Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

Magic on Your Table: Introducing Three Ravishing, Harvest-Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oils From the Land Down Under

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • This trio of extra virgin olive oils from award-winning Australian producers is exceedingly food friendly and will partner beautifully with the meals you enjoy when the weather cools.
  • Personally selected by the Olive Oil Hunter, these exclusive oils have no equals on supermarket shelves: they are available nowhere else.
  • All have been rushed to the US by jet to preserve their aromas, flavors, and healthful qualities.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.

Greetings—or should I say, “G’day, mate!”— from your Olive Oil Hunter, who has found three stunning Australian extra virgin olive oils from the current harvest for your fall table.

It was fantastic to be back in this vibrant, charismatic country. Its idiosyncrasies—and there are many—charm me. Aussie slang, for example, much of it derived from shortening English phrases: n’erries (no worries); brekkie (breakfast); cab sav (Cabernet Sauvignon).

Its unique wildlife—koalas, kangaroos, and egg-laying mammals like the echidna and platypus. Melbourne’s confounding road rules, including hook turns and P-turns.

I made my first trip to ’Straya in 2005. My motivation for traveling nearly halfway around the world—9,823 miles each way—was (and still is!) the freshness factor. Only in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are the antipodal opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere, could I find extra virgin olive oils this time of year that would satisfy my high standards.

Olives are a seasonal crop, harvested just once a year. Olives grown in the Northern Hemisphere still have months to go before they can be picked. That is why it’s such a joy to share—right now!—oils from Australia’s top producers. You’ll enjoy matching them to your favorite cool weather menus. (You’ll see my tasting notes and food pairing recommendations in the pages that follow.)

Melissa Wong and T. J. Robinson at the South Melbourne Market in Australia.
My longtime friend, the intercontinental foodie Melissa Wong (she’s lived in Canada, China, and Australia), graciously introduced me to one of her favorite markets, the South Melbourne Market. Established in 1867, the cavernous space houses dozens of small businesses selling everything from produce to cannelloni to dumplings. I love turning a shopping expedition into a sensory experience, inhaling the aromas of fresh vegetables and herbs, so many of which match up to the notes in fresh Australian olive oil.

Australian Olive Oil Surprises

Whenever I gift people with bottles of my fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils, the recipients are often surprised to learn that Australia, aka “The Lucky Country,” produces “liquid gold.” But it wasn’t luck that enabled Australian olive oil producers (including the ones I collaborated with this quarter) to win nine gold and four silver awards at one of the most prestigious olive oil contests in the world, the annual New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC). They’re innovative, technically savvy, and above all, passionate.

While the modern olive oil industry in Oz is less than 30 years old, the country has a much longer history with olea europaea (the scientific name for olive trees). In the 1800s, Italian and Greek immigrants, the story goes, smuggled live olive cuttings in their neckties and the inseams of their trousers before they boarded ships. To their delight, the newcomers discovered southeastern Australia’s climactic temperament was similar to that of their homelands. (The country’s opposite latitudes, between 30° and 40°, are friendly to olives.) The oils the immigrants pressed were mostly for home use, as Australia’s European populace at that time preferred to cook with animal-based fats like lard.

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Because Australia produces just 1 percent of the world’s olive oil (nearly all of it—95 percent—qualifies as extra virgin), few Americans have tasted olive oils from this island continent. If you are new to the Club, know how delighted I am to introduce you to these extraordinary oils, produced by some of the most dedicated, detail-oriented producers I have met anywhere. If you are a veteran Club member, you know you’re in for a very pleasant experience!

Chef Kylie Kwong and T. J. Robinson at her restaurant in Eveleigh (Sydney, Australia)
As a trained chef, I have long admired celebrity chef Kylie Kwong. Kylie’s latest venture in the Sydney suburb of Eveleigh is a casual eatery that celebrates her Australian-Cantonese roots. (Kylie also founded the iconic restaurant Billy Kwong, named after her late father. It closed after 19 years so Kylie could focus on the new project.) She is an inspirational chef and has embraced the use of high-quality extra virgin olive oil in her artful and unique Asian dishes.

Featured in this quarter’s trio are oils from the award-winning Victorian groves of Oasis, Kyneton, and Leandro Ravetti. My Merry Band of Tasters and I, driven by my dear friend, Melissa Wong, traveled hundreds of miles in Melissa’s SUV to meet with the producers in person. I first became acquainted with Melissa, a consummate foodie, two decades ago at the Food Network studios in New York City. Today, Melissa lives in Melbourne. With her husband, Robert, she graciously hosted olive oil tastings for me and my team as well as marvelous dinners at her home. She never seemed to tire of squiring me to her favorite markets, cafes, and restaurants. Nearly too many to mention! As the founder of Australian specialty food purveyor AuLife and, more recently, The Good Soup Club, Melissa is well-connected to southeastern Australia’s thriving food culture. For years, she has been invaluable in helping me identify Oz’s best olive oil producers—my trusted “boots on the ground” whenever I need her assistance. (She did yeoman’s duty when travel was restricted.)

I was so happy to see everyone again and to put my own boots on the ground. (I recently invested in a pair of Tasmanian Blundstones—excellent for tramping in olive groves.)

T. J. Robinson and Annie Patterson in Australia
Olive oil producer Annie Paterson is one of the merriest women I know. Hilarity just seems to follow her, even into the posh “members only” ladies’ club where she treated us to an elegant lunch. My Merry Band of Tasters and I couldn’t contain our laughter when Annie described fending off marauding cockatoos (they damage her olive fruit) with a drone. I didn’t realize how very much I’d missed this vibrant woman until we were reunited.

One of the many high spots of our trip was getting together with Annie Paterson, the irrepressible proprietress of Nullamunjie. Dressed in her signature pink sweater and South Sea pearls, Annie hosted a luncheon for me and my Merry Band at the posh Alexandra Club in Melbourne. Annie’s oils have long been Club member favorites, but they were compromised this year by persistent rain and naughty cockatoos, which Annie chased away from her olive trees with a drone. Her telling of the bird story unleashed yet another round of laughter at our table. (We laugh a lot when we’re with Annie.)

Expand Your Taste Library

These sensational extra virgin olive oils will be honored guests at your table, enhancing cooler weather foods like pumpkin and other squashes, braised meats, fresh seafood, fall fruits, charcuterie platters, and more. Meals, from casual suppers to holiday dinners, will become even more festive. And talk about a conversation starter! As you taste, savor, and use these exquisite oils in your seasonal cooking, please remember the proud Aussie producers halfway around the world who helped me put them on your table.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti, Boort, Victoria, 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Picual
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Leandro Ravetti, Boort, Victoria, 2022 Australia Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

As the late, great baseball player Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I’m once again lunching, three years after my last visit, with olive oil
expert Leandro Ravetti in a brick-walled restaurant at the Federal Mills
complex, a very cool mixed-use industrial space (formerly a woolen mill) in the port city of Geelong, some 40 miles southwest of Melbourne. (Geelong, which is near Leandro’s office, is Victoria’s second largest city. It is pronounced “juh-long,” and was originally settled by the Wathaurong, a First Nations people.) Lined up in front of us are three sample bottles of this master miller’s finest extra virgin olive oils from the current harvest, his nominees this quarter for the Club, that if selected, will bear his name. We taste them individually, ritually inhaling their aromas; then “slurping” a small mouthful, a noisy, impolite process that involves drawing air into the mouth as if trying to cool a too-hot spoonful of soup (yes, we do this in public places); swallowing; and finally, evaluating the oil’s finish. Are its flavors fleeting or do they linger? (For more on how to properly taste olive oil, see below.)

The final test—and this is very important—is tasting the oil(s) with food. Leandro and I have both ordered a “power bowl” from the menu: a colorful, gluten-free mélange of roasted pumpkin, quinoa, fennel salad, hummus, and pepitas. (Find a recipe for Pumpkin Hummus on below.) For me, one oil “hit it out of the park,” to continue the baseball reference.

Drum roll, please: it was the Picual. And it was, in my opinion, the perfect candidate for the “mild” position in the Club’s third quarter trio. Leandro agreed.

Leandro Ravetti and T. J. Robinson together in, Boort, Victoria, Australia
Mutual respect has long been the foundation of my relationship with Leandro Ravetti, one of the world’s most renowned olive oil experts. Here, we are dining at “1915” in the popular Federal Mills complex in Geelong. Leandro’s fresh-pressed olive oils are in front of us, including the beguiling food-friendly Picual you’ve just received. It was delightful splashed on our entrees—roasted pumpkin bowls.

If you’re a veteran Club member, you’ll remember that Picual, whether on its own or fronting a blend, has generally occupied the “bold” slot in my global selections over the years. This cultivar’s Spanish progenitors might not recognize its Aussie kin. Though they share that desirable “tomato, tomato leaf” nuance prized by many olive oil lovers, the New World Picual Leandro’s been nurturing is more delicate than its Old World counterparts. In fact, I’ve pegged it as “mild” three years’ running.

I feel a bit proprietary toward the young trees that produced this lovely fruit; I was on site when some of them were planted back in 2015. For olive oil producers—any farmer, really—nearly every year brings its own challenges. This year, Leandro chuckled, snow fell early on Victoria’s Australian Alps, a region that attracts sports enthusiasts from around the globe. The backpackers he hired for the harvest couldn’t resist the fresh powder in the mountains, sometimes giving only an hour’s notice before leaving their jobs to ski or snowboard. On occasion, Leandro resorted to operating the farm’s harvester himself.

Candace Raeside and T. J. Robinson inspecting olive oil tree saplings at the nursery of Leandro Ravetti, Boort, Victoria, Australia
Boisterous laughter seems to be part of the Aussie culture. Here, I share a light moment with Leandro’s colleague, Candice Raeside, nursery manager. We are surrounded by thousands of healthy-looking olive cuttings; they will take about 5 years to mature. Everyone on the farm, from Candice’s crew to the harvest and milling teams, is personally invested in the success of the oils, and they are so proud when they win prestigious international awards!

In hindsight, the timing of my first trip to Oz, in 2005, couldn’t have been better. The Australian Olive Association (AOA), which was founded in 1995 to resuscitate Australia’s olive industry, was just developing traction in its mission, even making introductions on my behalf to some of the country’s up-and-coming producers. Meanwhile, a passionate agricultural student with Italian roots was just finishing up his studies at the National University of Catamarca in Argentina. (That was Leandro, of course.) He did post-graduate work in Italy and Spain before returning to Argentina, where his accomplishments brought him to the attention of Modern Olives in Lara, Victoria. In 2001, Leandro became the technical director of the company, overseeing its olive tree nursery, laboratory, and budding relationships with Australia’s novice olive growers.

No one—least of all, Leandro, who is also an avid cook—could have predicted what an impact he would have on the world’s olive oil industry. Now a much sought-after expert who travels the globe, Leandro was instrumental in convincing producers to print “use by” dates on their oils. He has also railed against subjective marketing terms like “light” or “pure,” and championed some of the highest olive oil standards globally—standards that cannot be ignored by Old World producers. (My wife, Meghan, and I bumped into this intrepid world traveler at the airport when we were leaving Australia for home after a wonderful visit. He was headed to northern California—UC Davis—where he teaches milling and horticultural classes.)

When Leandro and I put our names on a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, you can be assured it’s very, very special. We can’t wait for you to taste this versatile oil on cooler-weather foods.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This Picual is a mono-varietal native to Spain. It is so fragrant you’ll want to dab it behind your ears. You’ll inhale the essence of sun-ripened tomatoes, tomato leaf, fresh-cut grass, butter lettuce, celery, dried tropical fruits, warm baking spices, vanilla, Asian pear, and green peppercorns. On the palate, it continues to dazzle, invoking artichokes, fresh basil, tomatoes, and fennel. Presents just the right amounts of bitterness (walnut skins), spiciness (arugula), and bright notes (lime zest). With a peppery pinch, it bids you a lingering farewell, leaving you longing for another taste.

Exceptionally food friendly, this oil generated a tsunami of pairing suggestions from my tasters: scrambled eggs; granola; pizza and tomato-based pastas or salads; vinaigrettes; bruschetta; charcuterie platters; fresh or mild cheeses; yogurt; sweet potatoes (any potato, really); mild fin fish and shellfish; starches like rice, couscous, and bread; turkey and chicken; quick breads; and vanilla ice cream.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Oasis Olives, Kialla, Victoria, Australia, 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Medium
Oasis Olives, Kialla, Victoria, Australia, 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

With Zoom meetings behind us, I eagerly anticipated my reunion with Oasis owners John and Marjan Symington. I really missed being with them over the last two years, so it was especially exciting for me to be the “boots on the ground” at their expansive—and expanding—farm this year.

With Melissa Wong behind the wheel, my Merry Band of Tasters traversed the 117 miles north from bustling Melbourne to rural Kialla, population sub-7000. The area is the country’s sweet spot for olives with its warm summers, just enough rain, and (usually) mild winters. But when the Symingtons first bought their farm 12 years ago, I don’t think even they could have envisioned the amazing success that lay ahead. At the time, the property was somewhat ramshackle, the groves were a tangle of unkempt trees, and whatever irrigation system had been in place was in disarray.

The small Oasis team brought the trees back to stellar condition with strategic pruning and better irrigation. As longstanding Club members know, it took a mere two years for them to start winning accolades and coveted awards, with the most recent being Grand Prestige Gold at the 2022 Mediterranean International Olive Oil competition held in Jerusalem.

John and T. J. Robinson by the olive trees at Oasis Olives in Kialla, Victoria, Australia
In the field, John and I discussed what made this year’s Coratina olives so special—the longer-than-usual magic window for harvesting. Because the olives developed more slowly, John could be even more meticulous during both harvesting and pressing. John and Marjan are dear friends to a lot of people in the olive oil industry, sharing their knowledge, including the technical side surrounding the best machinery. After all, picking the olives is just the first step—you then have to know how to turn them into liquid gold.

Still, John, whose first career was in IT with its very predictable outcomes, will tell you his second career is far more challenging and also far more emotionally rewarding. You may do everything right, but Mother Nature could still have other plans for you! This year’s harvest, however, presented a happy surprise: The usually very short “magic window” for harvesting was rather long, allowing more time to be meticulous.

The Coratina stayed incredibly green throughout the harvest period, and I loved it so much that the Club selection I proudly present to you is a single varietal: 100 percent Coratina extra virgin olive oil. I asked John whether its extraordinary quality could be attributed to this year’s ideal weather or to his latest equipment upgrade, a new Amenduni mill from Italy. This is one of the most well-respected brands of milling equipment, yet the purchase came with some drama of its own—it had to be shipped in separate cargo containers, the second of which arrived with barely enough time to assemble and test it before the harvest!

“This season was certainly easier for quality than last year, as with colder temperatures, most of the olives stayed green right through to the end of the season,” John said. This was in contrast to last year, when the team had to struggle to keep up with extraordinarily rapid ripening. “The greener harvest was probably something of a reversion to more normal conditions we have had most years on the grove, though with climate change, who knows what ‘normal’ will be in the future?,” John mused.

Never content to sit back and relax, John and Marjan recently purchased the neighboring property. Like their first acquisition, it was in need of a lot of TLC. “The Picual, Leccino, and Arbequina responded well to the care, and we’ll get a reasonable crop next year,” John predicts. He’s adding more Hojiblanca, a Spanish varietal. “My favorite blend is Coratina, Frantoio, and Hojiblanca—we will be able to do that in the future,” said John. He’s also excited about adding another variety to the grove, Del Morocco, renowned for the quality of the fruit it bears. “The oil is really, really good, so I planted it here,” he told me. Stay tuned!

As we drove around the new section in John’s white Land Rover, I felt like we were on safari. I expected to see their flock of sheep—the farm’s 500 “workers” that prune the grass between the olive trees—but not the mobs of kangaroo, as large groups of the animals are called. More exotic still are the echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters—hedgehog lookalikes, but a totally different species of mammal that lays eggs.

Another unusual sight are massive dead trees that look like fantastic sculptures dotting the landscape. Australia doesn’t allow them to be removed because they create nesting places for birds. One was filled with crows, giving it a very stark, almost Hitchcock-esque appearance!

I continue to admire John and Marjan’s quest for perfection and appreciate that they always ask me to send them the trio of oils from the Club’s other quarterly selections. This gives them context and enables them to appreciate what other growers around the world are able to achieve.

John, Marjan, and T. J. Robinson enjoying a meal with fresh-pressed Australian olive oil
With glasses of Australian Shiraz in hand, John, Marjan, and I made a toast of gratitude and appreciation to you, Club members, for whom we pursue our passion—creating the ultimate olive oils. Our lunch reflected the Italian contingent Down Under: antipasto, bruschetta, calamari, and classic panzanella with bread, tomatoes, and onions, dressed in just-pressed olive oil. Like John, Marjan has immersed herself in the world of olive oil for more than a decade and graciously shares her knowledge as president of the Goulburn Strathbogie Olive Oil Association and as a designated associate of the international organization, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

You’ll love this beautiful oil pressed from Coratina olives. The nose is intoxicating. Expect hints of artichoke, green almond, green banana, wheatgrass, lime zest, fresh mint, thyme, and parsley. Take a sip. Notice the appealing bitterness of radicchio and celery leaves, baby spinach, hazelnuts, and the bright, citrusy zest of grapefruit. The finish, reminiscent of Sichuan peppercorns, is pleasantly long, with the astringency of green tea.

Pair this intriguing oil with hummus and other bean-centric dishes; fried eggs; artichokes; pesto; salads made of fall fruits and sturdy greens, such as pears, kale, and blue cheese; avocado toast; roasted root vegetables; risotto; “steak fish” like tuna, salmon, and swordfish; pork, veal, and beef; aged cheeses (plus goat cheese); dark chocolate; brownies; and peasant breads.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Kyneton Olive Oil, Bylands Estate, Central Victoria, 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Correggiola, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Kyneton Olive Oil, Bylands Estate, Central Victoria, 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

“Making olive oil is not just about how much love and care you put into that fruit juice at pressing, but also about how much love and care you give to the trees all year long,” said Mick Labbozzetta, the general manager of Kyneton. Just an hour north of Melbourne, Kyneton has a storied history and expansive grove—I love combining their many varietals to create bold Australian olive oils for you.

I’ve worked with Mick and his team for a half-dozen years now, since his extended Calabrian-Sicilian-Australian family, notably his daughter Melissa and son-in-law Robert Inturrisi, acquired the Kyneton name and assets from the Trovatello family. (Longstanding Club members will remember how delightful their oils were, too, when I worked with them.)

I love Kyneton’s philosophy: “Australian made, Italian heritage.” That’s also a way of life in this area because the region has attracted a large number of Italian immigrants. Being here is like taking a mini field trip to Italy! There are so many producers of delicious Italian specialties—olive oil, cheeses, salumi, to name just three—and they thrive in part because of the vibrant Italian-Australian community.

Mick shared a wonderful example of unity from last year. Kyneton partnered with the award-winning That’s Amore Cheese to celebrate the olio nuovo, the first-pressed extra virgin olive oil harvested at the start of a season. The event included many food producers showcasing their products, making it a wonderful culinary celebration. Besides watching a live olive oil pressing (Kyneton set up a small mill!) and learning about extra virgin olive oil, attendees were able to bid on a charity auction of the first 20 liters of the olio nuovo. Mick was so proud that all the proceeds were donated to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, prescient considered the Australian superstar’s passing this summer.

The farm’s secret weapon is the Italian master miller Davide Bruno, who travels from Liguria to work the harvest and stays afterward to set up the grove for the following year. Davide has a foot in each hemisphere, drawing on both Old World and New World methods and techniques. While he honors his Italian roots, he also believes in taking beneficial modern approaches. These include monitoring the olives at every stage of development, responding to the trees’ needs, and investing in farm-owned harvest and milling equipment, thereby minimizing the time between picking and pressing. He’s also been blessed with a unique sensibility that enables him to determine the optimum time for harvesting—for you, my dear Club members, that translates to maximizing flavor and health-promoting polyphenols.

Davide, Carmelo and T. J. Robinson in the olive groves at Kyneton Olive Oil, Bylands Estate, Central Victoria, Australia
In the field with Davide (center) and Carmelo, I want to celebrate the entire team of people who make it possible to create some of the finest olive oils in the world and share them with you. Carmelo handles the groves all year long while Davide focuses on the pressing and getting trees ready for the following year during his annual three-month sojourn from Italy. Behind us are lush palm trees and a dam—the ace up their sleeve that they can tap into when the weather is too dry.

I’m always mesmerized as I watch Davide at work. He continually follows each batch of olives through processing and rarely leaves the mill—when he does, it’s with a timer in hand so that he’ll never be away for more than precisely two minutes! At his side is Carmelo Tramontana, an Italian ex-pat from Calabria who has lived in Australia for a decade. By Carmelo’s calculations, this year’s harvest was twice the volume of last year’s, a season plagued by heavy rains—even trying to get the harvester through the grove had been a monumental challenge, as it kept getting stuck and required the farm’s excavator to pull it out. This year, there was “Goldilocks” rain—not too much and not too little. Kyneton’s harvest season lasted two and a half months, each day a labor-intensive 6 am to 8 pm (or as late as 10 pm), seven days a week. “You push and you push,” said Carmelo, because the time is finite.

It helps that there’s a decided method to counter the madness of an olive harvest, with the careful planning of varietals that are picked in succession. For instance, Frantoio and Correggiola, which form the essence of my bold selection for you, are pressed first. Then the team moves on to Coratina, whose vibrant green flavor added the perfect boldness to my blend. It was a reminder of the fact that many people still haven’t had the opportunity to experience the zest of an early-harvest fresh-pressed green oil or enjoy its powerful polyphenols. Know that I will continue to tantalize your taste buds with the most extraordinary extra virgin olive oils as I travel around the world with my Merry Band of Tasters!

Mick, T. J. Robinson and Francesco Gatto at the Umberto Expresso Bar.
A favorite part of every trip to Kyneton is sampling the delights at local restaurants and food shops. Each year, Mick loves to take me to a different friend’s establishment, and I love listening to him converse with the locals in Italian—here we are with his friend Francesco Gatto. This trip, the Umberto Espresso Bar made an indelible impression on my taste buds. I savored the breakfast sandwich of bacon and eggs on a perfectly crusty roll with tomato relish and fresh olive oil, and Umberto’s oversized almond croissant was a wonderful taste of France!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My tasters and I were blown away by this powerful Tuscan-style blend. On the nose, it’s green, grassy, and fruity. You’ll be reminded of arugula, endive, wild mint, and fresh chopped culinary herbs. There’s an undercurrent of nuttiness, too. Like walnuts. On the palate, it’s dynamite. Bold, but well-calibrated. This is what emerald green tastes like. Descriptors include artichoke, Swiss chard, walnuts and almonds, escarole, spearmint, and spicy green peppercorns. The finish is long.

Distinctly bold, this oil complements grilled, braised, and roasted meats like lamb, beef, and veal; roasted vegetables, like brussels sprouts and squash; fried peppers and eggs; focaccia; cold-weather soups and stews like cioppino and minestrone; Asian dishes; salads featuring bitter greens; and dark chocolate desserts.


Olive Oil and Health

Mediterranean Diet Significantly Reduces Depression

Reprinted from an article in Science Tech Daily, May 26, 2022

Young men with a poor diet saw a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression when they switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet, a new study shows.

Depression is a widespread mental health issue that affects roughly 300 million people globally each year. It is a substantial risk factor for suicide, the largest cause of mortality among young people. The 12-week randomized controlled trial, conducted by experts from the University of Technology Sydney, was recently published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to lead researcher Jessica Bayes, a Ph.D. candidate at the UTS Faculty of Health, the study was the first randomized clinical trial to examine the influence of a Mediterranean diet on depressive symptoms in young males (aged 18 to 25).

“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet,” Bayes said. “Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame.”

“It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression,” she said.

The link between food and mood

The research contributes to the emerging subject of nutritional psychiatry, which seeks to investigate the impact of particular nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns on mental health. The study’s diet was rich in colorful vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, as well as oily fish, olive oil, and raw, unsalted nuts.

“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh whole foods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar, and processed red meat,” Bayes said. “There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis.”

“To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables,” she said.

Roughly 30 percent of depressed patients fail to adequately respond to standard treatments for major depressive disorder such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressant medications. “Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable, and worthwhile they found the intervention,” Bayes concluded.

Reference: Bayes J, Schloss J, Sibbritt D. The effect of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in young males (the AMMEND study): a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022;116(2): 572-580. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac106


Kudos from Club Members

Instead of flowers, send oil!
TJ, I just want to let you know I just received my bottle. I opened it and took a spoonful right away even though it’s only 8:30 in the morning, but I didn’t care, I had to taste it. And you are right, it is amazing! I will be sending your oils as gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, and Christmas instead of flowers. Because your olive oil has the perfect bouquet! Thank you so much for caring enough to make perfection.
Laura H.St Louis, MO

Recipes

  • Ma'amoul (Date-Filled Cookies) Ma’amoul (Date-Filled Cookies) These buttery date-filled cookies featuring olive oil hail from the Middle East—potentially from ancient Egypt—and are an unexpected addition to holiday cookie trays. Ingredients 1/3 cup roasted, salted pistachio nuts, chopped 1/3 cup pitted whole dates, chopped 1/4 cup apricot spreadable fruit preserves or jam 1/2 teaspoon orange zest 1 cup white whole wheat flour… view recipe
  • Baby Bok Choy Baby Bok Choy Looking for a simple side dish for an Asian-influenced meal? We love baby bok choy. You could substitute rapini or broccoli florets if baby bok choy isn’t available. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 pound baby bok choy, stalks separated, washed and spun dry 1/4 cup fresh orange juice 2 tablespoons natural rice… view recipe
  • Baked Salmon with Basil and Garlic Baked Salmon with Basil and Garlic A quick romp in an olive oil-based marinade for as little as 30 minutes, a brief stint in a hot oven, and dinner is served! If desired, serve with the Braised Fennel and Lentils. Rice or couscous work well with the salmon, too. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets, skin off Coarse salt (kosher or… view recipe
  • Zucchini Bolognese Zucchini Bolognese No, it’s not a typo. You really do cook zucchini for 4 hours for one of the most unctuous iterations of this vegetable we’ve ever encountered. The foodie website “delish” claims Meghan Markle shared this pasta dish with them before she married into the Royal family. Regardless, we were impressed when we made it for… view recipe
  • Pork Schnitzel Pork Schnitzel with Giardiniera Duck into almost any pub in Australia, and you’ll find schnitzel on the menu—chicken, beef, or pork. “Schnittys,” though nicked from European immigrants, are now one of Oz’s iconic foods. Giardiniera is a versatile Italian condiment that can be used as an antipasto or on eggs, sandwiches (a must-have on Italian beef), and even hot… view recipe
  • Greek Lamb Chops (Paidakia) Greek Lamb Chops (Paidakia) Melbourne, a sister city to Thessaloniki, is home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Greece and Cyprus. It’s no wonder, then, that the local cuisine thrums with Hellenic influences. Ingredients 8 large lamb rib chops 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for searing and serving 6 cloves garlic, crushed with… view recipe
  • Prawn Tacos with Asian Slaw Prawn Tacos with Asian Slaw Nagi Maehashi is one of Australia’s most popular food bloggers. We were inspired by her recipe for tacos made with prawns, and paired them with one of our favorite Asian cabbage slaws featuring extra virgin olive oil. Ingredients For the prawns: 1 pound large prawns or shrimp, peeled (tails, too) Zest and juice of 1… view recipe
  • Roasted Cauliflower Soup Roasted Cauliflower Soup Silky and rich-tasting (though it contains no cream), this is one of our favorite fall soups. Ingredients 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into bite-size florets 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for garnish Fine sea salt 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced1 quart… view recipe
  • Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki My wife, Meghan, and I often order souvlaki (both chicken and lamb) during our stays in Oz. We present it as an appetizer here, but it can easily become a main course—especially when served with a Greek salad and pita. Ingredients For the chicken and marinade: 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2 cloves garlic,… view recipe
  • Turkish Shepard's Salad (Çoban Salatasi) Turkish Shepard’s Salad (Çoban Salatasi) If you find dicing vegetables and chopping herbs relaxing, you’ll enjoy making this healthful salad. It makes a great accompaniment to grilled meats. Find sumac and Aleppo pepper online or at well-stocked spice stores. Ingredients 1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and diced 1 European (English) or 4 Persian cucumbers, diced 1 green or red pepper,… view recipe

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

Three Incredible Extra Virgin Olive Oils from the Chilean Harvest for Your Warm-Weather Dining Pleasure

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • Enticingly fresh, these sensational just-pressed olive oils from award-winning producers are the perfect complement to summertime menus. They’re game-changers!
  • All three are Club exclusives, hand-selected in Central Chile by the Olive Oil Hunter.
  • All were rushed to the US by jet to preserve their amazing flavors, intoxicating aromas, and healthful antioxidants.
  • An independent lab has certified all three to be 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.


Awaiting takeoff, I rechecked my electronic ticket. Yup. Confirming Santiago International Airport, SCL in airline parlance. This was my first trip—highly anticipated—since 2019 to one of my favorite olive oil destinations.

Finally, the band was getting back together. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

“The band,” of course, refers to my Merry Band of Tasters, the trained palates that helped me select this quarter’s beautiful trio of premium olive oils and so ably channeled me when I was grounded by the pandemic. Joining me and my wife, Meghan, in Chile were Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, a world-renowned olive oil expert from Rome, my longtime friend and logistical genius Tjeerd Beliën, who divides his time between the Netherlands and Canada when he’s not traveling, and Chilean olive oil expert and judge Denise Langevin. (Read more about Denise below.)

Reunited!

It was thrilling to see each other in person once again. We instantly picked up the threads of our friendship as if we’d never been apart, reminiscing about our shared experiences and memories of past trips. Food is never far from our minds, either—particularly foods that can be enhanced with extra virgin olive oil. We’re not shy about putting our own just-pressed oils on tables everywhere, from casual roadside eateries to fine dining establishments such as celebrity chef Francis Mallmann’s Fuegos de Apalta, where we lunched one afternoon.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, and Francisco “Paco” Vañó
What? No Zoom meetings on the calendar? Finally…my Merry Band of Tasters, represented (right to left) by Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, Tjeerd Beliën, and Denise Langevin, were able to join me in one of the world’s best olive growing regions (Central Chile) for the recent olive harvest. The reunion underscored how important these friends and colleagues are to me and how integral they are to the achievement of my goal: to deliver to your doorstep the world’s most extraordinary and unique extra virgin olive oils.

Above all, we prize invitations to eat at family tables—something I dearly missed when I was unable to travel. We enjoyed several such feasts, where a stimulating exchange of ideas always takes place, including one where we met octogenarian Abel Alonso for the first time. Abel is the patriarch of the Alonso clan, which has been producing premium extra virgin olive oil for more than a decade. On the menu? Smoked salmon, a mâche salad, ripe tomatoes, avocados, a Chilean take on shepherd’s pie, and a refreshing array of fresh fruits for dessert.

A Magnificent Triumvirate: The Farmer, the Miller, the Taster

This quarter, I’m paying homage to the extraordinary people whose efforts put these oils in your hands: The trio includes the farmer (el agrónomo, Juan Carlos Pérez); the miller (Miguel Ángel Molina); and the taster (Denise Langevin). All play critical roles in the olives’ journey from tree to bottle.

You would be hard-pressed to find Chilean oils on US grocery store shelves. Few Americans have tasted them. When I first visited this skinny-as-a-necktie country in 2005, I fell in love with the way farmers were putting a New World spin on Old World olive varietals, particularly in Central Chile, with its Mediterranean-like climate. I’ve been sharing my antipodal finds with Club members ever since. Lamentably, the cost of building their own brands was too high for some of these olive oil pioneers, forcing them to sell their oils to the bulk market. It saddens me, as there were award-winners among them. The protracted lack of rainfall hasn’t helped.

The Best Olive Oil Producers Prevail, Overcome Challenges

Wherever my Merry Band and I went, the topic of water—and its scarcity—came up. Officially in its thirteenth year, the “mega-drought,” as it’s called by NASA, is the worst in more than 1,000 years. Consequently, this year’s olive fruits are smaller and drier, decreasing yields. The water stress has, however, raised polyphenol levels—a good thing. Fortunately for you and me, rain fell on the Agricola Pobeña farm at an opportune time—days before the harvest—practically a miracle!

Of all the relationships I’ve cultivated during my tenure as the Olive Oil Hunter, few are more important to me than the one with world-renowned Italian olive oil expert Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. I’ve learned so much from him, especially about blending. When we toured the olive grove above (note both the snow-capped Andes in the background and the cactus, evidence of Chile’s diverse climates), Duccio had been in the country for several days to help me select the most promising olive farms and varietals.

The producers I work with practice extreme water conservation, collecting water whenever possible and limiting evaporation. For example, Olivares de Quepu pays for rights to snowmelt channeled from the Andes. A reservoir services the Agricola Pobeña olive groves; the farm has even been known to engage in extreme pruning of trees to reduce water needs. And it’s not only rural populations that are affected. Officials in Santiago, a city of 6 million people, are anxiously watching water levels in the Maipo and Mapocho Rivers and developing contingency plans.

Happily, the exceedingly dry weather has not diminished Chile’s breathtaking fall beauty. Late one afternoon, I witnessed the sun setting on the magnificent Andes, bathing its imposing peaks with pink and orange light. (As the Pacific does on the west, the Andes range protects the eastern borders of this remarkable country, even helping the directionally challenged—me!—keep their bearings. Andes on the right? You’re heading north.)

Whether you’re a charter member or new to the Club, I hope this timely collection of sensational extra virgin olive oils from award-winning farms bring summer joy and good health to you, your family, and friends.

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 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Koroneiki, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection, Agricola Pobeña,
Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

After a drive through the parched countryside from Santiago, catching sight of Agricola Pobeña, the expansive, award-winning farm managed by the Alonso family, was akin to Dorothy seeing the Emerald City. I was delighted—almost giddy with anticipation—at the thought of being able to sit down next to Denise Langevin instead of comparing tasting notes through Zoom as we had during the pandemic.

Club members know that Denise is a luminary in the olive oil world, crisscrossing the globe to judge at the most prestigious competitions. She’s in constant demand because of her technical skills and discriminating palate—she has an enviable taste memory! Denise had just returned from the 19th Olive d’Or Competition presented in Montreal by SIAL Canada, organizers of the country’s largest food show, and it was fun to hear her impressions of recent international offerings.

International judge and renowned olive oil authority Denise Langevin brings her discriminating palate to global competitions, as seen here, as well as to working with our Club to create the best Chilean oils for our members. She’s as passionate as I am about crafting unique blends—I’m thrilled to tap into her knowledge and also to be able to call her my friend.

As the leading Chilean authority on olive oil, Denise has been an invaluable part of my hunt for the very best EVOO for three years now, though we’ve known each other for much longer. She is passionate about her connection to our Club, proud to be part of our mission, and excited to help showcase her country’s finest oils in another elixir bearing her name. For all her professional stature, Denise is warm, gracious, down-to-earth, and generous of spirit. She just started a healthy food movement, complete with a vegetable garden, at one of the schools in the town of Rancagua, near her home. Her goal is to teach the children about fresh foods by getting their hands in the soil—they will grow a dozen vegetables! It’s a program she hopes to expand to help combat the country’s child obesity crisis.

First on the agenda for my Merry Band of Tasters and me was enjoying a beautiful lunch with Denise and our Chilean olive oil family. That always includes Juan José and Ignacio Alonso, brothers who together took on the job of creating and running the olive farm their father Abel bought for all five of his children.

No matter how many times I return to the Pobeña farm, I always marvel at the fact that one property can have so many diverse microclimates, each imparting unique qualities to its olive oils and, in turn, to the distinctive blends I create for the Club. We spent several hours experimenting to find the perfect combination of flavors—ultimately, a blend of two Spanish Arbequinas, gathered from different areas of the farm. Combined in equal amounts, the Arbequinas are enhanced by a big splash of Koroneiki, a Greek varietal, and just the right amount of Coratina, an Italian varietal, to give this blend its distinctive personality and broaden its flavor profile. This is what gets me so excited about the Chilean olive oils: we have the ability to put together cultivar combinations unheard of in the Old World and deliver them to the Northern Hemisphere in time to enliven the summer’s bounty.

Denise is an amazing chef—the pandemic kept me from enjoying her delicious sun-dried tomatoes last year, so she made a double batch as part of the lavish lunch she prepared for me and my Merry Band of Tasters. Being at her home near Rancagua gave us the chance to share and compare flavor and aroma impressions about the oils in person. I love fresh, herbaceous notes in our olive oils yet also appreciate how freshly dried herbs enhance dishes. Let Denise’s drying method inspire you to make your own and have them handy for recipes.

We couldn’t wait to test-drive Denise’s signature blend at Fuegos de Apalta, the restaurant of fire-obsessed Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann. It’s an extraordinary restaurant, nestled in the most exquisite setting—the center of the Montes winery. We shamelessly drizzled the oil we’d brought with us on five-star dishes such as charred eggplant, skirt steak with vegetables, roasted beets with grapefruit and cheese, and pork with grilled cabbage and mustard. Divine!

The oil’s dazzling versatility was in full bloom a few days later when we journeyed to Denise’s house for a spectacular four-course meal she and her husband Luis prepared. We started with large green olives stuffed two ways—with blanched almonds or jamón, all marinated in the Denise Langevin Exclusive Selection—and Denise’s own sun-dried (and slightly warmed) tomatoes on bruschetta, topped with the oil. We next drizzled it on silken asparagus soup, our wonderful second course.

The entrée was a luxurious prime rib, prepared in a special Chilean broiling oven. We anointed the carved slices with the oil—a delicious counterpoint to the crusty edges of the beef. The oil also dressed both a warm spinach salad with bacon, walnuts, and blue cheese, and a second salad of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I’d ever tasted and a mix of greens that, like the spinach, came from Denise’s own garden—a splash of red wine vinegar added the perfect acidic note. Dessert was an indulgent platter of six different French and Chilean cheeses with syrupy vinegars from Denise’s journeys to France—the olive oil, so fruity, was perfect on the younger cheeses. We were all blown away by the oil’s mild yet complex, full flavor and how it enhanced every dish in a different way. And now it’s your turn to savor it!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This blend is fresh and clean, rather sweet on the nose (think vanilla and dried banana), presenting fresh-cut grass, green apple, pear, lettuce, almond, and wild mint. The fresh, sweet impressions continue in the mouth, joined by parsley, thyme, sweet pea shoots, lime zest, and the well-balanced spicy/bitter notes of escarole and baby arugula.

Pair this mild but nuanced oil with scrambled, fried, or hard-cooked eggs; simple pasta dishes (including pasta salads); chicken; mild fin fish, lobster, or shrimp; fresh mild cheeses; salads made with tender greens or avocados; stuffed or sautéed mushrooms; peas, carrots, green beans, sweet corn, summer squash, or asparagus; white beans; rice or other grains; fresh fruit smoothies; yogurt or ice cream; melons; bread or focaccia; or sweet baked goods, such as quick breads.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

El Agrónomo, Agricola Pobeña, Comuna de La Estrella,
O’Higgins Region, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The Olive Oil Hunter is proud to feature for the second consecutive year a signature extra virgin olive oil named “El Agrónomo” to honor the work of one of Chile’s most talented young agronomists, Juan Carlos Pérez. (Agronomy requires extensive knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, economics, earth science, genetics, mathematics, ecology, research protocols, and other related disciplines. Whew!)

His colleagues at Agricola Pobeña respectfully refer to Juan Carlos as “the boss of the farm.” Quiet, with a humble demeanor, you’d never assume he carries on his shoulders the responsibility for 1,100 acres of olive trees and the success of the harvest. (You must have great fruit to make great olive oil!) On a typical day, he tours the property, establishes work-related assignments, and meets with his team, which swells to 80 people during the harvest. He is the final arbiter of which olives get picked, and when.

The story of how Juan Carlos found his current position is an interesting one. After graduating from college, he worked for Olave, a pioneer in Chile’s olive oil industry, as well as another well-known farm in the fertile O’Higgins region in Central Chile. While some people would appreciate the security of working for well-established companies, after 14 years, Juan Carlos craved new challenges. He longed to get involved with an olive farm that was being built—quite literally—from the ground up.

Suspended between the Olive Oil Hunter and Juan Carlos Pérez, the agronomist at Agricola Pobeña, is a bin of beautiful olives. Juan Carlos masterfully orchestrates the harvest, identifying for each varietal (often even for each microclimate) the optimal time for picking and milling to create superb oils. I like to call this period the “magic window” and feel so fortunate that my visit coincided with it this year.

As a matter of fact, that ground, well-suited to growing olive trees, was conveniently located directly on the other side of the fence. Yes, the newly acquired property of the Alonso family was adjacent to the land owned by Juan Carlos’s employer. Intrigued, he tracked down a phone number for the family and made a cold call. He reached Juan José Alonso (aka “Juanjo,” with a soft “j”). The two Juans hit it off immediately. Their conversation lasted more than an hour, Juan Carlos said, ranging in scope from business topics to the best places to surf on the nearby Chilean coastline.

The timing was perfect. Juanjo was eager to hire an experienced, quality-driven agronomist before varietals were selected and olive trees planted, and Juan Carlos found the “from scratch” opportunity appealing. After consulting his family, Juan Carlos accepted the job. He was eager to put all he had learned into practice and to help the farm, now known as Agricola Pobeña, avoid the mistakes he had seen other olive oil producers make.

For years, I have worked with the second generation of the Alonsos at Agricola Pobeña—brothers Ignacio (left) and Juanjo (not pictured). Vicente Alonso (center) represents the third generation. His characterization of fresh Picual (“just born”) will make a great memory.

Today, Juan Carlos has a dozen Agricola Pobeña olive harvests under his belt. Water shortages have accompanied all of them. Though the farm has a 55-acre lake, two reservoirs, and 20 wells, the prolonged drought is worrisome to everyone involved in Chile’s agricultural community, especially those sectors that require large quantities of water. (Five pounds of avocados, for example, require an estimated 63 gallons of water.) To capture and conserve water, Juan Carlos’s team has dug earthen trenches to channel run-off and direct the water to their groves. Currently, new tree stock is often planted in more traditional formations to give the roots more room to search for moisture. Last year, some trees were drastically pruned—Juan Carlos called it the “bonsai” treatment—to reduce their water consumption.

Thanks in no small part to Juan Carlos’s dedication to promoting tree health, the farm’s per-acre yield of olives has remained consistently high. Agricola Pobeña’s strategy (which I heartily endorse) is to maximize oil quality by picking the olives while relatively green, a technique known as “early harvesting.” The olives’ oil content is typically lower at this point of the growing season, but an abundance of fruit helps compensate. Early harvest oils typically have a higher concentration of healthful polyphenols as well as more vibrant flavors and aromas.

Though only 30, Juan Francisco González has been with Agricola Pobeña for more than a decade. For the past two years, he has managed the farm’s state-of-the-art mill. His diligence, patience, and dedication to quality, with which I am well-acquainted, were rewarded recently when Agricola Pobeña was named one of the world’s top 20 producers by the prestigious publication Flos Olei.

I had the opportunity recently to visit the Pérez family home, where Juan Carlos lives with his wife, Romina, and two young daughters, ages 5 and 14. A tour of the couple’s amazing garden confirmed what I already knew—Juan Carlos is blessed with a green thumb! I have never seen such a magnificent backyard plot, replete with fruit trees, walls of living succulents, herbs, vegetables, and lettuces that are lovingly nibbled by a pet rabbit. Naturally, there are olive trees on the property as well; Juan Carlos boasts that his daughters have been consuming olive oil since birth. The family loves olive oil on salads, tomatoes, bread, and a dish made with corn called humitas—very popular in Chile.

I can’t wait to hear how you and your family use this splendid oil. Juan Carlos is so proud to have one named after him that will be enjoyed by discriminating Americans.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

Intoxicatingly green on the nose, this blend evokes wheatgrass, Tuscan kale, almond, lettuce, spinach, basil, chicory, green banana, celery, apple, and green tomato. In the mouth, my tasters enjoyed the oil’s herbaceous qualities (“pesto in a bottle”), as well as tomato, artichoke, dark leafy/bitter greens, and rosemary. Expect a kick of black peppercorns on the long, complex, well-balanced finish. It blurs the line between “medium” and “bold.”

This oil is full-flavored, robust enough to complement a wide range of foods. Pair it with grilled vegetables (it’s wonderful with fire-roasted brussels sprouts, sweet corn, celery root, fennel, or cabbage); charcuterie platters; pizza; tomato-based salads or pasta dishes; tuna, salmon, or arctic char; lamb; pork; duck; beef or veal; stronger-flavored cheeses; pesto or herbaceous sauces like chimichurri; bruschetta; and dark chocolate.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Don Miguel, Olivares de Quepu, Maule Valley, Chile 2022
  • Olive Varieties: Favolosa, Picual, Arbequina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Don Miguel, Olivares de Quepu, Maule Valley, Chile 2022 Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

The saying goes that there are just six degrees of separation between each of us, but when it comes to my world of olive oil, I say it’s more like just two or three! This selection, named for Miguel Ángel Molina, the master miller with whom I worked to bring you this amazing, unlikely combination of oils, is the perfect example of such close connections.

Longtime Club members know Miguel as the genius behind previous selections that bore the name “El Favorito,” the favorite of the man whose palate perfectly aligns with my own. In each of those harvests, we were in complete agreement over the farm’s crown jewels—I’ve called him the olive whisperer for years.

The three amigos! This year’s trip to Chile was remarkable because I was able not only to work hand-in-hand again with master miller Miguel Ángel Molina (left) but also to realize my long-held desire to introduce you, my dear Club members, to ultra-premium olive oil from the Quepu farm. Álvero Ignacio Ried Roncagliolo (right) is at the helm of a team whose passion is to grow the olives needed for the highest quality artisanal oils.

Those exclusives were created when Miguel was with the Alonso family farm—he would diligently drive the two and a half hours north from his home in Talca for the workweek, then drive back to spend weekends with his family. When all our lives were upended by the pandemic, Miguel knew he didn’t want to be away from his family on a regular basis anymore. Talca lies within Maule Valley, the southernmost of Chile’s renowned wine-making regions, and also happens to be the location of one of its most forward-thinking olive farms, Olivares de Quepu, run by the talented agronomist Álvero Ignacio Ried Roncagliolo. Álvero brought on Miguel to manage the mill a year and a half ago, starting the journey that ultimately led to this outstanding selection for the Club.

Álvero, too, has deep roots in Talca, where he studied agronomy before earning a master’s degree in business innovation and entrepreneurship in New Zealand. His return to Chile was perfectly timed—Chilean olive oil was just about to step onto the world stage. When Álvero first joined Quepu and embraced their mission of creating ultra-premium olive oils, he visited Old World producers around the Mediterranean to learn from global generations of experience. And because Álvero believes in nurturing talent, he arranged for Miguel to go on a similar journey of Mediterranean mills. Miguel’s knowledge of olives and olive oil deepened even further after he worked with a leading miller in Portugal for an intensive six-week harvest.

Great olive oil starts with the fruit in the grove, says farm manager Manuel Barrera, and I couldn’t agree more. These olives are quite literally the fruits of his labor—he planted the trees himself! As we toured around, Manuel explained how he continually monitors growing conditions and makes tweaks to maximize the bounty from the farm’s olive trees.

I’m just as impressed by Quepu’s company-wide commitment to the land. After each pressing, the olive pits are dried and sold as biomass fuel, and the other organic byproducts are composted and put back into the earth in a virtuous circle. Farm manager Manuel Barrera shared these details when my Merry Band of Tasters and I toured the farm with him, the late afternoon light creating a tapestry of colors on the slopes. He and Miguel work hand in glove, because great olive oil starts in the grove. “Most people think olive oil is made in the mill, but it’s more about the farm and the fruit because if you have bad fruit, you have bad oil,” said Manuel. “We must analyze the conditions continually and make adjustments when there’s not enough rain.”

Another amazing aspect to Quepu is how they’ve handled water needs. As Club members know well, water is ever scarce in Chile, where the drought is in its thirteenth year. Though olive trees need less water than other crops—3,000 cubic meters per hectare compared to 6,000 for grapevines, 9,000 for nuts, and a whopping 12,000 for cherries—they still need it. When Quepu was established, they were able to buy access to the Pencahue water channel that runs from the snow-capped Andes some 80 kilometers away. It runs partly underground, under the nearby Lircay River and under roads. Water storage in the farm’s own reservoir allows Quepu to meet the changing climatic conditions.

Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left)
We lunched at the nearby Parrilladas Caupolicán after crafting our unique Club blend. No tasting is complete without drizzling it on delicious dishes, like these wonderful grilled meats and sides. There’s nothing more convivial than sharing a meal, and I can’t wait for you to share “Don Miguel” at your table this summer.

Of course, the proof of all these efforts is in the pudding or, in this case, the oil. Working with Miguel, I created a unique blend of Favolosa, Picual, and Arbequina, refined over the course of many tastings. I’m especially pleased about the inclusion of the Favolosa varietal, which we’re bringing to you for the first time.

We’d been looking forward to working with the talented Quepu team for many years, and my elation at realizing that dream by presenting you with this alluring and food-enhancing extra virgin olive oil is best echoed in Álvero’s words: “I’m so happy and excited for Club members to taste all our efforts in every drop of this olive oil.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

My tasters and I realized we were about to experience a powerful oil when from our tasting glasses wafted the unmistakable scents of artichoke, tomato leaf, celery, fennel, and frisée, underscored with the nuttiness of almonds and hazelnuts and the concentrated sweetness of dried stone fruits. In the mouth, the bitterness of chicory, radicchio, dark greens, celery leaf, and walnut skins harmonized with the spiciness of green peppercorns, watercress, and, surprisingly, cinnamon and bay leaf.

Play up this assertive oil’s best qualities by serving it with aged cheeses; cured meats; salads featuring bitter greens and toasted walnuts; padrón or shishito peppers or other chiles; oily fish like sardines, mackerel, or bluefish; shakshuka; game meats; spicy stews or soups; chargrilled steaks or beef or lamb kebabs; grilled or sautéed onions or leeks; broccoli or broccoli rabe; and chocolate mousse.


Olive Oil and Health

Fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil provides multiple health benefits

Polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil, on its own and as part of the well-studied Mediterranean Diet, has demonstrated significant positive effects on the body and mind.

Heart: Consuming more than 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil a day translates to a “14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 18% lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Replacing 5 grams a day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil was associated with 5% to 7% lower risk of total CVD and CHD.”1

Brain: The Mediterranean Diet has positive effects for “both cognitively impaired and unimpaired older populations, especially on their memory, both in the short and long run.” Plus, boosting the diet with additional intake of foods “such as extra-virgin olive oil…might have a more significant impact on the improvement of cognitive performance among seniors.”2

Gut: EVOO lowers levels of bad bacteria and stimulates good bacteria: “The gut microbiota and health of the intestinal environment are now considered important factors in the development of obesity, metabolic disease, and even certain neurodegenerative conditions via the gut-brain axis. Recently, data are emerging which demonstrate that the health-promoting benefits of EVOO may also extend to the gut microbiota.”3

Biological Aging & Bone: People who stick more closely to the Mediterranean Diet “are on average almost 1 year biologically younger than their chronological age, as compared to those with low adherence,” thanks to its polyphenol-rich foods like extra virgin olive oil. Polyphenols are also linked with higher bone mineral density. “In particular, high consumption of extra-virgin olive oil leads to lower risk of osteoporosis-related fractures.”4

Skin: Olive oil works well in beauty formulas and may enhance your skin because it “provides a safe and stable emulsion delivery system. The antioxidant activity of olives makes them a candidate for moderating the effects of the aging process on the skin by limiting biochemical consequences of oxidation.” Simple translation: It seems to help guard against the ravages of the environment.5

References:

  1. Guasch-Ferré, M., et al. “Olive Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk in U.S. Adults.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 2020; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2020.02.036.
  2. Klimova, B. et al. “The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Cognitive Functions in the Elderly Population.” Nutrients, June 2021; doi: 10.3390/nu13062067.
  3. Millman, JF, et al. “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and the Gut-Brain Axis: Influence on Gut Microbiota, Mucosal Immunity, and Cardiometabolic and Cognitive Health.” Nutrition Reviews, December 2021; doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa148.
  4. Esposito, S., et al. “Dietary Polyphenol Intake Is Associated with Biological Aging, a Novel Predictor of Cardiovascular Disease: Cross-Sectional Findings from the Moli-Sani Study.” Nutrients, May 2021; doi: 10.3390/nu13051701.
  5. Gonçalves, S. and Gaivão, I. “Natural Ingredients Common in the Trás-os-Montes Region (Portugal) for Use in the Cosmetic Industry: A Review about Chemical Composition and Antigenotoxic Properties.” Molecules, August 2021; doi: 10.3390/molecules26175255.


Kudos from Club Members

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


Recipes

  • Olive Oil Cake with Honey Yogurt Cream and Strawberries Olive Oil Cake with Honey Yogurt Cream and Strawberries Moist and fairly dense, this fruit-inflected cake is a perfect grand finale to a warm-weather meal. Blueberries can stand in for strawberries. Ingredients 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan 1 1/2 cups almond flour (about 5 1/4 ounces) 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking… view recipe
  • Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint Grilled Carrots with Avocado and Mint If possible, buy fresh just-picked carrots with the tops still on (you can always make pesto out of the tops). There’s no need to peel them as the skin is thin and tender. Ingredients 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons honey 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil… view recipe
  • Grilled Broccoli Rabe with Salsa Rossa Grilled Broccoli Rabe with Salsa Rossa Broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) is a deliciously bitter green closely related to turnips. To ensure tenderness, the stalks are blanched, then grilled. You’ll find the Salsa Rossa pairs well with many green vegetables—green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc. Ingredients For the Salsa Rossa 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed) Pinch of hot red… view recipe
  • Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Verdant and bold-flavored, chimichurri is one of South America’s finest contributions to the world’s sauces. If available, buy “outside” skirt steak, which is considered superior in flavor and tenderness to “inside” skirt steak. Or substitute flank steak or flat iron steak. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak For the marinade 1/4 cup extra virgin olive… view recipe
  • Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Herb Sauce Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Herb Sauce While we always prefer wild-caught salmon, Chilean Verlasso salmon (farm-raised) is also very good. Feel free to substitute black bass, red snapper, or lionfish if salmon is not available. Ingredients 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional) 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced 1 cup chopped tender fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, and/or basil 1… view recipe
  • Beet and Goat Cheese Salad Beet and Goat Cheese Salad You can turn this colorful salad into a main course by adding cooked shrimp. Substituting golden beets for the more familiar red will prevent your hands from staining. Ingredients 1/3 cup sliced almonds 8 ounces beets (red or golden), cooked and peeled 3 ounces goat cheese 4 ounces baby arugula 1 navel orange 3 tablespoons… view recipe
  • Siracha and Lime Corn Salad Siracha and Lime Corn Salad This salad is also excellent when made with grilled corn. Simply lay the husked ears on a hot grill grate and grill, turning with tongs, until patches of brown appear. Slice the kernels off the cobs before proceeding with the recipe. Ingredients 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels sliced off the cobs 4 tablespoons extra… view recipe
  • Lemony Pea and Spinach Soup Lemony Pea and Spinach Soup A generous drizzle of fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil before serving gives this soup richness (we love its jewel-like color). Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 2 medium leeks, trimmed, white and green parts halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced and rinsed (about 4 packed cups) 2 celery stalks, trimmed and… view recipe
  • Garlic and Lemon Aioli with Fresh Asparagus Garlic and Lemon Aioli with Fresh Asparagus This is a recipe my wife, Meghan, and I enjoy as an appetizer when asparagus is in season. We use a Microplane to grate the lemon zest and garlic. Ingredients 1 bunch fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, preferably thicker stalks1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon fresh and finely grated lemon… view recipe
  • Black Bean Dip Black Bean Dip We love appetizers that can be assembled quickly. This recipe uses ingredients you likely have on hand. No fresh jalapeños? Pickled ones can be used, too. Ingredients 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 2 small yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped 4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped 1 to 2… view recipe

Quarter 1—Spanish and Portuguese Harvest

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

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • From award-winning family-owned groves, these amazing creations have been rushed to you at their peak of flavor and nutritive value.
  • All are Club exclusives, including a blend of rare Portuguese varietals grown nowhere else on Earth.
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Feature these stunning EVOOs in regional recipes specially selected to showcase their vibrant flavors.

¡Hóla! ¡Saludos desde España, saudações de Portugal! In my dreams I’m writing this from Barcelona, nibbling a velvety slice of my favorite jamón Ibérico—or from Porto, sipping its namesake wine, perched at the westernmost edge of what was once considered the “known world.”

The Iberian Peninsula—modern-day Spain and Portugal—is my preferred source, this time of year, of ultra-flavorful, harvest-fresh olive oils. Lamentably, in spite of optimistic plans to resume in-person quests as the Olive Oil Hunter, I was unable to travel to the recent Iberian harvest.

When I’m in Spain, my quest is invariably inspired by the story 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.

As I’ll elaborate below, it was time to rewrite Cervantes, pandemic-style. But first, let me give you the lay of the land…

Iberia, Liquid Gold Mine to the World

The ancient Greeks named it Iberia, the fist-shaped land mass encompassing Spain and Portugal. Sturdy olive trees, introduced first by the Phoenicians and Greeks, have thrived in its sunny, dry climate for thousands of years. Large-scale olive cultivation exploded in Iberia
(renamed Hispania) under the shrewd business management of the Roman Empire, whose citizens prized olive oil from Hispania above all. (Records of olive oil exports from Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region, can be traced to the reign of Julius Caesar, in the first century BCE.)

Today, carpeted with an estimated 215 million olive trees (more than a quarter of the world’s olive acreage), Spain produces the most olive oil of any country on earth. The majority of that production is from Andalucía—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.

Portugal, in contrast to Spain, occupies a distinctly “boutique” niche; its rocky, forested terrain is home to rare, indigenous olive varieties cultivated nowhere else on earth.

T.J. Robinson, The Olive Oil Hunter, and Francisco “Paco” Vañó
On behalf of our Club I’ve cultivated relationships with some of the finest artisanal producers in Spain, including my good friend and mentor Francisco “Paco” Vañó, one of the pioneers of ultra-premium Spanish olive oil. Here, in a photo from a few seasons back, Paco and I survey his expansive Castillo de Canena groves, located near the city of Baeza in the province of Jaén. A deeply knowledgeable olive oil authority and a perpetual innovator, Paco was just appointed president of the Spanish Association of Olive Oil Producers.

Crunching the Numbers: 0.5%

With its massive production volume, Spain supplies olive oil to much of the globe, including its neighbors. If you pick up a bottle of “Italian” olive oil of uncertain provenance, there’s a good chance it’s mostly Spanish oil with a label that says “Italian.” Most of the Spanish yield is bulk oil that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. From my first scouting trip to Spain, in 2005, I have cultivated relationships with the pioneers of ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil production in Spain. In the past I’ve estimated that such quality-focused innovators represent only about 1 or 2 percent of the total.

But when I actually crunched the numbers a few weeks ago, I arrived at an even tinier ratio: the Spanish artisans who produce competition-style EVOOs even approaching the exacting standards of our Club are fewer than 1 in 200. Half a percent, tops—and we know them personally.

Ingenuity and Collaboration

While I, as a grounded Don Quixote, was tilting at Zoom windmills, Sancho Panza led the way on the ground in Europe. Draft in another compadre—dub him “Pancho Sanza”—to depict how my Merry Band of Tasters and I managed, a world apart, to create the incredible trio of Iberian olive oils you now have before you. (Call me “Don Remot-e.”)

Over the past two years, Club members have been introduced to two of my dearest friends and charter members of the Merry Band of Tasters, Tjeerd Beliën and Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. Tjeerd, a gregarious Renaissance man who speaks six languages, traversed the Spanish and Portuguese countryside in a well-appointed RV. Duccio, a world-renowned olive oil expert based in Rome, met up with Tjeerd at the producers’ groves. I trust them both implicitly to channel my palate and preferences.

Ahead of the harvest, I consulted with my old friend, mentor, and longtime collaborator Francisco “Paco” Vañó, maestro of the Castillo de Canena groves in Jaén. Paco reported that Spain had experienced a very hot and dry season, with a peculiar effect on the olive trees’ flowering and fruit: even though plenty of blossoms appeared, in many cases the fruit did not develop. Olive oil yields in Spain were down by almost half compared with last year. Paco, ever ingenious, has implemented multiple water-sparing measures at the Canena groves to ensure consistently excellent EVOO, no matter the weather. Likewise, the innovative family team at Finca Gálvez transcended the challenges of the season to produce superlative oils.

Celso Madeira and his son Filipe and TJ Robinson
Over two decades, Celso Madeira and his son Filipe have transformed an abandoned, ancient olive grove on their family’s land in rural Portugal into a thriving, award-winning boutique farm. At age eighty-eight, patriarch Celso continues to look toward the future—even while quarantined, he managed to purchase new equipment and some land on the sly. I can’t wait to be together again, toasting another successful collaboration over a delicious dish like this one, a hearty Portuguese soup drizzled with harvest-fresh olive oil.

Portugal also endured a cruel season of drought. Yet our friends at CARM, with groves in the mountainous Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro region, reported an excellent harvest. I am honored to share these unique indigenous Portuguese varietals—olives grown nowhere else on the planet—with our Club.

Tjeerd and Duccio tasted oils on site at the groves and overnighted their favorite samples to me. We conducted tasting and blending sessions over Zoom, calibrating the ratios until we had created three absolutely spectacular oils.

As you open these exclusive creations and inhale their lively aromas, take a moment to reflect on the dedicated, passionate artisans behind the scenes. Read on for more details about the award-winning producers; instructive tasting notes for each of the oils; and mouth-watering, regionally inspired recipes to enhance your enjoyment of these Iberian beauties!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Marquês d’Almeida, Filipe de Albuquerque Madeira, Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Portugal
  • Olive Varieties: Negrinha, Madural, Verdeal, Cobrançosa
  • Flavor Profile: Mild
Marquês d’Almeida Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I am thrilled to once again offer Club members a phenomenal extra virgin olive oil pressed from rare varietals native to a remote province of northern Portugal, an otherworldly region whose name means “beyond the mountains.”

Thought to be one of the oldest dominions of prehistoric man on the
European continent—perhaps where Neolithic hominids made their last stand—Trás-os-Montes, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, is starkly devoid of the modern references we use to define our positions on the space and time continuum. Though just 4.5 hours from the bustle and cacophony of Lisbon, a sighting of hobbits would not be entirely unexpected. More common are wolves and foxes!

It seems improbable that agricultural products could thrive on the steep, rocky slopes that dominate the landscape, and yet, declares olive oil producer and winemaker Filipe Madeira, some of the world’s best fruit is grown in the terroir of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, including wine grapes, citrus, almonds, and olives. Here, the earth’s crust is shot through with schist (xixto in Portuguese), a flaky, compressed metamorphic rock created in the process of mountain formation, which sustains plant life by trapping rainfall and snowmelt between its porous layers.

I wonder if the word “schist” was in Filipe’s vocabulary some 20 years ago when his father, Celso, announced he wanted to restore to productivity familial land that hosted olive groves?

Recalled from his medical studies in Italy, Filipe quickly assumed stewardship of the olive trees, some several hundred years old. The fi rst harvest, he told me when we first met in 2012, was nightmarish, requiring him to forgo sleep for days. He was in constant contact with a technician in Italy who was proficient with the newly installed milling equipment, literally telling Filipe which buttons to push and what knobs to turn as he pressed the olives. Astoundingly, the family’s oils began winning awards immediately, even sweeping Portugal’s prestigious OLIVOMOURA competition.

Like all the top producers I work with, Filipe is devoted to pressing the finest olive oils possible, methodically making adjustments in his fields and in his mill. (Because of the rugged terrain, the olives are picked by hand.)
Since my last visit in 2020, he has added a Rapanelli crusher (the machine that turns the olive flesh to a paste before the oil can be extracted) to his line, which he is eager to compare with his Mori crusher in controlled olive oil trials during the next harvest. He also added a new decanter to the mill, which helps him process the olive fruit even faster.

Apparently, Filipe isn’t the only person authorized to make purchases. In a recent Zoom call, Filipe related how he noticed a significant shortage in the family’s accounts. When he investigated, it emerged that his 88-year-old father, though quarantined at the time, covertly bought five tractors and a plot of land that complemented the family’s holdings. “He kept it a secret from me!” laughed Filipe, a mix of love, exasperation, and pride in his voice. The new acquisition, located on a high plateau with a lake, was a worthy one, Filipe admitted; the water will give him unprecedented control over the trees as they mature and bear fruit by allowing him to irrigate. The plot is already nurturing young trees. Readying it for cultivation was no easy undertaking: Several feet of loose rock had to be excavated and pulverized before planting could begin.

Another ambitious project is also underway, says Filipe—the opening of a spacious olive oil and wine center in the nearby village of Almendra. (Filipe is renovating what was essentially a ruin, an effort that will not go unappreciated by the community.) Milling of the olives will continue to take place at the farm, but bottling will be transferred to the new state-of-the-art facility, eliminating some tasks that have been performed manually.

Filipe Madeira and Tjeerd Beliën
Though Filipe Madeira (left) was stunned when his 88-year-old father, Celso, purchased a nearby plot of land without consulting him, he admits it has the potential to be a great investment. He wasted no time in planting the plateau with Cobrançosa seedlings, a rare olive varietal native to Portugal. For the first time, Filipe, shown here with Tjeerd Beliën, will be able to irrigate his grove (notice the lake in the background). The white plastic sheaths at the base of each tree protect the vulnerable plants from rabbits.

Rainfall—and its timing—is often an issue here, as it is elsewhere in the Mediterranean. (I wasn’t able to work with Filipe last year as the olives weren’t up to our exacting standards. The trees likely needed time to recuperate from 2020’s excellent harvest.) This year, the trees flowered profusely, but unseasonably high temperatures affected fruit formation. The harvest was later than usual, but the yield was much better than expected.

And the quality? Outstanding! This is one of the most genial olive oils in my memory. It blooms fragrantly and deliciously when introduced to food. I can’t wait for you to taste it.

Marquês d’Almeida Vineyard and Tjeerd's camper van
You can almost hear the gears grinding as my longtime friend and colleague Tjeerd Beliën maneuvers his motorhome through the rocky, rugged terrain that defines the Portuguese province of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro. For obvious reasons, olive groves here must be harvested by hand from the steep terraced hillsides. Irrigated trees are rare. Most have to draw water through their roots from the porous schist (flaky, mica-like rock) that’s common here.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

A blend of four olive varietals native to Portugal (Negrinha, Madural, Verdeal, and Cobrançosa), this oil is a rare treat. On the nose, it’s redolent of green apple, lettuce, kiwi, mint, baby spinach, lemon, almonds, and vanilla. In the mouth, it exhibits the sweetness of ripe pear along with fennel and spinach. The mild bitterness of walnuts, endive, and lime zest gives it balance. The finish blooms with green tea astringency and the spiciness of celery leaves and white pepper.

This oil’s affinity for food is phenomenal. Try it with the Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup found below. It also complements bread; mild cheeses; eggs; poultry; salads featuring Marcona almonds or walnuts; rice; white beans; mild fi n fi sh; shellfi sh; simple pasta dishes; steamed, grilled, or roasted vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, peas, or farmer’s market finds; or quick breads like the one below.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

How has Francisco “Paco” Vañó orchestrated his “best harvest in memory” when—in the same conversation—he laments, accurately, that for most growers the recent Spanish olive harvest “has been a disaster”?

Let’s start at the (modern) beginning. Paco, with his sister Rosa, founded Castillo de Canena in the early 2000s, staking a claim as one of the pioneers of high-quality EVOO production in Spain, focused on early-harvest oils. Their first efforts, bottled in 2003, immediately raised the bar to new heights, and ever since, Castillo de Canena has set the standards for ultra-premium olive oil across the globe. The farm was named “Best Olive Oil Company in the World” in 2016 by Flos Olei, the guide to the world’s best olive oils, and has been named to the Flos Olei Hall of Fame, one of only seven olive oil producers worldwide to receive the honor.

I met Paco in 2005, on my very first trip to Spain, and over the years our friendship has developed and deepened my own understanding of what makes an olive oil producer great: consistency. As Paco has said, nodding to Mother Nature’s unpredictability, “It’s not a matter of making the very best oil in the world. That is simply not possible, every year. The point is to make consistently excellent oils, year in and year out.”

Consistent excellence requires continuous innovation. In December 2019, the Castillo de Canena team began the construction of a brand-new mill. When I use the term mill (almazara, in Spanish) in this context, I don’t mean just the equipment that crushes the olives and extracts the oil, although that machinery itself is, in fact, the mill. What Paco and his team have unveiled, with full functionality as of this harvest, is a breathtaking olive oil temple: the building has an exterior of sleek white stucco, with burnished metal trim that resembles aged wood, and the ceilings within are up to 30 feet high. The eventual goal is to have three olive presses, each representing a top company (Alfa Laval, Pieralisi, and Westfalia), making Castillo de Canena the very first producer to house all 3 under one roof.

The previous building—which, mind you, produced oils celebrated as among the best in the world—was the size of my first New York apartment, less than 600 square feet. You practically had to stoop to walk around; Paco described its heroic feats, chuckling fondly, as “Homeric.” In the earliest days, the mill ran only one production line, and in 2007 they added a second. The new mill already has three lines up and running and next season will add a fourth. I could hear the relief in Paco’s voice as he proclaimed, “This harvest was so much easier, so much better.”

Mariela Chova Martínez and Duccio
As the Quality Control and Food Safety Supervisor at Castillo de Canena, Mariela Chova Martínez oversees all the factors that go into producing ultra-premium EVOO, including the daily harvest ripeness index—which olives are ready for picking; classification of the oils; cleanliness of the pressing facilities; and temperature control, critical for preserving polyphenol content and aromatic potential in the oils. Here, in front of the sparkling new mill, Mariela and Duccio review her records of the day.

Multiple lines allow the harvest team to mill different batches of olives simultaneously, which gives them more control over what I call the “magic window,” the narrow period of time when the olives are at their peak of polyphenol content and flavor.

Overseeing the entire process, from tree to tank, is Paco’s right-hand woman, “olive master” Mariela Chova Martínez, who has worked with Castillo de Canena as the quality control and food safety supervisor since 2010. In the spring, Mariela follows the olive development in each plot: the first blossoms appear in April or May; then, as soon as the tiny olive fruits emerge, usually in June, the team initiates irrigation and monitors even more closely. Trees are watered once a week from June through August, and two or three times a week from September until harvest time.

During the harvest, the tireless Mariela works both in the mill and in the groves. A warm, upbeat presence, she is in constant contact with the team in the field to detect and troubleshoot any problem, and each morning she samples and evaluates the batches produced on the previous day, directing the pressings to specific tanks based on their quality parameters.

Francisco “Paco” Vañó and T.J. Robinson
When I’m in Spain, award-winning producer Francisco “Paco” Vañó and I usually cap off my visits to his mill, Castillo de Canena, with a delicious meal at a local restaurant to celebrate our collaboration and to toast the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. Paco has great admiration for our Club members, whom he esteems as true connoisseurs of early-harvest, ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil. ¡Salud!

My scouts on the ground, Tjeerd and Duccio, reported that they were smitten with multiple Arbequina oils, harvested on different days from separate microclimates. Excited, I proposed to Paco that we create an Arbequina blend—mingling separate pressings of the same olive varietal helps to bring out complementary aspects of its flavor profile. We’ve created a charming, spirited, extremely food-friendly oil. You, my Club members, will be the first (and only) Americans to savor these exclusive fruits of Paco Vañó’s “best harvest in memory.”

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings 

This well-calibrated oil pressed from a stellar harvest of Arbequina olives makes a lovely first impression on the nose. Enjoy the olfactory interplay between grassiness, green banana, tomato, orange peel, black pepper, and fresh thyme and oregano. Repeats the sweetness of banana in the mouth, accented by cashews, tomato leaf, tingly Szechuan peppercorn (polyphenols!), wild mint, and vanilla. The protracted finish is symphonic—bitter, spicy, and elegant.

Pair with whole grain or savory breads; bruschetta; cheeses like Manchego or Idiazabal; cured Spanish jamón; roasted Marcona almonds; lamb chops; pork; tuna or salmon; tomato-based soups like gazpacho; grilled artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks, or Swiss chard; salads featuring nuts, citrus, kale, watercress, endive, or arugula; chocolate; and vanilla ice cream or yogurt.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Finca Gálvez, Jaén, Andalucía, Spain
  • Olive Varieties: Picual
  • Flavor Profile: Bold
Finca Gálvez Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Label

I will always remember my first visit to the Gálvez family’s olive groves and beautiful mill. The year was 2005. I had only recently founded the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club and was eager to meet brothers José and Andrés Gálvez, who were themselves relatively new to the world of olive oil. I recall how excited they were when they learned their oils would be in the hands of discriminating Americans. (They still are!) Who could’ve predicted that almost two decades later, we’d still be collaborating on the top-tier olive oils the brothers produce and that have become favorites among my Club members?

During a lengthy Zoom reunion we organized recently, José and I (Andrés was unable to join us, unfortunately) pondered the fact that we have, in effect, grown up together.

It has been very gratifying for me to watch the brothers evolve into the skilled, confident, and highly respected artisanal olive oil producers they are today. Their oils have earned many prestigious awards in multiple countries, including the International Olive Council-sponsored Mario Solinas Quality Award, and have often been named among the top 20 oils in the world by the authoritative guide Flos Olei.

The family’s journey to the winner’s circle began in 1999. Recognizing there was an emerging niche market for premium Spanish extra virgin olive oils, the family purchased two olive farms in the Guadalquivir River Valley, near the ancient town of Bailén. (The Guadalquivir is Spain’s only navigable river and supports millions of olive trees—the largest manmade forest in the world). José, who’d always planned to join the family masonry business when he graduated from college, was tapped to manage the new enterprise with the help of Andrés, whose natural aptitude for engineering and mechanics has been invaluable. An aside: José later returned to school to learn everything he could about olives and olive oil production.

Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left)
The established olive groves the Gálvez family purchased in 1999 were planted in a
traditional manner that may be unique to Spain. Three seedlings are grouped together and radiate out from a central point like the spokes on a wheel. This gives the trees open, well-aerated canopies. Occasionally, it’s necessary to replace a member of the cluster. Tjeerd (right), Andrés (center), and Duccio (left) discuss the merits of this method.

Called Los Juncales and La Casa del Agua, both farms hosted olive trees—some over 150 years old—that had been planted in groups of three, with about 30 feet separating each cluster. Though it’s no longer in favor with modern producers, the formation allows for wide, grassy paths between the rows that help retain moisture and nutrients and that are friendly to the region’s abundant wildlife. (To these groves, the family added a third that is more densely planted.) The family’s holdings now exceed 5,000 acres.

Early on, José recognized the key to achieving the family’s goal of producing premium olive oils was control. Major investments were made in an imposing stone-and-brick state-of-the-art mill as well as a sophisticated irrigation system serviced by deep wells. (Only about one-third of Spain’s olive trees are irrigated, which attests to the Gálvez family’s commitment to quality.) Upgrades and improvements to both the building and equipment are routine at Finca Gálvez. I’m looking forward to touring the new addition to their mill when I’m able to resume my visits.

Andrés Gálvez and T.J. Robinson
During a visit in 2017, Andrés Gálvez proudly gave me a tour of the light-filled classroom the family added to the mill to develop through education the public’s appreciation for premium olive oils. Their classes, often led by area chefs who use the brothers’ olive oils in their restaurants, are popular with locals and visitors alike. To my right is an impressive collection of framed olive oil awards, a testament to the family’s achievements. I wonder if, in my absence, they have run out of wall space?

José and Andrés are careful, however, to keep their primary focus on the fruit. (After all, what good is an expensive set of cookware if inferior ingredients are used to prepare the meal?) To the extent they can, the duo does everything possible to ensure the best crop of olives, monitoring the trees’ needs throughout the growing season and the harvest.

This year, the brothers’ considerable skills and experience were put to the test.

There were two challenges: lack of rainfall—zero fell during a six-month period—and blistering hot temperatures, some in excess of 100 degrees. The trees received periodic rations of water that continued through the harvest, the latter a first for Finca Gálvez. José was as stressed as the trees, confiding during our call that he’d lost nearly 15 pounds before the last batch of olives was pressed. (Stress, as you may recall from past Pressing Reports, can actually be good for olives, as it helps develop and concentrate aromas and flavors.)

But once again, the duo triumphed over circumstances that might’ve defeated lesser producers. Their amazing Picual is proof positive that these guys really know what they’re doing. This luscious oil, the boldest in our trio, is complex but exceptionally well balanced. It will hit your palate like a potent, invigorating spring tonic, as you’ll find out when you taste it.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

This stunning oil, pressed from Picual olives, is like pesto in a bottle! Basil and pine nuts mingle in the tasting glass, along with rosemary, spinach, parsley, arugula, black kale, celery, and kiwi. On the palate, anticipate the bitterness of radicchio and the spiciness of arugula and black pepper. Note the astringency of green tea and green apple skin, their edges softened by hints of wheatgrass, tomato leaf, bittersweet chocolate, and culinary herbs like tarragon, rosemary, and celery leaf.

Straight from the bottle, this oil makes an outstanding sauce for a variety of foods. Try it with pizza or rosemary-topped focaccia; grilled or roasted meats; seafood stews; fried eggs; grilled beefsteak; paella; tomato-based pasta dishes; salads featuring radicchio, endive, or green beans (see the Spanish Tuna, Potato, and Green Bean Salad below); broccoli rabe, cabbage, fennel, and other stronger-flavored vegetables; green smoothies; and dark chocolate, especially chocolate mousse with sea salt.


Olive Oil and Health

Can Small Amounts of Olive Oil Keep Mortality at Bay?

Adapted from an article by Susanna Larsson in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, January 20, 2022.

Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which is also abundant in plant foods. High adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. For CVD, the association with the Mediterranean diet appears most attributable to olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

In the January 2022 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a team of investigators reported results from a study of olive oil consumption and risk of all-cause and cause-specific death in 2 cohorts of more than 90,000 US women and men.

In this large, well-designed study, with long-term follow-up and repeated measurements of dietary intake and other risk factors for diseases, participants who reported the highest olive oil consumption—half a tablespoon or more per day—had a 19% lower risk of all-cause death, 19% lower risk of death from CVD, 17% lower risk of death from cancer, 29% lower risk of death from neurodegenerative disease (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s), and 18% lower risk of death from respiratory disease (such as COPD), compared with those who never or rarely consumed olive oil, after adjustment for known risk factors and other dietary factors. Lower daily olive oil consumption, up to 1 teaspoon, reduced the risk of all-cause death by 12% and death from CVD, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases significantly as well. The authors subsequently performed substitution analyses and found that replacement of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with olive oil was associated with a reduced risk of mortality. However, substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, safflower, and soybean oil) did not confer a reduced mortality risk. This suggests that vegetable oils may provide similar protective benefits.

A novel finding of this study is the inverse association between olive oil consumption and risk of neurodegenerative disease mortality. Alzheimer’s disease is the major neurodegenerative disease and the most common cause of dementia. The authors found a significant 27% reduction in risk of dementia-related death for those in the highest vs lowest category of olive oil consumption. Considering the lack of preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and the high morbidity and mortality related to this disease, this finding, if confirmed, is of great public health importance.

Reference: Guasch-Ferré M, Li Y, Willett WC, et al. Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022;79(2):101–112.


Kudos from Club Members

Loyal members
The Italian oils you recently sent us are our second delivery from you. We’ll be loyal members ever onward! I thank you especially for the Pressing Report: you write humanly and humanely. Rather than a corporate presentation, you bring us to the people, trees, and soil, with all of their ecological and life-continuing concerns. I truly thank you for this enthusiastic, informative, and multifaceted report.
Cynthia W.Milton-Freewater, OR


Recipes

  • Asparagus and black pepper Asparagus and Crispy Bean Salad with Manchego This is a great use for canned cannellini beans (or use garbanzos). Sprinkle with Spanish smoked paprika, if desired, before roasting. Ingredients One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed Coarse salt (kosher or sea) 8 ounces fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use Freshly ground black pepper… view recipe
  • Pork Marbella Pork Marbella Both salty and sweet, this savory dish riffs on Chicken Marbella by substituting pork tenderloin for chicken. (Please do not confuse small pork tenderloins, usually about a pound each, for pork loin, which is a much larger cut.) Ingredients For the chimichurri marinade/sauce: Two 1-pound pork tenderloins 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1 cup dry white… view recipe
  • Marinated Rib-Eye Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Marinated Rib-Eye Steak with Chimichurri Sauce Called chuletón in Spanish, these rib-eyes can be cooked indoors or out. To get more mileage (aka servings) from the steaks, thinly slice them on a diagonal after cooking and shingle on a large platter with the chimichurri sauce. Ingredients For the chimichurri marinade/sauce: 2/3 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley,… view recipe
  • Sea Scallops with Romesco Sauce Sea Scallops with Romesco Sauce Though we have published recipes for romesco sauce in the past—this iconic sauce is awesome with vegetables, especially the calçots we have enjoyed in early spring in Barcelona—we had never thought to pair it with seafood. Ingredients For the romesco: 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating the vegetables 1 red bell… view recipe
  • Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms Eggs are indisputably popular in Spain, with each Spaniard eating 237 eggs per year on average, according to the latest statistics. Here is a keto-friendly recipe that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a tapa. My wife, Meghan, and I like to give the eggs a final drizzle of extra virgin olive… view recipe
  • Spanish Tuna, Potato and Green Bean Salad Spanish Tuna, Potato and Green Bean Salad Similar to a classic French niçoise salad, this Iberian version uses fresh tuna steaks rather than tinned tuna. Enjoy it for lunch or a light supper. We wouldn’t say no to a glass or two of txakoli or other dry Spanish white wine. Ingredients 2 tuna steaks, each about 6 ounces Extra virgin olive oil,… view recipe
  • Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup Spicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup Cabbage is ubiquitous in Portuguese vegetable gardens and on Portuguese tables. This flavorful soup reminds me of the wonderful meals I’ve enjoyed at Filipe Madeira’s table, nearly all featuring cabbage in some guise. Ingredients 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced 8 ounces cured Spanish… view recipe
  • Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts While fresh spinach is preferred in this popular Catalonian dish, which can be served as a side dish or appetizer, feel free to use frozen leaf spinach. Ingredients 1 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach (stem, if the spinach is more mature) 1/4 cup water 2 tablespoons pine nuts 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2… view recipe
  • Zucchini with Onions, Garlic, and Oregano Zucchini with Onions, Garlic, and Oregano Zucchini was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs and is a specialty of Murcia. The following recipe, though simple, makes a great accompaniment to roasted chicken or grilled meats. It is important to keep the heat low to achieve a soft, delicate texture. You can turn the zarangollo into a meal by the… view recipe
  • Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Skillet Banana Bread Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Skillet Banana Bread We love the unexpected combination of dark chocolate, ripe bananas, and olive oil in this visually-appealing skillet dessert. Top, if desired, with whipped cream or a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream, the latter drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Ingredients 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, regular or Dutch… view recipe