At Pasolivo, Olive Oil Production Is Art and Science

The central California producers earned five more awards at the 2022 NYIOOC, bringing their total at the competition to 27 since 2016.

Photo: Pasolivo
May. 31, 2022
By Daniel Dawson
Photo: Pasolivo

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Situated amidst the rolling foothills of the Santa Lucia Coastal Range, just west of Paso Robles, California, the pro­duc­ers behind Pasolivo have turned the art of craft­ing award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil into a nearly sci­en­tific process.

The crux of any sci­en­tific process is hav­ing a set of pro­ce­dures that can eas­ily be repeated and con­sis­tently yield the same result. Over the years, Pasolivo has achieved just that.

The cen­tral California com­pany earned four Gold Awards and a Silver Award at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Once again, Pasolivo was one of the win­ningest pro­duc­ers from the United States, bring­ing its total award count at the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion to 27.

“[Winning so con­sis­tently] feels amaz­ing,” Marisa Bloch, the company’s gen­eral man­ager who will cel­e­brate her tenth anniver­sary at Pasolivo in November, told Olive Oil Times. And it’s just fur­ther val­i­da­tion that the hard work that our team is putting into the whole process is really work­ing and pay­ing off.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

If the olive oil pro­duc­tion process is akin to a sci­en­tific exper­i­ment, the NYIOOC panel of judges serves the role of peer review­ers. Each year, Bloch and the rest of the pro­duc­tion team take their feed­back and incor­po­rate it into the har­vest next sea­son.

Every year, it gets a lit­tle bit bet­ter than the year before because we’re more pre­pared,” she said.

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The har­vest itself is an intense 2.5‑week period in November, involv­ing a highly coor­di­nated oper­a­tion to pick all the olives and get them to the onsite mill within a cou­ple of hours.

We start pick­ing olives usu­ally at 6:30 or 7 a.m., and milling can go until 11 p.m.,” Bloch said. Days are usu­ally long but depend on how long it takes to get all of the har­vested olives trans­formed and stored.

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Marisa Bloch

Bloch begins each har­vest by meet­ing with her con­trac­tor to out­line her expec­ta­tions and make a plan.

To kick off the har­vest, we speak to all of our pick­ers,” she said. As a grower, our first pri­or­ity is obvi­ously the health of the trees and mak­ing sure that they’re being cared for.”

The com­pany grows 12 dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties – Ascolana, Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, Pendolino, Coratina, Lucca, Mission, Manzanilla, Picholine, Arbequina and Picual – in its tra­di­tion­ally spaced groves.

So num­ber one is just mak­ing sure that we’re all on the same page and we have our expec­ta­tions,” Bloch said.

Maintaining a good rela­tion­ship with the con­trac­tor is one of her keys to suc­cess. Building a strong rap­port ensures that Pasolivo can always bring in the 100 to 150 work­ers required to get all of her olives har­vested on time.

It takes a lot of the man­age­ment from my team to make sure that every­thing’s going smoothly out there,” she said.

Once the pick­ing gets under­way, Bloch heads to the com­pany mill, and the first olives begin to arrive from 8:30 to 9 a.m.

We try and get a cou­ple of loads in first because obvi­ously, once we fire up our mill, we don’t want to have any down­time,” she said.

One of the great­est things, hon­estly, espe­cially that first day of the sea­son, is to hear that mill going again and see the oil residue in the air and just the smell of the whole build­ing,” Bloch added.

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Photo: Pasolivo

One of the keys to a suc­cess­ful exper­i­ment is lim­it­ing the num­ber of inde­pen­dent vari­ables to hone to focus of the exper­i­ment. However, this is not pos­si­ble for most mod­ern olive oil pro­duc­ers.

While the har­vest is in full swing, Pasolivoalso wel­comes guests to observe the trans­for­ma­tion process, tour the groves and taste olive oil fresh from the mill, which is directly adja­cent to their tast­ing room.

We’re going seven days a week,” Bloch said. This year, we went through Thanksgiving. It’s really all hands on deck. The entire fam­ily assists with the process as well.”

Honestly, it’s one of the most stress­ful times of the year, but also one of the great­est times of the year,” she added. I’m just bring­ing every­body together, and there’s noth­ing like tast­ing that first oil of the sea­son.”

Once the har­vest is com­plete and the extra vir­gin olive oils are securely stored, the sci­en­tific process is pushed to one side – though not com­pletely aban­doned – and art comes to the fore­front.

Bloch and her tast­ing room man­ager, both of whom are level two olive oil som­me­liers, work with Pasolivo’s miller to decide on the season’s blends.

In sev­eral pre­vi­ous inter­views with Olive Oil Times, Bloch attrib­uted Pasolivo’s suc­cess at the NYIOOC to har­vest­ing all olive vari­eties sep­a­rately and craft­ing new blends each sea­son depend­ing on how the mono­va­ri­etal oils turned out. This year was no excep­tion.

We all taste the oils each year after har­vest, and we rank them,” she said. Then I do all of the blend­ing.”

I take all of our notes and our feed­back from that tast­ing and decide my blends,” she said. I just try out dif­fer­ent things. We always aim for cer­tain fla­vor pro­files for each of our four extra vir­gin olive oils, and I get to play around with the dif­fer­ent vari­eties based on that.”

north-america-profiles-production-the-best-olive-oils-at-pasolivo-olive-oil-production-is-art-and-science-olive-oil-times

Photo: Pasolivo

Traditionally, Pasolivo pro­duces four extra vir­gin olive oil blends: a mild one (Cucina), a medium one (Classic) and two robust blends (California and Tuscan).

This year we also sent along our Il Singolo [to the NYIOOC],” Bloch said. Any time we find that there is a sin­gle vari­ety that stands out on its own, we try and bot­tle it. So that one was not blended. It was just our Ascolano mono­va­ri­etal.”

Once Bloch has decided on the blends, all the extra vir­gin olive oils are bot­tled and sold directly to the con­sumer, either online or at their store in Paso Robles. Most Pasoliveo’s sales are made online to Californians, but she said they ship olive oil to all 50 states.

While their diverse client base keeps the com­pany afloat, this year it has pre­sented some new chal­lenges. With infla­tion at a four-decade high in the United States, Bloch said pro­duc­tion costs have risen sharply on every­thing from glass bot­tles to ship­ping costs.

Fuel costs, pack­ag­ing costs, every­thing has gone up,” she said. We haven’t had to raise our prices yet, but it is some­thing that we’re think­ing about.”

Besides ris­ing costs, sup­ply chain issues have also caused headaches for Bloch. She is still wait­ing for an order of bot­tles from Italy that she placed in September. It usu­ally takes the bot­tles four months to arrive.

As a result, Bloch is mak­ing sure that all the milling equip­ment is in good con­di­tion and already plac­ing orders for a replace­ment ahead of the 2022 har­vest.

We’ve already ordered our mill parts for this next sea­son because we want to make sure that every­thing is here in plenty of time,” she said. If you wait until shortly before har­vest, there’s a good chance that things aren’t going to make it.”

Along with prepar­ing the mill for the next har­vest, Bloch also pre­pares the trees. The team at Pasolivo fol­lows a care­ful reg­i­men of prun­ing, water­ing and fer­til­iz­ing to try and limit the fluc­tu­a­tions in the trees’ nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycles.

We seem to found that find a sweet spot, with all of the prac­tices that we have in our orchard. We’re for­tu­nate to have a pretty good pro­duc­tion every year,” Bloch con­cluded, and 2022 should be no excep­tion.


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