For more than 100 years, the Ricchiuti family has farmed in the heart of California’s Central San Joaquin Valley.
The family’s story began with a voyage from Vincenzo Ricchiuti’s native Italy and the establishment of the family agricultural business in 1914.
Whenever you make a product that earns recognition in the top tier of talent, it’s a wonderful feeling.
With the creation of Enzo Olive Oil fifteen years ago, they extended the family legacy into the organic olive oil production realm.
“Enzo Olive Oil Co. was technically founded in 2008, though my family has been farming in the San Joaquin Valley for four generations,” co-founder and chief operations officer Vincent Ricchiuti told Olive Oil Times.See Also:Producer Profiles
“Historically, we were an almond and fresh fruit company (P – R Farms),” he explained. “In 2008, for various reasons, we knew we wanted to diversify our business.”
“Fortunately, we were looking to the future,” he said. “My dad, Patrick Ricchiuti, sits on the Ag. Foundation Board at Fresno State [California State University, Fresno] and saw how olive oil production was the future, so we made the decision to plant our first super-high-density olive trees,” he said.
Since that decision, the company has focussed on quality, with the efforts from the previous harvest recognized with three Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
However, achieving award-winning quality from their organic olive groves did not happen overnight, and Ricchiuti reflected on how the early years were filled with questions and experimentation.
“In 2011, we had our first olive harvest and our first crush of olive oil. I’m sure you can imagine that the first year was full of trial and error – a lot of long days and long nights trying to figure things out,” he said, smiling. “Seeing how far we’ve grown as a company, it is great to reflect on when you think back and realize how much we didn’t know when we were first starting out.”
Today, the Enzo olive mill is poised for performance. The mill is nestled in the picturesque olive groves in the Central San Joaquin Valley. At Enzo, the entire olive oil production process is accomplished on-site, which Ricchiuti said allows his team to ensure quality from start to finish.
The organic olive trees are planted in this optimal growing climate, similar to the Mediterranean region. Ricchiuti and his father carefully nurture and tend the trees year-round.
Once picked, olives are immediately transported from the grove to the plant for milling. The outcome is award-winning extra virgin olive oil.
“The 2023 harvest is going great so far. We’re seeing great production,” Ricchiuti said. “We’re harvesting some young acreage and first-year orchards along with older trees that are all producing really great fruit.”
The San Joaquin Valley had a relatively cool year in 2023. As a result, Ricchiuti believes Enzo is seeing excellent oil yields earlier than expected.
“We utilize some cutting-edge technology that allows us to assess the best time to begin the harvest to maximize yields and flavor,” he said. “Because of that, we were able to kick off our harvest the earliest we ever have, on October 17th, which is a great sign as we move into cooler November.”
Ricchiuti added that this harvest has been quite different than the previous one, which Enzo wrapped up right before the start of one of California’s wettest winters in recent memory.
“I’ll never forget it; we finished our harvest around noon on the last day – and at 1 p.m., the rain started to fall and just didn’t stop,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have been able to finish that harvest just in the nick of time.”
“The biggest challenge in olive oil is the same challenge people in agriculture around the globe are experiencing at the moment – the weather,” Ricchiuti added. “It’s always weather with olive oil.”
The company has faced various other challenges to arrive at the point of earning top awards at the world’s largest olive oil quality competition. Erratic climate, wet conditions, drought and extreme heat are among a few of the climate conditions Enzo has experienced in recent years.
“Drought is a concern, something we’re seeing play out across the European continent and affecting those producers this year,” he said. “But a wet year also runs the risk of not being able to get the crop off, of not being able to get the harvesters in and out of the field.”
Ricchiuti said the family is dedicated to being responsible stewards of the olive groves and the farm. This process requires continual evaluation, upgrading and implementation of sustainable, economic and environmentally sound growing practices.
Efforts are steadfast to reduce the carbon footprint, including using solar power, state-of-the-art irrigation and ensuring that all byproducts are repurposed.
More olive trees are on the horizon, as Ricchiuti is committed to meeting customer demands for top-quality organic olive oil.
“As for the future of our company, we plan to continue planting olive trees and growing our olive oil brand, hopefully pushing the California-grown category forward,” Ricchiuti said.
“The more that people taste and learn about California olive oil, the more they begin trusting it and recognizing it as premium quality,” he added. “We work closely with the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) to help spread that message; all of our olive oil carries the COOC seal.”
Earlier this year, the company earned three Gold Awards at the World Competition for its Delicate brand, an organic medium-intensity Arbequina; Medium brand, an organic medium Arbosana; and Bold brand, an organic medium Koroneiki.
“Whenever you make a product that earns recognition in the top tier of talent, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Ricchiuti said. “For us, [the NYIOOC is] like a report card that tells us how well we’re doing amongst the best producers in the world.”
“A Gold Award in New York means more because the quality of submissions is so high; it feels great to showcase what we’re doing here in California and hopefully continue to elevate our position as a top-quality olive oil-producing region globally.”