Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Chile, Why Now?

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

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

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

And Why This Producer?

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

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

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

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

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

Liquid Gold, Meet Summer Produce

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

WOW! Fantastic tasting oils like we’ve never had before. I gifted some to my son and his comment was “This oil is insane!”—meaning he was delighted. Just wanted to tell you what a fabulous product you have.
Christine S.Silverdale, WA

Recipes

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

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

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


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

Of Pandemics and Peninsulas

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

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

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

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

The Ultra-Premium Pioneers

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

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

The Merry Band Steps In

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

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

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

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

EVOO Connects Us

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

Finca Galvez Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

Cladium Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

Castillo de Canen Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

Heart health: Mediterranean versus low-fat diet

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

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

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

Heart disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

I just wanted to share again how much I have enjoyed being a part of the club. I have given 3 friends a taste of your product and so far, 2 have joined. My favorite seed catalog came this week and I am ordering vegetable and herb seeds to go with my oils. Taking a sample to my friends who raise gourmet garlic and I’m betting they’ll be joining too. I love the oils but almost as important is the love of sharing them. I am having a delightful time. Thank you.
Lynden C.Union, OR


Recipes

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