A Third of The Best American Olive Oils Come from This California Region

Producers from California’s Central Coast attributed the climate, soil and dedication of local institutions to their big successes at the World Olive Oil Competition.

San Luis Obispo County
Jul. 13, 2021
By Daniel Dawson
San Luis Obispo County

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Part of our con­tin­u­ing spe­cial cov­er­age of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.


Despite a chal­leng­ing crop year in which inclement weather and labor short­ages ham­pered the har­vest across California, pro­duc­ers from the state enjoyed a solid per­for­mance at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Thirty-six pro­duc­ers from 20 coun­ties com­bined to win 62 awards at the world’s most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion. While pro­duc­ers were spread across the state, the high­est con­cen­tra­tion came from the Central Coast region.

The rea­son our area pro­duces such superb oils is partly due to the per­fect Mediterranean cli­mate the Central Coast enjoys, but also because we focus on indus­try-lead­ing prac­tices.- Lynn Israelit, co-owner, Spanish Oaks Ranch

Comprising San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County, pro­duc­ers from the Central Coast earned 16 Gold Awards and five Silver Awards at the NYIOOC. Combined, pro­duc­ers from the region, which is slightly larger than Slovenia, earned one-third of all awards won by U.S. pro­duc­ers at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Winning pro­duc­ers attrib­uted a com­bi­na­tion of the region’s Mediterranean cli­mate, unique soils and cul­ture of cama­raderie for their suc­cess.

The rea­son our area pro­duces such superb oils is partly due to the per­fect Mediterranean cli­mate the Central Coast enjoys, but also because we focus on indus­try-lead­ing prac­tices to grow, har­vest and store our oils,” Lynn Israelit, the co-owner of Templeton-based Spanish Oaks Ranch, told Olive Oil Times.

We have a long-stand­ing his­tory of local grower orga­ni­za­tions in our area which focus on edu­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” she added. San Luis Obispo County pro­duc­ers learn about best prac­tices together and sup­port one another in achiev­ing them.”

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Photo: Lynn Israelit

Israelit and her hus­band, Sam, earned two Gold Awards and a Silver Award at the 2021 NYIOOC. The cou­ple has entered the com­pe­ti­tion every year since they began pro­duc­ing olive oil in 2016 and enjoy the oppor­tu­nity to be judged along­side the best extra vir­gin olive oils in the world.

Winning Gold and Silver Awards at the NYIOOC makes a big dif­fer­ence to our cus­tomers,” Israelit said. It lets them know that we pro­duce supe­rior oils that are inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized and gives them con­fi­dence that the prod­uct they are buy­ing is some of the best olive oil in the world.

See Also: The Best Olive Oils from the United States

Despite the advan­tages of the cli­mate and soil, Israelit added that part of what sep­a­rates her oils from oth­ers is the amount of work that goes into the har­vest.

We are small pro­duc­ers who pay metic­u­lous atten­tion to every detail of the pro­duc­tion of our oil: tim­ing our har­vest per­fectly, hand-pick­ing our fruit to avoid bruis­ing and get­ting our olives from the tree to the mill within two to three hours for max­i­mum fla­vor and fresh­ness,” she said. It’s hard work, but it makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Less than an hour north of Spanish Oaks Ranch, in the sin­gle-road town of San Miguel, the pro­duc­ers behind Rancho Azul y Oro Olive Farm cel­e­brated win­ning a Gold Award after enter­ing the NYIOOC for the first time this year.

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Photo: Kathryn Keeler

We felt truly hon­ored [to win this Gold Award] because we’ve always con­sid­ered the win­ners of this com­pe­ti­tion to be the best of the best,” co-owner Kathryn Keeler Olive Oil Times.

She also attrib­uted the suc­cess of Central Coast pro­duc­ers to the area’s micro­cli­mate and placed plenty of empha­sis on the soil.

The rea­son that the region is so impor­tant is the unique grow­ing con­di­tions,” Keeler said. One of the com­mon­al­i­ties with most of the award-win­ning olive grow­ers in the Central Coast region is that we are on the east­ern side of the coastal range, a bit inland, so we are hot­ter and drier.”

Our soils in this region are what is con­sid­ered cal­care­ous soil,” she added, which per­fect for grow­ing oil-pro­duc­ing olives.

Beyond the cli­mate and the soil, Keeler added that the region’s olive grow­ers have excel­lent sup­port from local millers and pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions, which also helps them to reach their full pro­duc­tion poten­tial.

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Combined with the extra­or­di­nary soils in this region, as well as the opti­mal grow­ing con­di­tions, we also have two extra­or­di­nary mills,” Keeler said. Both of the gen­tle­men who run these mills know that they are work­ing with extra­or­di­nary olives and grow­ers who truly care about their olives.”

They not only go to great lengths to make cer­tain that all of the grow­ers are edu­cated about new advance­ments, but they also truly help all of the olive grow­ers in the Central Coast region to shine,” she added.

One of these millers is Greg Traynor of 43 Ranch, who pre­vi­ously won a Gold Award at the 2020 NYIOOC.

He esti­mates that small pro­duc­ers across the Central Coast pro­duced about 20,000 gal­lons (100,000 liters) in 2020, down from 40,000 gal­lons (200,000 liters) in 2019. However, he added that these fig­ures did not include the coun­ties’ super high-den­sity pro­duc­ers.

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Photo: Lynn Israelit

The Olive Oil Commission of California, which keeps track of pro­duc­tion fig­ures for any­one who pro­duc­ers more than 5,000 gal­lons per year, did not respond to the request for com­ment about the region’s exact pro­duc­tion fig­ures.

Traynor told Olive Oil Times that he attrib­utes three fac­tors to the suc­cess of the Central Coasts pro­duc­ers, includ­ing the avail­abil­ity of expe­ri­enced con­sul­tants and insti­tu­tions to help farm­ers, a highly involved pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion and the cli­mate.

Central Coast Extra Virgin as a group meets about six times per year and shares best prac­tices and infor­ma­tion,” Traynor said. These are highly ded­i­cated grow­ers that strive to make world-class extra vir­gin olive oil. They have banded together and police each other to ensure that the high­est farm­ing, stor­age, pack­ag­ing and label­ing prac­tices are fol­lowed.”

Traynor added that the Central Coast is unique due to pro­nounced diur­nal tem­per­a­ture swings, with hot days and night­time tem­per­a­tures reach­ing around 13 ºC.

We believe that this cool­ing influ­ence on our olives allows for a longer grow­ing sea­son and pro­duces oils with greater com­plex­ity,” he said. When most of the rest of the state is fin­ished with their har­vest and milling by the end of October, the Central Coast is har­vest­ing and pro­duc­ing oil until the end of December every year.”

Back in San Miguel, Shaana Rahman, the co-owner of Boccabella Farms, cel­e­brated her company’s sec­ond suc­cess­ful out­ing at the NYIOOC, earn­ing three Gold Awards.

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Photo: Shaana Rahman

While the Central Coast pro­vides plenty of advan­tages for olive grow­ers to pro­duce high-qual­ity oils, she empha­sized that the dif­fer­ence between good oils and award-win­ning oils lies in the work of the farmer.

Truly great olive oil starts with best farm­ing prac­tices,” she told Olive Oil Times. Our focus is first on the health of our orchard and trees, using regen­er­a­tive farm­ing tech­niques to ensure that the olives we grow are the best.”

In the spring dur­ing bloom and fruit set, we pay care­ful atten­tion to what our trees need to pro­duce the high­est qual­ity olives,” she added. When we are ready to har­vest, we are highly selec­tive about which olives get har­vested and pressed into oil. We hand­pick our olives so that they stay pris­tine until they arrive at the mill.”

For Rahman, this care­ful micro­man­age­ment of the pro­duc­tion process is nec­es­sary to ensure only the best olives are trans­formed into oils, which are then care­fully blended.

For our vari­etal blends, we are method­i­cal in tast­ing and eval­u­at­ing the olive oil from each vari­etal and then spend hours, days and some­times weeks bal­anc­ing the vari­etals to craft some­thing spe­cial,” she said.

Back in Templeton, Karen Tallent, the pro­ducer behind The Groves on 41, also attrib­uted a com­bi­na­tion of the Central Coast’s cli­mate and the work in the groves and mill to her suc­cess, and the region’s at large.

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Photo: Karen Tallent

I think we all endeavor to pro­duce the finest oils pos­si­ble,” she said. Our soils and weather are usu­ally on our side, too.”

We like to har­vest a lit­tle early, so we hold off water­ing dur­ing some of the most demand­ing days, closer to har­vest, with the goal of a lit­tle more intense fla­vor,” Tallent added. This ear­lier har­vest is a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to pull from the trees, so our yields are a lit­tle lighter, but oh, does the fla­vor and polyphe­nol count make up for this”

This year, Tallent and the rest of her team at The Groves on 41 earned a Gold Award for their medium blend. It is the fourth award the com­pany has earned in five years of com­pet­ing at the NYIOOC.

We’re a small, local pro­ducer and enjoy our local [cus­tomer] base,” Tallent said. They have come to know our farm­ing oper­a­tions and olive oils, so when we receive a big award like this one, it is a really big deal for the com­mu­nity. We all cel­e­brate.”


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