Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

Your Olive Oil Hunter Prevails! Presenting Three Stunning Fresh-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oils from Chile

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • Aromatic, intensely flavored, and bursting with healthful polyphenols, these vibrant extra virgin olive oils will delight you and everyone who shares your summer table.
  • All were crafted exclusively for Club members from olives grown on a single awardwinning estate, and are available nowhere else in the US.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Despite limited transport options, I was able to rush the oils to the US by jet straight from the harvest.

Life has changed in profound ways since the last Pressing Report was published. I fervently hope you and your loved ones are weathering the Covid-19 crisis with your health and good spirits intact.

A heartfelt thanks to all who reached out to me via email or social media to wish me and my family well in these unprecedented times. Thanks, too, to the Club members who, affirming the importance of fresh-pressed olive oil in their lives, implored me to persevere. Especially since many, sheltering at home and cooking more, reported running low!

In the words of my friend and Chilean olive oil producer Juan José Alonso, “Stopping is not an option.” And that’s where this quarter’s narrative begins.

Chile is Agriculturally Gifted, But the Epic Drought Continues

Chile has long been my destination this time of year. Since 2005, I have forsaken the arrival of spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains for fall-like weather in the shadow of the snow-capped Andes. All told, I have spent about 18 months of my life there—sufficient time to forge close relationships with the country’s finest olive oil producers. My Merry Band of Tasters and I have yearly made multiple visits to their groves, met their teams, attended their harvest parties, been introduced to their families, shared many meals together, and even spent nights on their farms.

Few people know that Chile produces olive oil. (It is the second-largest producer of “liquid gold” in the Americas, an astounding 90 percent of it extra virgin.) Its rapid ascent to the world olive oil stage is due to a number of factors: the Mediterranean-like climate of central Chile; its success growing wine grapes and other fruits for export; an absence of olive diseases and pests; an abundance of young but experienced agricultural talent; and the willingness of Chilean olive oil pioneers to break from traditional ways of doing things, to encourage innovation and creative problem solving.

Pamela González and I recently spoke at length via Zoom. I check in with her each harvest season to learn about developments in the Chilean olive oil sector. (As you likely guessed, this photo is from our archives.) Pamela is a project manager for ChileOliva, a Santiago-based trade organization that introduced me to Chile’s most promising olive producers when I first visited the country in 2005. An agronomist and professional olive oil taster, she promotes sustainability among farmers and educates consumers on the many benefits of fresh-pressed olive oil

Unfortunately, an epic 10-year-long drought continues to dog the country. Rainfall in central Chile has averaged 20 to 45 percent less than normal, making it difficult for farmers to replenish their irrigation reservoirs. Runoff from snowmelt has dwindled to a trickle. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory website, the last “mega-drought”on this scale likely occurred over 1000 years ago.

Precious Relationships with Experts Pay Dividends Again

Nevertheless, my Chilean contacts were optimistic that this season’s harvest would be a good one. (Water deprivation can actually intensify an olive’s flavors and aromas, even if yields are reduced.) I was very much looking forward to my annual visit. But it was not to be.

When the seriousness of the pandemic became evident, I developed several contingency plans.

(Actually, I do this every quarter to ensure your supply of premium extra virgin olive oil is not interrupted.)

Because of the strong relationships I’ve cultivated over the years with Chile’s top olive oil producers and experts, I knew I could secure three gold-medal-caliber just-pressed oils for my Club members. The big question was, “How can I get the oils to the US as quickly as ever, preserving their flavors, aromas, and healthful polyphenols?

My all-star team on the ground in Chile assembled for a group photo on the Pobeña farm. From left are Ignacio Alonso, one of the founders of Alonso Olive Oil; Denise Langevin, an olive oil expert and judge whose assistance was invaluable this quarter; Miguel Ángel Molina, Master Miller and the godfather of the boldest oil in our trio, “El Favorito”; Juan José Alonso, one of the co-founders of family-owned Alonso Olive Oil; José Manuel Reyes, general manager of Alonso Olive Oil, and Juan Francisco, a longtime employee of the firm, Miguel’s right-hand man, and the person who ensures T. J.’s wishes are followed to the letter

There were few jets servicing Chile after it closed its borders—one to two flights a week. No bueno! The freight company I’ve worked with for years was sympathetic, but couldn’t help. For the first time, I investigated shipping the oils as quickly as possible via boat in climate-controlled containers. Ultimately, United Parcel Service came to the rescue. UPS, the carrier the Club uses domestically to deliver olive oils to your door, reserved the required space on its cargo planes. They cautioned, however, that our oils could get bumped by fresh salmon, a valuable Chilean export in season now. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. You can imagine how nervous your control-obsessed Olive Oil Hunter—and now de facto Operations Manager—was until all the olive oils cleared US Customs!

Fresh Summer Produce, Meet Fresh EVOO

As for the oils themselves, I opted to collaborate exclusively this quarter with a single producer—Alonso. I have worked with this remarkable and consistent farm, called Pobeña (read more about Alonso below), for five years, and knew I could trust this estate to share its best olive oils with our Club. With over 1,100 acres of olive groves, seven varietals, multiple micro-climates, a state-of-the-art mill, and one of the strongest teams in Chile—one that understands implicitly how I work and what I expect—I knew that together, we could make our New World partnership work yet again, even under extraordinary circumstances.

We could not have done it without the help of Denise Langevin, a friend and accomplished olive oil expert from central Chile (read more about her and how we orchestrated tastings and made blends below). Denise assisted me for several weeks, becoming my “boots on the ground.”

When you taste these exquisite well-balanced blends, you’ll be amazed at how distinct each one is, even though the olives came from a single farm. As always, I’ve included recipes (see below) to complement the oils’ unique qualities. Of course, when olive oils are this fresh, you’ll want to drizzle them on everything from grilled bread to straight-from-the-garden (or farmer’s market) produce—they are absolutely mind-blowing on juicy summer tomatoes. I hope these oils give you and your loved ones a small measure of joy each time you use them, and more importantly, a satisfying sense of connection to the passionate, dedicated people who labored tirelessly to put them on your table. Stay safe.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

I was first introduced to Denise Langevin, an olive oil educator and journalist, in 2013 while visiting the Don Rafael Estate in Chile’s Lontué Valley. At the time, she was the estate’s export director. In hindsight, the meeting was providential. Little did I know what a vital role Denise would play during the 2020 Chilean harvest.

We were in touch intermittently in the years that followed, exchanging the occasional email or phone call. In the meantime, this petite woman with the ready smile and quiet demeanor was in demand as a credentialed olive oil expert, judging competitions all over the world. Rarely was she in Chile when I was (May), as in the spring she often traveled to the US for the esteemed LA International Olive Oil Competition, to Canada for the Olive d’Or, or to China, Portugal, France, Italy, Israel, Brazil, or Germany.

Spanish is her native tongue—Denise was born in Chile—but she can also converse in French or English. However, it was her fluency in the dialect used by critics of olive oil that made her such a valuable asset to the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club during this unprecedented quarter.

Just as sommeliers have their own evocative terms to describe the impressions wines create on the senses, so, too, do professional olive oil tasters. We approach each olive oil sample methodically, usually beginning with the oil we expect to be the mildest based on the varietal and typical flavor profile. (For the benefit of Club members, I always classify the oils as mild, medium, or bold in the producer profiles and tasting notes.)

First, we evaluate the fruitiness of the oil. In monocultivars, is the oil a good expression of the varietal? Next, we judge the bitterness, then the spiciness (aka pepperiness), and finally, we determine whether the oil is balanced and harmonious. Every olive oil has a life story to tell if you can recognize the clues revealed on the nose and on the palate.

Denise can follow the olive’s narrative; she and I, both with years of tasting experience, spoke the same olive oil “language”. She understood my perfectionist tendencies and need to control every possible variable until the oils are in the hands of my Club members. (Though I’m always diplomatic, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been dubbed the enfant-terrible of the olive oil world. (As long as the oils are the very best they can be, I’m happy to be guilty as charged!)

International olive oil expert and experienced judge Denise Langevin was instrumental in helping me vet 24 individually labeled samples of just-pressed extra virgin olive oil from Alonso in central Chile. For several consecutive Fridays, we convened via video conferencing to taste and identify the oils that would become the building blocks of this quarter’s wonderful blends. Our goal was to create potential gold-medal winners. Denise made several trips to the Pobeña farm in the central O’Higgins region and was my eyes and ears on the ground.

As our working relationship evolved over Skype and Zoom, Denise became my trusted surrogate in Chile. She drove from her home to the Pobeña farm numerous times (about an hour and a half each way) and interacted on my behalf with the harvest team. (I was unable to ship samples to my usual collaborator, Italian master miller Duccio Morozzo Della Rocca, as Rome had closed its Customs offices weeks earlier.)

Our routine for three weeks went something like this: On Mondays, the Alonso team would overnight numbered olive oil samples—mostly single varietals—to Denise, then seal the tanks with the corresponding numbers. She’d receive and taste the just-pressed oils, then share her impressions with me. On Thursdays, I’d anxiously await delivery of duplicate samples, then taste them. On Fridays, I’d re-taste the oils. Then Denise and I would compare notes and impressions. Our favorite oils—oils we deemed potential gold-medal winners if entered in international competitions—became the building blocks for the blends we created. Then Denise, as my designated “quality control manager,” oversaw the process at the mill of recreating our blends on a larger scale, and sealed those tanks. She was an absolute godsend, and I owe her a debt of gratitude for helping me deliver to you the beautiful fresh-pressed oils you now have in your hands.

As a way of acknowledging Denise’s invaluable help, I decided to name a blend after her. Her reaction? “I am so happy!” She chose the milder Arbequina, Frantoio, and Leccino olive oil to bear her name. Its warm and genial flavor profile echoes some of Denise’s own traits: I think it was an excellent choice, and I believe you’ll agree once you taste it.

English is not Denise Langevin’s first language, and my kitchen “Spanglish” is rough at best, but our shared olive oil vocabulary enabled us to communicate effectively during our weekly Zoom calls. Typically, my samples arrived via expedited shipping to my North Carolina door on Thursdays (“olive oil Christmas”). I’d taste them, record my impressions, and re-taste with Denise on Friday mornings. In this screen shot, we’re elated to be tasting our final blend.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My Merry Band of Tasters, who joined me for a simultaneous tasting via Zoom, identified a number of aromas after we poured the mildest oil of our samples, alluringly green in the glass. Among them were almonds, green banana, kale, spinach, Golden Delicious apple, vanilla, white pepper, and a whiff of oregano. On the palate, this beautiful, well balanced oil showed a nutty side (hazelnuts), the sweetness of apple, hints of lemon zest and ginger, along with the bitter notes of Belgian endive and the pepperiness of watercress.

Try it with summer squash, sweet potatoes, mild fin fish, grilled shrimp or lobster, pork, chicken, rice, eggs, carrots, bell peppers, sweet corn, Asian curries, simple pasta dishes (including pasta salads), yogurt, ice cream, or mild cheeses (including cottage cheese), and any salad featuring fruit.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina, Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Cladium Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

In my work as the Olive Oil Hunter I’ve emphasized the importance of cultivating relationships, just as a grower cultivates trees. When I am on the ground, collaborating with producers in different parts of the world, I cherish the warm welcomes from the people I’ve gotten to know over the years, whose labor I witness and champion, and whose triumphs I celebrate. This network of professional respect and personal support enables me to find the finest and freshest olive oils on earth to share with you, my lucky Club members.

How much more crucial those relationships are when we’re 5,000 miles apart! Because of our established two-way trust, the Alonso team and I could speak in shorthand and move mountains (or, rather, precious volumes of fresh-pressed liquid gold)… through Zoom and Skype

The award-winning Alonso groves represent the culmination of more than a decade of work by brothers Juan José (nicknamed “Juanjo,” pronounced with a soft “j”) and Ignacio Alonso. Their father—a successful shoe manufacturer who, as a boy, fled to Chile to escape Franco’s regime in Spain—dreamt of producing ultra-premium olive oil in his retirement. In the mission to fulfill their father’s legacy, the brothers staked out 850 acres of land near Chile’s coast, perfect for olives, with rocky terroir and many microclimates. (It was not lost on anyone that the land selected was also in close proximity to primo waves, satisfying the brothers, who are avid surfers.)

The past five seasons I’ve visited their farm, always excited to taste the fruits of their harvest and enjoy the company of their talented team. They were excited to rally to help me fulfill this unprecedented remote Olive Oil Hunter’s quest—from another hemisphere. Truly, a first for the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club!

From the start, as Juanjo reported, this season posed its challenges. Chile has been in a mega-drought (that’s the scientific term) for a decade now. “We need 300 to 400 milliliters of rain to save for the summer,” Juanjo explained, “and this year we got zero.” Resourceful producers work around Chile’s lack of water in ingenious ways—for the Alonsos, it’s with a 55-acre dam that supplies the reservoirs for their groves. But with no rainfall, they had to take stronger action, making strategic decisions to allocate the scant water supply to specific trees and reducing even further the amount of water distributed to other areas of the farm.

As veteran Club members know, though, a certain degree of water stress to the olive tree can benefit the oil that results from the fruit. “Higher in polyphenols,” observed Juanjo, “and more flavor. The difference is amazing.”

Brothers who founded an award-winning olive farm to fulfill their father’s dream, Juan José and Ignacio Alonso were excited to rally their team for this unprecedented remote olive oil hunt. With their invaluable assistance, I created a fabulous New World blend, melding cultivars from Italy (Coratina, Frantoio, Leccino), Spain (Arbequina), and Greece (Koroneiki). The diversity of their groves encourages dazzling combinations that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

José Reyes, logistician extraordinaire, served as the quarterback and cocaptain of my all-star harvest team, calling the plays and making sure that everyone and everything was in place and ready to go. He also hired the photographer to document this quarter’s experience. (In usual times, one of my trusty Merry Band of Tasters captures the breathtaking and charismatic photos that grace the Pressing Report. But he, too, was grounded halfway across the globe.)

José—whose official title is general manager—spent hours with me on Zoom and Skype calls to discuss the olive varieties that were most promising for the ultra-flavorful, high-polyphenol oils I insist on for my Club, and he shipped samples to me like clockwork. The Coratina at Alonso has been consistently excellent for years running; this season it was superlative, and I knew I wanted to build a blend around it.

With samples in hand, I tinkered and tasted until I had created a perfectly harmonious blend—a beguiling balance of aromatics, fruitiness, bitterness, and pepperiness.

Coratina’s intensity goes a long way, so it comprises about 40 percent of this blend. To soften the edges and bring out the oil’s complexity, I added a complement of Arbequina, the fragrant dynamic duo of Frantoio and Leccino (the two varietals are planted and harvested together at Alonso), and a finishing touch of zesty Koroneiki.

I’d liken this verdant, intoxicating blend to a Rhone wine—the whole is indisputably greater than the sum of its parts. When you taste it, I hope you’ll think about the individual components—and the individual people—coming together for this one-of-a-kind collaboration.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Grassy, herbaceous, and complex on the nose, featuring arugula, kale, rosemary, mint, and parsley with touches of artichoke and citrus peel. An intense chicory-like bitterness blooms in the mouth abetted by celery leaves, fennel, kale, artichoke, arugula, parsley, and the spiciness of fresh ginger. Expect a lingering, mouth-warming finish.

This wonderful all-purpose oil would complement chilled summer soup, country-style breads, pizza, white beans, tabbouleh, lentils, grilled meats (beef, pork, chicken), grilled vegetables (eggplant, bell peppers, asparagus, artichokes), caprese salad, oven-roasted chicken with potatoes, pasta tossed with pesto or tomato sauce, charcuterie platters, salmon (see a recipe for Salmon Tartare below), aged cheeses, and chocolate cake or mousse.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: “El Favorito,” Miguel Ángel Molina, Agricola Pobeña, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2020
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

In Chile there is a person whose judgment I trust so implicitly, whose
palate so perfectly aligns with my own, that the Club has created a special label.
This is now the third exclusive oil to appear as “El Favorito”—The Favorite—
which is an homage to the exchange I have every year with the olive oil genius
Miguel Ángel Molina.

Here’s how the scene unfolds:
The Olive Oil Hunter: Miguel, what’s your favorite oil this season?
Miguel: (puts his finger on a sample bottle or draws me a taste from a just-pressed tank of oil)
The Olive Oil Hunter: (concurs)
{The End}

I first met Miguel, the estate manager of the Alonso farm, six years ago. Immediately I sensed the perceptiveness of his palate and admired his meticulous, steady approach to the work. A largely self-taught “olive whisperer,” Miguel is also a master miller with a background in Chile’s fruit agriculture. His early career as a fruit packer informs his expert handling of olives: he is gentle and intuitive, with the understanding that perfect fruit needs special care.

In past seasons I’d tour the expansive groves with Miguel, both of us riding dirt bikes. We’d stop periodically to test certain varietals for ripeness or to join the harvest team in the picking. As this season our visits could take place only in the virtual realm, it helped that I knew exactly what part of the farm Miguel was describing and could envision him buzzing around between the trees.

Miguel was introduced to excellence in olive oil by the incomparable Don Willy at TerraMater, Chile’s oldest olive farm, founded by a trio of Italian sisters in the 1940s. Under Don Willy’s pioneering leadership, TerraMater helped elevate Chilean olive oils to world-class status in the 2000s. From his mentor Miguel learned how to test olives for ripeness, how to mill, and how to create a harmonious blend. He developed and refined his holistic understanding of the olive’s journey from the tree to the table.

Two-and-a-half hours south of the Alonso farm is the town of Talca, where Miguel and his family live. He commutes up on Monday, stays at the mill through Thursday, then journeys back home to spend three days with his wife and children. It is an exhausting schedule, but Miguel is tirelessly and enthusiastically devoted to both his family and his craft.

When I posed the question of “el favorito” this time, on a video call rather than in the familiar surrounds of the mill or amid the silvery foliage of the olive grove, Miguel took a dramatic pause. I was expecting him to say, “Coratina,” as the varietal is always a standout at the Alonso farm. “Picual,” he intoned, with the confidence of a seasoned card player who knows he holds a winning hand. He elaborated (unusual for this man of few words): “It is very difficult to make a great Picual. But this year we have a winner.”

Miguel Ángel Molina and Juan Francisco check the discs of the olive crusher at the Alonso mill. (Modern crushers use discs, hammers, or knives to release the oil from the fruit.) Juan has been Miguel’s right-hand man for the past four years. I’ve enjoyed watching him grow, under Miguel’s expert tutelage. He recently studied at the Alfa Laval campus in Italy to hone his milling skills further. (You can say you knew him when!)

And, as ever, Miguel’s assessment was in exact alignment with mine. I love a very green, early-harvest Picual—the kind I call “pesto in a bottle”—but the Spanish varietal can be tricky, with my desired outcome depending on the fruit (perfect), time of harvest (early), and miller (genius). This Picual was sublime solo, yet I suggested that it could be even more divine with a tiny splash of another oil to highlight its complexity and richness, and Miguel agreed. A whiff (5 percent, tops) of Greek Koroneiki did exactly that. (I am reminded of Churchill’s quip when asked for his recipe for a very dry martini: “Just nod in the direction of France.” With the micro-addition of Koroneiki, you might say we nodded in the direction of Greece.)

When Miguel and I had perfected this third oil—remotely, no less—I was so pleased and relieved I nearly wept. The camaraderie of my Chilean colleagues moved me profoundly throughout this experience, and the fact that, together, we curated a truly spectacular trio of fresh-pressed oils during one of the most challenging periods in recent memory—well, I regard it as a testament to passion, persistence, and partnership. I hope that these emerald elixirs will bring you good health and whet your appetite, all while connecting you to the big-hearted artisans who nurtured and produced them a hemisphere away.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Delightful on the nose, inviting comparisons to spinach, tomato leaf, celery leaves, wheatgrass, green walnuts, basil, microgreens, and kiwi. In the mouth, it’s like a big green bouquet. Mildly but refreshingly astringent, like green tea or walnuts, tempered with the bitterness of arugula. My tasters and I called out raw artichoke, wheatgrass, green apple, romaine lettuce, spinach, rosemary, thyme, and wild mint. Finishes with a flourish of white pepper.

Pair this muscular oil with gazpacho, guacamole, sourdough bread, potatoes, crudités, grilled beef or lamb, roasted duck, oysters or other shellfish, tomato-based salads or salads featuring bitter or minerally greens, ratatouille, pasta puttanesca, plain yogurt, or chocolate cake or ice cream.


Olive Oil and Health

How to (O)live Longer

Some olive oils fight heart disease and cognitive decline. But to get the greatest benefit, you need to pick the right stuff

Reprinted from an article in AARP Bulletin by Clint Carter, April 2020

In normal times, Italians outlive Americans by an average of four years. But in the Sicani Mountain region of Sicily, marked by rolling hills covered with olive trees, the locals live past 100 at a rate more than four times greater than Italy as a whole.

Sicani Mountain villagers eat a Mediterranean diet, snacking on olives and using the fruit’s oil to prepare dinner. As a result, their arteries are as supple as those of people 10 years younger, researchers say.

“We’ve known for 50 or 60 years that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health, but olive oil is emerging as the most important ingredient,” says Domenico Praticò, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple University. Among people in olive-growing regions, the incidences of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even cognitive decline are very low.

How Olive Oil Offers Hope

Praticò and others have been exploring the effect of extra-virgin olive oil, or EVOO, on the brain. They’ve discovered that compounds in the fat of this high-grade oil can flush out proteins that gum up the communication channels between brain cells. That might delay, and even possibly reverse, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

One compound that seems to drive this effect is an olive-derived polyphenol called oleocanthal. In animal studies at Auburn University, oleocanthal demonstrated an ability to “rinse out” amyloids, which form the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. In mice EVOO can “flush out” tau, a protein that hinders language skills and memory in humans.

Buyer, Beware!

But not all the EVOO sold at the supermarket is as potent as the oil that researchers use to “flush out” neurotoxins. In lab tests more than half of imported EVOO purchased at retail failed to meet standards of quality and flavor (a marker of antioxidant content) established by the Madrid-based International Olive Council. In a 2015 analysis from the National Consumers League, 6 in 11 EVOOs obtained from reputable stores such as Safeway and Whole Foods failed the extra virgin test. They were either mislabeled or had degraded during shipping and storage. So what does all this mean? You need to know a few shopping tricks if you want to get all the protection that EVOO offers to the centenarians of the Sicani Mountains.


Kudos from Club Members

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

New Club Benefit!

You Are Invited to Join Our MEMBERS ONLY Private Facebook Group

You are cordially invited to become a Charter Member in our brand-new “MEMBERS ONLY – Fresh Pressed Olive Oil” Facebook group. Your privileges include direct access to TJ, special recipes just for you, behind-the-scenes looks into TJ’s Olive Oil Hunter adventures, and much more. Click the link below and request to join the group. We’ll quickly approve your access, and you can join in the lively (and delicious) conversation!

Recipes

  • Olive Oil-Fried Eggs with Chile and Sprouts Olive Oil-Fried Eggs with Chile and Sprouts This “healthyish” version of huevos rancheros takes only minutes to make and is both satisfying and colorful—perfect for breakfast or a light lunch or dinner. Ingredients 1 cup sprouts (such as sunflower, radish, or alfalfa)1 teaspoon fresh lime juice Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling2 large… view recipe
  • Hangar Steak with Olive Oil and Herbs Hangar Steak with Olive Oil and Herbs Hanger steak—sometimes called bavette—is beefy-tasting and relatively economical. If you can’t find it at your butcher counter (we all have to be flexible these days), substitute flat iron steak. Allow 2 hours for the steak to marinate. Ingredients 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce2 tablespoons soy sauce2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce2 tablespoons maple syrupOne 1-pound hanger steak,… view recipe
  • Olive Oil Martini Olive Oil Martini This unusual libation features a technique professional bartenders call “fat washing.” And once you strain the infused gin, you can reuse the olive oil in another recipe. Saveur quipped that it could (tongue in cheek) be called a “quarantini.” Ingredients One 750 milliliter bottle London dry gin4 ounces (1/4 cup) best quality extra virgin olive… view recipe
  • Shrimp BLT Salad Shrimp BLT Salad With more than 2,500 miles of coastline and cold, temperate waters, Chile hosts one of the most robust aquacultures in the world. Perhaps you have eaten the country’s succulent shrimp, said to be better than that from the Pacific Northwest or Canada. In any case, dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes or… view recipe
  • Salmon Tartare Salmon Tartare Use the freshest salmon you can find for this recipe, which was shared with us by Chile-based olive oil expert Denise Langevin. We prefer wild-caught salmon or farm-raised Chilean Verlasso salmon, available online or at many supermarkets. Ingredients 1 pound boneless skinless salmon fillets, chilled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes1/4 cup finely diced sweet or… view recipe
  • Skillet Lemon Olive Oil Cake Skillet Lemon Olive Oil Cake Ken Gordon, a longtime veteran of our Member Services Team and a talented pastry chef, shared this recipe for a tasty skillet cake that is gluten-free, soy-free, and optionally dairy-free. Ingredients For the cake: Olive oil or butter for greasing the pan2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour1/2 cup blanched almond flour1 cup granulated sugar1 teaspoon baking… view recipe
  • Summer Corn Chowder Summer Corn Chowder This is the perfect soup to make with farmstand sweet corn. If desired, garnish the soup with diced avocado or chopped cooked bacon. Ingredients 2 tablespoons butter2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling1 onion, peeled and diced 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only1/4 cup all-purpose flour6 cups… view recipe
  • Olive Oil Egg Salad Olive Oil Egg Salad We like to mound this salad in the middle of an attractive plate or bowl and surround it with Belgian endive in a flower petal pattern. It makes a lovely keto-friendly appetizer. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped 1 large white onion, peeled and… view recipe
  • Chickpea Salad Chickpea Salad We always have a can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans or ceci beans) in our pantry for a quick side dish or salad. Rich in protein, fiber, and minerals, this is one versatile carbohydrate that satisfies hearty appetites. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil1 tablespoon lemon juice1/8 cup red wine vinegar1/2 teaspoon kosher… view recipe
  • Garden Vegetable Platter Garden Vegetable Platter We are apartment dwellers and don’t have a garden, but we’re always beguiled by the jewel-like colors of just picked produce at the Saturday farmer’s market. When vegetables are this fresh, they only need a quick dip in olive oil. Ingredients 12 small rainbow carrots, preferably with tops, scrubbed3 small heads fennel, ends and tough… view recipe

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Bursting with healthful polyphenols, all have been rushed to you by jet at their peak of flavor and nutritive value.

  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Feature these dazzling EVOOs in regional recipes specially chosen to showcase their vibrant flavors.
  • All are Club exclusives, hand-selected by the Olive Oil Hunter, including a blend of rare Portuguese varietals grown nowhere else on Earth.


As the Olive Oil Hunter, I identify with seekers in life and in literature. And when I’m in Spain, my quest is inspired by the figure of Don Quixote: the enduring knight errant who, accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Sancho Panza, journeys through the world, encountering real and imagined adversaries as well as forces beyond his control. Do I, like Cervantes’ iconic hero, tilt at windmills, believing them to be monsters? Sure. There are certainly olive farms I could call “windmills”—those that taunt me with the promise of liquid gold yet leave me empty-handed. Through it all, my Merry Band of Tasters travel by my side, offering their plentiful wisdom, humor, excellent navigational skills, and discriminating palates.

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

From Antiquity to Ubiquity

Spain is the world’s leading producer of olive oil. Carpeted with an estimated 215 million olive trees (more than a quarter of the world’s olive acreage), Spain produces about 40 percent of the olive oil consumed on the planet. The majority of that production is from Andalusia— specifically, from the province of Jaén (an area about the size of the state of Connecticut), which by itself yields more olive oil than either Italy or Greece.

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

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

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

Quality, Not Quantity

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

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

Mother Nature’s Wrath

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

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

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

Paella Pit Stop

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

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

Don Quixote Strikes Gold

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

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

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

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

Your humble knight lays these treasures at your feet.

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

Cladium Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

T. J., I just had to call and tell you I just received my bottle of Alonso Chilean olive oil, and it’s absolutely delicious and I love it! I’ll very much look forward to receiving many more bottles from you.
Randal CShreveport, LA


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

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

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

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

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

Recipes

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

Quarter 4—Italian and Greek Harvest

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

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

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

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

A “Complicated” Year

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

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

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

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

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

Maneuvering Into Position for a Jack Rabbit Start

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

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

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

It’s Go, Go, Go Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

Lightning does indeed strike twice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

Greetings: I received my first bottle 2 days ago (Picual). I must say that I was amazingly surprised. It was even better than described (which I couldn’t believe). It tasted so fresh and green that it was almost like eating life. Thanks a bunch. I can’t wait for my first club shipment
Albert G.Coos Bay, OR

Recipes

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

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Harvest, No Worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kangaroos and Olives, Too

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

I just had a tasting session of the new olive oils with my daughter. We were so thoroughly and utterly delighted by the oils—I compared them with the two bottles I had bought at a very upscale restaurant here that specializes in olive oil—no comparison. I have never ever tasted olive oils as fabulous as the ones you send. So fresh! Grassy! Alive! Full of nuances of flavors! I am so so so happy I joined! Love you!
Miriyam G.Los Angeles, CA

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