Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

This Harvest, No Worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kangaroos and Olives, Too

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

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

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

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


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

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

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

Realized Dreams, Despite Prolonged Drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

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

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

The Rime of the Olive Oil Hunter

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

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

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

“It’s an Entirely Different Product”

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

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

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

Heading South

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

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

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

Three Single-Varietal Stunners

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, December 7, 2018 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

First let me say that your olive oil is one of the best things that has happened to us in the last ten years. We are SO happy with this membership—the olive oil is top quality and we enjoy the recipes and descriptions of how our oil came to be and from whence it came. One of our favorite things to do is enlighten our friends. Without fail, they are as astounded as we were to realize that they had never before tasted the good stuff! (I know you have at least two other memberships from these private tastings.) There are five large-ish humans in our household and all are now olive-oil snobs. We run out between shipments. I would like to add an additional membership to our same address… but of the smaller bottles. That way we never run out… and if there is extra, we have the perfect hostess gift (and can continue spreading the good word.)
Gianna M.Manhattan Beach, CA

Recipes

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