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Published on September 25th, 2011 | by Greg


Olive Oils And A Little Balsamic

t’s har­vest sea­son! Time for new crops, but still a ways from the big hol­i­day push when they might be pack­aged and ready for sale. In the mean­time, we’ve caught up with sev­er­al Cal­i­for­nia pro­duc­ers to see what they have to of­fer now. For those not in the know, ex­tra vir­gin olive oil (or EVOO) is a ma­jor Cal­i­for­nia pride, up there with our grapes from Na­pa and Sono­ma. And what would oil be with­out a lit­tle vine­gar?

We’ll start with the sea­sons them­selves. Figueroa Farms might have an out-of-date web­site, but has a unique set of olive oil blends that they bill as try­ing to “cap­ture the fla­vors of each sea­son”. They sent us a bot­tle of each to try, and though the pack­ag­ing is al­so de­cid­ed­ly old-fa­sioned, the oils did seem to achieve what they set out to do. The Sum­mer blend was bright and fruity, good on fruit even or paired with sal­ads, and our fa­vorite of the bunch. Their Spring was more aro­mat­ic, and we blend­ed it with herbs and spices to com­pli­ment meats and serve as a mari­nade and dip. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, the Au­tumn felt a bit off- it was the low­est-ranked of the oils we tast­ed from to­day’s se­lec­tions, and the Hol­i­day Blend al­so fared poor­ly among testers. Both seemed to aim for a fla­vor that might have gone well with hearti­er fare, but we were pri­mar­i­ly us­ing breads, cheeses, wines, and some grilled and deli meats to ac­com­pa­ny. Al­so, the tex­ture and col­or of the lat­ter two didn’t earn many points, es­pe­cial­ly com­pared with some of the oth­ers we’ve tried re­cent­ly. At $45 for the set, this San­ta Bar­bara com­pa­ny seemed au­then­tic, homey, and high-qual­i­ty, but didn’t quite meet our stan­dards for val­ue to rec­om­mend high­ly.

Like Figueroa, Apol­lo Olive Oil is Cer­ti­fied Ex­tra Vir­gin. Both com­pa­nies dis­cuss what this means in de­tail, and though we don’t have the space to dis­cuss it com­plete­ly, note that the term “ex­tra vir­gin” has no pre­cise mean­ing in the US, but that the Cal­i­for­nia Olive Oil Coun­cil has de­vel­oped a pro­cess to cer­ti­fy pro­duc­ers. Apol­lo al­so pro­vides a cute chart com­par­ing them­selves with oth­er pro­duc­ers. We tried two of their oils and found both to top our charts for day-to-day use and cook­ing- though dis­tinct, both are cer­ti­fied or­gan­ic as well, and like oth­er oils are be­ing tast­ed to­wards the end of the their best time as firms pre­pare to bot­tle the lat­est and great­est. Nonethe­less, their Mis­tral Or­gan­ic sur­prised us for the sheer fresh­ness, at least of the bot­tle and batch we tried. While it didn’t grab tasters as much in char­ac­ter or body as oth­ers in straight tast­ing, when tried blind with breads and oth­er small bites, it was at the top of the charts. Phras­es like ‘re­fresh­ing’ and ‘pleas­ant­ly strong’ were used, with hints of sour­ness and sweet. The Apol­lo Sier­ra was clear­ly dif­fer­ent, and it held up well to the bite of heir­loom toma­toes. Most al­so didn’t give it top marks for sip­ping or col­or, but it was clear­ly com­plex and hearty with­out be­ing over­pow­er­ing. Two peo­ple not­ed it as feel­ing thick and full-bod­ied, and at $20 a bot­tle, felt worth it for the sheer qual­i­ty and bal­ance. We clear­ly aren’t alone- this pair has been win­ners of many Gold Medals (Yolo, COOC, LA Coun­ty) and the Mis­tral even was named the Best US Or­gan­ic Olive Oil at the Bi­ol, Italy Or­gan­ic Com­pe­ti­tion 2011.

Larg­er and less ex­pen­sive, Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch nonethe­less has man­aged to make a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion on us many times. Per­haps it’s va­ri­ety and the epony­mous name, and even fa­mil­iar­i­ty. We tend to use their oils the most of any sin­gle pro­duc­er, and find their val­ue propo­si­tion com­pelling. So, it’s on­ly nat­u­ral that we were in­ter­est­ed when they upped the ante fur­ther, re­leas­ing their Ranch Se­lect se­ries. While their wide­ly avail­able ‘Ev­ery­day’ oil runs a bit over $10 for 500 ml, the new va­ri­eties add $5 per bot­tle. We tried all three, the two Oroville and the Ar­tois. Help­ful­ly la­belled, we weren’t too sur­prised to find that their taste pro­files match the ex­pec­ta­tions- and con­found­ed our tasters to a de­gree. Ba­si­cal­ly, two of the three split the vote, with peo­ple lov­ing the two Oroville and most­ly feel­ing so-so about the Ar­tois. Of course, taste is sub­jec­tive- the Ar­tois had ex­cel­lent tex­ture, was but­tery and mild, but didn’t make a strong im­pres­sion ei­ther on it’s own or with pair­ings. But the Oroville Ranch (two olive rat­ing) was a kick in the mouth with olive juice, fla­vor­ful and lip-lick­ing­ly tasty. Those who rat­ed it tops com­pli­ment­ed the ‘al­most trop­i­cal’ and ‘wine-like’ depth. Oth­ers pre­ferred the the oth­er Oroville, a bold­er lu­bri­cant that held up on it’s own even to spicy sala­mi. Some treat­ed our ex­cel­lent cia­bat­ta as a mere ves­sel for get­ting more of this oil. Ev­ery­one should be able to find some­thing for them in Cal­i­for­nia Olive Ranch’s line­up.

Fi­nal­ly (whew!), The Ar­ti­sanal Kitchen of­fers Bal­sam­ic vine­gar and EVOO. Their oil is called “Three Olives”, and was a good mid-range op­tion, liked by most ev­ery­one and im­me­di­ate­ly ac­ces­si­ble if not of­fer­ing the in­ten­si­ty or pair­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties of some oth­ers. Al­so la­beled Cer­ti­fied Ex­tra Vir­gin, it’s the most in­ex­pen­sive of the day at $13 for 500 ml. And while it’s mel­low char­ac­ter and fair­ly stan­dard pack­ag­ing didn’t stand out from the pack, we did like the col­or among the best. But we’re hap­py to re­port the the Bal­sam­i­co de Mod­e­na did im­press. Word is that the stuff is made in Italy in wood­en bar­rels, and “us­es a high­er pro­por­tion of grape must to wine vine­gar than many oth­er bal­sam­ics on the mar­ket”- which was ob­vi­ous at first taste. While some bal­sam­ics can taste a bit off-bal­ance, this one was sweet­er than sour- not cloy­ing, but smoother. At $15, it seems like a bar­gain!

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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