Introducing T.J. Robinson, the Olive Oil Hunter® and Founder of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club
My name is T. J. Robinson. In past years, before I found my current calling as “The Olive Oil Hunter,” I was an award-winning chef and food journalist. One autumn evening several years ago, during my first tour of Sicily while on assignment for a food newsletter, I was invited by a local olive grower named Matteo to attend an olive oil harvest party.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Matteo explained that in Sicily, as in other olive-growing parts of the world, “We locals go crazy for fresh-pressed oil.” He said that Italians call it ‘novello,’ and they love it so much, they throw parties at harvest time each year to celebrate its arrival.
He asked if I had ever tasted fresh-pressed olive oil, squeezed right at harvest time. I told him no, I hadn’t. He laughed and, with a warm smile and characteristic Sicilian hand gestures for emphasis, implored me to come to the harvest party, saying, “T. J., my friend, you are still an olive oil virgin! You have never tasted olive oil until you have tasted fresh-pressed! It will spoil you for all other oils! Please join me and my family tonight!”
Naturally I accepted Matteo’s enthusiastic invitation.
At that night’s harvest party, I was bowled over
Have you ever lived a night that changed your life forever? This was such a night for me…
With Matteo, his family, and several of their friends, we drove to the community olive mill, just outside the picturesque seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily. This community mill is where the town’s olive growers bring their newly harvested olives for pressing and bottling.
We watched as the presses squeezed the olives and then poured forth a pure, fresh, liquid gold. I was handed a small glass and, as instructed by my hosts, sipped some of the new oil, rolled it over and around my tongue, at first sucking and slurping to mix it with air, and then gently exhaling, to saturate my palate with every nuance of the oil’s taste and aroma.
Oh…my…goodness! Was Matteo ever right! I had always been an olive oil aficionado but had never tasted anything like this in America, nothing even close. The oil, just born from earth and tree, was alive with flavors so fresh and green, they awakened my palate as if from slumber.
To understand what I experienced, just imagine that, for your whole life, the only herbs you ever tasted were dried herbs from packages in the supermarket. But then one unforgettable day you finally got to taste delicious fresh-cut herbs just clipped from a neighbor’s garden, and you discovered the real thing! That’s what tasting this fresh-pressed oil was like for me (and will be like for you!).
My mind raced to identify its vivid bouquet of flavors—grassiness, freshly crushed ripe tomatoes, watercress, arugula, green apples, even the nuttiness of walnuts—all in perfect harmony and with a clean, palate-pleasing, slightly astringent mouth feel that was neither too heavy nor too light.
And then there was the pièce de résistance, the oil’s remarkable finish. On swallowing, I noticed a slight peppery pinch at the back of my throat, the hallmark of the very freshest oil. Knowledgeable oil lovers the world over crave that gentle pinch because it denotes the presence of spectacular flavor and nutritional riches coming from super-healthy antioxidants, all at their maximum when the oil is just pressed.
Where had such fresh-pressed olive oil been all my life?
A fleeting notion made me sad, as I thought of all my foodie friends back in the States who had never tasted such oil—and would likely never experience it—because it’s not available in America.
But no time for melancholy—my magical night was just beginning!
As the local growers tasted their oils, they were jubilant, smiling broadly and toasting each other with small glasses of olive oil. They were thrilled with the oil that their latest olive crop had produced. They knew they had a winner that would be prized by olive oil aficionados.
With several bottles of fresh-pressed oil in hand, our group then drove back to Matteo’s charming rustic villa for a celebration. Matteo and his wife cheerfully served us pitchers of their delicious homemade red wine. As we sat at wooden tables and benches outside his huge barn, Matteo lit fires of dried olive tree branches. As the smoky fires dimmed, he tossed homemade Sicilian sausages on the open-air grills, which sizzled and scented the cool autumn evening with aromas so intoxicating that I thought I might swoon.
Just when I could stand such foodie anticipation no longer, Matteo’s wife emerged from her kitchen proudly carrying the appetizer, a huge platter of fresh ricotta cheese so warm and delicate that the cheese actually quivered when spooned onto my plate. It spread as softly as a creamy white jam on the warm, crusty homemade Sicilian bread she served along with it.
She spoke little English, and I spoke no Italian, but between her friendly smiles and gracious gestures, she invited me to drizzle our just-squeezed olive oil, and a tiny pinch of Sicilian sea salt, on my hearty helpings of ricotta cheese. I was in foodie heaven, savoring every delicious nibble of my cheese … and the mouthwatering sausage. And every morsel was elevated to new heights of flavor by the dazzling “debutante” whose coming out we were celebrating— the just-pressed supreme extra virgin olive oil that was fresher and more flavorful than any oil I’d ever tasted.
Why you can’t find such fresh-pressed oil here in America
Upon my return to the States, the memory of this fresh-pressed oil and that night haunted me. I was smitten as if by a new romance. As a food journalist and cook who loves to entertain, I had many meals to prepare in the weeks ahead, and most of them required olive oil. But now, other gourmet olive oils, no matter how expensive or alluring, left me cold. They were utterly tasteless and stale by comparison. I just had to secure more fresh-pressed oil in the U.S., but couldn’t find any, not anywhere!
You and I insist on fresh milk, fresh eggs, fresh fish, fresh meat, and fresh produce. Don’t we deserve fresh olive oil???
Of course we do! But the olive oil industry’s distribution system is designed to ship the oil as inexpensively as possible, via slow-boat cargo ships and through a maze-like distribution chain, making it impossible for you to get your hands on delicious fresh-pressed olive oil like the novello I fell madly in love with in Sicily.
Ever since that life-changing experience, I was determined to find a way to bring fresh-pressed olive oil to America all year round—to race it “from olive grove to your table” while still in its full bloom of freshness and nutritional value. I knew that when foodies in America tasted what I had in Sicily, they’d never be content with ordinary, stale, year-old olive oil again.
But I soon faced a problem. Olives in Sicily—and everywhere else they are grown—are harvested only once a year. So how could I possibly secure fresh-pressed all year long?
Actually, this proved no problem at all. I learned that different olive-growing countries have different climates and, therefore, different harvest seasons throughout the year.
Italy and Greece, for example, harvest their olives in the autumn. In sunny Spain, they harvest their olives into January and February. In spring and summer, when no one in the Northern Hemisphere is harvesting olives, there are spectacular fresh-pressed oils being squeezed at harvests in the “undiscovered” olive-growing countries of the Southern Hemisphere, such as Australia, Chile, and New Zealand.
Long story short, that’s how I founded the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club. I realized that if I were willing to break with the tradition of shipping olive oil by slow cargo ship and instead rush it to America by jet, direct from the new harvest of each olive-growing country, I could be the first to bring authentic fresh-pressed oil to foodies here in America all year round!
It took many months of making arrangements with the world’s most outstanding artisanal producers in the top olive-growing regions around the world, but I at last found a way to secure authentic fresh-pressed olive oil all year long.
A unique new Club, exclusively for passionate olive oil lovers
And that’s how it came to pass that for my Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club members, I serve as a personal “olive oil sommelier,” traveling the world, following the sun, seeking out only the best-tasting oils and acquiring them for my Club members right during the olive harvest, as the olive presses are running, when the oils are miraculously flavorful —like no other olive oil you can find in the U.S.
Sure, since we ship by jet, our Club pays higher shipping rates than the mass marketers of ordinary olive oil would ever tolerate. But that’s the whole secret of why our olive oils are so much fresher—and incomparably better tasting and healthier—than any other olive oils you can obtain in America. And it’s why our renewal rate—those members who stay in the Club quarter after quarter—is a remarkable 87%.
You simply cannot imagine how flavorful this extra virgin olive oil is until that first sensuous drop caresses your tongue and instantly ignites a tasting epiphany, a new revelation of how outrageously bright, green, and flavorful an olive oil can be—just as I experienced in Sicily.
I want you to be smitten just as I was. No words I can summon can do justice to how deliciously such harvest-fresh oil will enliven the flavors of your fresh veggies…your leafy salads…your luscious linguine, spaghetti, penne and fettucini…your sauces…your hearty bean dishes…your scampi and eggplant…your pan-friend mushrooms…your steaks and pork ribs…your delicate sea bass and sole. And just wait and see how much you’ll savor it as a dipping oil with a hunk of crusty bread and tangy cheese that satisfies you to the core.
That’s why I invite you to taste for yourself.