The Ricchiuti Family's 15-Year Journey to Olive Oil Excellence

The family behind Enzo Olive Oil have built a fledgling olive farm to one of the Golden State's most awarded brands.

Vincent (left) and Patrick Ricchiuti
By Thomas Sechehaye
Nov. 27, 2023 23:51 UTC
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Vincent (left) and Patrick Ricchiuti

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.- Vincent Ricchiuti, COO, Enzo Olive Oil

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.”

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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.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-north-america-the-ricchiuti-familys-15year-journey-to-olive-oil-excellence-olive-oil-times

Patrick Ricchiuti planted super-high-density olive groves in 2008, after seeing the potential of olive oil production in the Golden State.

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.

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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.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-north-america-the-ricchiuti-familys-15year-journey-to-olive-oil-excellence-olive-oil-times

Since 2018, ENZO Olive Oil has earned 14 awards at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

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.”



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