Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

Chile is Agriculturally Gifted, But the Epic Drought Continues

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

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

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

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

Precious Relationships with Experts Pay Dividends Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh Summer Produce, Meet Fresh EVOO

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

How to (O)live Longer

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

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

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

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

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

How Olive Oil Offers Hope

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

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

Buyer, Beware!

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


Kudos from Club Members

“I now get most of my oil from T. J. Robinson’s Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, and every time I open a bottle, my kitchen literally fills up with the smell of fresh crushed olives—the scent explodes out of the bottle. Just breaking the seal transports me to Italy or Spain or Chile.”
Larry OlmstedNew York Times bestseller Real Food / Fake Food (Algonquin, 2016)

New Club Benefit!

You Are Invited to Join Our MEMBERS ONLY Private Facebook Group

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

Recipes

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

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

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

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


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

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

From Antiquity to Ubiquity

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

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

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

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

Quality, Not Quantity

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

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

Mother Nature’s Wrath

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

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

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

Paella Pit Stop

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

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

Don Quixote Strikes Gold

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

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

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

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

Your humble knight lays these treasures at your feet.

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

Cladium Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

My husband and I really enjoyed your Cannellini Bean and Gorgonzola Bruschetta recipe last Friday night in front of the TV, with a simple salad also using your fine olive oil….It was delicious and a nice change from our usual pizza night! I can really notice the difference and quality of your oils vs the store-bought ones…so thanks again.
Lois and Bill S.Tampa, FL


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

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

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

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

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

Recipes

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