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Gourmet Olive Oil Under the Baja Sun

Northern Baja California is emerging as another regional producer of gourmet quality olives and olive oils.

Cluster of olives in Baja
Jun. 6, 2017
By Tom Gatch
Cluster of olives in Baja

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Olives were first intro­duced to North Amer­ica by Fran­cis­can priests, who were sent over from Spain and used them as one of their tools to Chris­tian­ize the var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions of indige­nous peo­ple that they encoun­tered as they slowly worked their way north from La Paz, Baja, into what is now the state of Cal­i­for­nia.

Although some might not embrace the spirit in which olives were first intro­duced to this area, they even­tu­ally became an impor­tant part of the south­west­ern cui­sine.
See more: This year’s best olive oils from Mex­ico
Today, north­ern Baja Cal­i­for­nia is emerg­ing as yet another regional pro­ducer of gourmet qual­ity olives.

Olives that are grown in this sunny, arid cli­mate offer a rich, uniquely fla­vored fruit that expresses pep­pery over­tones.

In fact, one Baja pro­ducer, Bode­gas de Santo Tomás, earned two Gold Awards at the pres­ti­gious New York Inter­na­tional Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion this year for their Sevil­lano and Ascolano mono­va­ri­etals.

The two types of olive trees most com­monly grown in Baja are the Mis­sion, which is pri­mar­ily used for mak­ing oil, and the Man­zanita that pro­duces fruit for preser­va­tion in casks, jars or cans.

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Both are usu­ally planted on unir­ri­gated hill­sides, while the vine­yards that are often found adja­cent to the olive groves are cul­ti­vated in the rich soil of the val­leys, and are irri­gated with drip lines.

Locally pro­duced vir­gin oils that are extracted from these olives ren­der an epi­curean prod­uct that enhances the fla­vor of vir­tu­ally every­thing it touches, whether it be on a light salad, a wood-fired pizza or in a robust Sicil­ian-style pasta sauce.

They also offer the per­fect com­ple­ment to the plethora of recipes in the newly pop­u­lar Baja Med” cui­sine, which has been cel­e­brated by notable chefs such as Rick Bay­less and Anthony Bour­dain after their vis­its to the region.

The com­mer­cial table olives that are grown north of the bor­der in the state of Cal­i­for­nia are often pro­duced by larger farms and processed by huge, cor­po­rate food pur­vey­ors.

On the other hand, the fruits and oils of Valles Guadalupe and San Anto­nio de las Minas just north­east of Ense­nada are truly man­i­fes­ta­tions of the pas­sion and arti­sanal ded­i­ca­tion inher­ent to the small, fam­ily-run oper­a­tions that pro­duce them.

Best of all, the olive oils made in north­ern Baja can be pur­chased at the source for a mere frac­tion of the prices com­manded by high-pro­file Mediter­ranean brands imported into the United States.

That is the some­what ironic con­clu­sion to this story.

When sub­jected to com­par­i­son test­ing by astute food crit­ics, the unique fla­vor char­ac­ter of Baja’s olive oil often ends up being pre­ferred over other inter­na­tion­ally sourced vari­eties by a siz­able mar­gin.



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