Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Quarter 1—Spanish Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

The Rime of the Olive Oil Hunter

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

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

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

“It’s an Entirely Different Product”

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

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

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

Heading South

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

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

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

Three Single-Varietal Stunners

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

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

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

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

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Second Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


This Quarter’s Third Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings

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

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


Olive Oil and Health

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

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, December 7, 2018 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kudos from Club Members

The oil arrived yesterday and I opened it and used it on my salad. Words cannot describe. I am delighted and look forward to receiving more oil in the future. Thank you for sourcing this out and making it available. pssst—since no one else was around, I even licked my plate clean—yummy!
Joy C.Salem, OR

Recipes

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

Quarter 4—Italian Harvest

My Italian Treasure Hunt Was a Great Success! Presenting Three Spectacular Just-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oils That Defied Mother Nature

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter

  • The growing season and 2018 harvest were marred by wind, rain, temperature extremes, and even pestilence. But some producers prevailed, and I found them!
  • Hailing from Tuscany, Sicily, and Abruzzo, these hand-selected, ultra-avorful oils are certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Introducing a Club first—olive oil pressed from Dritta olives, which grow near the Adriatic Sea. You won’t find this oil—or the others, either—on supermarket or gourmet shelves. They are available no where else.
  • Rushed to you by jet to preserve their flavors, perfume, and healthful polyphenols. See my tasting notes, suggested food pairings, and seasonal recipes below.


Greetings Olive Oil Lover,

Ciao! I am writing from the road. So determined was I to secure three of the world’s best fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils for your table that I haven’t slept in my own bed for weeks. But if you enjoy these extraordinary polyphenol-rich Italian olive oils as much as I think you will, it’s all been worth it.

Victory was certainly not assured this quarter. (Is it ever?) With the help of my longtime friend and colleague, Roman olive oil consultant Duccio Morozzo della Rocca, I was able to monitor growing conditions in Italy starting in February. The news was not encouraging. Snow and hard frosts damaged groves.

The month of May unleashed punishing heat, scorching tender new buds and flowers. Like a tornado, Mother Nature’s caprice spared some olive varietals while decimating others. Frantoio, the drupe that gives Tuscan oils their distinctive flavor profile, was especially hard hit. One of my favorite producers—Fratelli Giganti from Siena—lost their entire crop.

My Response to “the Worst Italian Harvest in 20 Years”

There were other threats to the developing olives as the year progressed. Low-lying coastal groves were plagued by the olive fly, which flourished in summer’s heat and humidity. I crossed several destinations off my itinerary. (In Puglia, the region that forms the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, production is estimated to be half of what it was last year.) Early fall brought devastating rain and wind storms.

World-renowned olive consultant Duccio Morozzo has long been my eyes and ears on the ground, particularly in Italy. Strolling the historic streets of his native Rome on the eve of our visits to select growers, Duccio recounts for me the enormous challenges they faced during the 2018 growing season. We review our strategy (see a summary at left), confident the strong relationships we’ve built over the years will once again allow us to put Italy’s finest fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils on Club members’ tables.

Duccio used the word “mess” during our increasingly urgent phone calls to describe the situation, noting 2018 had the potential to be the worst Italian harvest in 20 years.

But there was hope! Several producers we were in touch with were optimistic their oils would impress. (For most artisanal growers, it’s a special honor to be selected for inclusion in the Club, a validation of their passion, dedication, and hard work.) And thanks to many valuable contacts in the field, we had strong leads on others.

Our strategy evolved quickly: focus on the scattered pockets of healthy olives, most of them at higher elevations; personally visit the promising groves; and supervise the pressing to optimize quality and preserve healthy polyphenols. We urgently needed to do all this before weather harmed the olives or the best producers committed their oils to other customers. (Weather did score a point against us when high winds cruelly stripped a grove of its olives just days before our planned visit.)

In a departure from past years, there would be no “Grand Tasting” of olive oil samples when I landed in Rome. We were going to have to work hard! Beat the bushes, so to speak.

Long Days, Short Nights Pay Off

And work hard we did. Days after leaving Rome, we acquired our first olive oil at Frantoi Cutrera, near the Baroque town of Chiaramonte Gulfi in southeastern Sicily. Gulfiis the Arabic word for “place of pleasure.” How appropriate, as I was more than pleased to be able to offer Club members an exclusive blend featuring native olive cultivars Tonda Iblea and Nocellara del Belice. One olive oil down and two to go. We continued our quest, tirelessly traveling by car, SUV, plane, and ferry.

The tipping point of the hunt came when we met with Gionni and Paolo Pruneti in Tuscany. Their diversified groves yielded several worthy oils, including some pressed from cold-defying Moraiolo olives. Master miller Gionni helped us create a stunning well-balanced blend that satisfied my desire for a bold, beautiful oil.

How fitting that we saw a spectacular rainbow on our drive from Rome to Penne, Abruzzo, to meet Claudio Di Mercurio, founder of Frantoio Hermes. Here, in his grove Claudio shows me a perfect Dritta olive, an Italian cultivar I tasted for the first time on this trip. What a delight it was during such a challenging harvest season to discover a brand-new producer of such high caliber—just like finding a pot of (liquid) gold at the end of the rainbow!

Finally, acting on a tip from Giorgio Mori (his company builds some of the most well-respected olive oil milling equipment on the planet),  we set our GPS for a new destination: Abruzzo. What a delightful “first date” that turned out to be! We met the genial Claudio Di Mercurio, founder of Frantoio Hermes, and his family at their farm near the hilltop town of Penne and adjacent to a national forest. There, we were introduced to Dritta olives. (Dritta, which rhymes with Rita, is just one of 536 olive varietals grown on Italian soil.) Yay! We had our third oil, something novel and exciting that fit perfectly into the line-up. Claudio was thrilled to imagine his olive oil being boxed shoulder-to-shoulder with prestigious oils from Frantoi Cutrera and Pruneti and soon to be enjoyed—harvest-fresh!—by American aficionados like yourself.

Yes, this quarter was a nail-biter. But I know you have in your hands three of the finest olive oils in the world.

Mangia!

Though exhausting, the trip to Italy—always one of my favorite destinations—was very fulfilling for me as it proved, once again, that planning and persistence pay off. Oftentimes,  it was simply filling! Oh, my…the food… Too many plates to count, and nearly all of them splashed with just-pressed extra virgin olive oil. (Yes, my team and I take our own bottles to restaurants.) Calzone-size ravioli stuffed with homemade ricotta and pork ragu served at a rough-and-tumble bar/restaurant frequented by the Polizia Provinciale is the stuff of dreams. Earthy porcini pasta. A superlative salumi platter at Ristorante Majore in Chiaramonte Gulfi. The amazing arancini(deep-fried balls of cheese-stuffed risotto) sold on the ferry. And I’ll never forget Claudio’s hospitality: When he learned there was a vegan lurking in the ranks of my Merry Band of Tasters, he orchestrated a homecooked plant-based feast.

As a Club member, you’ll soon discover just how food-friendly these three olive oils are. To get started, see the recommended food pairings that follow my tasting notes. I’ve also included a dozen Italian recipes you’ll want to add to your cold-weather repertoire, many of which are ideal for entertaining.

As always, I’d love to know what you think of these storied, exquisitely fresh extra virgin olive oils.

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®

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


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Salvatore Cutrera Exclusive Signature Selection 2018, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa, Sicily, Italy
  • Olive Varieties: Tonda Iblea, Nocellera del Belice
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

I knew I was in Sicily when

In a scene reminiscent of a Francis Ford Coppola movie, workers poured out of Frantoi Cutrera upon hearing the megaphone-enhanced cries of the approaching produce vendor: “Pomodori.Melanzane.Zucchine…” His truck, fully loaded with some of the most beautiful fruit and vegetables I’ve seen anywhere, rolled to a stop before being swarmed by would-be customers (including me and my Merry Band of Tasters).

Salvatore Cutrera, who runs the family-owned olive mill near the hillside town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, palmed an orange and a banana for himself before presenting the vendor—a longtime friend, I presume—with a bottle of just-pressed olive oil. The vendor’s face split into a wide grin. The barter transaction satisfactorily completed, Cutrera returned to the mill and the all-important task of pressing the 2018 crop of olives.

He knew there was no time to waste. The olives, picked from a patchwork of small farms (about 125 acres), had to be harvested and pressed at their peak. For weeks, he’d been putting in 18-hour days, anxiously watching the weather (heavy rains threatened) and keeping a close eye on every facet of the operation he oversees. I liken him to the captain of a ship who’s committed to steering his vessel and its valuable cargo safely into port, come hell or high water.

You’d think Salvatore would have been exhausted. But he seemed to draw energy from his mission. His pride in this year’s harvest was palpable, his passion infectious.

I first met Salvatore years ago at the Fancy Food Show in New York City. But it wasn’t until last year, when I stepped up my search for Tonda Iblea, an olive cultivar native to Sicily’s Ragusa province, that our paths crossed again. This talented producer’s oil was such a hit with Club members that I secretly hoped for an encore.

But I remembered what he said to me in 2017: “Next year, only come for coffee. There will be no oil.”

For a time, it looked as if his prediction might come true. Sicily’s olive farmers, like those in other regions of Italy, struggled during the 2018 growing season with weather- related challenges and olive pests. Scouts on the ground reported there were healthy pockets of olives, but warned I would have to work hard to find them.

The arrival of the local produce vendor, his truck loaded with bins of gorgeous sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, nearly emptied the mill at Frantoi Cutrera. It was a thoroughly Sicilian moment. A casual inquiry about the eggplant—an unfamiliar varietal—launched a lengthy explanation from Salvatore, who vouched for its superiority over eggplant grown anywhere else. (The Sicilian sun is very benevolent, especially to olive fruit!)

Happily, Salvatore was wrong. Though his Tonda Iblea trees did not bear as much fruit as last year, Salvatore was able to make up the shortfall with another of my favorite Sicilian olives, the plump and meaty Nocellara del Belice. (You may know it as Castelvetrano, a popular brined table olive.) The resulting 50-50 blend, a Club exclusive, is phenomenal!

A bit of background is in order here. The name Salvatore Cutrera is extremely well-known in olive oil circles: Frantoi Cutrera is one of the winningest producers in Italy, if not the world. In the past year alone, it collected 18 elite awards, from Los Angeles to Zurich. For many years, its olive oils have been named among the top 20 in the world by FlosOlei. Its offices display wall-to-wall awards, some turned into fine art.

The family has been pressing olives since 1906 near Chiaramonte Gulfi, the so-called “Balcony of Sicily.”

But millstones powered by donkeys have yielded to two modern mills that are among the most technologically advanced on the island. A third mill, projected to cost $10 million, is currently under construction. It will incorporate a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen as well as a laboratory. (In addition to olive oil, Frantoi Cutrera also produces excellent jarred items like brined olives, sun-dried tomatoes, caponata, pesto, artichokes, and more, which they sell under their Segreti di Sicilia—Secrets of Sicily—brand.)

Multi-award-winning olive oil producer Salvatore Cutrera implicitly understands my relentless pursuit of quality. Here, we inspect the Tonda Iblea fruit at one of his hillside olive groves near Chiaramonte Gulfi in southeastern Sicily. The higher elevation protected these olives from the pestilence that plagued growers closer to sea level. (Actually, all the oils we selected this quarter came from olives grown at higher elevations.) We blended Tonda Iblea with Nocellara del Belice (also a popular table olive) to make a magnificent and exclusive oil for you.

Within seconds of my arrival, Salvatore hustled me to the rear of the mill to show me his latest “toy.” It was a high-tech device, completely foreign to me, that vets individual olives. All olives entering the mill have to pass its inspection. Parameters can be set by the operator for a number of variables, such as color, size, etc. Via conveyor belt, olives run a gauntlet of super-sensitive cameras that identify imperfect fruit. Those olives are almost instantaneously removed from the procession by a targeted blast of air. The process was incredibly fun to watch!

This selection machine is a game-changer. The oil you are about to taste is pressed from olives that represent the best of the best! And what a story you’ll have to tell your lucky tablemates.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

A blend of two olives that are typically used as table olives, this oil’s beautiful green color hints at its verdant perfume and flavor. On the nose, we detected green tomato leaf, cut grass, fresh basil, lettuce, arugula, endive, walnuts, and apple, with a whiff of fennel. Some of these aromas were echoed on the palate, specifically green tomato and fresh basil, with underpinnings of baby spinach, fresh green walnuts, and a touch of vanilla-like sweetness. Finishes with the spiciness of arugula.

Enjoy this mild oil on a wide variety of foods, including milky fresh cheeses such as ricotta and mozzarella, bread, eggs, white potatoes, creamy soups, delicate fish and shellfish, roast chicken, veal, salads made with tender lettuces, cauliflower, light pasta dishes, roasted apples or pears, yogurt, or even ice cream.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Hermes, Penne, Abruzzo, Italy 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Dritta
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

The Old World is steeped in the romance and history of olive oil production— you’ve likely seen iconic images of sun-drenched baskets of ripe olives (actually bruised and fermenting) and mules pulling a millstone in a circle—yet I have learned over the years that the old-fashioned methods result in some pretty terrible olive oil. What makes for a charming photo op is, ironically, what the top-tier producers have been working the past three decades to overcome. (Granted, mules have been retired for nearly a century.)

Forward-thinking artisans have incorporated technologically advanced olive milling equipment to minimize contact with oxygen; refrigerated systems to maximize the aromas and flavors in the oil; and early harvesting, to optimize flavors, perfumes, and polyphenols in the oils.

To produce the finest ultra-premium olive oil, Claudio Di Mercurio knew exactly where to start. His parents had owned land in Italy’s Abruzzo region, rich with olive trees, since 1964, but they had never produced olive oil. In 2009, aiming to press his own oil, Claudio wisely met with one of the greatest experts in the field: Giorgio Mori, proprietor of Mori olive mills. (You might compare the excellence of a Mori mill to that of an Illy espresso machine,  or perhaps to a Maserati: simply put, the best equipment that gives the best results.) Claudio named the mill “Frantoio Hermes”—readers of classic myths and legends might make the connection with the family’s surname, Di Mercurio. (Hermes is the Greek messenger god, with wings on his sandals; his Roman avatar is Mercury.)

One of the many great honors of my job is that I am welcomed with open arms into families around the world. I grew up with many siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and am always happy to meet more. Here I am, in the Di Mercurios’ kitchen, flanked by Mama Di Mercurio (far right) and her daughters. We’ve just tossed together a simple, fabulous dish of pasta and broccoli, with hearty splashes of fragrant, just-pressed Dritta olive oil. I love that the pan is reaching out to you from the photo, as if in 3-D, and you can almost hear Mama urging, “Mangia, mangia!”

You could say that the olive oil world got the message immediately: in its first year in production, 2010, Hermes won regional awards for excellence (“beginner’s luck,” demurs Claudio, but olive oil experts begged to disagree), and its award- winning streak has continued ever since.

Given my extensive network of contacts in the olive oil world, I was astounded that Claudio—and his grove’s sterling reputation—had eluded me up till now. At the same time, it’s thrilling to think that other such discoveries await me and my tastebuds! I have logged tens of thousands of kilometers in Italy over the years, yet my hunting grounds have been located largely in Tuscany, Lazio, Calabria, and Sicily; Abruzzo has not been a primary destination. Believe me, dear Club members, that has changed! (Abruzzo lies in Italy’s center, east of Rome, extending to the Adriatic Sea.)

Not only did I collaborate with a new producer, I also became smitten with a new olive variety. (New to me, that is.) Prevalent in Abruzzo, Dritta is a small, hard fruit—lower in oil yield, but bursting with flavor and perfume, and very food-friendly.

“Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, meet Claudio Di Mercurio!” “Claudio, meet the Club!” I’m absolutely thrilled to make this introduction. Prior to my recent Italian journey, Claudio and his mill, Frantoio Hermes, located in the Abruzzo region, were unknown to me. (And I know a lot of people in the olive oil world. Not to toot my own horn; it’s my job.) What’s more, Claudio urged me to try an entirely new olive variety (new to me, that is)—Dritta—and I fell in love with its extraordinary fragrance and nuanced array of flavors. Claudio and I can’t wait for you to experience this beautiful oil!

Claudio and his family employ an eclectic and personable harvest team, with workers hailing from Romania, the Ivory Coast, and Italy. Regional growers bring their olives to be pressed at the Hermes mill. “It’s the best place around,” one of my scouts observed. No surprise, then, that 5 of last year’s top 10 olive oils in Abruzzo were produced at Hermes.

Claudio also juggles his identity as a prize-winning olive oil artisan with a career as a systems engineer. His eye for detail and mind for process have naturally shaped the developments at Frantoio Hermes; as but one example, he and his team have incorporated a special Mori knife crusher, using multiple knives in the milling process—the slicing action of the knives (different from the crushing action of a hammer) helps preserve and amplify the aromas in the resulting oil.

Dritta continues to amaze me with its enchanting perfumes, especially of almond. I’d love to hear about your own sensory impressions—I encourage you to note down the aromas you identify, swirling out of the bottle. Then, like Hermes, wing me a message to let me know what you find!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Straddling sweet and savory elements, this golden-green oil is fresh and bright on the nose, evocative of mint, lemon verbena, almonds, green apple, cinnamon, thyme, and chopped green salad. Very green and complex in the mouth, presenting almonds, hazelnuts, and cocoa beans alternating with bitter chicory and radicchio. The spiciness of arugula and green peppercorns dominates the long finish until it yields to almonds.

Sweet, spicy, and bitter elements are all present in this intriguing oil. Foodwise, you could go many ways with it. A salad of winter greens, preferably with nuts and citrus, would be a perfect vehicle for the oil’s flavors. Also try it with grains, on white beans, bruschetta, roasted cherry tomatoes, grilled meats, pork (especially heritage breeds that have dined on nuts), lamb, cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe, savory bread puddings, fresh sardines, kale, chicory, and yams.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Frantoio Pruneti, San Polo in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Moraiolo, Leccino, Frantoio, Pendolino
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

I love traversing the rolling hills of Tuscany during harvest season, as vineyards and farmland blanket both sides of the road in alternating patches of gold, purple, and scarlet, like the squares of a quilt. This is  also wild boar country, so I’m constantly scanning my surroundings from the passenger seat, hoping to catch sight of one of those impressive and tasty beasts. They’ve eluded me so far (aside from the occasional, very delicious appearance on my plate, perfectly braised).

Almost as elusive this year were the Tuscan olives! My scouts on the ground sent early word that Tuscany’s olive crop was in trouble. Unusual, damaging weather patterns—late, tree-killing frosts in the spring, then too much moisture, including storms and floods— destroyed many olive crops in Italy’s north, abetted by olive pests. An important aspect of being the Olive Oil Hunter is having faith, and another part is cultivating relationships with the finest olive oil producers in the world. One of my favorite growers in Siena lamented, “No fruit this year.” Several others reported the same.

You know you’re in food-lovers’ paradise when the steak is priced by the kilo and arrives larger than the size of your head. At a fantastic local enoteca, the Pruneti brothers, Paolo and Gionni, look on approvingly as I drizzle a generous amount of our sensational, justpressed Tuscan blend over mouth-watering Bistecca Fiorentina. The Prunetis, fourth-generation olive oil producers, were delighted to collaborate on an exclusive blend for my Club. (By the way, we did split the steak. After all, we had to leave room for the world’s best tiramisu!)

But just sixty miles from Siena, the Pruneti brothers anticipated a beautiful crop. Gionni and Paolo Pruneti are fourth-generation olive oil producers in San Polo in Chianti (that’s the full name of the town, San-Polo-in-Chianti). Gionni is a master miller, while Paolo tends to the business side of production. Their grove consistently reaps the highest awards, including four appearances on the Top 20 list of Flos Olei, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s best olive oils; a 2017 silver medal in the Sol d’Oro competition; and the German Feinschmeckerlist of the world’s top 25 olive oils.

Perhaps it is their diversification that keeps the Prunetis striving for excellence—they also produce award-winning wines, a prized saffron crop, and about 12 acres of iris, famous for its graceful blooms but cultivated for the extract from its roots, which is used in perfume. In recent seasons the Prunetis purchased a new plot of land, acquiring more than 4,000 olive trees; they’ve spent two years reconditioning and pruning the trees in order to prepare the grove for optimal production.

This year the Prunetis’ MVP (most viable plant) was the ultra-flavorful Moraiolo olive, which weathered cold temperatures other varieties could not withstand. Longtime friend of the Club and master miller Duccio Morozzo described it as “a special year for Moraiolo. It reacted in a good way to the cold—this intensified the flavor.” He considers this Moraiolo crop possibly the best of the past 10 years.

As soon as I arrived at the Pruneti mill, Gionni and Paolo lined up about a dozen just-pressed blends on the table before me. I wanted to sample and savor every one of the pressings, as each would bring specific qualities to the nose and palate. The Prunetis knew that my aim would be to combine them in the perfect ratio to create a classic Tuscan blend— spicy, fruit-forward, and extremely food-friendly.

In the last year, Paolo announced, they’ve enhanced their already state-of-the-art equipment, introducing refrigeration to the crushing process to keep the olives cool as they become olive paste. This helps preserve the fresh, green perfumes in the oil.

These efforts met with sensational results, as all the pressings exhibited a rare harmony and balance. Gionni and I tinkered with many different proportions, bringing individual flavor characteristics to the fore. Finally, our eyes locked, eyebrows raised, palates humming: we had a winner! This exclusive blend of four traditional Tuscan olives is fresh, green, robust, and exquisitely well calibrated.

We celebrated our triumphant collaboration at a cozy local restaurant, Fuoripiazza, where we enjoyed first courses of a chicken terrine with pistachios and tomato sauce; crostini with Lardo di Colonatta, a special pork salumi of Tuscany; and a local dish of caramelized onion, pear, and béchamel cream. This all came before the centerpiece, Bistecca Fiorentina, descended on the table. (See us drizzling our just-pressed blend over the gorgeous steak below. The herbaceous oil melds perfectly with grilled meat juices to create a delectable sauce—try it at home!) Three bottles of the Prunetis’ top-shelf wine, Chianti Classico Reserva, enhanced each and every morsel of food. You’d better believe that in the process we toasted you, my dear Club members—the Prunetis are so very pleased to be sharing the fruits of their labors with you. Buonappetito!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Distractingly green in the glass, this beautiful oil is Tuscany in a bottle. You’ll see what I mean when you open it—the scents of artichoke, black kale, almonds, spinach, lime zest, and white pepper are released. It is much the same in the mouth, but greener and more assertive. Very vegetal with the bitterness of escarole and chicory and (surprise) dark chocolate. My tasters and I also noted micro- greens, wheatgrass, lime zest, almonds (a recurring theme this quarter) and hazelnuts, before succumbing to its peppery throat-tickling finish.

This oil is extraordinarily food-friendly, despite its bold flavor profile. Pair it with grilled or long-braised meats (especially game), aged or strong-flavored cheeses, cured meats, oily fish such as mackerel, grilled octopus over bitter greens (I ate this dish recently), grilled artichokes, black kale, fennel, minestrone or broccoli soup, or pasta dishes with long-cooked sauces. Would also be wonderful paired with a bitter chocolate dessert.


Olive Oil and Health

Olive oil’s health benefits explored at Yale School of Public Health symposium

Adapted from an article by Denise Myers, October 10, 2018.

Yale’s Olive Oil and Health symposium drew a deeply invested group to New Haven this month—chefs, growers, importers, scientists, and associations of producers, entrepreneurs, and business people—to celebrate this amazing fruit juice and begin mapping out a new olive institute at the Yale School of Public Health.

Olive oil is the cornerstone of Mediterranean nutrition, and speaker after speaker cited its vital role in better health outcomes throughout that region.

“There is no greater crisis in public health today than diet, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases,” Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH), told the gathering in Winslow Auditorium in his opening remarks for the two-day event that began on October 3, 2018.

An olive oil institute at the Yale School of Public Health would include research in chemistry and metabolomics to develop assays and datasets to enhance further health research. “We are extremely excited about the interest from around the world in participating in an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary institute that will fill such an important void, said Professor Vasilis Vasiliou, chair of the YSPH’s Department of Environmental and Health Sciences.

Health benefits

Olive oils high in oleocanthal have high profiles for bitter taste receptors and have a peppery effect at the back of the throat. This pungency is associated with many health benefits—a reduced risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases and added protection against viruses, said Catherine Peyrot des Gachons of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

In addition to prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, Amal Kaddoumi, a professor at the Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University in Alabama, has found that EVOO increases the activity of the drug donepezil, which is used to treat the progression of dementia.

Mary Flynn, an associate professor at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Rhode Island, has studied the effects of a plant-based olive oil diet since the 1980s. Albeit small in sample size, numerous comparative studies among cancer patients consistently show improved weight loss compared to National Cancer Institute diet plans, and when the patients are given the opportunity to self-select which diet to follow for the final period of the study, they largely choose the olive oil diet. Her data reflect improved weight, insulin, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.

By shifting to more plant-based meals on this diet, Flynn also finds that the money saved on groceries ($14.36 per week) not only reduces food insecurity but also results in weight loss and reduced blood glucose. “Most Americans eat too much protein and that turns to fat,” said Flynn. With the decrease in fasting blood glucose, people don’t get hungry.”

“We have a population in dire need of dietary correction,” said Joseph Profaci of the North American Olive Oil Association in New Jersey. “If 20 percent adhered to the Mediterranean diet, we’d save $20 billion from 10 major health outcomes,” he said. Currently, only 40 percent of American households regularly use olive oil.

The group that convened formed a planning group to work toward developing the mission, vision, and structure of the YSPH olive institute.


Kudos from Club Members

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

Recipes

  • Grilled Fish With Artichoke Caponata Grilled Fish With Artichoke Caponata Many years ago, an olive oil producer’s elderly mother made lunch for us. I will never forget her caponata, which was similar to this one. view recipe
  • Cranberry And Pistachio Biscotti Cranberry And Pistachio Biscotti Wrap these cookies in cellophane for an attractive hostess gift. view recipe
  • Chocolate Budino With Olive Oil And Sea Salt Chocolate Budino With Olive Oil And Sea Salt The word budino means custard or pudding in Italian. Rich and creamy, this already ethereal dessert is made even better when topped with olive oil and a flaky, crunchy sea salt such as Maldon. view recipe
  • Overnight Broccoli Rabe With Anchovy And Preserved Lemon Overnight Broccoli Rabe With Anchovy And Preserved Lemon One of my closest friends, Justin Wangler, and I first met at A. B. Tech Culinary School in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. Justin is currently the executive chef of Jackson Family Wines in California’s Sonoma Valley. The vineyard’s new cookbook, Season, was released in September. Below is a recipe Justin shared with me;… view recipe
  • Orecchiette With Broccoli Sauce Orecchiette With Broccoli Sauce One of the most memorable dishes of my recent trip to Abruzzo was served family-style at a dinner at the Hermes farm. We liberally splashed the pasta with the exclusive olive oil blend we’d just created. Ingredients 12 ounces very small broccoli florets8 ounces orecchiette or other short pasta 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,… view recipe
  • Tuscan-Style Veal Chops Tuscan-Style Veal Chops Extra virgin olive oil becomes the base for a savory “board sauce” when mixed with fresh herbs and the natural juices of the meat. Substitute bone-in beef rib eyes or tomahawk steaks if veal is unavailable. view recipe
  • Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken With Sicilian Salsa Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken With Sicilian Salsa Spatchcocking is a great technique to use when you’re short on time; it can be used on chickens, turkeys, game hens, etc. If grilling isn’t an option, place a cooling rack in a rimmed sheet pan, put the bird on the rack, and roast in the oven. This recipe comes from master griller Steven Raichlen,… view recipe
  • Porchetta-Style Turkey Breast Porchetta-Style Turkey Breast Well-suited for smaller gatherings, this attractive and flavorful roulade of turkey breast will be the centerpiece of your festive table. And because I consider fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil to be Mother Nature’s perfect sauce, I suggest providing the table with extra oil for drizzling. view recipe
  • Barbecued Lamb Skewers (Arrosticini) Barbecued Lamb Skewers (Arrosticini) This finger food is very popular in Abruzzo. It is traditionally grilled over a fornacella, a shallow trough of charcoal just wide enough to cook 4 inches of skewered meat. (We use a hibachi or grill pan.) The garlic is my addition. view recipe
  • Winter Panzanella Salad Winter Panzanella Salad Bold textures and flavors distinguish this salad from its warm-weather version. view recipe

Quarter 3—Australian Harvest

The Olive Oil Hunter Brings Magic to Your Fall Table: Three Fantastic Olive Oils from the Land Down Under

T. J. Robinson
The Olive Oil Hunter®
  • Be one of just a handful of Americans to taste these healthful custom blends, created exclusively for Club members and available nowhere else!
  • All have been certified by an independent lab to be 100 percent extra virgin.
  • Luxuriate in food-friendly, fresh-pressed olive oils that have no equal on supermarket shelves!.
  • Enjoy the new recipes we’ve chosen to complement the oils you’ve just received (the Pear Crostini on page 13 will be a new favorite).

G’day, Mate!

This quarter, my hunt for the finest fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oils in the world right now took me to Australia, one of my favorite sources of “liquid gold.” It’s about as close to the ends of the earth as I can go without commiserating with penguins or polar bears. “Oz,” as Australians like to call their island continent, is 10,000 miles and 14 time zones from my North Carolina home. But these food-friendly oils and their healthful antioxidants were worth the inevitable jet lag!

This is not my first trip Down Under. I’ve been visiting Australia for many years, scouting the country’s best olive oils and building relationships with top producers and industry experts. Australia’s rapid metamorphosis from an olive oil curiosity to a force to be reckoned with has been gratifying to see. During last year’s prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition, Australian producers won four of the 17 “Best in Class” medals, second only to Italy.

Determined to Produce Fresh, Nutritious, and Winning Olive Oils

“Australia didn’t just enter the olive oil trade,” proclaimed the awards wrap-up on the competition’s website. “They reinvented it and sent shockwaves through the industry. Determined to produce olive oil that is as fresh and nutritious as possible, Australian producers craft some of the most winning brands in the world, while calling out low-quality rivals.”

Though nearly the size of the United States, physically, the Commonwealth of Australia is home to less than 30 million people. Most live on the periphery of this island continent. Olive trees thrive in the southeastern part of the country, particularly in New South Wales and the state of Victoria, where conditions mirror those of the Mediterranean. With the help of dedicated Australian olive farmers, I’m happily able to provide just-pressed olive oil to my Club members throughout the year.

Credit for Australia’s boot-strap victories can be divvied up among many entities. Among them are the Australian Olive Association, established in 1995 to support growers and promote high standards for Australian olive oils; Boundary Bend and Modern Olives Nursery and Laboratory Services (I’ve worked closely with both), for their ongoing commitment to quality and innovation; and especially the Australian olive farmers themselves, whose passion for making the best olive oil they can compels me to return to this friendly,
welcoming place year after year. (I love how the olive farmers go out of their way to help each other.)

Australia’s Olive Wellness Institute was founded to provide the public with credible, science-based information (vetted by a panel of global experts) on the links between olive oil and other olive-based products and well-being. Intrigued, I lunched with Sarah Gray, a former pharmacist and an enthusiastic ambassador for OWI. In a short time, OWI has become a large online repository of information and a valuable resource to anyone interested in the health benefits of olives. Learn more at olivewellnessinstitute.org.

During this visit, I encountered a new player, the Olive Wellness Institute. I met with a charming and knowledgeable representative, former pharmacist Sarah Gray, who told me the institute’s mission is
to provide consumers with the most up-to-date and evidence-based scientific information (all reviewed by a panel of independent experts) on olive oil and olive products as they relate to nutrition and wellness. The institute’s website is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in the connection between olives and health.

Aussie Extra Virgins Take On Old World Olive Oils

Australia and olive oil actually have a long history. Italian and Greek immigrants in the nineteenth century concealed olive tree cuttings in the inseams of their clothing to carry the stock to their new homes in the Southern Hemisphere, later pressing the olives primarily for their own use. There was not yet a market, per se, for the oils. That’s changed! Extra virgin olive oil is now a staple in the majority of Australian homes, riding the coattails of exploding interest in food and health.

During the harvest, I checked in with my friends at Kyneton Olives (their oils have been Club selections in the past) where I met Davide Bruno, a passionate master miller from Liguria, who loves to share his expertise with his counterparts in the Southern Hemisphere. He will, of course, return to Italy when the harvest begins in the Mediterranean. The exchange of information between Old World and New World growers has elevated the quality of olive oil worldwide. These bins of just-picked olives were rushed to the mill for processing in order to preserve their flavors and healthful polyphenols. And don’t you love that soulful old tractor?

The Old World’s feathers were ruffled when New World producers like Australia began winning major awards for their olive oils. (About 95 percent of Oz’s oils meet or exceed international standards for extra virgin olive oil.) In a defining moment for Aussie producers, the city of Adelaide hosted Australia’s first international olive competition in October. There were more than 200 entries—none from Italy or Spain, who are among the largest importers of Australian olive oil.

But as world-renowned olive oil expert and master miller Leandro Ravetti explained to me over lunch, “We don’t have the ‘romance’ factor selling olive oil for us. We don’t have Florence, or the Duomo, or cypress-lined roads. We just have to do everything right, and that means taking a methodical, scientific approach to producing olive oil.”

Amazing Producers, Custom Blends

Australian producers I spoke with said this year was a bit of a nail-biter. Weather-related issues, especially the threat of frost, ultimately forced an early harvest; things then moved quickly. For me, this is not always a bad thing, as I prefer greener (early harvest) olive oils. Foresight and my long-term relationships with the country’s top producers enabled theme to create amazing custom blends for Club members that we’re sure you’ll love. Meet all of these extraordinary people in the following pages: the aforementioned Leandro; Annie, a pearl-wearing Australian grandmother with can-do attitude; and John and Marjan, risk takers who own olive groves on two continents.

Because only about one percent of the olive oil sold in the US is Australian, it’s possible, if you’re a new Club member, that you’ll be tasting an Aussie oil for the first time. All three oils (with mild, medium, and bold flavor profiles) are from the state of Victoria and will pair beautifully with colder weather dishes and seasonal produce. They will be a wonderful addition to your autumn table!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson 
The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Oasis Olives, Kialla, Victoria, 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Mild

Last year I was thrilled, after five years of anticipation, to feature a stunning oil from the Oasis groves for my Club. I was so smitten with that oil—an intensely green Picual—that I served it at my wedding! (When I call myself your personal olive oil sommelier, you’d better believe it—the oils I select for my Club are those I’m most excited to use at my own table and to share with my family and friends.)

As the season progressed, I was thrilled to receive advance word that Oasis, the brainchild of John and Marjan Symington, anticipated another excellent harvest this season. Some nearby small farms were down as much as 70 percent in their production—a very dry summer was followed by early frosts, which destroyed some harvests outright—but
Oasis, located on 110 acres in Kialla, Victoria, yielded beautiful fruit. Strategic irrigation, early harvesting, and the skills of a passionate and gifted harvest team all contributed to a gorgeous Frantoio olive crop.

About eight years ago, John and Marjan were “looking for a challenge,” as John, a former software engineer, put it, when the couple purchased plots of untended, gnarled, and bushy olive trees with the aim of producing premium olive oil. Guided by olive expert Scott Sanders, the Oasis team made crucial improvements such as heavy pruning of the trees, implementing efficient irrigation technology, and acquiring a sleek, state-of-theme art olive mill to put their young farm on the map in short order. In less than a decade, the ultra-premium olive oils from Oasis have garnered the most awards of any farm in this region. The Symingtons also oversee a thriving Oasis outpost in Peru—one of these days I would love to feature a Peruvian oil as a Club selection, as soon as one meets my sky-high standards—and they are developing another property, in the neighboring state of South Australia.

With the help of expert collaborators, in the span of a decade John and Marjan Symington transformed a 110-acre expanse of overgrown, untended olive trees into one of Victoria’s most lauded olive oil producers. At the shores of the lake that irrigates the Oasis groves, John directs my gaze toward an area designated for future planting. Oasis oils are so memorable that, as John related with delight, the son of a Club member visited the farm recently with the following request: “My mother told me when I was in Australia I had to make sure to get some of your olive oil.” I expect they’ll be greeting more such visitors, with their trademark generosity of spirit, after you taste the dazzling Frantoio blend we created exclusively for you!

On my journeys across the globe I have observed that artisanal growers and millers who are involved in more than one harvest per year—such as many of the Oasis team members, who work both the Peruvian and the Australian harvests, as well as longtime friend of the Club Leandro Ravetti, featured in this report—expand their knowledge more quickly and deeply than most other producers. And that makes for exponentially improving olive oils!

This harvest, the six-member Oasis team included John, Marjan, and Scott as well as two French seasonal workers, Guillem and Sylvain, and Antonio Maldonado, an expert miller from Spain. Antonio and his girlfriend journeyed Down Under with an aim of studying English: she attended language courses in town while Antonio worked on his vocabulary in the Oasis groves. Who do you think spoke more fluently by the time the harvest ended? (Antonio.)

In Spain, Antonio spent nine years sorting olives, which endowed him with an intuitive understanding of the fruit—how to handle it, how to select for optimal flavor, and the perfect time to harvest. You can discern his Iberian influence on the splendid blend we created exclusively for my Club.

Oasis conducted a special early pressing of Frantoio olives, green and fragrant, to which we added a small amount of Coratina for complexity. To my mind, this is a perfect exemplar of the Aussie approach to olive oil, making something new and wonderful out of a mosaic of cultures: Italian olives, grown in Aboriginal soil, cultivated by Australians, picked by Frenchmen, milled by a Spaniard, and blended by a North Carolina Southern boy (myself).

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

This unique blend has a delightful bouquet, with apple, almond, grass, celery, salad greens, and white pepper on the nose. My tasters and I also detected warm baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweet almond note is even more assertive on the palate, along with the minerally flavor of spinach, the spiciness of celery leaves, and the bitterness of sturdy fall greens such as endive or radicchio.

This oil’s vegetal flavor profile steers our recommended food pairings toward roasted root vegetables, especially potatoes, yams, bell peppers, pumpkins, and other squashes; fall salads (pears with cranberries and celery, for example, or bitter greens with oranges or grapefruit); mild fresh cheeses; mild white (non-oily) sh; white beans; veal; and even breakfast fare, such as scrambled eggs, the ubiquitous avocado toast, or oatmeal or yogurt with dried fruits.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Nullamunjie 2018 Blend, Tongio, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Coratina, Corregiola, Leccino
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

As soon as my plane lands at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, I hit the ground running, always eager to get on the road and visit olive oil producers. But an atypical evening arrival gave my Merry Band of Tasters and me a rare opportunity to accept a social invitation from Nullamunjie proprietress Annetta “Annie” Paterson and her husband, John, to dinner and cocktails at the family’s
home—a charming antique Victorian with gingerbread trim—near the city’s Central Business District.

Annie, who is like a composite of everyone’s favorite aunt, greeted us with her characteristic warmth and a crackling fire in the replace. Wearing her trademark South Sea pearl necklace, she teased our travel-weary palates with aperitifs and warm pear crostini (find the recipe below), one of the most satisfying bites of the trip, followed by seasonal dishes like braised duck leg quarters with cabbage and onions, roasted root vegetables, a farro and chickpea salad, and a rustic apple crostata. (For several months out of the year, Annie runs a popular restaurant on her farm called “The Pressing Shed Cafe”— “pressing shed” is the Aussie term for olive mill. So a meal at her table is quite a treat.)

The next day, excited to revisit Annie’s farm near Tongio and taste the oils at their source, we maneuvered our rental van through fast-growing Melbourne’s nightmarish traffic and picked up
the scenic Great Alpine Road for the four-hour drive.

Annie Paterson, the proprietress of Nullamunjie, hosted a festive arrival dinner for me at her gracious antique home in Melbourne. Though my 14-hour flight left me a bit knackered (Aussie for exhausted), the wonderful food and stimulating olive-centric conversation revived me. We toasted Nullamunjie’s twentieth anniversary and shared many laughs. Annie is so pleased and proud that her food-friendly oil is a Club selection this quarter.

While Annie’s life now straddles city and country, this cattleman’s daughter grew up near the rural mountain range known as the “Australian Alps” in southeastern Victoria. A college-era trip to Greece convinced her olive trees would thrive on the family’s ranch with its Mediterranean-like climate, active freeze-thaw cycle, and rocky soil. As it turned out, Annie’s instincts were spot on, but her father was unconvinced.

It wasn’t until 1998 that Annie acquired a beautiful parcel of family land, bisected by the Tambo River on the slopes of Mt. Stawell. Finally, with her four children ready to leave the finest, the time was right to pursue her dream. Twenty years later, Nullamunjie is a frequent award winner and its proprietress is a respected authority in Australia’s tight-knit olive oil community.

Nullamunjie hosts about 3,000 trees—mostly Tuscan varietals
Annie selected for their adaptability to the farm’s unique
microclimate. She is assisted in day-to-day operations by the capable Tom Morgan, grove supervisor, as well as Jack Diamond, who
understands the terroir as only a local can. Bonnie, a gregarious
German wirehaired pointer, is the farm’s official greeter. When
manpower needs surge at harvest time, the always resourceful Annie
recruits family members and hires first responders from Ambulance
Victoria, an emergency healthcare and transportation service that
ministers to the region’s rural population.

The 2018 harvest was certainly one to celebrate, though Annie admits there were some challenges. To wit, Victoria’s summer was the third hottest on record. Annie fretted over potential stress to her trees, which she treasures like children. (Actually, yields were up over last year, and the fruit’s oils were more concentrated thanks to water deprivation, moving Nullamunjie’s flavor profile, consistently “Mild” for several years, to “Medium.”) The very real threat of bushres terrified Annie, too.

I have always maintained that Nullamunjie’s 3,000 trees are an optimal number for a boutique farm, yielding a nice range of fruit for blending yet easily managed by a small team. Here, grove supervisor Tom Morgan and I examine the vigorous-looking trees that flourish in the farm’s unique microclimate and stony soil. Quiet and beautiful, the grove is a refuge for wildlife and a favorite destination of Bonnie, the farm’s resident German wirehaired pointer. I am thrilled to share with you the extra virgin olive oil produced in this little slice of heaven.

There were also pesky equipment breakdowns, not to mention the now infamous deleafer: Annie purchased it to remove not only leaves but also stems and twigs from the olives before pressing. But the deleafer arrived sans assembly instructions. Annie asked a couple of olive oil producer pals to help her, and laughingly notes there was only one leftover part (apparently nonessential!) when they were finished.

Bottom line? Once again, this plucky and determined Australian grandmother has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. The blend we created together is magical.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Right out of the bottle, this luscious custom-blended extra virgin olive oil is very fresh and green on the nose. (Note the lovely color!) It evokes citrus notes, along with sweet hay, macadamia nuts, fennel, baby lettuce, ginger, and fresh herbs like parsley and basil. In the mouth, its appealing nuttiness is balanced by the pepperiness of nasturtiums and green peppercorns. Spicy heat is reminiscent of baby arugula and serves as a reminder that healthful polyphenols are in the house. Expect a rich mouthfeel and a lingering finish.

This oil would be our choice for some baked desserts (especially featuring dark chocolate); serve it with chicken, turkey, or veal; use it to make pesto from fresh basil or carrot tops. Another fine use would be in a spinach salad featuring nuts or seeds (they would complement the natural nuttiness of the oil).


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Leandro Ravetti 2018, Boort, Victoria
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

When I’m in Australia I’m always on the lookout for koala bears. The koala’s popularity gives the impression a furry cub is waving at you from every eucalyptus tree, but in reality you have to keep your eyes peeled. I feel triumphant, as if I’ve truly arrived on the continent, when I’ve finally seen one.

Likewise, a trip Down Under feels truly complete when I have the opportunity to collaborate with my dear friend and longtime supporter of the Club, Leandro Ravetti. As a globe-trotting expert on all things olive, Leandro can be tough to pin down—at any given time he might be judging a competition in New York or consulting in Japan—so I was thrilled to learn that we would be in Australia at the same time this season.

Master miller and all-around olive genius Leandro Ravetti and I share a scrumptious “working lunch.” One of the fundamental characteristics of a great olive oil is its food-friendliness—how the qualities of the oil (aromas, flavors, and other complex nuances) complement and enhance food. We were excited to assess the success of our brand-new Picual blend on a spectrum of dishes at Melbourne’s Café Safi, a casual yet impeccable local spot whose menu reflects the international nature of Australian cuisine.

Born in Argentina to parents of Italian heritage, Leandro paired his analytical mind and culinary interests to earn an honors degree in agricultural engineering. Post-graduate work in Spain and Italy saw him certified as an olive oil master miller, and his expertise and ingenuity brought him to international attention. In the fall of 2000, Leandro was invited to join the company Modern Olives as its technical director to help guide the brand-new Australian olive
oil scene, then characterized by tiny groves, often located hundreds of miles apart, pioneered by enthusiastic, novice growers who were
yearning for advice and camaraderie. Anticipating he’d stay for maybe two years, Leandro has now called the state of Victoria his home for 18 years and counting (although he’s constantly on the move).

Leandro’s ancestral heritage has come full circle, with his playing a major role in redirecting the Old World traditions of olive cultivation toward a uniquely New World approach. The success of Australian olive oil is built on science: Modern Olives maintains a nursery and a laboratory for the study and improvement of planting and cultivation techniques, optimizing aroma and flavor, and perfecting state-of-the-art storage methods. (You can read more about Leandro’s influence on Australian olive oil above.)

Leandro oversees two groves in Victoria, located about 150 miles apart, which are home to many different microclimates and, consequently, to varied complexities of aroma and flavor in the olives. In the months leading up to the harvest, he and I were in touch about the growing season—“a peculiar year,” he said; early frosts had devastated the crops of some growers, but others, including his groves, were lucky to escape unscathed.

He was excited to collaborate on a special selection for my Club, and confided that the ace up his sleeve this season was Picual. I love Picual, as longstanding Club members can attest. But to please my palate it must be an early-harvest Picual, beautifully green, showcasing the variety’s bold flavor intensity, and Leandro knows exactly what I mean. This beguiling Picual blend—with just a dash of Coratina, to round it out—embodies the signature Ravetti air, bringing out the New World character in this Spanish variety, with fruit flavors dancing among the greenery: kiwi, apricot, pear.

We debuted our brilliant collaboration at a memorable lunch at Café Sa, on St. Kilda Road. Australian cuisine draws from multiple influences for a mouthwatering parade of flavors: Pacic Rim, Thai, Turkish, and more. I drizzled the fragrant blend over a crumbed chicken Caesar salad as Leandro tucked into cashew chicken and roasted vegetables with a generous splash of our exclusive creation. I can’t wait for you to wow your family and friends with this exceedingly food-friendly blend!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

This master miller has once again coaxed an amazing olive oil from one of my favorite varietals, Picual. The nose is fruity and
intoxicating, evocative of pears, kiwi, and stone fruits like peaches and apricots. There’s a very green component, too—grassy, vegetal, and herbal with celery and green tomato leaves and a touch of lemon and peppermint. This oil is green in the mouth as well, with an intense, cocoa nib–like bitterness and the minerally notes of artichoke. Predictably, it tastes of tomato leaf and is beautifully calibrated with a touch of ginger-like spiciness.

My tasters and I immediately pegged this oil as the one to serve with pizza! It would also be fantastic with grilled meats, bruschetta, or any dish with tomatoes or aged cheese. It’s bold enough to serve with tuna, lamb, duck, or slow-cooked cold-weather stews.


Olive Oil and Health

Preventive Medicine: Secrets of Olive Oil Explained

Adapted from an article in the New Haven Register by Dr. David Katz, July 1, 2018

In late June 2018, Yale University hosted the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable conference. Among the presentations were two by world-leading experts in the bioactive components of olive oil, Eleni Melliou, PhD, and Prokopios Magiatis, PhD, both from the University of Athens.

Among those many compounds is oleocanthal, a polyphenol and potent antioxidant found in olives. It is established to inhibit COX1 and COX2 enzymes. What does that mean? The first, inhibition of COX1, is what ibuprofen does. The second, inhibition of COX2, is what Celebrex does. So, oleocanthal-rich olive oil (let’s call this “OROO”) has potent anti-inflammatory, and potentially analgesic (pain reducing) properties. What does the research show?

As presented by my colleagues from Athens, a study of OROO in 200 men in Spain showed a linear increase in protective HDL cholesterol, and a decline in LDL cholesterol. In a study of 24 women with hypertension, OROO was found to lower blood pressure, improve endothelial function and lower CRP, an important inflammatory marker. Multiple other studies cited by my Greek colleagues replicated these effects.

OROO has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation as well, the mechanism responsible for acute myocardial infarction. Like ibuprofen, aspirin inhibits COX1, so there is a clear case for the actions of compounds in olive oil to resemble effects seen with these drugs.

Aspirin is used routinely as a cardioprotective agent because it inhibits platelet aggregation.

Oleocanthal derived from olive oil has been shown to induce the clearance of the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease from the brains of experimental animals. Results of a human trial, announced just last month, showed an improvement in Alzheimer’s symptoms, and delayed progression of the disease, with OROO.

Oleocanthal has also been shown to induce cancer cell death. In an ongoing study of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, OROO daily for three months significantly reduced the numbers of cancerous white blood cells relative to placebo.

Now, let’s put it all in context.

The active compounds in olive oil, like oleocanthal, are highly concentrated in the unripe olives used to make cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. They are almost completely absent from the ripe olives used to make the lesser varieties of olive oil that often populate the shelves of American supermarkets. Details matter.

The above does not make the case that olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet, is required for good health. But the above certainly does make the case that genuinely good olive oil has genuinely good health effects. No surprise, then, that of the world’s five Blue Zone populations, two have OROO-rich, Mediterranean diets. That, too, is evidence that matters.

I find the weight of evidence regarding extra virgin olive oil, OROO, and oleocanthal extremely compelling. I am fully persuaded that “good” olive oil is a signature contributor to the many benefits of one of the world’s truly great diets.

I am also persuaded, however, again based on the full weight of relevant evidence, that no one food or nutrient accounts for the net effects of the overall diet. The one true toxin I see all too often in the mix—corrosive to consensus, understanding, common ground, and common cause—is cherry-picked science to make the case for any given diet. The pits are concentrated there, so be careful not to swallow that!


Kudos from Club Members

I’m mad at you! You, sir, have spoiled me. This is some of the most beautiful, divine, delicious stuff I have ever experienced…your oil is nectar of the gods. And now, I find myself actually bringing a bottle with me when I travel. Because nothing compares to what you are offering! You’ve ruined any other oil for me. Keep up the great work!!! Seriously, I love this stuff! With gratitude for having found you!
Christine L.Vashon, WA

Recipes

  • Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies Well-known cookbook author Rozanne Gold shared this recipe on an episode of Martha Stewart’s Cooking Today on Sirius XM 110. These cookies’ oval shape, payload of olive oil, and the fact that they’re rolled in chocolate chips make them unusual and very professional looking (and tasting!). view recipe
  • Boon’s Brussel Sprouts Boon’s Brussel Sprouts Roasted until golden brown and then doused in a flavorful vinaigrette, these brussels sprouts are addictive. If you can find them, buy brussels sprouts on the stalk. They are often available in farmers’ markets in the fall. Simply cut off what you need. view recipe
  • Greek-Style Mushrooms and Leeks (Manitaria Yiahni) Greek-Style Mushrooms and Leeks (Manitaria Yiahni) Melbourne has the largest population of Greeks of any city in the world outside of Greece. Originally discovered in an old monastery cookbook, this recipe is representative of many Greek dishes called lathero, meaning vegetables cooked with olive oil, tomato, and herbs. If you eat dairy, serve it with a briny chunk of feta cheese. view recipe
  • Rack Of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary Rack Of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary Sheep outnumber Australians by 3 to 1, so it’s no surprise lamb is popular on restaurant menus and in Aussie homes. This elegant entrée can be on the dinner table in less than 30 minutes. We like to serve extra virgin olive oil on the side so it can be drizzled on the meat like… view recipe
  • Herb-Marinated Beef Tenderloin Herb-Marinated Beef Tenderloin Here, beef tenderloin is steeped in pungent fresh herbs, olive oil, and Aussie wine, and cooked to perfection in a two-step process called “reverse searing.” The method yields meat that is uniformly pink from edge to edge. Great for entertaining! view recipe
  • Grilled Salmon With Orzo, Feta, And Red Wine Vinaigrette Grilled Salmon With Orzo, Feta, And Red Wine Vinaigrette Native Australian, celebrity chef, and restaurateur Curtis Stone has put down roots in Los Angeles. (Check out his acclaimed restaurants Gwen or Maude if the opportunity presents.) In the meantime, here’s an easy dinner that will put the spotlight on your fine Australian olive oils. view recipe
  • Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner With Lemons And Olives Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner With Lemons And Olives Outstanding extra virgin olive oil allows you to achieve big flavors effortlessly. Case in point? This sheet pan chicken dinner that goes together in minutes. If you don’t have olives on hand, feel free to substitute marinated artichoke hearts and a couple of tablespoons of brined capers. view recipe
  • Pear And Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette Pear And Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette This recipe was developed by my longtime friend Justin Wangler, executive chef for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in Fulton, California. view recipe
  • Carrot Salad Carrot Salad Garden-fresh carrots with feathery tops are preferred for this simple but colorful salad. It is perfect for weeknight dinners, potlucks, or picnics. view recipe
  • Dukkah-Spiced Yogurt Dip Dukkah-Spiced Yogurt Dip with Toasted Pita Dukkah (pronounced dook-ah) has Middle Eastern origins but is a very popular seasoning in Australia. It is also good on fish, raw vegetables, and pita bread toasted with olive oil. view recipe

Quarter 2—Chilean Harvest

To enliven your summer dining—three tantalizing harvest-fresh extra virgin olive oils from Chile, rushed here by jet at their peak of flavor!

T.J. Robinson The Olive Oil Hunter
  • All are from award-winning producers at the top of Chile’s vibrant olive oil scene.
  • All are brimming with bright, enticing flavors, perfect for enhancing summer salads, grilled seafood and meats, even desserts (try some drizzled on vanilla ice cream!).
  • All three are packed with healthful polyphenols and are independently lab certified to be 100% extra virgin.
  • All three are Club exclusives, available nowhere else in America.

Where in the world is the Olive Oil Hunter? You might just as well ask, “When in the world?” While the US is gearing up for summer, right now I’m enjoying late autumn—olive harvest time—in Chile, my favorite South American destination on my ever-revolving mission to bring you the freshest, finest extra virgin olive oils on earth.

Farmer’s Market to the World

Agriculture is the mainstay of Chile’s economy—the highways in central Chile are lined with produce packing houses. Gorgeous avocados—palta—are always within reach; one of my favorite snacks is smashed avocado on crusty bread, with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. My only regret is that I’m not here at tomato-time, to savor what I think of as “the essence of summer”: thick slices of plump, red, vine-ripe tomatoes, splashed lavishly with just-pressed olive oil. But you, my lucky Club members, are perfectly poised to do so!

I’ll be the first to admit that back in my school days I probably couldn’t find Chile on a map. Now I know it like the back of my hand—if my hand were a narrow, two-thousand-mile stretch along the Pacific—thanks to Chile’s award-winning, groundbreaking, and vibrant olive oil scene.

In Santiago I met up with the charming and astute Maria Luz Hurtado, director of the diploma program in olive oil production at the University of Santiago. Maria arrived at our lunch at an open-air mall in Santiago looking like a secret agent, with a black leather briefcase, and opened it to reveal a set of olive oil tasting cups. We were so swept up in tasting these amazing oils and swapping tales of olive oil people we know in common that we forgot to order lunch!

Chile Bursts on the Scene

The first substantial olive groves were planted in Chile only as of the year 2000. Within just a few years—thanks to a Mediterranean-like climate, devotion to horticulture, an absence of olive pests, and expert technical and creative guidance from master millers—the quality and distinction of Chilean extra virgin olive oils had earned them international acclaim.

Bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west; the Andes Mountains on the east; the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, to the north; and the taper of Patagonia to the south, Chile is only 110 miles across at its widest point. Chile’s diverse geography provides for many microclimates, which create complexity in the flavors of its freshpressed olive oils.

I first visited Chile and its olive groves in 2005, at which time I met several of the pioneering producers. As soon as the trees bore fruit, I was thrilled to introduce Chilean oils to my Club members, and each year since I have delighted in bringing you exclusive Chilean oils—especially at a time of year when just-pressed olive oils are otherwise unavailable (or very hard to come by) in the Northern Hemisphere.

Dusty Roads to Liquid Gold

When I landed in Santiago, one of the first things I noticed was that the Andes, normally snow-capped, were bare. My scouts on the ground had reported, “No rain, all summer. Not a drop.” For several years running, Chile has been enduring what scientists have dubbed “mega-drought,” or megasequía. Most farms are equipped with irrigation systems that rely on water from wells or lakes. But snow melt from the Andes helps replenish those ground sources, so the visual of bald mountains was uncanny, like a good friend who’s gotten a subtly strange haircut.

Many of the roads to, from, and around olive farms are dirt or gravel, and in Chile they seemed paved with dust, all 1,400 miles of them. While touring the groves of Deleyda (see profile below) with producer Christian Coddou, I was sputtering some numbers in “Spanglish,” trying to estimate the acreage. Finally—in a truly resourceful move—Christian wrote out the specific sum with his index finger in the dust on the dashboard of our rented gray SUV. (The same way we kids used to inscribe “Wash Me!” on a dirty car.)

Chile is home to arrestingly beautiful and ever-shifting landscapes—often combining elements you’d expect to find thousands of miles apart. (My Merry Band of Tasters snapped this shot on a previous trip—when I arrived in central Chile this time around, the Andes were bare, a sign of the enduring drought.) At right, desert cacti stand as if oblivious to the snow-capped Andes on the horizon. In the foreground and then further back are undulating rows of olive trees, irrigated by runoff from the mountain snow melt.

In spite of the drought, my Merry Band of Tasters and I weren’t worried about the olives, as we work with producers who meticulously manage their irrigation resources. Also, a degree of water deprivation has its benefits, as it helps concentrate the perfumes and flavors in the resulting olive oil.

Several farms anticipated excellent harvests. I was particularly eager to taste the Frantoio at the Deleyda groves; I was also intrigued by advance word that, on more than one farm, Koroneiki olives—a Greek variety—promised to be outstanding. The threat in Chile, where the seasons can shift in a blink, would be frost. We had to ensure the olives were picked and pressed before the temperature dropped. That was fine by me, as I prefer that the fruit be pressed green, for greater flavor and higher polyphenol content.

The Beauty of the Blend

Chilean groves tend to focus on a handful of olive varieties (in contrast to the more than 500 found in Italy): Arbequina, Coratina, Koroneiki, Arbosana, Frantoio, Picual. This minimalist approach presents a wonderful opportunity for artful, finely calibrated blending, and it gave me and my colleagues—including Italian master miller Duccio Morozzo della Rocca—the chance to create three exquisite blends that are truly greater than the sum of their parts.

Before embarking on the 5,000-mile flight home, I was delighted to spend an afternoon with Maria Luz Hurtado (see photo, opposite page), director of the olive oil diploma program at the University of Santiago. An ambassador for Chilean olive oils, Maria was the teacher of two producers I worked with this quarter (Deleyda and Alonso), as well as dozens of other influential people in Chile’s olive oil scene.

Maria was thrilled to learn about my Club and the level of olive oil appreciation demonstrated by its members. She is so proud that these beauties will be representing Chile on your summer tables. I can’t wait for you to taste them with just about everything—splash them generously on salads, grilled meats, vegetables, and seafood, and drizzle them over tender sweet corn. Mmmmmm… A mi gusta!

Happy drizzling!

T. J. Robinson

The Olive Oil Hunter®


This Quarter’s First Selection

  • Producer: Duccio Morozzo Selección Exclusiva, Colchagua Valley, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Arbequina, Koroneiki
  • Flavor Profile:  Mild

If you’ve been a Club member for a while, you’ve savored the artistry of my dear friend and devoted champion of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, Duccio Morozzo della Rocca. An internationally celebrated olive oil judge, taster, and master miller, Duccio, like myself, works and travels almost year-round, as the global olive harvests trace the earth’s trip around the sun. He sent word that he’d also be in Chile during the time of my quest, advising and overseeing the harvest at the Swett family farm in the Colchagua Valley, about 100 miles south of Santiago.

I love driving through central Chile at this time of year. The endless vineyards, olive groves, and other plantings blanket both sides of the road like an autumnal patchwork quilt, rippling out in squares of burgundy, gold, dark purple, and silver-green.

Duccio was as excited as I was to collaborate on an exclusive blend for my Club, showcasing this season’s beautiful fruit in what he has dubbed “the perfect example of Chilean agriculture.” The extensive groves of the Swett family farm inhabit a complex landscape, with many different microclimates and sharp shifts in geography. Thus the same variety of olive—yet grown, for instance, on both sides of a hill—can yield very different aromas and flavors, depending on the sun exposure and altitude.

On the ground in advance, Duccio observed this season’s crop coming to fruition, and pronounced it outstanding. He gave a special nod to the Koroneiki olives, a Greek variety, and the Arbequina, a Spanish variety that is ubiquitous in Chile, but, as Duccio observes, diplomatically, “Not everybody does it well.” Duccio prefers to sample the olives right from the tree, tasting for potential, finding the spots with just the right amount of sun to build aromas in the fruit, imagining how he’ll orchestrate the flavors together. (See us inspecting the rows of olive trees in the photo at left.)

Although Duccio Morozzo della Rocca technically resides in Italy and I in Asheville, NC, we convene around the globe in places like this: a dusty road alongside groves of gorgeous olive trees. Here we are at the Swett family farm, where Duccio has earmarked specific plots of fruit for an exclusive pressing for my Club.

For a few days we were given reign over the field for a special harvest, exclusive to my Club, in order to procure the perfect ingredients for what we had in mind: a complex, intense, pleasing, extraordinary oil.

Providing the base of the blend, Arbequina brings green and sweet aromas; Duccio describes its sensory impression as “the fresh soul of the olives.” We harvested two different batches of Arbequina, from separate locations, and pressed them separately as well. One batch was pressed using a traditional hammer crusher, whereas the other was milled using a super state-of-the-art knife crusher. Both methods produce desired but different results, enabling us to glean more complexity and nuance from the Arbequina: variations on a theme. The Koroneiki, in a smaller amount, adds dimension to the blend, giving it pungency, a lively bitterness, and a bit of a kick.

“Let’s have some fun!” Joy is the secret ingredient in any Duccio Morozzo blend. We tinkered with the ratios, using two separate batches of Arbequina olives and just enough Koroneiki to give it pizzazz. The exquisite blend we created emanates a delicately perfumed sweetness, making it an ideal oil to use in baked goods, such as the moist and delicious Lemon-Blueberry Zucchini Cake on below.

Trained as a composer, Duccio brings a musician’s appreciation of harmony, interplay, and resonance to the creation of an optimal blend. He also brings his irrepressible personality and love of life into the process, beginning our blending session by announcing, “Let’s have some fun!” Believe me, we did! (See photo at right.) The brilliant blend we created is bursting with personality. It’s a celebration of Chilean agriculture; an expression of gratitude for you, my wonderful Club members; and an almost magical levitation of the sensory elements that construct an optimal olive oil: greenness, sweetness, bitterness, and spice.

We were so delighted with the result that Duccio bottled extra to give to the grove workers, so they can enjoy the fruits of their labors. All of us are so very proud to share it with you!

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

Grassiness is forward on the nose, as are the fruity notes of green banana and apple. Minty and fresh, with hints of Belgian endive, fennel, and lime zest, with a fillip of green peppercorns. In the mouth, expect a crescendo of rich, round food associations—from sweet (bananas, lemon meringue pie, white chocolate, cocoa butter) to savory (celery leaves, chicory, ginger), with the subtle nuttiness of almonds. Clean, bright mouthfeel (again, minty) with a long, warm Szechuan peppercorn-like finish.

My tasters and I noted this beautifully balanced, somewhat sweet olive oil would be great for baking. (It would shine in quick breads, pastries, or the Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake shown below.) It would also be perfect for drizzling over summer salads, especially those featuring fruit; mild fish and shellfish; poultry; fresh or non-aged cheeses; grilled vegetables; sweet potatoes; lentils; rice; eggs; and as always, warm crusty bread.


This Quarter’s Second Selection

  • Producer: Deleyda, Pumanque, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Frantoio, Arbequina, Arbosana
  • Flavor Profile: Medium

Make the trek up the pyramid-like hill in the center of Deleyda’s El Cerrillo olive groves, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the property and the mountain-rimmed Colchagua Valley that cradles it. (El Cerrillo means “the hill.”) Bring food, too, because the wooden pavilion at the hill’s quartz-strewn summit is a perfect place for a fall picnic. On this unseasonably warm day, I’ve brought a colorful quinoa salad with lemon wedges and heavenly just-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

From my high vantage point, I contemplate the circumstances that brought me to this special place. I don’t recall how I first came to know of Deleyda, but during the past 13 years, I have cultivated a strong network of friends and contacts in Chile. Any one of them could have alerted me to this quality-obsessed producer. (Deleyda’s oils have been featured in Flos Olei, a prestigious guide to the world’s best olive oils, since 2009—quite an accomplishment).

Persistence pays! I’ve been auditioning Deleyda’s olive oils for my Club for several years, but was unable to work with the award-winning producer until now. General manager Christian Coddou is thrilled that the exclusive blend we created together at the farm near Pumanque will be enjoyed by Club members—people with discerning palates who will recognize how special it is.

For several years, I auditioned Deleyda’s extra virgin olive oils, hoping one day to include them in my Chilean lineup. The oils showed much promise, which is why I persisted in tasting them. But they weren’t exactly what I was looking for. Until now.

Deleyda was founded in 2006 by five partners committed to producing super highquality Chilean olive oil. They evaluated more than 20 properties before purchasing the El Cerrillo land in the O’Higgins Region. Access to water was a must, of course.

The O’Higgins Region, a bit smaller than the state of Massachusetts, is agriculturally blessed with a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean. Like Russia’s famous nested dolls, it harbors contoured valleys within valleys. Tree fruit and olives are among the products it trucks over the ribbon-like Ruta Cinco to Santiago and the world beyond.

Planted in 2008, the 400-acre farm is itself a valley. It hosts a number of microclimates that give complexity to the olives. My scouts on the ground predicted 2018 could be an exceptional year as long as Mother Nature cooperated. And she did! Shortly before my visit, El Cerrillo hosted world-renowned olive oil expert and master miller Dr. Mario Beltrami. Dr. Beltrami, an agronomist from Tuscany, has been a consultant to Deleyda for several years, deftly maximizing its oils’ potential.

Happily, the just-pressed Frantoio, Arbequina, and Arbosana oils I tasted at the on-site high-tech mill with El Cerrillo’s general manager, Christian Coddou, were very impressive. Together we created a beautiful and exclusive blend for my Club members.

A common sight in rural Chile, igloo-shaped clay ovens called hornos de barro are used to convert thorny espiña wood (see it in the background) into charcoal. The oxygenstarved fire burns for several days in the sealed oven, then is allowed to cool completely. The resulting charcoal is highly prized by Chilean pit masters and is the fuel of choice at asados (traditional cookouts) throughout the country.

Over a lunch at a local restaurant appropriately named Mestizo (“mixed”), Christian was eager to talk about why this year’s early-harvest oils were so good. The weather was very accommodating, he said, with warm days and cool nights. Luckily, frost did not affect the budding trees in the spring or the harvest-ready fruit in the fall.

The farm actually has a clever defense against frost. Christian explained that solar-powered thermometers positioned throughout the groves send alerts via Wi-Fi if temperatures drop below a preset threshold. A tractor equipped with a blower rushes to the trees and warms the air. I have not seen this technique in play before—more evidence of New World ingenuity.

The continuation of Chile’s drought has reduced water levels in the fruit and concentrated its amazing flavors. With a background in irrigation, Christian gives the trees just enough water to sustain them without diluting the olives’ perfume and essence. Six wells on the property supply the irrigation system. Christian stops watering the trees about a week before harvest.

I am very eager for you to taste the olive oil from this world-class producer. Deleyda is thrilled to share its just-pressed extra virgin olive oil with my Club members, people who will appreciate its outstanding quality and affinity for the foods of summer.

Impressions and Recommended Food Pairings:

On the nose, this medium-intensity olive oil releases the heady scents of almonds, vanilla, banana skin, honeycomb, celery, baby spinach, fennel, and fresh-cut grass. It gives the impression of being both sweet and green, which is confirmed on the palate. Again, we invoked almonds, vanilla, and honey, cut through with the vivifying astringency of lime and the darkly vegetal bitterness of Swiss chard and parsley stems. The spiciness of black peppercorns lingers in the throat, a reminder of this oil’s precious payload of polyphenols.

We recommend pairing this multi-faceted oil with white beans; game meats; lamb shoulder, breast, or shanks; lobster or prawns; duck; beef; salmon; herb-inflected egg dishes, such as frittatas or quiches; oil-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, or bluefish; and simple pasta dishes, such as aglio e olio. Perfect, also, for chocolate- or almond-based desserts.


This Quarter’s Third Selection

  • Producer: Alonso, Agricola Pobeña SA, Comuna de La Estrella, O’Higgins Region, Chile 2018
  • Olive Varieties: Picual, Koroneiki, Coratina
  • Flavor Profile: Bold

Not even in Corleone, Sicily, had the Olive Oil Hunter been threatened before. I certainly didn’t expect it in friendly Chile. But several people heard Juan Jose Alonso jokingly deliver an ultimatum: “T. J., if you don’t come to my beach house this year for a barbecue, I will not sell you any olive oil.”

So I did the only thing I could do—I buckled—and promised Juan Jose (shortened by friends and family to “Juanjo”) my Merry Band of Tasters and I would happily accept his invitation.

That is how we found ourselves navigating our rented SUV to a house party on a twisty, unpaved version of the Pacific Coast Highway. Our destination was Puertecillo, a tiny seaside town (population: less than 100) mostly known only to hardcore surfers. I imagine this is what Malibu must have looked like back in the day. Juan Jose and his young family live there.

Life, however, hasn’t always been a party for the Alonso family.

Its patriarch, Abel Alonso, was a Basque refugee from Spain’s civil war in the 1930s.

Abel’s father had been imprisoned by the despotic military dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled the country for decades. As a teenager, Abel and his parents fled to Chile. Though he had little education, young Abel found work in a shoe factory. He eventually built one of the largest and most successful shoe companies in the country.

But annual visits to his homeland after Franco’s death in 1975 made Abel long to establish an olive farm in Chile—a living legacy for his five sons and their families. He entrusted Juan Jose with the responsibility of finding a plot of land to make the dream come true.

Without strong connections to top producers, I would not be able to share the world’s finest, freshest olive oils with my Club members. While they start as working relationships, many have morphed into friendships. And I strive to maintain them. Award-winning olive oil producer, artist, and surfer Juan Jose Alonso (above) invited me to attend his 4-year-old son’s recent birthday party at the family home in picturesque Puertecillo. What a privilege!to convert thorny espiña wood (see it in the background) into charcoal. The oxygenstarved fire burns for several days in the sealed oven, then is allowed to cool completely. The resulting charcoal is highly prized by Chilean pit masters and is the fuel of choice at asados (traditional cookouts) throughout the country.

Even though Juan Jose had his own dream—he had just returned from California with a newly minted master’s degree in Fine Arts and a keen interest in surfing—he didn’t want to disappoint his father or siblings. Eventually, he located a property in the O’Higgins Region of Central Chile that hosted Mediterranean-like conditions, had water reserves (extremely important), and not incidentally, was only 30 minutes from one of Chile’s finest surfing destinations. (The family still teases Juan Jose about this, though he insists self-interest had nothing to do with the decision.)

Today, the farm is a model for New World olive producers and a source of pride for Abel, who now spends much of his time in his beloved Basque country. A 55-acre lake and a series of wells supply the water for a sophisticated irrigation system. A large state-ofthe- art mill ensures olives are pressed within 90 minutes of being harvested—an amazing turnaround time that preserves freshness and protects precious polyphenols. Day-to-day operations are managed by another son, Ignacio Alonso, giving Juan Jose the freedom to pursue art and epic waves. Ignacio is ably assisted by master miller Miguel Molina, who has helped the farm win many olive oil awards.

The 2018 harvest has gone very well so far for the Alonsos. Last year, as you may recall, devastating wildfires licked the edges of the property but were held back by a Herculean effort on the part of the entire team. The drought continues, unfortunately. The lake is the lowest I have ever seen it. Yet, the oils continue to thrill. I am particularly proud of this year’s blend, which showcases Alonso’s lovely Picual, Koroneiki, and Coratina varietals. (See my tasting notes below.)

Ignacio Alonso, who handles many of the day-to-day responsibilities of the Alonso farm, was grateful for a bountiful crop of superior-quality olives, even though water from the family’s manmade lake had to make up for the shortfall in rain. After they are harvested, olives are rushed to the farm’s on-site modern mill (almazara), where they are pressed within 90 minutes. New World growers continue to raise the bar for Old World growers, a trend I am happy to witness as it means even higher-quality oils for my Club members.

Meanwhile, I got the blue-ribbon tour of Juan Jose’s charming beach house and its bohemian-inspired décor. (My visit coincided with his son’s fourth birthday party.) There’s something to see on every surface. Even the commode in the bathroom is gaily painted. Only the homemade chicken empanadas, olive oil-honeycoconut macaroons, and a cold Escudo beer distracted me from the riot of color. It was a joyous celebration. I hope you experience some of that joy when you open the bottle. Impressions and

Recommended Food Pairings:

Boldly, deeply green on the nose, leading with fresh culinary herbs like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon. The green theme continues with tomato leaf, green tea, kiwi, kale, and peppery arugula or nasturtium leaves. It was described as “chewy,” with just a touch of sweetness reminiscent of blackberries. Very intriguing on the palate, exhibiting the bitterness of radicchio and the spiciness of arugula. Our taste buds were met with oncoming waves of tomato leaf, celery, bitter chocolate (think cocoa nibs), as well as mint, rosemary, and thyme. Not unexpectedly, we experienced a long, peppery finish. Our tasting affirmed our decision to position this oil as our boldest in the lineup.

Of course, this muscular oil should be paired with assertively flavored foods. Bistecca Fiorentina (wood-grilled beef porterhouse) comes to mind (see our recipe for Flank Steak with Salsa Verde on page 17), along with bruschetta; swordfish, sardines, and tuna; sliced tomatoes; tomato soup or sauce; gazpacho; and gremolata; even chocolate ice cream. One taster dubbed this oil “pesto in a bottle.” It will be a stalwart in your summer kitchen and, in

Olive Oil and Health

Mediterranean Diet Is Linked to Higher Muscle Mass, Bone Density after Menopause

Reprinted from an article by the Endocrine Society, March 20, 2018.

The heart-healthy Mediterranean diet also appears to be good for an older woman’s bones and muscles, a new study of postmenopausal women in Brazil finds. The study results were presented Monday, March 26, at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.

The researchers reported finding higher bone mass and muscle mass in postmenopausal women who adhered to a Mediterranean diet than in those who did not. This way of eating involves a high intake of fruits and vegetables, grains, potatoes, olive oil and seeds; moderately high fish intake; low saturated fat, dairy, and red meat consumption; and regular but moderate drinking of red wine. The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and certain other chronic diseases.

Few studies, however, are available about the Mediterranean diet and its effects on body composition after menopause, said the study’s lead investigator, Thais Rasia Silva, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. This information is important, she said, because menopause, with its decline in estrogen, speeds a woman’s loss of bone mass, increasing her risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis and broken bones. In addition, menopause and aging reduce muscle mass. Silva said declines in skeletal muscle mass and strength in older people are major contributors to increased illness, reduced quality of life and higher death rates.

Silva and her co-workers conducted their study in 103 healthy women from southern Brazil, who had an average age of 55 and who had gone through menopause 5.5 years earlier, on average. All women underwent bone scans to measure their bone mineral density, total body fat, and appendicular lean mass, which was used to estimate skeletal muscle mass. The subjects also completed a food questionnaire about what they ate in the past month.

A higher Mediterranean diet score (MDS), meaning better adherence to the Mediterranean diet, was significantly associated with higher bone mineral density measured at the lumbar spine and with greater muscle mass, Silva reported. This association, she said, was independent of whether the women used hormone therapy previously, their prior smoking behavior, or their current level of physical activity, as measured by wearing a pedometer for six days.

“We found that the Mediterranean diet could be a useful nonmedical strategy for the prevention of osteoporosis and fractures in postmenopausal women,” Silva said. Given the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Silva added, “Postmenopausal women, especially those with low bone mass, should ask their doctor whether they might benefit from consuming this dietary pattern.”


Kudos from Club Members

What a joy to read your poetic descriptions of your magnificent oils! And even a bigger pleasure is enjoying them. I feel privileged to be able to receive your olive oils and thank you so much for your extraordinary work.
Gratefully, Marcella B.Syosset, NY

Recipes

  • Roasted Peppers with Parmesan Breadcrumbs Roasted Peppers with Parmesan Breadcrumbs This simple but jewel-like appetizer or side dish can be served hot or at room temperature. Don’t forget the last drizzle of olive oil for a spectacular presentation! view recipe
  • Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Guacamole Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Guacamole The mushrooms can be grilled up to a day ahead, but make the guacamole an hour or two before serving. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (make sure the wrap makes contact with the guacamole) and refrigerate. view recipe
  • Grilled Cauliflower Fajitas Grilled Cauliflower Fajitas With over 6 percent of Americans identifying as vegan and millions more describing themselves as “vegetarianinclined,” a meatless main course option belongs in your recipe repertoire. view recipe
  • Fresh Tomato Soup Fresh Tomato Soup Make this simple soup when sun-ripened tomatoes come into the market. If you’re unfamiliar with it, burrata is a water-packed, milky mozzarella-like cheese filled with cream. Substitute a spoonful of fresh ricotta if burrata is unavailable. view recipe
  • Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake This beautiful cake is dense, as it was originally adapted from a quick-bread recipe. Before juicing the lemon, remove the zest in long thin strips and reserve for a garnish. view recipe
  • Oatmeal With Olive Oil And Berries Oatmeal With Olive Oil And Berries Fruit-topped oatmeal drizzled with extra virgin olive oil is a lovely way to greet the morning, hitting just the right savory and sweet notes. Use whatever fruit you have on hand—sliced bananas, diced fresh peaches, strawberries, etc. view recipe
  • Black Bean and Corn Salad Black Bean and Corn Salad This colorful side dish is potluck-worthy, and with the addition of sliced grilled chicken, pork, or steak, is substantial enough to serve as a main course. Diced avocado is an optional ingredient. If you’re short on time, substitute canned black beans (drained, thoroughly rinsed, and drained again) for the dried. view recipe
  • Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Bacon Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Bacon My wife, Meghan, and I enjoyed this simple salad on the first day of our Chilean olive oil expedition, and we recreated it as soon as we returned to Asheville. view recipe
  • Garlicky Herbed Chicken Garlicky Herbed Chicken Halving or spatchcocking the chicken enables it to cook faster—a plus on busy weeknights. To spatchcock a bird, place it breast-side down and remove the backbone with kitchen shears or a sharp knife. Flatten with the palm of your hand. view recipe
  • Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde Grilled Flank Steak with Salsa Verde Maintain a cool kitchen by taking the party outside. The key to tender flank steak is to cook it to medium-rare, then slice thinly on a sharp diagonal. view recipe