COOC's Patricia Darragh: 20 Years With California Olive Oil

Patricia Darragh discussed advances in standards and education, and her own fiery passion for the olive oil industry.

Patricia Darragh
Aug. 7, 2017
By Joanne Drawbaugh
Patricia Darragh

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At this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show, we met up with Patricia Darragh, who has led the California Olive Council (COOC) as its exec­u­tive direc­tor since October 1997. We asked Darragh about her expe­ri­ences at the orga­ni­za­tion, its growth over the years, and the most impor­tant projects the COOC has taken on, as she reflected on twenty years amid the buzz of the con­ven­tion hall.

After twenty years in the indus­try, I learn some­thing new every day.- Patricia Darragh, California Olive Oil Council

Darragh decided to assume her role at the Council in 1997 after find­ing inspi­ra­tion in the local industry’s excite­ment at the time. I fell in love with the indus­try dur­ing my inter­view. The board mem­bers were so pas­sion­ate and com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing an orga­ni­za­tion focused on achiev­ing high stan­dards,” she remembered. 

When Darragh began with the Council, it had no web­site. Communications were rather prim­i­tive but [there were] tons of excite­ment and enthu­si­asm for the nascent indus­try. The enthu­si­asm remains.” 

Since that time, Darragh notes two piv­otal moments in the organization’s his­tory. The first was when super-high-den­sity pro­duc­tion (SHD) was intro­duced in the state. In the throes of this period, Darragh explained that the COOC was able to emerge as an orga­ni­za­tion that could suc­cess­fully rep­re­sent pro­duc­ers in all pro­duc­tion size cat­e­gories.” Today, the COOC proudly rep­re­sents over ninety per­cent of California-based olive prod­uct pro­duc­ers among a wide vari­ety of sizes and capabilities. 

The orga­ni­za­tion expe­ri­enced another cru­cial turn­ing point in 1998 with the estab­lish­ment of both the COOC Seal Certification Program and the taste panel, which will be cel­e­brat­ing their 20th anniver­saries in 2018. Darragh said its taste panel was the first sen­sory panel for olive oil in North America.

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Throughout the industry’s pro­gres­sion, the COOC has achieved a num­ber of what Darragh sees as land­mark goals, the organization’s con­tri­bu­tion to stan­dards in grade ver­i­fi­ca­tion and trace­abil­ity chief among them. The COOC seal is now rec­og­nized and sought after and the COOC has emerged as a leader in the indus­try for stan­dards and qual­ity,” she said. For the future, her pri­mary goal is to keep com­mu­ni­cat­ing and increase the demand for COOC-cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oil.” 

In order to achieve this objec­tive, the orga­ni­za­tion has focused on improv­ing its exist­ing pro­grams such as the taste panel and devel­op­ing more edu­ca­tional projects. Beyond this, Darragh is also plan­ning a major strate­gic plan­ning meet­ing for the board later this summer.” 

As the indus­try con­tin­ues to grow with the assis­tance of the COOC, Darragh believes California olive oil has achieved a unique posi­tion through its unwa­ver­ing focus on stan­dards, truth in label­ing and trace­abil­ity.” Demand con­tin­ues to increase and statewide, pro­duc­ers are hop­ing to posi­tion them­selves col­lec­tively as the source for authen­tic extra vir­gin olive oil.” 

For those look­ing to break into the indus­try, Darragh offered a few words of advice: Take the time to learn every­thing that you can about the indus­try. Take classes, attend sem­i­nars, meet with indus­try lead­ers and taste as much olive oil as pos­si­ble to hone your palate. After twenty years in the indus­try, I learn some­thing new every day. As Einstein said, I have no spe­cial tal­ent, I am only pas­sion­ately curious.”


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