white pepper spiciness.

Pair this lovely Arbequina with eggs, potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, olives, roasted red peppers, fresh cheeses, beans, grains, chicken, mild sh, jamón, and salads using tender lettuces. It can also be used in baked desserts.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

“WE WON, WE WON!” The small office of Finca Aroden erupted with shouts of jubilation when I announced that their exquisite Hojiblanco would be featured as a Club selection. “It’s been a lot of years,” said general manager Luis Torres. “This is like winning an award!”

My Merry Band of Tasters and I first visited Aroden in 2011, drawn by its prizewinning reputation and charmed by the small, hands-on production team, led by Luis and mill supervisor Fernando Sánchez. The picturesque area surrounding Priego de Córdoba—a richly historic village, with white-stucco buildings lining the narrow, winding streets, and mountains rising in the near distance—is home to several important olive mills, and Aroden has been a fixture on my annual Spanish itinerary.

You see, ever since I donned the hat of the Olive Oil Hunter, I’ve been on a quest to nd the perfect single-varietal Hojiblanco to share with my Club members—an oil that expresses the personality and complexity of this cultivar in an authentically Iberian way. (An olive varietal can exhibit surprisingly different flavor profiles when grown in another region of the world. For instance, an Hojiblanco from Australia would be notably different from a Spanish one.) And for eight years running, Aroden’s oils, while invariably excellent, had not captured exactly what my palate was seeking.

Call them the Aroden Avengers! Finca Aroden saved the day with a dazzling single-varietal Hojiblanco, the first of its kind to be featured in the Club. The superheroes, from left to right: Fernando Sánchez, mill supervisor; yours truly, the Olive Oil Hunter; Clara Isabel Parejas, business manager and community outreach; and general manager Luis Torres. This genial and close-knit group asked also to credit their export manager, Roćio Chumilla, who recently gave birth to a baby girl. That’s two landmark celebrations in one harvest for this talented team.

This year was different. Perhaps the deciding factor was the weather: temperatures were hot in the summer, ideal for olives, and cooled off earlier in the autumn than they had in the past decade. Luis recalls that on the day they picked the Hojiblanca olives, the temperature was around 65˚F—quite a bit below the usual. The olives were rushed to the mill to be crushed and pressed, with temperature-controlled equipment helping to preserve the perfumes and flavors in the resulting liquid gold.

Fernando and Luis are the longest-tenured members of the team. Both men have been with Aroden from its beginnings, in 2002. Five olive-growing families in this region banded together to purchase state-of-the-art milling equipment, with the collective aim of producing ultra-premium olive oil. They knew of Fernando’s talents through his work with Subbética, a prestigious nearby producer regarded as the “anchor” of this area.

The five family farms that comprise Aroden all operate independently; collectively, they possess close to 1,900 acres of olive-producing land, with some groves dating to the 13th century. Clara Isabel Parejas, Aroden’s charismatic business manager, who recently joined the team, informed me that the total olive trees number 81,400. (I wonder who counted them all!) The groves lie in the foothills of Mount La Tiñosa, the tallest peak (5740 ft) in the Sierras Subbéticas range, which curves along the southeast corridor of Spain. “The trees around the mountain produce the best olive oil,” Luis confided. “We like to say, ‘La Tiñosa has magic.’”

Similar to other top-quality olive oil producers in Spain, Aroden has a super-premium label, CLADIVM. The term comes from the Latin scientific name of a grassy plant plentiful in this region, Cladium mariscus (known in North America as the less mellifluous “sawgrass”). Luis explained that they chose the name and its antique spelling (with “V” for “U”) to invoke the Roman heritage of olive oil production in Spain. For centuries, under Roman rule, this very region produced nearly all the olive oil consumed by the city of Rome. The striking tile design of the Cladium label also reflects this region’s deep historical connection, with a mosaic reminiscent of the meticulously inlaid stones that pave many of the streets in Priego de Córdoba.

The olives destined for Cladium oils are the best of the best—during the growing season, Luis keeps close tabs on all the groves, observing and sampling the fruit as it develops in order to reserve the very finest for Cladium.

Miller Fernando Sánchez shows me his beloved olive trees, up close and personal. (The five family farms of Aroden have more than 80,000 trees in total!) Fernando has pressed outstanding olive oils for Finca Aroden since its founding in 2002. An integral participant in the rise of premium Spanish EVOO, he delights in sharing his knowledge and skills with the next generation. Fernando was determined to help me find the exquisite single-varietal Hojiblanco I’d dreamed of for my Club.

This divine oil, sophisticated, fruit-forward, and complex, is the very first Spanish Hojiblanco to be featured as a selection of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. The entire Aroden team and my Merry Band of Tasters are so proud to share it with you!

In Case You’re Wondering: Linguistically speaking, when referring to the oil, it’s “Hojiblanco,” with the masculine ending, “-o”; when referring to the olive variety, it’s “Hojiblanca,” with the feminine ending, “-a.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Hojiblanca is a tenacious cultivar that helped Spain satisfy the Roman demand for more olive oil during Caesar’s reign. Gold with green hues, it is revered as a natural sauce. My tasters and I detected peach and tomato leaf on the nose, along with grapefruit, romaine lettuce, carrot, pear, wheatgrass, celery leaf, and culinary herbs like basil and parsley. Other flavors assert themselves in the mouth, including spicy greens like arugula, watercress, mustard greens, and radicchio. Extraordinarily well-balanced, with the tang of lime zest, the restrained bitterness of celery leaves and parsley, and the fire of Szechuan peppercorns. Expect an elegant finish.

This oil is very versatile in the kitchen and will complement a number of foods, among them grains and pulses, pasta, paella, shellfish, salmon, roasted fruits, tomatoes, salads featuring dark leafy greens, whole grain breads, dark meat poultry (such as duck or goose), rabbit, and root vegetables.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

I recently ate the best egg, ham, and potato dish of my life at Palacio de Gallego in the Andalucían town of Baeza. Smoked over olive wood, the potatoes were mashed to a silky, creamy texture, topped with a fried egg, crispy shards of jamón ibérico, white prawns, and shaved truffle— all surrounded by a jewel-like moat of extra virgin olive oil.

Since my dining companion and longtime friend Francisco “Paco” Vañó is olive oil royalty, a restaurant with “palace” in its name seemed appropriate.

Yes, Paco and his sister, Rosa, are pillars of the Spanish olive oil community, scions of a family that’s owned olive groves in the province of Jaén since 1780. Both, though, cut their teeth in the corporate world before bottling their rst olive oil in 2003. They named their mill “Castillo de Canena” after the Vañó family castle, an imposing 16th-century property that overlooks the town of Canena.

Francisco “Paco” Vañó and I usually cap off my visits to his mill, Castillo de Canena, with a great meal at a local restaurant or at the family castle. This year, we celebrated our longtime olive oil collaboration at Palacio de Gallego, in the nearby city of Baeza. Its comfortable leather-upholstered banquette was an ideal place to catch up with each other’s lives and discuss our favorite subject, premium olive oil! This year, we splashed our latest project—a blend of two exquisite Picuals—over the parade of dishes from the kitchen. You will love this spectacular oil!

It is remarkable what these forward-thinking siblings have accomplished so far. For the seventh consecutive year, Castillo de Canena was awarded the highest score possible—99— from Flos Olei; its Picual was once again named a Jaén Selección, one of only eight from the province.

The duo has the highest respect of other producers, thanks to their relentless pursuit of excellence, innovative techniques (such as harvesting at night when the weather is cooler), and industry contributions. In 2011 the family endowed the “Castillo de Canena Luis Vañó Research Award” in their father’s name. The University of Jaén and UC Davis oversee the annual contest, which has yielded additional evidence of extra virgin olive oil’s effectiveness in reducing cancer risk.

The consistent quality of this producer’s oils is a marvel. I ask Paco, “How do you do it?” He jokes that Mother Nature is his business partner, but she owns 51 percent! “It’s not a matter of making the very best oil in the world,” he said. “That is simply not possible every year. The point is to make consistently excellent oils, year in and year out.” Absolutamente!

Castillo de Canena has vast holdings, an advantage over many producers. It owns more than 3,700 acres of olive trees (including some 50 test plots) in the Guadalquivir River Valley—mostly Picual, Arbequina, and Royal, a rare local varietal. Paco can select olives from many microclimates come harvest time.

But the company’s real ace in the hole is Paco himself. His intelligence, passion, and fearlessness has earned Castillo de Canena the title “Best Olive Oil Company in the World” more than once. He uses some 20 markers for identifying the optimum time for picking the olives, though I’m sure his extraordinary intuition plays a huge role in his success.

This year, rain delayed the harvest by nearly three weeks. But the clouds had a silver lining. My Merry Band of Tasters and I were very impressed with two early-harvest Picuals, representing the top 5 percent of the estate’s olives. With the help of master miller Duccio Morozzo, who was traveling with us, we created a complex and exclusive Picual blend for Club members.

Catching up with Paco is always one of the highlights of my annual trip to the Iberian Peninsula. The relaxing atmosphere in Palacio de Gallego made this year’s reunion especially pleasant. Paco was in great spirits, excited not only about the union of the two Picuals but also about his recent engagement. Happily, his fiancée loves olive oil, as Paco is dedicated to preserving and extending his family’s olive oil legacy for generations to come. To that end, he’s overseeing the construction of a new multimillion-dollar mill, featuring the latest equipment and technology. (“Excellence is a habit,” Paco says.)

Naturally, we took our Picual blend to the restaurant and splashed it on dishes like the aforementioned egg and potato creation, grilled artichokes, anchovies, and a platter of grilled mixed meats. It is sensational with food, as you will soon discover!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Intensely green, this bold earlyharvest oil leads with herbal scents like rosemary, fennel, wild mint, sage, and arugula, bright and vibrant like a freshly made pesto sauce. Dark leafy greens like Tuscan kale, fresh walnuts, kiwi, and lime zest give it olfactory complexity. On the palate, you’ll experience the pleasant bitterness of chicory and dark chocolate, with echoes of rosemary and walnuts. My tasters also noticed basil, wheatgrass, coriander, and celery. Well-calibrated with a powerful and protracted finish.

Use it to complement assertively flavored foods such as grilled meats; oilier sh like tuna, sardines, or mackerel; roasted lamb or lamb tagine; strong-flavored cheeses, such as aged Manchego; pesto with walnuts or Marcona almonds; salads made with dark leafy greens; strong-tasting vegetables like brussels sprouts, radicchio, artichokes, or broccoli rabe. It would even be terrific drizzled over dark chocolate ice cream or mousse.


Olive Oil and Health

Researchers Explore What’s Behind Mediterranean Diet and Lower Cardiovascular Risk

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, December 7, 2018 

A new study by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers insights from a cohort study of women in the US who reported consuming a Mediterranean-type diet.

Researchers found a 25 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among study participants who consumed a diet rich in plants and olive oil and low in meats and sweets. The team also explored why and how a Mediterranean diet might mitigate risk of heart disease and stroke by examining a panel of 40 biomarkers, representing new and established biological contributors to heart disease. The team’s results are published in JAMA Network Open.

“Our study has a strong public health message that modest changes in known cardiovascular disease risk factors, particularly those relating to inflammation, glucose metabolism, and insulin resistance, contribute to the long-term benefit of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk,” said lead author Shafqat Ahmad, PhD, a research fellow at the Brigham and at the Harvard Chan School.

The current research draws on data from more than 25,000 female health professionals who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Participants completed food intake questionnaires about diet, provided blood samples for measuring the biomarkers, and were followed for up to 12 years. The primary outcomes analyzed in the study were incidences of cardiovascular disease, defined as first events of heart attack, stroke, coronary arterial revascularization, and cardiovascular death.

The team categorized study participants as having a low, middle, or upper Mediterranean diet intake. They found that 428 (4.2 percent) of the women in the low group experienced a cardiovascular event, compared to 356 (3.8 percent) in the middle group, and 246 (3.8 percent) in the upper group, representing a relative risk reduction of 23 percent and 28 percent, respectively, a benefit that is similar in magnitude to statins or other preventive medications.

The team saw changes in signals of inflammation (accounting for 29 percent of the cardiovascular disease risk reduction), glucose metabolism and insulin resistance (27.9 percent), and body mass index (27.3 percent).

“While prior studies have shown benefit for the Mediterranean diet on reducing cardiovascular events and improving cardiovascular risk factors, it has been a ‘black box,’ regarding the extent to which improvements in known and novel risk factors contribute to these effects,” said corresponding author Samia Mora, MD, MHS, a cardiovascular medicine specialist at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School. “In this large study, we found that modest differences in biomarkers contributed in a multifactorial way to this cardiovascular benefit that was seen over the long term.”

Reference: Ahmad S, Moorthy MV, Demler OV, et al. Assessment of risk factors and biomarkers associated with risk of cardiovascular disease among women consuming a Mediterranean diet. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e185708.


Kudos from Club Members

I just want to let you know how awesome the olive oil is that I received! One taste and I literally felt like I could just stand there and sip it straight from the bottle! I put it over my fresh cantaloupe sprinkled with a little sea salt and WOW! That might not seem like it would taste very good but it is delicious. It tastes delicious on anything! I’m so glad to be a club member and I’m looking forward to the next bottle!
Cherilyn B.Findlay, OH

Recipes

  • Scrambled Eggs with Sumac and Pine Nuts Scrambled Eggs with Sumac and Pine Nuts Sumac was long used in the Mediterranean to add tartness to dishes before the Romans introduced lemons. It gives an exotic “spice market” flavor to scrambled eggs. view recipe
  • Escalivada Escalivada This is Spain’s answer to ratatouille, a platter of smoky, jewel-like vegetables in a simple olive oil and sherry vinaigrette. Serve on bread, with cheese, or with meat orfish. view recipe
  • Lentil and Chorizo Soup (Lentejas con Chorizo) Lentil and Chorizo Soup (Lentejas con Chorizo) A small restaurant on the road from Madrid to Jaén serves incredible lentil and chorizo soup. It might be my “favorite bite” of this trip. view recipe
  • Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo) Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo) We’ve included two tricks to make this the best gambas al ajillo you’ve ever eaten. First, we infuse extra virgin olive oil with slices of garlic, which are later used as a crunchy garnish. Second, we marinate the shrimp with a secret ingredient—baking soda—to make the cooked shrimp extra “poppy.” view recipe
  • Beef Tenderloin Tips in Garlic Sauce Beef Tenderloin Tips in Garlic Sauce This is a house specialty of an Andalucían restaurant the late Spanish food authority Penelope Casas used to visit with her husband. It can be served as part of a tapas spread, or when accompanied by side dishes, as a main course. We especially like it with sautéed mushrooms and onions. view recipe
  • Monkfish with Tomato Garlic Sauce Monkfish with Tomato Garlic Sauce Any mild-flavored, firm-textured fish can be served with this garlicky tomato sauce. Keep a close eye on the garlic slices as you brown them.  Ingredients 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 heads of garlic plus 4 large cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced 1 tablespoon sweet paprika 1 1/2 cups canned… view recipe
  • Manchego and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes Manchego and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes Rich and creamy with a puddle of olive oil on top, these mashed potatoes make a perfect accompaniment to roast chicken. Use a ricer for the fluffiest texture. view recipe
  • Roasted Asparagus with Marcona Almonds and Manchego Roasted Asparagus with Marcona Almonds and Manchego Spanish Marcona almonds, once obscure in the US, are now widely available. They are usually roasted in olive oil, then salted. If you cannot find them, substitute regular toasted almonds or hazelnuts. view recipe
  • Chocolate Mouse with Olive Oil and Sea Salt Chocolate Mouse with Olive Oil and Sea Salt Olive oil adds intrigue and richness to this decadent dessert. Heat the egg-and-milk mixture very slowly in a heavy-bottomed pan to avoid curdling the eggs. If desired, substitute 1 tablespoon of orange-flavored liqueur for 1 tablespoon of coffee and garnish with candied orange peel. view recipe
  • Radicchio Grilled with Olive Paste and Anchovies Radicchio Grilled with Olive Paste and Anchovies Colorful Treviso, which resembles Belgian endive in shape and texture, often appears in markets in the spring. Feel free to use the more familiar round radicchio, if Treviso is not available. view recipe

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

My Italian Treasure Hunt Was a Great Success! Presenting Three Spectacular Just-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oils That Defied Mother Nature

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • The growing season and 2018 harvest were marred by wind, rain, temperature extremes, and even pestilence. But some producers prevailed, and I found them!
  • Hailing from Tuscany, Sicily, and Abruzzo, these hand-selected, ultra-avorful oils are certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Introducing a Club first—olive oil pressed from Dritta olives, which grow near the Adriatic Sea. You won’t find this oil—or the others, either—on supermarket or gourmet shelves. They are available no where else.
  • Rushed to you by jet to preserve their flavors, perfume, and healthful polyphenols. See my tasting notes, suggested food pairings, and seasonal recipes below.

Greetings Olive Oil Lover,

Ciao! I am writing from the road. So determined was I to secure three of the world’s best fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils for your table that I haven’t slept in my own bed for weeks. But if you enjoy these extraordinary polyphenol-rich Italian olive oils as much as I think you will, it’s all been worth it.

Victory was certainly not assured this quarter. (Is it ever?) With the help of my longtime friend and colleague, Roman olive oil consultant Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, I was able to monitor growing conditions in Italy starting in February. The news was not encouraging. Snow and hard frosts damaged groves.

The month of May unleashed punishing heat, scorching tender new buds and flowers. Like a tornado, Mother Nature’s caprice spared some olive varietals while decimating others. Frantoio, the drupe that gives Tuscan oils their distinctive flavor profile, was especially hard hit. One of my favorite producers—Fratelli Giganti from Siena—lost their entire crop.

My Response to “the Worst Italian Harvest in 20 Years”

There were other threats to the developing olives as the year progressed. Low-lying coastal groves were plagued by the olive fly, which flourished in summer’s heat and humidity. I crossed several destinations off my itinerary. (In Puglia, the region that forms the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, production is estimated to be half of what it was last year.) Early fall brought devastating rain and wind storms.

World-renowned olive consultant Duccio Morozzo has long been my eyes and ears on the ground, particularly in Italy. Strolling the historic streets of his native Rome on the eve of our visits to select growers, Duccio recounts for me the enormous challenges they faced during the 2018 growing season. We review our strategy (see a summary at left), confident the strong relationships we’ve built over the years will once again allow us to put Italy’s finest fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils on Club members’ tables.

Duccio used the word “mess” during our increasingly urgent phone calls to describe the situation, noting 2018 had the potential to be the worst Italian harvest in 20 years.

But there was hope! Several producers we were in touch with were optimistic their oils would impress. (For most artisanal growers, it’s a special honor to be selected for inclusion in the Club, a validation of their passion, dedication, and hard work.) And thanks to many valuable contacts in the field, we had strong leads on others.

 Our strategy evolved quickly: focus on the scattered pockets of healthy olives, most of them at higher elevations; personally visit the promising groves; and supervise the pressing to optimize quality and preserve healthy polyphenols. We urgently needed to do all this before weather harmed the olives or the best producers committed their oils to other customers. (Weather did score a point against us when high winds cruelly stripped a grove of its olives just days before our planned visit.)

In a departure from past years, there would be no “Grand Tasting” of olive oil samples when I landed in Rome. We were going to have to work hard! Beat the bushes, so to speak.

Long Days, Short Nights Pay Off

And work hard we did. Days after leaving Rome, we acquired our first olive oil at Frantoi Cutrera, near the Baroque town of Chiaramonte Gulfi in southeastern Sicily. Gulfiis the Arabic word for “place of pleasure.” How appropriate, as I was more than pleased to be able to offer Club members an exclusive blend featuring native olive cultivars Tonda Iblea and Nocellara del Belice. One olive oil down and two to go. We continued our quest, tirelessly traveling by car, SUV, plane, and ferry.

The tipping point of the hunt came when we met with Gionni and Paolo Pruneti in Tuscany. Their diversified groves yielded several worthy oils, including some pressed from cold-defying Moraiolo olives. Master miller Gionni helped us create a stunning well-balanced blend that satisfied my desire for a bold, beautiful oil.

How fitting that we saw a spectacular rainbow on our drive from Rome to Penne, Abruzzo, to meet Claudio Di Mercurio, founder of Frantoio Hermes. Here, in his grove Claudio shows me a perfect Dritta olive, an Italian cultivar I tasted for the first time on this trip. What a delight it was during such a challenging harvest season to discover a brand-new producer of such high caliber—just like finding a pot of (liquid) gold at the end of the rainbow!

Finally, acting on a tip from Giorgio Mori (his company builds some of the most well-respected olive oil milling equipment on the planet),  we set our GPS for a new destination: Abruzzo. What a delightful “first date” that turned out to be! We met the genial Claudio Di Mercurio, founder of Frantoio Hermes, and his family at their farm near the hilltop town of Penne and adjacent to a national forest. There, we were introduced to Dritta olives. (Dritta, which rhymes with Rita, is just one of 536 olive varietals grown on Italian soil.) Yay! We had our third oil, something novel and exciting that fit perfectly into the line-up. Claudio was thrilled to imagine his olive oil being boxed shoulder-to-shoulder with prestigious oils from Frantoi Cutrera and Pruneti and soon to be enjoyed—harvest-fresh!—by American aficionados like yourself.

Yes, this quarter was a nail-biter. But I know you have in your hands three of the finest olive oils in the world.

Mangia!

Though exhausting, the trip to Italy—always one of my favorite destinations—was very fulfilling for me as it proved, once again, that planning and persistence pay off. Oftentimes,  it was simply filling! Oh, my…the food… Too many plates to count, and nearly all of them splashed with just-pressed extra virgin olive oil. (Yes, my team and I take our own bottles to restaurants.) Calzone-size ravioli stuffed with homemade ricotta and pork ragu served at a rough-and-tumble bar/restaurant frequented by the Polizia Provinciale is the stuff of dreams. Earthy porcini pasta. A superlative salumi platter at Ristorante Majore in Chiaramonte Gulfi. The amazing arancini(deep-fried balls of cheese-stuffed risotto) sold on the ferry. And I’ll never forget Claudio’s hospitality: When he learned there was a vegan lurking in the ranks of my Merry Band of Tasters, he orchestrated a homecooked plant-based feast.

As a Club member, you’ll soon discover just how food-friendly these three olive oils are. To get started, see the recommended food pairings that follow my tasting notes. I’ve also included a dozen Italian recipes you’ll want to add to your cold-weather repertoire, many of which are ideal for entertaining.

As always, I’d love to know what you think of these storied, exquisitely fresh extra virgin olive oils.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Salvatore Cutrera Exclusive Signature Selection 2018, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy
  • Olive Varieties: Tonda Iblea, Nocellera del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

I knew I was in Sicily when

In a scene reminiscent of a Francis Ford Coppola movie, workers poured out of Frantoi Cutrera upon hearing the megaphone-enhanced cries of the approaching produce vendor: “Pomodori.Melanzane.Zucchine…” His truck, fully loaded with some of the most beautiful fruit and vegetables I’ve seen anywhere, rolled to a stop before being swarmed by would-be customers (including me and my Merry Band of Tasters).

Salvatore Cutrera, who runs the family-owned olive mill near the hillside town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, palmed an orange and a banana for himself before presenting the vendor—a longtime friend, I presume—with a bottle of just-pressed olive oil. The vendor’s face split into a wide grin. The barter transaction satisfactorily completed, Cutrera returned to the mill and the all-important task of pressing the 2018 crop of olives.

He knew there was no time to waste. The olives, picked from a patchwork of small farms (about 125 acres), had to be harvested and pressed at their peak. For weeks, he’d been putting in 18-hour days, anxiously watching the weather (heavy rains threatened) and keeping a close eye on every facet of the operation he oversees. I liken him to the captain of a ship who’s committed to steering his vessel and its valuable cargo safely into port, come hell or high water.

You’d think Salvatore would have been exhausted. But he seemed to draw energy from his mission. His pride in this year’s harvest was palpable, his passion infectious.

I first met Salvatore years ago at the Fancy Food Show in New York City. But it wasn’t until last year, when I stepped up my search for Tonda Iblea, an olive cultivar native to Sicily’s Ragusa province, that our paths crossed again. This talented producer’s oil was such a hit with Club members that I secretly hoped for an encore.

But I remembered what he said to me in 2017: “Next year, only come for coffee. There will be no oil.”

For a time, it looked as if his prediction might come true. Sicily’s olive farmers, like those in other regions of Italy, struggled during the 2018 growing season with weather- related challenges and olive pests. Scouts on the ground reported there were healthy pockets of olives, but warned I would have to work hard to find them.

The arrival of the local produce vendor, his truck loaded with bins of gorgeous sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, nearly emptied the mill at Frantoi Cutrera. It was a thoroughly Sicilian moment. A casual inquiry about the eggplant—an unfamiliar varietal—launched a lengthy explanation from Salvatore, who vouched for its superiority over eggplant grown anywhere else. (The Sicilian sun is very benevolent, especially to olive fruit!)

Happily, Salvatore was wrong. Though his Tonda Iblea trees did not bear as much fruit as last year, Salvatore was able to make up the shortfall with another of my favorite Sicilian olives, the plump and meaty Nocellara del Belice. (You may know it as Castelvetrano, a popular brined table olive.) The resulting 50-50 blend, a Club exclusive, is phenomenal!

A bit of background is in order here. The name Salvatore Cutrera is extremely well-known in olive oil circles: Frantoi Cutrera is one of the winningest producers in Italy, if not the world. In the past year alone, it collected 18 elite awards, from Los Angeles to Zurich. For many years, its olive oils have been named among the top 20 in the world by FlosOlei. Its offices display wall-to-wall awards, some turned into fine art.

The family has been pressing olives since 1906 near Chiaramonte Gulfi, the so-called “Balcony of Sicily.”

But millstones powered by donkeys have yielded to two modern mills that are among the most technologically advanced on the island. A third mill, projected to cost $10 million, is currently under construction. It will incorporate a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen as well as a laboratory. (In addition to olive oil, Frantoi Cutrera also produces excellent jarred items like brined olives, sun-dried tomatoes, caponata, pesto, artichokes, and more, which they sell under their Segreti di Sicilia—Secrets of Sicily—brand.)

Multi-award-winning olive oil producer Salvatore Cutrera implicitly understands my relentless pursuit of quality. Here, we inspect the Tonda Iblea fruit at one of his hillside olive groves near Chiaramonte Gulfi in southeastern Sicily. The higher elevation protected these olives from the pestilence that plagued growers closer to sea level. (Actually, all the oils we selected this quarter came from olives grown at higher elevations.) We blended Tonda Iblea with Nocellara del Belice (also a popular table olive) to make a magnificent and exclusive oil for you.

Within seconds of my arrival, Salvatore hustled me to the rear of the mill to show me his latest “toy.” It was a high-tech device, completely foreign to me, that vets individual olives. All olives entering the mill have to pass its inspection. Parameters can be set by the operator for a number of variables, such as color, size, etc. Via conveyor belt, olives run a gauntlet of super-sensitive cameras that identify imperfect fruit. Those olives are almost instantaneously removed from the procession by a targeted blast of air. The process was incredibly fun to watch!

This selection machine is a game-changer. The oil you are about to taste is pressed from olives that represent the best of the best! And what a story you’ll have to tell your lucky tablemates.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

A blend of two olives that are typically used as table olives, this oil’s beautiful green color hints at its verdant perfume and flavor. On the nose, we detected green tomato leaf, cut grass, fresh basil, lettuce, arugula, endive, walnuts, and apple, with a whiff of fennel. Some of these aromas were echoed on the palate, specifically green tomato and fresh basil, with underpinnings of baby spinach, fresh green walnuts, and a touch of vanilla-like sweetness. Finishes with the spiciness of arugula.

Enjoy this mild oil on a wide variety of foods, including milky fresh cheeses such as ricotta and mozzarella, bread, eggs, white potatoes, creamy soups, delicate fish and shellfish, roast chicken, veal, salads made with tender lettuces, cauliflower, light pasta dishes, roasted apples or pears, yogurt, or even ice cream.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Hermes, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

The Old World is steeped in the romance and history of olive oil production— you’ve likely seen iconic images of sun-drenched baskets of ripe olives (actually bruised and fermenting) and mules pulling a millstone in a circle—yet I have learned over the years that the old-fashioned methods result in some pretty terrible olive oil. What makes for a charming photo op is, ironically, what the top-tier producers have been working the past three decades to overcome. (Granted, mules have been retired for nearly a century.)

Forward-thinking artisans have incorporated technologically advanced olive milling equipment to minimize contact with oxygen; refrigerated systems to maximize the aromas and flavors in the oil; and early harvesting, to optimize flavors, perfumes, and polyphenols in the oils.

To produce the finest ultra-premium olive oil, Claudio Di Mercurio knew exactly where to start. His parents had owned land in Italy’s Abruzzo region, rich with olive trees, since 1964, but they had never produced olive oil. In 2009, aiming to press his own oil, Claudio wisely met with one of the greatest experts in the field: Giorgio Mori, proprietor of Mori olive mills. (You might compare the excellence of a Mori mill to that of an Illy espresso machine,  or perhaps to a Maserati: simply put, the best equipment that gives the best results.) Claudio named the mill “Frantoio Hermes”—readers of classic myths and legends might make the connection with the family’s surname, Di Mercurio. (Hermes is the Greek messenger god, with wings on his sandals; his Roman avatar is Mercury.)

One of the many great honors of my job is that I am welcomed with open arms into families around the world. I grew up with many siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and am always happy to meet more. Here I am, in the Di Mercurios’ kitchen, flanked by Mama Di Mercurio (far right) and her daughters. We’ve just tossed together a simple, fabulous dish of pasta and broccoli, with hearty splashes of fragrant, just-pressed Dritta olive oil. I love that the pan is reaching out to you from the photo, as if in 3-D, and you can almost hear Mama urging, “Mangia, mangia!”

You could say that the olive oil world got the message immediately: in its first year in production, 2010, Hermes won regional awards for excellence (“beginner’s luck,” demurs Claudio, but olive oil experts begged to disagree), and its award- winning streak has continued ever since.

Given my extensive network of contacts in the olive oil world, I was astounded that Claudio—and his grove’s sterling reputation—had eluded me up till now. At the same time, it’s thrilling to think that other such discoveries await me and my tastebuds! I have logged tens of thousands of kilometers in Italy over the years, yet my hunting grounds have been located largely in Tuscany, Lazio, Calabria, and Sicily; Abruzzo has not been a primary destination. Believe me, dear Club members, that has changed! (Abruzzo lies in Italy’s center, east of Rome, extending to the Adriatic Sea.)

Not only did I collaborate with a new producer, I also became smitten with a new olive variety. (New to me, that is.) Prevalent in Abruzzo, Dritta is a small, hard fruit—lower in oil yield, but bursting with flavor and perfume, and very food-friendly.

“Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, meet Claudio Di Mercurio!” “Claudio, meet the Club!” I’m absolutely thrilled to make this introduction. Prior to my recent Italian journey, Claudio and his mill, Frantoio Hermes, located in the Abruzzo region, were unknown to me. (And I know a lot of people in the olive oil world. Not to toot my own horn; it’s my job.) What’s more, Claudio urged me to try an entirely new olive variety (new to me, that is)—Dritta—and I fell in love with its extraordinary fragrance and nuanced array of flavors. Claudio and I can’t wait for you to experience this beautiful oil!

Claudio and his family employ an eclectic and personable harvest team, with workers hailing from Romania, the Ivory Coast, and Italy. Regional growers bring their olives to be pressed at the Hermes mill. “It’s the best place around,” one of my scouts observed. No surprise, then, that 5 of last year’s top 10 olive oils in Abruzzo were produced at Hermes.

Claudio also juggles his identity as a prize-winning olive oil artisan with a career as a systems engineer. His eye for detail and mind for process have naturally shaped the developments at Frantoio Hermes; as but one example, he and his team have incorporated a special Mori knife crusher, using multiple knives in the milling process—the slicing action of the knives (different from the crushing action of a hammer) helps preserve and amplify the aromas in the resulting oil.

Dritta continues to amaze me with its enchanting perfumes, especially of almond. I’d love to hear about your own sensory impressions—I encourage you to note down the aromas you identify, swirling out of the bottle. Then, like Hermes, wing me a message to let me know what you find!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Straddling sweet and savory elements, this golden-green oil is fresh and bright on the nose, evocative of mint, lemon verbena, almonds, green apple, cinnamon, thyme, and chopped green salad. Very green and complex in the mouth, presenting almonds, hazelnuts, and cocoa beans alternating with bitter chicory and radicchio. The spiciness of arugula and green peppercorns dominates the long finish until it yields to almonds.

Sweet, spicy, and bitter elements are all present in this intriguing oil. Foodwise, you could go many ways with it. A salad of winter greens, preferably with nuts and citrus, would be a perfect vehicle for the oil’s flavors. Also try it with grains, on white beans, bruschetta, roasted cherry tomatoes, grilled meats, pork (especially heritage breeds that have dined on nuts), lamb, cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe, savory bread puddings, fresh sardines, kale, chicory, and yams.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Pruneti, San Polo in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Moraiolo, Leccino, Frantoio, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

I love traversing the rolling hills of Tuscany during harvest season, as vineyards and farmland blanket both sides of the road in alternating patches of gold, purple, and scarlet, like the squares of a quilt. This is  also wild boar country, so I’m constantly scanning my surroundings from the passenger seat, hoping to catch sight of one of those impressive and tasty beasts. They’ve eluded me so far (aside from the occasional, very delicious appearance on my plate, perfectly braised).

Almost as elusive this year were the Tuscan olives! My scouts on the ground sent early word that Tuscany’s olive crop was in trouble. Unusual, damaging weather patterns—late, tree-killing frosts in the spring, then too much moisture, including storms and floods— destroyed many olive crops in Italy’s north, abetted by olive pests. An important aspect of being the Olive Oil Hunter is having faith, and another part is cultivating relationships with the finest olive oil producers in the world. One of my favorite growers in Siena lamented, “No fruit this year.” Several others reported the same.

You know you’re in food-lovers’ paradise when the steak is priced by the kilo and arrives larger than the size of your head. At a fantastic local enoteca, the Pruneti brothers, Paolo and Gionni, look on approvingly as I drizzle a generous amount of our sensational, justpressed Tuscan blend over mouth-watering Bistecca Fiorentina. The Prunetis, fourth-generation olive oil producers, were delighted to collaborate on an exclusive blend for my Club. (By the way, we did split the steak. After all, we had to leave room for the world’s best tiramisu!)

But just sixty miles from Siena, the Pruneti brothers anticipated a beautiful crop. Gionni and Paolo Pruneti are fourth-generation olive oil producers in San Polo in Chianti (that’s the full name of the town, San-Polo-in-Chianti). Gionni is a master miller, while Paolo tends to the business side of production. Their grove consistently reaps the highest awards, including four appearances on the Top 20 list of Flos Olei, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s best olive oils; a 2017 silver medal in the Sol d’Oro competition; and the German Feinschmeckerlist of the world’s top 25 olive oils.

Perhaps it is their diversification that keeps the Prunetis striving for excellence—they also produce award-winning wines, a prized saffron crop, and about 12 acres of iris, famous for its graceful blooms but cultivated for the extract from its roots, which is used in perfume. In recent seasons the Prunetis purchased a new plot of land, acquiring more than 4,000 olive trees; they’ve spent two years reconditioning and pruning the trees in order to prepare the grove for optimal production.

This year the Prunetis’ MVP (most viable plant) was the ultra-flavorful Moraiolo olive, which weathered cold temperatures other varieties could not withstand. Longtime friend of the Club and master miller Duccio Morozzo described it as “a special year for Moraiolo. It reacted in a good way to the cold—this intensified the flavor.” He considers this Moraiolo crop possibly the best of the past 10 years.

As soon as I arrived at the Pruneti mill, Gionni and Paolo lined up about a dozen just-pressed blends on the table before me. I wanted to sample and savor every one of the pressings, as each would bring specific qualities to the nose and palate. The Prunetis knew that my aim would be to combine them in the perfect ratio to create a classic Tuscan blend— spicy, fruit-forward, and extremely food-friendly.

In the last year, Paolo announced, they’ve enhanced their already state-of-the-art equipment, introducing refrigeration to the crushing process to keep the olives cool as they become olive paste. This helps preserve the fresh, green perfumes in the oil.

These efforts met with sensational results, as all the pressings exhibited a rare harmony and balance. Gionni and I tinkered with many different proportions, bringing individual flavor characteristics to the fore. Finally, our eyes locked, eyebrows raised, palates humming: we had a winner! This exclusive blend of four traditional Tuscan olives is fresh, green, robust, and exquisitely well calibrated.

We celebrated our triumphant collaboration at a cozy local restaurant, Fuoripiazza, where we enjoyed first courses of a chicken terrine with pistachios and tomato sauce; crostini with Lardo di Colonatta, a special pork salumi of Tuscany; and a local dish of caramelized onion, pear, and béchamel cream. This all came before the centerpiece, Bistecca Fiorentina, descended on the table. (See us drizzling our just-pressed blend over the gorgeous steak below. The herbaceous oil melds perfectly with grilled meat juices to create a delectable sauce—try it at home!) Three bottles of the Prunetis’ top-shelf wine, Chianti Classico Reserva, enhanced each and every morsel of food. You’d better believe that in the process we toasted you, my dear Club members—the Prunetis are so very pleased to be sharing the fruits of their labors with you. Buonappetito!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Distractingly green in the glass, this beautiful oil is Tuscany in a bottle. You’ll see what I mean when you open it—the scents of artichoke, black kale, almonds, spinach, lime zest, and white pepper are released. It is much the same in the mouth, but greener and more assertive. Very vegetal with the bitterness of escarole and chicory and (surprise) dark chocolate. My tasters and I also noted micro- greens, wheatgrass, lime zest, almonds (a recurring theme this quarter) and hazelnuts, before succumbing to its peppery throat-tickling finish.

This oil is extraordinarily food-friendly, despite its bold flavor profile. Pair it with grilled or long-braised meats (especially game), aged or strong-flavored cheeses, cured meats, oily fish such as mackerel, grilled octopus over bitter greens (I ate this dish recently), grilled artichokes, black kale, fennel, minestrone or broccoli soup, or pasta dishes with long-cooked sauces. Would also be wonderful paired with a bitter chocolate dessert.


Olive Oil and Health

Olive oil’s health benefits explored at Yale School of Public Health symposium

Adapted from an article by Denise Myers, October 10, 2018.

Yale’s Olive Oil and Health symposium drew a deeply invested group to New Haven this month—chefs, growers, importers, scientists, and associations of producers, entrepreneurs, and business people—to celebrate this amazing fruit juice and begin mapping out a new olive institute at the Yale School of Public Health.

Olive oil is the cornerstone of Mediterranean nutrition, and speaker after speaker cited its vital role in better health outcomes throughout that region.

“There is no greater crisis in public health today than diet, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases,” Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH), told the gathering in Winslow Auditorium in his opening remarks for the two-day event that began on October 3, 2018.

An olive oil institute at the Yale School of Public Health would include research in chemistry and metabolomics to develop assays and datasets to enhance further health research. “We are extremely excited about the interest from around the world in participating in an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary institute that will fill such an important void, said Professor Vasilis Vasiliou, chair of the YSPH’s Department of Environmental and Health Sciences.

Health benefits

Olive oils high in oleocanthal have high profiles for bitter taste receptors and have a peppery effect at the back of the throat. This pungency is associated with many health benefits—a reduced risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases and added protection against viruses, said Catherine Peyrot des Gachons of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

In addition to prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, Amal Kaddoumi, a professor at the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University in Alabama, has found that EVOO increases the activity of the drug donepezil, which is used to treat the progression of dementia.

Mary Flynn, an associate professor at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Rhode Island, has studied the effects of a plant-based olive oil diet since the 1980s. Albeit small in sample size, numerous comparative studies among cancer patients consistently show improved weight loss compared to National Cancer Institute diet plans, and when the patients are given the opportunity to self-select which diet to follow for the final period of the study, they largely choose the olive oil diet. Her data reflect improved weight, insulin, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.

By shifting to more plant-based meals on this diet, Flynn also finds that the money saved on groceries ($14.36 per week) not only reduces food insecurity but also results in weight loss and reduced blood glucose. “Most Americans eat too much protein and that turns to fat,” said Flynn. With the decrease in fasting blood glucose, people don’t get hungry.”

“We have a population in dire need of dietary correction,” said Joseph Profaci of the North American Olive Oil Association in New Jersey. “If 20 percent adhered to the Mediterranean diet, we’d save $20 billion from 10 major health outcomes,” he said. Currently, only 40 percent of American households regularly use olive oil.

The group that convened formed a planning group to work toward developing the mission, vision, and structure of the YSPH olive institute.


Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

  • Grilled Fish With Artichoke Caponata Grilled Fish With Artichoke Caponata Many years ago, an olive oil producer’s elderly mother made lunch for us. I will never forget her caponata, which was similar to this one. view recipe
  • Cranberry And Pistachio Biscotti Cranberry And Pistachio Biscotti Wrap these cookies in cellophane for an attractive hostess gift. view recipe
  • Chocolate Budino With Olive Oil And Sea Salt Chocolate Budino With Olive Oil And Sea Salt The word budino means custard or pudding in Italian. Rich and creamy, this already ethereal dessert is made even better when topped with olive oil and a flaky, crunchy sea salt such as Maldon. view recipe
  • Overnight Broccoli Rabe With Anchovy And Preserved Lemon Overnight Broccoli Rabe With Anchovy And Preserved Lemon One of my closest friends, Justin Wangler, and I first met at A. B. Tech Culinary School in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Justin is currently the executive chef of Jackson Family Wines in California’s Sonoma Valley. The vineyard’s new cookbook, Season, was released in September. Below is a recipe Justin shared with me;… view recipe
  • Orecchiette With Broccoli Sauce Orecchiette With Broccoli Sauce One of the most memorable dishes of my recent trip to Abruzzo was served family-style at a dinner at the Hermes farm. We liberally splashed the pasta with the exclusive olive oil blend we’d just created. Ingredients 12 ounces very small broccoli florets8 ounces orecchiette or other short pasta 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,… view recipe
  • Tuscan-Style Veal Chops Tuscan-Style Veal Chops Extra virgin olive oil becomes the base for a savory “board sauce” when mixed with fresh herbs and the natural juices of the meat. Substitute bone-in beef rib eyes or tomahawk steaks if veal is unavailable. view recipe
  • Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken With Sicilian Salsa Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken With Sicilian Salsa Spatchcocking is a great technique to use when you’re short on time; it can be used on chickens, turkeys, game hens, etc. If grilling isn’t an option, place a cooling rack in a rimmed sheet pan, put the bird on the rack, and roast in the oven. This recipe comes from master griller Steven Raichlen,… view recipe
  • Porchetta-Style Turkey Breast Porchetta-Style Turkey Breast Well-suited for smaller gatherings, this attractive and flavorful roulade of turkey breast will be the centerpiece of your festive table. And because I consider fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil to be Mother Nature’s perfect sauce, I suggest providing the table with extra oil for drizzling. view recipe
  • Barbecued Lamb Skewers (Arrosticini) Barbecued Lamb Skewers (Arrosticini) This finger food is very popular in Abruzzo. It is traditionally grilled over a fornacella, a shallow trough of charcoal just wide enough to cook 4 inches of skewered meat. (We use a hibachi or grill pan.) The garlic is my addition. view recipe
  • Winter Panzanella Salad Winter Panzanella Salad Bold textures and flavors distinguish this salad from its warm-weather version. view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

The Olive Oil Hunter Brings Magic to Your Fall Table: Three Fantastic Olive Oils from the Land Down Under

T. J. Robinson
The Olive Oil Hunter®
  • Be one of just a handful of Americans to taste these healthful custom blends, created exclusively for Club members and available nowhere else!
  • All have been certied by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Luxuriate in food-friendly, fresh-pressed olive oils that have no equal on supermarket shelves!.
  • Enjoy the new recipes we’ve chosen to complement the oils you’ve just received (the Pear Crostini on page 13 will be a new favorite).

G’day, Mate!

This quarter, my hunt for the nest fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils in the world right now took me to Australia, one of my favorite sources of “liquid gold.” It’s about as close to the ends of the earth as I can go without commiserating with penguins or polar bears. “Oz,” as Australians like to call their island continent, is 10,000 miles and 14 time zones from my North
Carolina home. But these food-friendly oils and their healthful antioxidants were worth the inevitable jet lag!

This is not my first trip Down Under. I’ve been visiting Australia for many years, scouting the country’s best olive oils and building relationships with top producers and industry experts. Australia’s rapid metamorphosis from an olive oil curiosity to a force to be reckoned with has been gratifying to see. During last year’s prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition, Australian producers won four of the 17 “Best in Class” medals, second only to Italy.

Determined to Produce Fresh, Nutritious, and Winning Olive Oils

“Australia didn’t just enter the olive oil trade,” proclaimed the awards wrap-up on the competition’s website. “They reinvented it and sent shockwaves through the industry. Determined to produce olive oil that is as fresh and nutritious as possible, Australian producers craft some of the most winning brands in the world, while calling out low-quality rivals.”

Though nearly the size of the United States, physically, the Commonwealth of Australia is home to less than 30 million people. Most live on the periphery of this island continent. Olive trees thrive in the southeastern part of the country, particularly in New South Wales and the state of Victoria, where conditions mirror those of the Mediterranean. With the help of dedicated Australian olive farmers, I’m happily able to provide just-pressed olive oil to my Club members throughout the year.

Credit for Australia’s boot-strap victories can be divvied up among many entities. Among them are the Australian Olive Association, established in 1995 to support growers and promote high standards for Australian olive oils; Boundary Bend and Modern Olives Nursery and Laboratory Services (I’ve worked closely with both), for their ongoing commitment to quality and innovation; and especially the Australian olive farmers themselves, whose passion for making the best olive oil they can compels me to return to this friendly,
welcoming place year after year. (I love how the olive farmers go out of their way to help each other.)

Australia’s Olive Wellness Institute was founded to provide the public with credible, science-based information (vetted by a panel of global experts) on the links between olive oil and other olive-based products and well-being. Intrigued, I lunched with Sarah Gray, a former pharmacist and an enthusiastic ambassador for OWI. In a short time, OWI has become a large online repository of information and a valuable resource to anyone interested in the health benefits of olives. Learn more at olivewellnessinstitute.org.

During this visit, I encountered a new player, the Olive Wellness Institute. I met with a charming and knowledgeable representative, former pharmacist Sarah Gray, who told me the institute’s mission is
to provide consumers with the most up-to-date and evidence-based scientific information (all reviewed by a panel of independent experts) on olive oil and olive products as they relate to nutrition and wellness. The institute’s website is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in the connection between olives and health.

Aussie Extra Virgins Take On Old World Olive Oils

Australia and olive oil actually have a long history. Italian and Greek immigrants in the nineteenth century concealed olive tree cuttings in the inseams of their clothing to carry the stock to their new homes in the Southern Hemisphere, later pressing the olives primarily for their own use. There was not yet a market, per se, for the oils. That’s changed! Extra virgin olive oil is now a staple in the majority of Australian homes, riding the coattails of exploding interest in food and health.

During the harvest, I checked in with my friends at Kyneton Olives (their oils have been Club selections in the past) where I met Davide Bruno, a passionate master miller from Liguria, who loves to share his expertise with his counterparts in the Southern Hemisphere. He will, of course, return to Italy when the harvest begins in the Mediterranean. The exchange of information between Old World and New World growers has elevated the quality of olive oil worldwide. These bins of just-picked olives were rushed to the mill for processing in order to preserve their flavors and healthful polyphenols. And don’t you love that soulful old tractor?

The Old World’s feathers were ruffled when New World producers like Australia began winning major awards for their olive oils. (About 95 percent of Oz’s oils meet or exceed international standards for extra virgin olive oil.) In a defining moment for Aussie producers, the city of Adelaide hosted Australia’s first international olive competition in October. There were more than 200 entries—none from Italy or Spain, who are among the largest importers of Australian olive oil.

But as world-renowned olive oil expert and master miller Leandro Ravetti explained to me over lunch, “We don’t have the ‘romance’ factor selling olive oil for us. We don’t have Florence, or the Duomo, or cypress-lined roads. We just have to do everything right, and that means taking a methodical, scientific approach to producing olive oil.”

Amazing Producers, Custom Blends

Australian producers I spoke with said this year was a bit of a nail-biter. Weather-related issues, especially the threat of frost, ultimately forced an early harvest; things then moved quickly. For me, this is not always a bad thing, as I prefer greener (early harvest) olive oils. Foresight and my long-term relationships with the country’s top producers enabled theme to create amazing custom blends for Club members that we’re sure you’ll love. Meet all of these extraordinary people in the following pages: the aforementioned Leandro; Annie, a pearl-wearing Australian grandmother with can-do attitude; and John and Marjan, risk takers who own olive groves on two continents.

Because only about one percent of the olive oil sold in the US is Australian, it’s possible, if you’re a new Club member, that you’ll be tasting an Aussie oil for the first time. All three oils (with mild, medium, and bold flavor prolfies) are from the state of Victoria and will pair beautifully with colder weather dishes and seasonal produce. They will be a wonderful addition to your autumn table!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Oasis Olives, Kialla, Victoria, 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

Last year I was thrilled, after five years of anticipation, to feature a stunning oil from the Oasis groves for my Club. I was so smitten with that oil—an intensely green Picual—that I served it at my wedding! (When I call myself your personal olive oil sommelier, you’d better believe it—the oils I select for my Club are those I’m most excited to use at my own table and to share with my family and friends.)

As the season progressed, I was thrilled to receive advance word that Oasis, the brainchild of John and Marjan Symington, anticipated another excellent harvest this season. Some nearby small farms were down as much as 70 percent in their production—a very dry summer was followed by early frosts, which destroyed some harvests outright—but
Oasis, located on 110 acres in Kialla, Victoria, yielded beautiful fruit. Strategic irrigation, early harvesting, and the skills of a passionate and gifted harvest team all contributed to a gorgeous Frantoio olive crop.

About eight years ago, John and Marjan were “looking for a challenge,” as John, a former software engineer, put it, when the couple purchased plots of untended, gnarled, and bushy olive trees with the aim of producing premium olive oil. Guided by olive expert Scott Sanders, the Oasis team made crucial improvements such as heavy pruning of the trees, implementing efficient irrigation technology, and acquiring a sleek, state-of-theme art olive mill to put their young farm on the map in short order. In less than a decade, the ultra-premium olive oils from Oasis have garnered the most awards of any farm in this region. The Symingtons also oversee a thriving Oasis outpost in Peru—one of these days I would love to feature a Peruvian oil as a Club selection, as soon as one meets my sky-high standards—and they are developing another property, in the neighboring state of South Australia.

With the help of expert collaborators, in the span of a decade John and Marjan Symington transformed a 110-acre expanse of overgrown, untended olive trees into one of Victoria’s most lauded olive oil producers. At the shores of the lake that irrigates the Oasis groves, John directs my gaze toward an area designated for future planting. Oasis oils are so memorable that, as John related with delight, the son of a Club member visited the farm recently with the following request: “My mother told me when I was in Australia I had to make sure to get some of your olive oil.” I expect they’ll be greeting more such visitors, with their trademark generosity of spirit, after you taste the dazzling Frantoio blend we created exclusively for you!

On my journeys across the globe I have observed that artisanal growers and millers who are involved in more than one harvest per year—such as many of the Oasis team members, who work both the Peruvian and the Australian harvests, as well as longtime friend of the Club Leandro Ravetti, featured in this report—expand their knowledge more quickly and deeply than most other producers. And that makes for exponentially improving olive oils!

This harvest, the six-member Oasis team included John, Marjan, and Scott as well as two French seasonal workers, Guillem and Sylvain, and Antonio Maldonado, an expert miller from Spain. Antonio and his girlfriend journeyed Down Under with an aim of studying English: she attended language courses in town while Antonio worked on his vocabulary in the Oasis groves. Who do you think spoke more fluently by the time the harvest ended? (Antonio.)

In Spain, Antonio spent nine years sorting olives, which endowed him with an intuitive understanding of the fruit—how to handle it, how to select for optimal flavor, and the perfect time to harvest. You can discern his Iberian inuence on the splendid blend we created exclusively for my Club.

Oasis conducted a special early pressing of Frantoio olives, green and fragrant, to which we added a small amount of Coratina for complexity. To my mind, this is a perfect exemplar of the Aussie approach to olive oil, making something new and wonderful out of a mosaic of cultures: Italian olives, grown in Aboriginal soil, cultivated by Australians, picked by Frenchmen, milled by a Spaniard, and blended by a North Carolina Southern boy (myself).

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

This unique blend has a delightful bouquet, with apple, almond, grass, celery, salad greens, and white pepper on the nose. My tasters and I also detected warm baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweet almond note is even more assertive on the palate, along with the minerally flavor of spinach, the spiciness of celery leaves, and the bitterness of sturdy fall greens such as endive or radicchio.

This oil’s vegetal flavor profile steers our recommended food pairings toward roasted root vegetables, especially potatoes, yams, bell peppers, pumpkins, and other squashes; fall salads (pears with cranberries and celery, for example, or bitter greens with oranges or grapefruit); mild fresh cheeses; mild white (non-oily) sh; white beans; veal; and even breakfast fare, such as scrambled eggs, the ubiquitous avocado toast, or oatmeal or yogurt with dried fruits.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie 2018 Blend, Tongio, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Corregiola, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

As soon as my plane lands at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, I hit the ground running, always eager to get on the road and visit olive oil producers. But an atypical evening arrival gave my Merry Band of Tasters and me a rare opportunity to accept a social invitation from Nullamunjie proprietress Annetta “Annie” Paterson and her husband, John, to dinner and cocktails at the family’s
home—a charming antique Victorian with gingerbread trim—near the city’s Central Business District.

Annie, who is like a composite of everyone’s favorite aunt, greeted us with her characteristic warmth and a crackling fire in the replace. Wearing her trademark South Sea pearl necklace, she teased our travel-weary palates with aperitifs and warm pear
crostini (find the recipe below), one of the most satisfying bites of the trip, followed by seasonal dishes like braised duck leg quarters with cabbage and onions, roasted root vegetables, a farro and chickpea salad, and a rustic apple crostata. (For several months out of the year, Annie runs a popular restaurant on her farm called “The Pressing Shed Cafe”— “pressing shed” is the Aussie term for olive mill. So a meal at her table is quite a treat.)

The next day, excited to revisit Annie’s farm near Tongio and taste the oils at their source, we maneuvered our rental van through fast-growing Melbourne’s nightmarish traffic and picked up
the scenic Great Alpine Road for the four-hour drive.

Annie Paterson, the proprietress of Nullamunjie, hosted a festive arrival dinner for me at her gracious antique home in Melbourne. Though my 14-hour flight left me a bit knackered (Aussie for exhausted), the wonderful food and stimulating olive-centric conversation revived me. We toasted Nullamunjie’s twentieth anniversary and shared many laughs. Annie is so pleased and proud that her food-friendly oil is a Club selection this quarter.

While Annie’s life now straddles city and country, this cattleman’s daughter grew up near the rural mountain range known as the “Australian Alps” in southeastern Victoria. A college-era trip to Greece convinced her olive trees would thrive on the family’s ranch with its Mediterranean-like climate, active freeze-thaw cycle, and rocky soil. As it turned out, Annie’s instincts were spot on, but her father was unconvinced.

It wasn’t until 1998 that Annie acquired a beautiful parcel of family land, bisected by the Tambo River on the slopes of Mt. Stawell. Finally, with her four children ready to leave the finest, the time was right to pursue her dream. Twenty years later, Nullamunjie is a frequent award winner and its proprietress is a respected authority in Australia’s tight-knit olive oil community.

Nullamunjie hosts about 3,000 trees—mostly Tuscan varietals
Annie selected for their adaptability to the farm’s unique
microclimate. She is assisted in day-to-day operations by the capable Tom Morgan, grove supervisor, as well as Jack Diamond, who
understands the terroir as only a local can. Bonnie, a gregarious
German wirehaired pointer, is the farm’s official greeter. When
manpower needs surge at harvest time, the always resourceful Annie
recruits family members and hires first responders from Ambulance
Victoria, an emergency healthcare and transportation service that
ministers to the region’s rural population.

The 2018 harvest was certainly one to celebrate, though Annie
admits there were some challenges. To wit, Victoria’s summer was
the third hottest on record. Annie fretted over potential stress to her trees, which she treasures like children. (Actually, yields were up over last year, and the fruit’s oils were more concentrated thanks to water deprivation, moving Nullamunjie’s flavor profile, consistently “Mild” for several years, to “Medium.”) The very real threat of bushres terried Annie, too.

I have always maintained that Nullamunjie’s 3,000 trees are an optimal number for a boutique farm, yielding a nice range of fruit for blending yet easily managed by a small team. Here, grove supervisor Tom Morgan and I examine the vigorous-looking trees that flourish in the farm’s unique microclimate and stony soil. Quiet and beautiful, the grove is a refuge for wildlife and a favorite destination of Bonnie, the farm’s resident German wirehaired pointer. I am thrilled to share with you the extra virgin olive oil produced in this little slice of heaven.

There were also pesky equipment breakdowns, not to mention the now infamous deleafer: Annie purchased it to remove not only leaves but also stems and twigs from the olives before pressing. But the deleafer arrived sans assembly instructions. Annie asked a couple of olive oil producer pals to help her, and laughingly notes there was only one leftover part (apparently nonessential!) when they were nished.

Bottom line? Once again, this plucky and determined Australian grandmother has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. The blend we created together is magical.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Right out of the bottle, this luscious custom-blended extra virgin olive oil is very fresh and green on the nose. (Note the lovely color!) It evokes citrus notes, along with sweet hay, macadamia nuts, fennel, baby lettuce, ginger, and fresh herbs like parsley and basil. In the mouth, its appealing nuttiness is
balanced by the pepperiness of nasturtiums and green peppercorns. Spicy heat is reminiscent of baby arugula and serves as a reminder that healthful polyphenols are in the house. Expect a rich mouthfeel and a lingering finish.

This oil would be our choice for some baked desserts (especially featuring dark chocolate); serve it with chicken, turkey, or veal; use it to make pesto from fresh basil or carrot tops. Another ne use would be in a spinach salad featuring nuts or seeds (they would complement the natural nuttiness of the oil).


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti 2018, Boort, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

When I’m in Australia I’m always on the lookout for koala bears.
The koala’s popularity gives the impression a furry cub is waving at
you from every eucalyptus tree, but in reality you have to keep your
eyes peeled. I feel triumphant, as if I’ve truly arrived on the continent, when I’ve finally seen one.

Likewise, a trip Down Under feels truly complete when I have the opportunity to collaborate with my dear friend and longtime supporter of the Club, Leandro Ravetti. As a globe-trotting expert on all things olive, Leandro can be tough to pin down—at any given time he might be judging a competition in New York or consulting in Japan—so I was thrilled to learn that we would be in Australia at the same time this season.

Master miller and all-around olive genius Leandro Ravetti and I share a scrumptious “working lunch.” One of the fundamental characteristics of a great olive oil is its food-friendliness—how the qualities of the oil (aromas, flavors, and other complex nuances) complement and enhance food. We were excited to assess the success of our brand-new Picual blend on a spectrum of dishes at Melbourne’s Café Safi, a casual yet impeccable local spot whose menu reflects the international nature of Australian cuisine.

Born in Argentina to parents of Italian heritage, Leandro paired his analytical mind and culinary interests to earn an honors degree in agricultural engineering. Post-graduate work in Spain and Italy saw him certified as an olive oil master miller, and his expertise and ingenuity brought him to international attention. In the fall of 2000, Leandro was invited to join the company Modern Olives as its technical director to help guide the brand-new Australian olive
oil scene, then characterized by tiny groves, often located hundreds of miles apart, pioneered by enthusiastic, novice growers who were
yearning for advice and camaraderie. Anticipating he’d stay for maybe two years, Leandro has now called the state of Victoria his home for 18 years and counting (although he’s constantly on the move).

Leandro’s ancestral heritage has come full circle, with his playing a major role in redirecting the Old World traditions of olive cultivation toward a uniquely New World approach. The success of Australian olive oil is built on science: Modern Olives maintains a nursery and a laboratory for the study and improvement of planting and cultivation techniques, optimizing aroma and avor, and perfecting state-of-the-art storage methods. (You can read more about Leandro’s influence on Australian olive oil above.)

Leandro oversees two groves in Victoria, located about 150 miles apart, which are home to many different microclimates and, consequently, to varied complexities of aroma and flavor in the olives. In the months leading up to the harvest, he and I were in touch about the growing season—“a peculiar year,” he said; early frosts had devastated the crops of some growers, but others, including his groves, were lucky to escape unscathed.

He was excited to collaborate on a special selection for my Club, and confided that the ace up his sleeve this season was Picual. I love Picual, as longstanding Club members can attest. But to please my palate it must be an early-harvest Picual, beautifully green,
showcasing the variety’s bold flavor intensity, and Leandro knows exactly what I mean. This beguiling Picual blend—with just a dash of Coratina, to round it out—embodies the signature Ravetti air, bringing out the New World character in this Spanish variety, with
fruit avors dancing among the greenery: kiwi, apricot, pear.

We debuted our brilliant collaboration at a memorable lunch at Café Sa, on St. Kilda Road. Australian cuisine draws from multiple inuences for a mouthwatering parade of flavors: Pacic Rim, Thai, Turkish, and more. I drizzled the fragrant blend over a crumbed
chicken Caesar salad as Leandro tucked into cashew chicken and roasted vegetables with a generous splash of our exclusive creation. I can’t wait for you to wow your family and friends with this exceedingly food-friendly blend!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

This master miller has once again coaxed an amazing olive oil from one of my favorite varietals, Picual. The nose is fruity and
intoxicating, evocative of pears, kiwi, and stone fruits like peaches and apricots. There’s a very green component, too—grassy, vegetal, and herbal with celery and green tomato leaves and a touch of lemon and peppermint. This oil is green in the mouth as well, with an intense, cocoa nib–like bitterness and the minerally notes of artichoke. Predictably, it tastes of tomato leaf and is beautifully calibrated with a touch of ginger-like spiciness.

My tasters and I immediately pegged this oil as the one to serve with pizza! It would also be fantastic with grilled meats, bruschetta, or any dish with tomatoes or aged cheese. It’s bold enough to serve with tuna, lamb, duck, or slow-cooked cold-weather stews.


Olive Oil and Health

Preventive Medicine: Secrets of Olive Oil Explained

Adapted from an article in the New Haven Register by Dr. David Katz, July 1, 2018

In late June 2018, Yale University hosted the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable conference. Among the presentations were two by world-leading experts in the bioactive components of olive oil, Eleni Melliou, PhD, and Prokopios Magiatis, PhD, both from the University of Athens.

Among those many compounds is oleocanthal, a polyphenol and potent antioxidant found in olives. It is established to inhibit COX1 and COX2 enzymes. What does that mean? The first, inhibition of COX1, is what ibuprofen does. The second, inhibition of COX2, is what Celebrex does. So, oleocanthal-rich olive oil (let’s call this “OROO”) has potent anti-inflammatory, and potentially analgesic (pain reducing) properties. What does the research show?

As presented by my colleagues from Athens, a study of OROO in 200 men in Spain showed a linear increase in protective HDL cholesterol, and a decline in LDL cholesterol. In a study of 24 women with hypertension, OROO was found to lower blood pressure, improve endothelial function and lower CRP, an important inflammatory marker. Multiple other studies cited by my Greek colleagues replicated these effects.

OROO has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation as well, the mechanism responsible for acute myocardial infarction. Like ibuprofen, aspirin inhibits COX1, so there is a clear case for the actions of compounds in olive oil to resemble effects seen with these drugs.

Aspirin is used routinely as a cardioprotective agent because it inhibits platelet aggregation.

Oleocanthal derived from olive oil has been shown to induce the clearance of the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease from the brains of experimental animals. Results of a human trial, announced just last month, showed an improvement in Alzheimer’s symptoms, and delayed progression of the disease, with OROO.

Oleocanthal has also been shown to induce cancer cell death. In an ongoing study of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, OROO daily for three months significantly reduced the numbers of cancerous white blood cells relative to placebo.

Now, let’s put it all in context.

The active compounds in olive oil, like oleocanthal, are highly concentrated in the unripe olives used to make cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. They are almost completely absent from the ripe olives used to make the lesser varieties of olive oil that often populate the shelves of American supermarkets. Details matter.

The above does not make the case that olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet, is required for good health. But the above certainly does make the case that genuinely good olive oil has genuinely good health effects. No surprise, then, that of the world’s five Blue Zone populations, two have OROO-rich, Mediterranean diets. That, too, is evidence that matters.

I find the weight of evidence regarding extra virgin olive oil, OROO, and oleocanthal extremely compelling. I am fully persuaded that “good” olive oil is a signature contributor to the many benefits of one of the world’s truly great diets.

I am also persuaded, however, again based on the full weight of relevant evidence, that no one food or nutrient accounts for the net effects of the overall diet. The one true toxin I see all too often in the mix—corrosive to consensus, understanding, common ground, and common cause—is cherry-picked science to make the case for any given diet. The pits are concentrated there, so be careful not to swallow that!


Kudos from Club Members

As a professional cook, caterer, and recipe developer in NYC, I am always on the hunt for the freshest and best-quality ingredients. There is simply nothing available for purchase online, or in any specialty market anywhere, that comes close to the quality of your olive oils. Every season I eagerly await my next shipment of your olive oils, and each time I am surprised and delighted. Your oils are my go-to condiment of choice and my “secret weapon”—I use them to finish almost every dish I make. Their vibrancy and freshness make everything I cook come alive. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next…
Jill PNew York, NY

Recipes

  • Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies Well-known cookbook author Rozanne Gold shared this recipe on an episode of Martha Stewart’s Cooking Today on Sirius XM 110. These cookies’ oval shape, payload of olive oil, and the fact that they’re rolled in chocolate chips make them unusual and very professional looking (and tasting!). view recipe
  • Boon’s Brussel Sprouts Boon’s Brussel Sprouts Roasted until golden brown and then doused in a flavorful vinaigrette, these brussels sprouts are addictive. If you can find them, buy brussels sprouts on the stalk. They are often available in farmers’ markets in the fall. Simply cut off what you need. view recipe
  • Greek-Style Mushrooms and Leeks (Manitaria Yiahni) Greek-Style Mushrooms and Leeks (Manitaria Yiahni) Melbourne has the largest population of Greeks of any city in the world outside of Greece. Originally discovered in an old monastery cookbook, this recipe is representative of many Greek dishes called lathero, meaning vegetables cooked with olive oil, tomato, and herbs. If you eat dairy, serve it with a briny chunk of feta cheese. view recipe
  • Rack Of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary Rack Of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary Sheep outnumber Australians by 3 to 1, so it’s no surprise lamb is popular on restaurant menus and in Aussie homes. This elegant entrée can be on the dinner table in less than 30 minutes. We like to serve extra virgin olive oil on the side so it can be drizzled on the meat like… view recipe
  • Herb-Marinated Beef Tenderloin Herb-Marinated Beef Tenderloin Here, beef tenderloin is steeped in pungent fresh herbs, olive oil, and Aussie wine, and cooked to perfection in a two-step process called “reverse searing.” The method yields meat that is uniformly pink from edge to edge. Great for entertaining! view recipe
  • Grilled Salmon With Orzo, Feta, And Red Wine Vinaigrette Grilled Salmon With Orzo, Feta, And Red Wine Vinaigrette Native Australian, celebrity chef, and restaurateur Curtis Stone has put down roots in Los Angeles. (Check out his acclaimed restaurants Gwen or Maude if the opportunity presents.) In the meantime, here’s an easy dinner that will put the spotlight on your fine Australian olive oils. view recipe
  • Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner With Lemons And Olives Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner With Lemons And Olives Outstanding extra virgin olive oil allows you to achieve big flavors effortlessly. Case in point? This sheet pan chicken dinner that goes together in minutes. If you don’t have olives on hand, feel free to substitute marinated artichoke hearts and a couple of tablespoons of brined capers. view recipe
  • Pear And Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette Pear And Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette This recipe was developed by my longtime friend Justin Wangler, executive chef for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in Fulton, California. view recipe
  • Carrot Salad Carrot Salad Garden-fresh carrots with feathery tops are preferred for this simple but colorful salad. It is perfect for weeknight dinners, potlucks, or picnics. view recipe
  • Dukkah-Spiced Yogurt Dip Dukkah-Spiced Yogurt Dip with Toasted Pita Dukkah (pronounced dook-ah) has Middle Eastern origins but is a very popular seasoning in Australia. It is also good on fish, raw vegetables, and pita bread toasted with olive oil. view recipe

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

To enliven your summer dining—three tantalizing harvest-fresh extra virgin olive oils from Chile, rushed here by jet at their peak of flavor!

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • All are from award-winning producers at the top of Chile’s vibrant olive oil scene.
  • All are brimming with bright, enticing flavors, perfect for enhancing summer salads, grilled seafood and meats, even desserts (try some drizzled on vanilla ice cream!).
  • All three are packed with healthful polyphenols and are independently lab certified to be 100% extra virgin.
  • All three are Club exclusives, available nowhere else in America.

Where in the world is the Olive Oil Hunter? You might just as well ask, “When in the world?” While the US is gearing up for summer, right now I’m enjoying late autumn—olive harvest time—in Chile, my favorite South American destination on my ever-revolving mission to bring you the freshest, finest extra virgin olive oils on earth.

Farmer’s Market to the World

Agriculture is the mainstay of Chile’s economy—the highways in central Chile are lined with produce packing houses. Gorgeous avocados—palta—are always within reach; one of my favorite snacks is smashed avocado on crusty bread, with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. My only regret is that I’m not here at tomato-time, to savor what I think of as “the essence of summer”: thick slices of plump, red, vine-ripe tomatoes, splashed lavishly with just-pressed olive oil. But you, my lucky Club members, are perfectly poised to do so!

I’ll be the first to admit that back in my school days I probably couldn’t find Chile on a map. Now I know it like the back of my hand—if my hand were a narrow, two-thousand-mile stretch along the Pacific—thanks to Chile’s award-winning, groundbreaking, and vibrant olive oil scene.

In Santiago I met up with the charming and astute Maria Luz Hurtado, director of the diploma program in olive oil production at the University of Santiago. Maria arrived at our lunch at an open-air mall in Santiago looking like a secret agent, with a black leather briefcase, and opened it to reveal a set of olive oil tasting cups. We were so swept up in tasting these amazing oils and swapping tales of olive oil people we know in common that we forgot to order lunch!

Chile Bursts on the Scene

The first substantial olive groves were planted in Chile only as of the year 2000. Within just a few years—thanks to a Mediterranean-like climate, devotion to horticulture, an absence of olive pests, and expert technical and creative guidance from master millers—the quality and distinction of Chilean extra virgin olive oils had earned them international acclaim.

Bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west; the Andes Mountains on the east; the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, to the north; and the taper of Patagonia to the south, Chile is only 110 miles across at its widest point. Chile’s diverse geography provides for many microclimates, which create complexity in the flavors of its freshpressed olive oils.

I first visited Chile and its olive groves in 2005, at which time I met several of the pioneering producers. As soon as the trees bore fruit, I was thrilled to introduce Chilean oils to my Club members, and each year since I have delighted in bringing you exclusive Chilean oils—especially at a time of year when just-pressed olive oils are otherwise unavailable (or very hard to come by) in the Northern Hemisphere.

Dusty Roads to Liquid Gold

When I landed in Santiago, one of the first things I noticed was that the Andes, normally snow-capped, were bare. My scouts on the ground had reported, “No rain, all summer. Not a drop.” For several years running, Chile has been enduring what scientists have dubbed “mega-drought,” or megasequía. Most farms are equipped with irrigation systems that rely on water from wells or lakes. But snow melt from the Andes helps replenish those ground sources, so the visual of bald mountains was uncanny, like a good friend who’s gotten a subtly strange haircut.

Many of the roads to, from, and around olive farms are dirt or gravel, and in Chile they seemed paved with dust, all 1,400 miles of them. While touring the groves of Deleyda (see profile below) with producer Christian Coddou, I was sputtering some numbers in “Spanglish,” trying to estimate the acreage. Finally—in a truly resourceful move—Christian wrote out the specific sum with his index finger in the dust on the dashboard of our rented gray SUV. (The same way we kids used to inscribe “Wash Me!” on a dirty car.)

Chile is home to arrestingly beautiful and ever-shifting landscapes—often combining elements you’d expect to find thousands of miles apart. (My Merry Band of Tasters snapped this shot on a previous trip—when I arrived in central Chile this time around, the Andes were bare, a sign of the enduring drought.) At right, desert cacti stand as if oblivious to the snow-capped Andes on the horizon. In the foreground and then further back are undulating rows of olive trees, irrigated by runoff from the mountain snow melt.

In spite of the drought, my Merry Band of Tasters and I weren’t worried about the olives, as we work with producers who meticulously manage their irrigation resources. Also, a degree of water deprivation has its benefits, as it helps concentrate the perfumes and flavors in the resulting olive oil.

Several farms anticipated excellent harvests. I was particularly eager to taste the Frantoio at the Deleyda groves; I was also intrigued by advance word that, on more than one farm, Koroneiki olives—a Greek variety—promised to be outstanding. The threat in Chile, where the seasons can shift in a blink, would be frost. We had to ensure the olives were picked and pressed before the temperature dropped. That was fine by me, as I prefer that the fruit be pressed green, for greater flavor and higher polyphenol content.

The Beauty of the Blend

Chilean groves tend to focus on a handful of olive varieties (in contrast to the more than 500 found in Italy): Arbequina, Coratina, Koroneiki, Arbosana, Frantoio, Picual. This minimalist approach presents a wonderful opportunity for artful, finely calibrated blending, and it gave me and my colleagues—including Italian master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca—the chance to create three exquisite blends that are truly greater than the sum of their parts.

Before embarking on the 5,000-mile flight home, I was delighted to spend an afternoon with Maria Luz Hurtado (see photo, opposite page), director of the olive oil diploma program at the University of Santiago. An ambassador for Chilean olive oils, Maria was the teacher of two producers I worked with this quarter (Deleyda and Alonso), as well as dozens of other influential people in Chile’s olive oil scene.

Maria was thrilled to learn about my Club and the level of olive oil appreciation demonstrated by its members. She is so proud that these beauties will be representing Chile on your summer tables. I can’t wait for you to taste them with just about everything—splash them generously on salads, grilled meats, vegetables, and seafood, and drizzle them over tender sweet corn. Mmmmmm… A mi gusta!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson

The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Duccio Morozzo Selección Exclusiva, Colchagua Valley, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile:  Mild

If you’ve been a Club member for a while, you’ve savored the artistry of my dear friend and devoted champion of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. An internationally celebrated olive oil judge, taster, and master miller, Duccio, like myself, works and travels almost year-round, as the global olive harvests trace the earth’s trip around the sun. He sent word that he’d also be in Chile during the time of my quest, advising and overseeing the harvest at the Swett family farm in the Colchagua Valley, about 100 miles south of Santiago.

I love driving through central Chile at this time of year. The endless vineyards, olive groves, and other plantings blanket both sides of the road like an autumnal patchwork quilt, rippling out in squares of burgundy, gold, dark purple, and silver-green.

Duccio was as excited as I was to collaborate on an exclusive blend for my Club, showcasing this season’s beautiful fruit in what he has dubbed “the perfect example of Chilean agriculture.” The extensive groves of the Swett family farm inhabit a complex landscape, with many different microclimates and sharp shifts in geography. Thus the same variety of olive—yet grown, for instance, on both sides of a hill—can yield very different aromas and flavors, depending on the sun exposure and altitude.

On the ground in advance, Duccio observed this season’s crop coming to fruition, and pronounced it outstanding. He gave a special nod to the Koroneiki olives, a Greek variety, and the Arbequina, a Spanish variety that is ubiquitous in Chile, but, as Duccio observes, diplomatically, “Not everybody does it well.” Duccio prefers to sample the olives right from the tree, tasting for potential, finding the spots with just the right amount of sun to build aromas in the fruit, imagining how he’ll orchestrate the flavors together. (See us inspecting the rows of olive trees in the photo at left.)

Although Duccio Morozzo della Rocca technically resides in Italy and I in Asheville, NC, we convene around the globe in places like this: a dusty road alongside groves of gorgeous olive trees. Here we are at the Swett family farm, where Duccio has earmarked specific plots of fruit for an exclusive pressing for my Club.

For a few days we were given reign over the field for a special harvest, exclusive to my Club, in order to procure the perfect ingredients for what we had in mind: a complex, intense, pleasing, extraordinary oil.

Providing the base of the blend, Arbequina brings green and sweet aromas; Duccio describes its sensory impression as “the fresh soul of the olives.” We harvested two different batches of Arbequina, from separate locations, and pressed them separately as well. One batch was pressed using a traditional hammer crusher, whereas the other was milled using a super state-of-the-art knife crusher. Both methods produce desired but different results, enabling us to glean more complexity and nuance from the Arbequina: variations on a theme. The Koroneiki, in a smaller amount, adds dimension to the blend, giving it pungency, a lively bitterness, and a bit of a kick.

“Let’s have some fun!” Joy is the secret ingredient in any Duccio Morozzo blend. We tinkered with the ratios, using two separate batches of Arbequina olives and just enough Koroneiki to give it pizzazz. The exquisite blend we created emanates a delicately perfumed sweetness, making it an ideal oil to use in baked goods, such as the moist and delicious Lemon-Blueberry Zucchini Cake on below.

Trained as a composer, Duccio brings a musician’s appreciation of harmony, interplay, and resonance to the creation of an optimal blend. He also brings his irrepressible personality and love of life into the process, beginning our blending session by announcing, “Let’s have some fun!” Believe me, we did! (See photo at right.) The brilliant blend we created is bursting with personality. It’s a celebration of Chilean agriculture; an expression of gratitude for you, my wonderful Club members; and an almost magical levitation of the sensory elements that construct an optimal olive oil: greenness, sweetness, bitterness, and spice.

We were so delighted with the result that Duccio bottled extra to give to the grove workers, so they can enjoy the fruits of their labors. All of us are so very proud to share it with you!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Grassiness is forward on the nose, as are the fruity notes of green banana and apple. Minty and fresh, with hints of Belgian endive, fennel, and lime zest, with a fillip of green peppercorns. In the mouth, expect a crescendo of rich, round food associations—from sweet (bananas, lemon meringue pie, white chocolate, cocoa butter) to savory (celery leaves, chicory, ginger), with the subtle nuttiness of almonds. Clean, bright mouthfeel (again, minty) with a long, warm Szechuan peppercorn-like finish.

My tasters and I noted this beautifully balanced, somewhat sweet olive oil would be great for baking. (It would shine in quick breads, pastries, or the Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake shown below.) It would also be perfect for drizzling over summer salads, especially those featuring fruit; mild fish and shellfish; poultry; fresh or non-aged cheeses; grilled vegetables; sweet potatoes; lentils; rice; eggs; and as always, warm crusty bread.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Deleyda, Pumanque, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Arbequina, Arbosana
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Make the trek up the pyramid-like hill in the center of Deleyda’s El Cerrillo olive groves, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the property and the mountain-rimmed Colchagua Valley that cradles it. (El Cerrillo means “the hill.”) Bring food, too, because the wooden pavilion at the hill’s quartz-strewn summit is a perfect place for a fall picnic. On this unseasonably warm day, I’ve brought a colorful quinoa salad with lemon wedges and heavenly just-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

From my high vantage point, I contemplate the circumstances that brought me to this special place. I don’t recall how I first came to know of Deleyda, but during the past 13 years, I have cultivated a strong network of friends and contacts in Chile. Any one of them could have alerted me to this quality-obsessed producer. (Deleyda’s oils have been featured in Flos Olei, a prestigious guide to the world’s best olive oils, since 2009—quite an accomplishment).

Persistence pays! I’ve been auditioning Deleyda’s olive oils for my Club for several years, but was unable to work with the award-winning producer until now. General manager Christian Coddou is thrilled that the exclusive blend we created together at the farm near Pumanque will be enjoyed by Club members—people with discerning palates who will recognize how special it is.

For several years, I auditioned Deleyda’s extra virgin olive oils, hoping one day to include them in my Chilean lineup. The oils showed much promise, which is why I persisted in tasting them. But they weren’t exactly what I was looking for. Until now.

Deleyda was founded in 2006 by five partners committed to producing super highquality Chilean olive oil. They evaluated more than 20 properties before purchasing the El Cerrillo land in the O’Higgins Region. Access to water was a must, of course.

The O’Higgins Region, a bit smaller than the state of Massachusetts, is agriculturally blessed with a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean. Like Russia’s famous nested dolls, it harbors contoured valleys within valleys. Tree fruit and olives are among the products it trucks over the ribbon-like Ruta Cinco to Santiago and the world beyond.

Planted in 2008, the 400-acre farm is itself a valley. It hosts a number of microclimates that give complexity to the olives. My scouts on the ground predicted 2018 could be an exceptional year as long as Mother Nature cooperated. And she did! Shortly before my visit, El Cerrillo hosted world-renowned olive oil expert and master miller Dr. Mario Beltrami. Dr. Beltrami, an agronomist from Tuscany, has been a consultant to Deleyda for several years, deftly maximizing its oils’ potential.

Happily, the just-pressed Frantoio, Arbequina, and Arbosana oils I tasted at the on-site high-tech mill with El Cerrillo’s general manager, Christian Coddou, were very impressive. Together we created a beautiful and exclusive blend for my Club members.

A common sight in rural Chile, igloo-shaped clay ovens called hornos de barro are used to convert thorny espiña wood (see it in the background) into charcoal. The oxygenstarved fire burns for several days in the sealed oven, then is allowed to cool completely. The resulting charcoal is highly prized by Chilean pit masters and is the fuel of choice at asados (traditional cookouts) throughout the country.

Over a lunch at a local restaurant appropriately named Mestizo (“mixed”), Christian was eager to talk about why this year’s early-harvest oils were so good. The weather was very accommodating, he said, with warm days and cool nights. Luckily, frost did not affect the budding trees in the spring or the harvest-ready fruit in the fall.

The farm actually has a clever defense against frost. Christian explained that solar-powered thermometers positioned throughout the groves send alerts via Wi-Fi if temperatures drop below a preset threshold. A tractor equipped with a blower rushes to the trees and warms the air. I have not seen this technique in play before—more evidence of New World ingenuity.

The continuation of Chile’s drought has reduced water levels in the fruit and concentrated its amazing flavors. With a background in irrigation, Christian gives the trees just enough water to sustain them without diluting the olives’ perfume and essence. Six wells on the property supply the irrigation system. Christian stops watering the trees about a week before harvest.

I am very eager for you to taste the olive oil from this world-class producer. Deleyda is thrilled to share its just-pressed extra virgin olive oil with my Club members, people who will appreciate its outstanding quality and affinity for the foods of summer.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

On the nose, this medium-intensity olive oil releases the heady scents of almonds, vanilla, banana skin, honeycomb, celery, baby spinach, fennel, and fresh-cut grass. It gives the impression of being both sweet and green, which is confirmed on the palate. Again, we invoked almonds, vanilla, and honey, cut through with the vivifying astringency of lime and the darkly vegetal bitterness of Swiss chard and parsley stems. The spiciness of black peppercorns lingers in the throat, a reminder of this oil’s precious payload of polyphenols.

We recommend pairing this multi-faceted oil with white beans; game meats; lamb shoulder, breast, or shanks; lobster or prawns; duck; beef; salmon; herb-inflected egg dishes, such as frittatas or quiches; oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, or bluefish; and simple pasta dishes, such as aglio e olio. Perfect, also, for chocolate- or almond-based desserts.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña SA, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Not even in Corleone, Sicily, had the Olive Oil Hunter been threatened before. I certainly didn’t expect it in friendly Chile. But several people heard Juan Jose Alonso jokingly deliver an ultimatum: “T. J., if you don’t come to my beach house this year for a barbecue, I will not sell you any olive oil.”

So I did the only thing I could do—I buckled—and promised Juan Jose (shortened by friends and family to “Juanjo”) my Merry Band of Tasters and I would happily accept his invitation.

That is how we found ourselves navigating our rented SUV to a house party on a twisty, unpaved version of the Pacific Coast Highway. Our destination was Puertecillo, a tiny seaside town (population: less than 100) mostly known only to hardcore surfers. I imagine this is what Malibu must have looked like back in the day. Juan Jose and his young family live there.

Life, however, hasn’t always been a party for the Alonso family.

Its patriarch, Abel Alonso, was a Basque refugee from Spain’s civil war in the 1930s.

Abel’s father had been imprisoned by the despotic military dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled the country for decades. As a teenager, Abel and his parents fled to Chile. Though he had little education, young Abel found work in a shoe factory. He eventually built one of the largest and most successful shoe companies in the country.

But annual visits to his homeland after Franco’s death in 1975 made Abel long to establish an olive farm in Chile—a living legacy for his five sons and their families. He entrusted Juan Jose with the responsibility of finding a plot of land to make the dream come true.

Without strong connections to top producers, I would not be able to share the world’s finest, freshest olive oils with my Club members. While they start as working relationships, many have morphed into friendships. And I strive to maintain them. Award-winning olive oil producer, artist, and surfer Juan Jose Alonso (above) invited me to attend his 4-year-old son’s recent birthday party at the family home in picturesque Puertecillo. What a privilege!to convert thorny espiña wood (see it in the background) into charcoal. The oxygenstarved fire burns for several days in the sealed oven, then is allowed to cool completely. The resulting charcoal is highly prized by Chilean pit masters and is the fuel of choice at asados (traditional cookouts) throughout the country.

Even though Juan Jose had his own dream—he had just returned from California with a newly minted master’s degree in Fine Arts and a keen interest in surfing—he didn’t want to disappoint his father or siblings. Eventually, he located a property in the O’Higgins Region of Central Chile that hosted Mediterranean-like conditions, had water reserves (extremely important), and not incidentally, was only 30 minutes from one of Chile’s finest surfing destinations. (The family still teases Juan Jose about this, though he insists self-interest had nothing to do with the decision.)

Today, the farm is a model for New World olive producers and a source of pride for Abel, who now spends much of his time in his beloved Basque country. A 55-acre lake and a series of wells supply the water for a sophisticated irrigation system. A large state-ofthe- art mill ensures olives are pressed within 90 minutes of being harvested—an amazing turnaround time that preserves freshness and protects precious polyphenols. Day-to-day operations are managed by another son, Ignacio Alonso, giving Juan Jose the freedom to pursue art and epic waves. Ignacio is ably assisted by master miller Miguel Molina, who has helped the farm win many olive oil awards.

The 2018 harvest has gone very well so far for the Alonsos. Last year, as you may recall, devastating wildfires licked the edges of the property but were held back by a Herculean effort on the part of the entire team. The drought continues, unfortunately. The lake is the lowest I have ever seen it. Yet, the oils continue to thrill. I am particularly proud of this year’s blend, which showcases Alonso’s lovely Picual, Koroneiki, and Coratina varietals. (See my tasting notes below.)

Ignacio Alonso, who handles many of the day-to-day responsibilities of the Alonso farm, was grateful for a bountiful crop of superior-quality olives, even though water from the family’s manmade lake had to make up for the shortfall in rain. After they are harvested, olives are rushed to the farm’s on-site modern mill (almazara), where they are pressed within 90 minutes. New World growers continue to raise the bar for Old World growers, a trend I am happy to witness as it means even higher-quality oils for my Club members.

Meanwhile, I got the blue-ribbon tour of Juan Jose’s charming beach house and its bohemian-inspired décor. (My visit coincided with his son’s fourth birthday party.) There’s something to see on every surface. Even the commode in the bathroom is gaily painted. Only the homemade chicken empanadas, olive oil-honeycoconut macaroons, and a cold Escudo beer distracted me from the riot of color. It was a joyous celebration. I hope you experience some of that joy when you open the bottle. Impressions and

Recommended Food Pairings:

Boldly, deeply green on the nose, leading with fresh culinary herbs like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon. The green theme continues with tomato leaf, green tea, kiwi, kale, and peppery arugula or nasturtium leaves. It was described as “chewy,” with just a touch of sweetness reminiscent of blackberries. Very intriguing on the palate, exhibiting the bitterness of radicchio and the spiciness of arugula. Our taste buds were met with oncoming waves of tomato leaf, celery, bitter chocolate (think cocoa nibs), as well as mint, rosemary, and thyme. Not unexpectedly, we experienced a long, peppery finish. Our tasting affirmed our decision to position this oil as our boldest in the lineup.

Of course, this muscular oil should be paired with assertively flavored foods. Bistecca Fiorentina (wood-grilled beef porterhouse) comes to mind (see our recipe for Flank Steak with Salsa Verde on page 17), along with bruschetta; swordfish, sardines, and tuna; sliced tomatoes; tomato soup or sauce; gazpacho; and gremolata; even chocolate ice cream. One taster dubbed this oil “pesto in a bottle.” It will be a stalwart in your summer kitchen and, in

Olive Oil and Health

Mediterranean Diet Is Linked to Higher Muscle Mass, Bone Density after Menopause

Reprinted from an article by the Endocrine Society, March 20, 2018.

The heart-healthy Mediterranean diet also appears to be good for an older woman’s bones and muscles, a new study of postmenopausal women in Brazil finds. The study results were presented Monday, March 26, at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.

The researchers reported finding higher bone mass and muscle mass in postmenopausal women who adhered to a Mediterranean diet than in those who did not. This way of eating involves a high intake of fruits and vegetables, grains, potatoes, olive oil and seeds; moderately high fish intake; low saturated fat, dairy, and red meat consumption; and regular but moderate drinking of red wine. The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and certain other chronic diseases.

Few studies, however, are available about the Mediterranean diet and its effects on body composition after menopause, said the study’s lead investigator, Thais Rasia Silva, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. This information is important, she said, because menopause, with its decline in estrogen, speeds a woman’s loss of bone mass, increasing her risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis and broken bones. In addition, menopause and aging reduce muscle mass. Silva said declines in skeletal muscle mass and strength in older people are major contributors to increased illness, reduced quality of life and higher death rates.

Silva and her co-workers conducted their study in 103 healthy women from southern Brazil, who had an average age of 55 and who had gone through menopause 5.5 years earlier, on average. All women underwent bone scans to measure their bone mineral density, total body fat, and appendicular lean mass, which was used to estimate skeletal muscle mass. The subjects also completed a food questionnaire about what they ate in the past month.

A higher Mediterranean diet score (MDS), meaning better adherence to the Mediterranean diet, was significantly associated with higher bone mineral density measured at the lumbar spine and with greater muscle mass, Silva reported. This association, she said, was independent of whether the women used hormone therapy previously, their prior smoking behavior, or their current level of physical activity, as measured by wearing a pedometer for six days.

“We found that the Mediterranean diet could be a useful nonmedical strategy for the prevention of osteoporosis and fractures in postmenopausal women,” Silva said. Given the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Silva added, “Postmenopausal women, especially those with low bone mass, should ask their doctor whether they might benefit from consuming this dietary pattern.”


Kudos from Club Members

I can’t begin to describe how much I love being a member of the Olive Oil Hunter’s Club. My husband and I are vegetarians and salads are a staple part of our lives. These incredibly flavorful and delicious olive oils are a mainstay in our meals. My father had an olive ranch in Northern California when I was a child, so the taste of real olive oil, tasting like real olives, is a part of my DNA. Over the years I have despaired because olive oils have become no more than the equivalent of barely digestible engine oil. When the first batch of olive oil arrived, I seriously almost wept. No olive oil sold in stores these days anywhere—and I mean ANYWHERE—can compare in flavor or aroma as these small-ranch pure olive oils. We so look forward to when our oil shipment arrives. We set it up to taste-test, and then as I prepare dinner, my husband reads to me the description and background information the Olive Oil Hunter writes for each olive oil that he offers, so we know exactly what we’re getting, from where, and by whom. This olive oil subscription is the best thing I’ve discovered in a long, long time! I love you, Olive Oil Hunter!
Alexis H.Santa Fe, NM

Recipes

  • Roasted Peppers with Parmesan Breadcrumbs Roasted Peppers with Parmesan Breadcrumbs This simple but jewel-like appetizer or side dish can be served hot or at room temperature. Don’t forget the last drizzle of olive oil for a spectacular presentation! view recipe
  • Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Guacamole Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Guacamole The mushrooms can be grilled up to a day ahead, but make the guacamole an hour or two before serving. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (make sure the wrap makes contact with the guacamole) and refrigerate. view recipe
  • Grilled Cauliflower Fajitas Grilled Cauliflower Fajitas With over 6 percent of Americans identifying as vegan and millions more describing themselves as “vegetarianinclined,” a meatless main course option belongs in your recipe repertoire. view recipe
  • Fresh Tomato Soup Fresh Tomato Soup Make this simple soup when sun-ripened tomatoes come into the market. If you’re unfamiliar with it, burrata is a water-packed, milky mozzarella-like cheese filled with cream. Substitute a spoonful of fresh ricotta if burrata is unavailable. view recipe
  • Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake This beautiful cake is dense, as it was originally adapted from a quick-bread recipe. Before juicing the lemon, remove the zest in long thin strips and reserve for a garnish. view recipe
  • Oatmeal With Olive Oil And Berries Oatmeal With Olive Oil And Berries Fruit-topped oatmeal drizzled with extra virgin olive oil is a lovely way to greet the morning, hitting just the right savory and sweet notes. Use whatever fruit you have on hand—sliced bananas, diced fresh peaches, strawberries, etc. view recipe
  • Black Bean and Corn Salad Black Bean and Corn Salad This colorful side dish is potluck-worthy, and with the addition of sliced grilled chicken, pork, or steak, is substantial enough to serve as a main course. Diced avocado is an optional ingredient. If you’re short on time, substitute canned black beans (drained, thoroughly rinsed, and drained again) for the dried. view recipe
  • Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Bacon Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Bacon My wife, Meghan, and I enjoyed this simple salad on the first day of our Chilean olive oil expedition, and we recreated it as soon as we returned to Asheville. view recipe
  • Garlicky Herbed Chicken Garlicky Herbed Chicken Halving or spatchcocking the chicken enables it to cook faster—a plus on busy weeknights. To spatchcock a bird, place it breast-side down and remove the backbone with kitchen shears or a sharp knife. Flatten with the palm of your hand. view recipe
  • Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde Maintain a cool kitchen by taking the party outside. The key to tender flank steak is to cook it to medium-rare, then slice thinly on a sharp diagonal. view recipe

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Bursting with healthful polyphenols (some of the highest I’ve seen in years), these olive oils are all from award-winning family-owned groves.
  • All have been tested and certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.
  • Rushed to you by jet at their peak of flavor, these oils will be fantastic additions to your spring menus.
  • All three are Club exclusives and are available nowhere else in America!

In biblical times, the story goes, Noah released a dove to determine if there was life to be found in the wake of an epic flood. The bird returned with a green olive leaf clutched in its beak, gladdening Noah’s heart. When a devastating heat wave swept Southern Europe several months ago—a scorching tsunami nicknamed “Lucifer” by climatologists—I despaired of finding the ultra-premium extra virgin olive oils my Club members love and expect each quarter. Even Francisco “Paco” Vañó of Castillo de Canena, one of the most resilient, consistent, and resourceful producers I know, was concerned. (Read more about Paco below.)

But the scouts I dispatched in advance of my recent visit to the Iberian Peninsula were cautiously optimistic, handing me the metaphorical equivalent of a green olive leaf! Olive oil quantities would likely be lower, they said, but the quality was predicted to be even better than last year. I found this to be true when I hit the ground. In fact, the polyphenol levels, which give olive oil many of its healthful properties, are among the highest I’ve seen in years.

Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Is a Healthful Tonic

Aren’t you craving a restorative tonic like this? Bring on the fresh asparagus, the morel mushrooms, the spring onions, the fiddlehead ferns, the ramps, and other seasonal foods— all drizzled with stunningly fresh and flavorful olive juice. See below for new and inspiring Spanish and Portuguese recipes.

Because great distances often separate Spain’s premier olive oil producers from each other, I have driven thousands of miles over the years on the country’s wellmaintained highway system. But I never fail to be charmed by the massive black metal bulls that stand in silhouette against the rural landscape. Conceived in 1957 as an advertisement for Osborne’s “Veterano” brandy, there were once more than 500 bulls in the herd. Today there are 90, survivors of a government campaign to rid the roadsides of visual distractions. The bulls are now beloved as cultural icons.

The first stop on my hunt for three precious extra virgin olive oils was Andalucía, an autonomous community in the south of Spain. The Roman Empire conquered the region in 212 BCE, quickly recognizing the stony Guadalquivir River Valley (now named Jaén) was perfect for olive trees. So popular was its olive oil in Italy that an artificial hill in southeastern Rome—Testaccio—was built from millions of smashed amphorae, imported from Spain.

When the empire collapsed, other cultures found Andalucía too tempting a prize to pass up. Most of the invaders improved olive growing practices; the Arabs even introduced irrigation to what became the world’s largest manmade forest, now the source of more than 40 percent of the planet’s olive oil.

No Rain in Spain

The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder evidently knew a thing or two about farming. He sagely recommended spacing olive trees 55 feet apart to prevent them from pilfering each other’s water—advice modern farmers would do well to follow in arid years like this one.

And while we’re on the subject… In tandem with the heat wave, which delivered daytime temperatures exceeding 110°F, parts of the Mediterranean have been plagued by a prolonged drought. It’s now in its fourth year. Many regions have reported zero rain for six months. Lakes, rivers, aquifers, and wells are drying up. In Spain, where less than onequarter of the country’s olive trees are irrigated, farmers are using up to 30 percent more water to keep their thirsty trees hydrated, alive, and thriving—water they’re often compelled to buy from other local sources. Portugal is faring no better.

Paradoxically, Jaén Selección by the Diputación Provincial de Jaén, a prestigious annual competition in Spain’s most important olive growing province, typically receives fewer than two dozen entries. You’d think this difficult growing year would limit the field. So it was surprising when 60 oils were entered in the most recent contest.

Viva the Revolution!

I had a bit of an inside track this year. My friend Santiago Botas, an international food and olive oil expert, was familiar with the entrants. In a lively discussion in Madrid over coffee, he exclaimed that there’s been a “revolution” going on in Jaén’s olive groves and almazaras (mills) for the past fifteen years or so.

“We were producing for quantity, not quality,” he said. “That is changing. We are obtaining lower yields but better [organoleptic] qualities.” That has been my experience as well. I only work with top-tier producers—perhaps less than one percent of growers satisfy my discriminating requirements.

Santiago, who will be featured in a documentary on Spanish Picual olives that is currently being filmed, credits visionaries like Paco from Castillo de Canena and the Gálvez family of Finca Gálvez with leading the charge. (Before speaking to Santiago, I had already visited both producers and selected their oils for Club members this quarter. But it was gratifying to have my choices affirmed by this colleague and authority.) He is thrilled with Jaén’s newfound commitment to making premium olive oils, and hopes other provinces will follow suit. The Spanish government, he noted, is sponsoring generous olive-related subsidies to help both cooperatives and private parties improve their oils and compete at the highest levels in the olive oil world.

It’s always a pleasure to “talk shop” with other olive oil authorities when our paths cross (as they often do). In Madrid, I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with Santiago Botas over coffee. Santiago is an international food and olive oil consultant who has conducted olive oil tastings in over 30 countries. He spoke excitedly about the paradigm shift among Spain’s top producers from quantity to quality, and shared the names of up-and-comers he had encountered while filming a documentary on Andalucían Picuals.

Meanwhile, my Merry Band of Tasters and I were expected in northern Portugal, roughly an eight-hour drive over sometimes rugged terrain, to taste the very special oils of Filipe de Albuquerque Madeira and his gracious family. These oils are pressed from olive varietals that are unique to Portugal. Heirloom olive trees, if you will, that have adapted to the schistous soil. I am always happy to do whatever I can to support smaller growers who are committed to sustaining these glorious trees, living pieces of history (some of the trees in the Madeira family groves are nearly 1,000 years old!)

Please enjoy these spectacular newly harvested oils. Use them and share them in good health!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

I once met a world-renowned “extreme” ski jumper. Dropped from a helicopter onto an otherwise unapproachable mountain peak, he proceeds to ski off a ledge into the abyss, careening through space to land on a slope below, slicing his way down the nearly vertical, uncharted mountain face. To my mind this may seem the very embodiment of insanity, but, as they say, “Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.”

I thought of the ski jumper recently, as I stood atop a craggy mound of rocks in northern Portugal, exploring the latest olive planting project of the Madeira family. I call the Madeiras “extreme olive oil producers.” They may not be literally skiing off cliffs, but they take intensely calculated risks in a rough, untamed landscape, making the most of what Mother Nature has to offer in unforgiving conditions, with spectacular results.

Located about 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of the city of Porto, the Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro province (alto means “upper”) is characterized by impossibly steep hillsides composed of metamorphic rock. You’re likely familiar with this region’s most famous agricultural product, the fortified wine Porto, but I urge you to dispel any visions of gently rolling hills and valleys. As the World Wine Atlas puts it, “Of all the places men have planted vineyards, the Upper Douro is the most improbable.” The same challenges apply to olive cultivation, too.

High atop the Upper Douro Valley in northern Portugal, olive oil producer Filipe Madeira describes for me how this rocky mound—currently large chunks of volcanic schist, excavated by a bulldozer—will be ground into a pebbly soil and planted with olive seedlings to expand the family’s award-winning olive groves. This region is home to rare Portuguese olive varieties, grown nowhere else in the world.

The predominant stone in this region is schist (xisto in Portuguese, pronounced “shisto”), a flaky, layered volcanic rock that ranges in appearance from slate-gray to yellowishorange, often with shimmering metallic flecks. (See photo below.) The ground here is not that of gardens or croplands, with a rich, loose layer of topsoil, or even the sandy, rocky soil of the Mediterranean. Here, a plant’s roots must push through the schist to reach the water trapped between its layers. Water itself is typically scarce: in summer the heat can reach a blistering 110˚F at its peak, and irrigation is nearly nonexistent. With nightfall, though, the temperature may drop as much as 30 degrees.

Although these conditions are stressful for the olive trees, they appeal to me and the ingenious artisans I work with. Scarcity of water and high heat—as long as it doesn’t scorch the olive blossoms in the spring—help to intensify the aromas and flavors in the olive fruit.

Although these conditions are stressful for the olive trees, they appeal to me and the ingenious artisans I work with. Scarcity of water and high heat—as long as it doesn’t scorch the olive blossoms in the spring—help to intensify the aromas and flavors in the olive fruit.

Celso Madeira, the tireless 84-year-old patriarch of the Douro farm, took the initial leap into the world of premium olive oil production about two decades ago, when he declared that the abandoned olive groves on the family’s land—with trees ranging from 80 to 1,000 years old—should be transformed into a first-class olive farm.

His son Filipe joined him on this plunge into the unknown. Detouring from studies at the University of Genoa, Filipe undertook to teach himself everything about olive cultivation and state-of-the-art milling techniques. In astoundingly short order, the family’s oils were sweeping Portuguese olive oil competitions and earning international awards.

I’ve dubbed it “extreme olive oil producing,” where the “x” also stands for xisto, or schist, the flaky, metamorphic rock characteristic of this part of Portugal. Schist traps water within its layers, which is how the persistent plants of this region obtain water and nutrients—by forcing their roots through layers of rock. The humans have to work hard, too. Steep hillsides, relentlessly hot summers, and scant rain are but a few of the challenges that face the indefatigable Douro team. The excellence of their oils inspires a twist on the Nietzsche quote: “What doesn’t kill you makes the olive oil better.”

Celso, exuberantly devoted to the family’s legacy, recently purchased parcels of land to expand the Douro groves. The trees soon to be planted will bear fruit for hundreds of years, Mother Nature willing. He and Filipe were excited for us to witness the process of preparing the terrain for olive horticulture (see photo above). First, a Caterpillar bulldozer digs down 3 meters (9 feet) to turn over the mineral-rich, rocky earth. Next, another machine will grind the rocks into tiny pieces, a pebbly soil, in which the olive seedlings—all native varieties— will be planted.

The Douro groves are home to indigenous olive varieties, grown only in Portugal and nowhere else in the world. Their delicate, floral perfumes and flavors are unique to this region. I am grateful for the chance to help conserve and celebrate this (delicious and special) branch of olive oil history. You, my lucky Club members, are among the very few Americans ever to taste the oil from these rare and exquisite olives!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

This beautiful oil is golden green in the glass, with a nose reminiscent of fresh grass, wild mint, and green banana. My tasters and I also detected pear, Belgian endive, apricot, vanilla, white pepper, and thyme. There’s a hint of minerals that translates to spinach. Its aroma is pleasantly nutty—sweet almonds (which also thrive in this corner of Portugal) and hazelnuts are prominent. Although this oil is relatively mild, a bouquet of flavors blooms in the mouth. Fruity, with a bitterness akin to radicchio or celery leaves. Well-balanced and food-friendly, the finish is both long and complex with a touch of pepper.

Pair this oil with proteins such as chicken or mild fish, hearty greens like collards, cabbage, endive, or salads featuring fruit, nuts, or goat cheese. At formal dinners the family hosted, we enjoyed it with beans as well as a variety of vegetable purées. Its nuttiness makes it a natural in baked goods, too—try it with chocolate cake or quick breads. On the farm, the harvest is always celebrated with a dish called bacalhau à lagareiro—cod grilled over an olive wood fire with the just-pressed olive oil, garlic, bay leaf, and small potatoes in their jackets.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

One of the highlights of my annual olive oil pilgrimage to Spain is a visit to Canena, a small hillside village tucked in a region affectionately dubbed the “Spanish Tuscany.”

Presiding over its whitewashed buildings and red clay tiled roofs is a magnificent castle known as Castillo de Canena. Built by the Arabs in the 15th century over the ruins of a Roman fortification, its balcony is my favorite vantage point from which to view the seemingly never-ending, corduroy-like rows of olive trees that define Jaén. (Annually, the province produces more olive oil than Greece.) Lucky for me, the castle is owned by one of my longtime friends, Francisco “Paco” Vañó and his family. His family has been in the olive oil business since 1780. (Though privately owned, the castle is open to visitors on Mondays between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.).

With nine generations of experience guiding him, it’s no surprise that bold but debonair Paco, succeeding his father as the head of Castillo de Canena, has become one of the world’s most respected premium olive oil producers. Never afraid to champion highquality olive oils (prizing quality over quantity), he runs the company with his sister, Rosa Vañó. Castillo de Canena’s olive oils are consistently among the top twenty in the world as evaluated by Flos Olei, the Michelin-like guide to olive oils.

For several years running, the Vañós’ Picual has been named a Jaén Selección by the Diputación Provincial de Jaén, a prestigious honor bestowed on only eight oils out of a field of dozens. Their oils are favored by some of Spain’s most influential chefs.

Surrounded by the obligatory tapestries and wall trophies in the castle’s cavernous dining hall, Paco explained to my Merry Band of Tasters and me the challenges he had to overcome during this harvest year.

Primary among them was record-breaking heat exacerbated by a sustained drought. Temperatures reached levels previously unheard of in the region—over 114 degrees. Though Castillo de Canena’s groves are irrigated, weekly water rations for each tree were bumped from 101 gallons to 135 gallons. If those numbers sound very precise, it’s because they are. Like me, Paco is a stickler for detail. He employs some 20 markers for identifying the optimal time for picking the olives.

“Excellence is a habit, and working daily with this maxim makes our team increasingly stronger,” says Paco.

In the living room of his family’s 15th century castle, Castillo de Canena, awardwinning olive producer and longtime friend Francisco “Paco” Vañó and I celebrate another successful collaboration. (Notice the Moorish influences in the arches that flank the fireplace.) We have just come from Paco’s state-of-the-art mill, where we created a sublime blend of two fresh-pressed Arbequinas. A Club exclusive, this oil will take your breath away. We reveled in how beautifully it accompanied our elegant lunch—everything from appetizers to dessert. Imagine what you can do with it at your own table!

Over the years, this olive oil pioneer has developed some ingenious methods for amplifying and preserving the olives’ quality. Because heat is an enemy of harvested fruit, Paco’s team picks only at night, the groves illuminated by bright lights. He also uses a special double grid mill to press the olives, which reduces friction and keeps the temperature of the olive paste down. No flavor-diluting water is added during the process.

This year’s Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club selection is a blend of two lovely Arbequinas, one harvested several days before the other. Paco’s cook, who works from a deceptively small kitchen given the scale of the castle, prepared several outstanding dishes for lunch. All paired wonderfully with the blend: jamón ibérico de bellota; a savory but delicate egg custard; boquerones (anchovies); a flavorful beet and carrot purée with an olive oil drizzle; roasted beef tenderloin with foie gras and root vegetables; and chocolate mousse for a sweet finish (see below for a recipe).

At the end of the visit, Paco’s valet helpfully retrieved several suit bags from the back of the dusty Range Rover we’d driven to the olive groves and transferred them to a clean, shiny, black SUV. The dynamic Paco’s day was apparently not over!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This brilliant blend of two Arbequinas with staggered harvests teases the olfactory senses with the aromas of green banana, walnuts, green almonds, and lime zest. Warm it slightly with the heat of your hands before tasting. This oil’s grassiness—characteristic of an early-harvest Arbequina—is cut with a honeyed floral note and a touch of mint. Chocolate was even used as a descriptor. Lively and fresh, you can almost feel the polyphenols dancing on your tongue. The fruitiness is deftly balanced with the spiciness of watercress or arugula, the bitterness of sturdy greens, the tang of citrus, and the pungency of fresh herbs. The peppery finish lingers.

This oil pairs amazingly well with eggs, pork, shrimp, lobster, veal, potatoes, or cauliflower. We love it drizzled over a salad of fresh fennel and oranges. Its citrus and herbal notes (especially mint) and rich mouthfeel are sauce-like. You’ll love experimenting in the kitchen with this remarkable oil!


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

When my Merry Band of Tasters and I pulled up to Finca Gálvez, a short drive from Madrid, a swarm of Spanish law enforcement vehicles crowded the entrance. A foiled olive oil heist? I wondered.

Messenger bag slung across my shoulders, I stepped out of our station wagon. A Guardia Civil (GC) officer approached and inquired, “What’s in the bag?” A member of our group who speaks excellent Spanish translated, while I identified the mundane contents of my satchel. “Computer… olive oil tasting cups… pen.” The guard relaxed and waved us on. (Whew!)

As it turns out, our arrival coincided with the submission phase of one of the strictest and most prestigious competitions of the International Olive Council. Certified legal officials arrive in person to verify and collect olive oil samples from each competing producer (otherwise, as I was informed, unscrupulous people could buy or steal samples to submit as their own). This year some higher-ups from the ministry of agriculture had invited themselves along to observe the process—thus the accompanying entourage of bodyguards and GC.

The Finca Gálvez team unearthed this ancient millstone while renovating on the farm. When in use, the stone sat on the ground with the groove facing up, beneath a spout, in order to catch the olive oil as it was pressed. (See illustration on page 10.) Here, producer Andres Gálvez and I are wondering which of the trees around us—some of them centuries old—provided the olives for the oil that anointed this stone hundreds of years ago.

This gives you some idea how seriously the province of Jaén takes its olive oil. In the US you might expect this kind of hoopla surrounding the release of a Star Wars movie or a new smartphone; in Spain, it’s all about the liquid gold. And, as if at an awards show, the ministry officials emerged from their tour of the mill with “swag bags”…full of olive oil.

Finca Gálvez (finca is Spanish for “farm”) helped put Spanish ultra-premium olive oil on the map. Founded in 1999, with groves located between the Castilian Plateau and the Guadalquivir River Valley, the family-owned farm continually strives for improvement in every aspect of olive oil production— cultivation and harvesting techniques, irrigation systems, and community education. Last year, they unveiled a spacious, welcoming classroom next to the mill, where locals and tourists alike can participate in olive oil tasting classes and food pairing workshops.

My scouts had tipped me off that this season’s oils at Finca Gálvez promised to be outstanding. The drought conditions in Spain had occurred during a year of lower fruit yields for the farm—an oddly ideal pairing of factors (in the way that two negative numbers, multiplied, give a positive result). As Andres Gálvez explained, “If we’d had more fruit on each tree, there would not have been enough water, and we wouldn’t have had the same quality of olives.”

This tile, part of a larger mural at the Finca Gálvez mill, illustrates the old-fashioned method of producing olive oil. A mule walked in circles, pulling conical stones that crushed the olives into a paste. Another device (at the rear right), used a stack of fiber discs to press the paste into oil, which flowed out into the groove in a stone—possibly the very stone pictured on above.
As much as we tend to idealize “the old ways,” I thank my lucky stars for the many improvements to olive harvesting and milling techniques over the past several decades, in particular the minimizing of contact with oxygen during the pressing process. These advances have enabled artisans such as the Gálvez family to create oils bursting with flavor, personality, and polyphenol levels beyond their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

In order to capture the fruit’s peak flavor, Andres and his team “played with the light of the sun,” as he puts it, beginning the harvest at 7:30 a.m. and stopping by 12:30 p.m., in order to pick and press the fruit during the cooler part of the day.

We created a taste-tempting combination of two Picual oils, harvested about a week apart, that showcases the qualities I treasure in this variety—dark, intensely green flavors with complex spiciness and a long, full finish.

Our brilliant blend made its debut at the restaurant Los Sentidos (“The Senses”), in nearby Linnares, where Finca Gálvez has partnered with the chef to encourage culinary exploration with olive oil.

As we drove to the restaurant, knowing my deep love of jamón ibérico, Andres called ahead to speak with the chef—not, as might be expected, to ask whether they had it, but to inquire exactly where on the ham they were carving at that moment, in order to requisition the tenderest, melt-in-your-mouth slices for our lunch. Such attention to the finest details warmed my heart (and whetted my appetite!).

On the wall at the Finca Gálvez mill is a quote from the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali: “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.” The more I thought about the line, the more it made me smile. Dali wasn’t saying “shoot low; don’t bother.” On the contrary—he was giving permission to strive for perfection as much as you possibly can. There’s always farther to go, more detail to capture, another facet to explore. Finca Gálvez puts that motto into practice every day, and you’ll know what I mean when you taste this oil!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

Take a whiff of this exclusive oil, and you’ll be seduced by its greenness. Green tomato, arugula, celery, baby spinach, wheatgrass, and a cornucopia of fresh chopped herbs. Like pesto in a bottle! The taste, of course, is phenomenal. Clean, bright, almost astringent (like Japanese green tea), this olive juice exhibits the sweetness of banana and artichokes, the spiciness of arugula and Szechuan peppercorns. There’s just a touch of grapefruit. Expect a protracted finish with assertive pepper.

Reach for this bottle when making bruschetta. Or simply enjoy it with crusty bread (toasted or not) and coarse sea salt. Drizzle this addictive stuff over tomato soup, white beans, kale, or tomato salad, hummus, artichokes (find a recipe below), grilled beefsteak, tuna, or dark cooked greens like collards. Its bright, herbal flavors even work with ice cream (vanilla or pistachio).

Olive Oil and Health

A More Complete Mediterranean Diet May Protect Against Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Adapted from an article in Science Daily, January 10, 2018

In a new study published in the Journal of Urology, researchers determined that men who followed a Mediterranean diet—rich in fish, boiled potatoes, whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil, and low consumption of juices—had lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer (PC) than those who followed other dietary patterns, like Prudent or Western diets.

Although PC is the most common type of cancer in men and can have a high mortality rate, evidence linking PC to specific environmental, occupational, or dietary exposures has been limited. Recent studies have investigated whether certain dietary patterns impact cancer risks, but the results have been inconsistent.

The study’s authors explored the relationship between the risk of having PC and dietary patterns as part of the MCC-Spain study, a Spanish case-control study that involved 733 patients with histologically confirmed PC and 1,229 healthy men with a mean age of 66 years from seven Spanish regions.

Adherence to the three dietary patterns of Western, Prudent, and Mediterranean, which characterize the dietary habits of the Spanish population, was evaluated.

  • The Western pattern includes consumption of large amounts of fatty dairy products, refined grains, processed meat, caloric beverages, sweets, fast food, and sauces.
  • The Prudent pattern involves consumption of low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and juices.
  • The Mediterranean pattern consists of high consumption of fish, boiled potatoes, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil, and low consumption of juices.

The diets were graded according to the degree of adherence to each pattern and assigned to four quartiles from lower to higher adherence within each pattern.

Only a high adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern appeared to be associated with a lower risk of aggressive PC. Prudent and Mediterranean dietary patterns showed different effects in low- and high-grade tumors.

Results indicated that for more aggressive and more extensive tumors, only high adherence to the Mediterranean diet showed a statistically significant protective effect. All other dietary patterns and tumor characteristics showed little or no correlation and did not achieve statistical significance.

Co-author Adela Castelló, PhD, Cancer and Environmental Epidemiology Unit, National Center for Epidemiology, Instituto de Salud Carlos III (Madrid), commented, “If other researchers confirm these results, the promotion of the Mediterranean dietary pattern might be an efficient way of reducing the risk of developing advanced PC, in addition to lowering the risk of other prevalent health problems in men such as cardiovascular disease. Dietary recommendations should take into account whole patterns instead of focusing on individual foods.”

Reference: Adela Castelló, Elena Boldo, Pilar Amiano, Gemma Castaño-Vinyals, Nuria Aragonés, Inés Gómez- Acebo, Rosana Peiró, Jose Juan Jimenez-Moleón, Juan Alguacil, Adonina Tardón, Lluís Cecchini, Virginia Lope, Trinidad Dierssen-Sotos, Lourdes Mengual, Manolis Kogevinas, Marina Pollán, Beatriz Pérez-Gómez. Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Is Associated with Low Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer: MCC-Spain Study.
J Urol 2018;199(2):430. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2017.08.087

Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

  • Portuguese Rice and Tomatoes Portuguese Rice and Tomatoes The Portuguese are very talented at creating wonderful combinations from a limited palette of ingredients. Rice and tomatoes is a great example. Serve with roasted meats, especially chicken, and plenty of premium extra virgin olive oil. view recipe
  • Olive Oil Cake with Lemon and Almonds Olive Oil Cake with Lemon and Almonds This easy-to-make cake is moist (thanks to the olive oil), dense, and very satisfying with a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of Spanish sherry or Portuguese port. If you’re feeling fancy, arrange a paper doily on top of the cake before sifting powdered sugar over it. Carefully remove the doily to preserve… view recipe
  • Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Mousse We’ve long known that olive oil and chocolate have a natural affinity for each other. This ethereal chocolate mousse proves it. The orange zest is optional and can be replaced by a few drops of Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur. view recipe
  • Olive Oil Roasted Leeks Olive Oil Roasted Leeks How can only three ingredients create such a sublime dish? We can’t explain it! view recipe
  • Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts and Raisins Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts and Raisins The slightly bitter flavor profile of broccoli rabe pairs beautifully with this quarter’s trio of olive oils. And the nuts and raisins give the dish textural contrast. view recipe
  • Spanish Cod with Celery Salsa Verde Spanish Cod with Celery Salsa Verde We often detect celery leaf–like flavors in the superior quality oils we deliver to your table, and were excited to find the following recipe. It uses celery leaves—often an afterthought—in a deliciously creative way. view recipe
  • Chicken that Fancies Itself Spanish Chicken that Fancies Itself Spanish Don’t let its tongue-in-cheek name fool you. This dish is delicious on a cool evening. view recipe
  • Steak Salad with Romesco Dressing Steak Salad with Romesco Dressing Piquillo peppers are unique to Spain and are only sold in jarred form in the US. They can be found in many supermarkets and online. If you can’t find them, substitute one roasted, peeled red bell pepper. view recipe
  • Portuguese Green Broth Portuguese Green Broth Humble ingredients define one of Portugal’s most beloved soups, caldo verde. It traditionally contains potatoes, olive oil, kale or Portuguese cabbage, and salt. For a vegetarian or vegan version, omit the sausage. view recipe
  • Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Colorful and tangy, this is a salad you’ll be proud to serve to guests. Because of its soft texture, fresh goat cheese can be difficult to slice. We’ve discovered dental floss works well, especially if the cheese is chilled. view recipe