`In America, Olive Oil from Coast to Coast - Olive Oil Times

In America, Olive Oil from Coast to Coast

By Cristabelle Tumola
Jul. 14, 2010 22:47 UTC

By Cristabelle Tumola
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from New York

With the prod­uct being grown right in its own back­yard, it would seem that the inter­est in olive oil has taken a lead on the West Coast, par­tic­u­larly in California. As one of the few places in the U.S. that has the Mediterranean cli­mate nec­es­sary to grow olives, it has an advan­tage that the East Coast will never have. There are a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties for California olive oil pro­duc­ers to edu­cate con­sumers and to sell their prod­ucts at places like farm­ers mar­kets, which may pro­vide a lit­tle bit more expo­sure,” observes Patricia Darragh, Executive Director of the California Olive Oil Council.

According to Paul Vossen, an olive oil expert and farm adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension for Marin and Sonoma coun­ties, California will be pro­duc­ing over a mil­lion gal­lons of olive oil this win­ter and at that point will sur­pass the olive oil pro­duc­tion of France. The California Olive Oil Council esti­mates that over the next decade there will be an expected increase of roughly 8,000 acres planted per year in the state strictly for extra-vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion, yet it won’t nearly cover the country’s grow­ing appetite for EVOO. We pro­duce 1 per­cent of what we con­sume in the U.S, which in the next few years will prob­a­bly dou­ble to 2 per­cent. So we would have to plant a lot of olives to get up to even 5 per­cent of what we con­sume in the U.S.,” says Vossen.

So there will still be a strong demand for for­eign oils. These imports from places such as Italy, Spain and Greece, dom­i­nate olive oil con­sump­tion on the East Coast which, despite recent atten­tion to the California indus­try, buys much more olive oil than the West. With 41 per­cent of olive oil sales com­ing from the Northeast, that’s where the great­est inter­est in olive oil in the United States con­tin­ues to be. California and the rest of the West Coast account for 17 per­cent of sales,” says Bob Bauer, President of the North American Olive Oil Association. He adds that the recent growth of the olive oil pro­duc­tion indus­try in California prob­a­bly helps to cre­ate the per­cep­tion that the great­est inter­est in olive oil is on the West Coast but one of the key fac­tors in cre­at­ing the demand for olive oil in other regions of the coun­try was the Northeast’s accep­tance of the prod­uct.”

There is a lot, how­ever, that can be done to ener­gize the olive oil move­ment on the East Coast like it has been on the West Coast in recent years. The olive oil mania on the West Coast has been pushed by a great avail­abil­ity of tast­ings, com­pe­ti­tions and olive oil farm tours. Although the lat­ter can­not be done on the East Coast, the rest can.

Micheal Castaldo of the New York City Olive Oil Coop, which sells estate grown gourmet olive oil from Southern Italy direct to its mem­bers once a year, finds that expos­ing peo­ple to what good olive oiltastes like and edu­cat­ing them about the health ben­e­fits has helped increase sales of his olive oil and mem­ber­ship to his coop. He has also seen an over­all height­ened aware­ness of olive oil that has increased expo­nen­tially in the past 10 years on the East Coast, with a grow­ing num­ber of retail­ers now specif­i­cally geared to sell­ing high-end extra vir­gin olive oil and olive oil related prod­ucts, and more super­mar­kets car­ry­ing high qual­ity extra vir­gins. He also adds, how­ever, that even with an increase in olive oil enthu­si­asts that often when I approach orga­ni­za­tions about doing an olive oil tast­ing, it’s still kind of strange to them, they don’t get it. It takes a lit­tle while to explain it, how it works, the value in it. Wine tast­ing is a no brainer, they get it.”

And soon the New York International Olive Oil Competition may help, as many com­pe­ti­tions have on the West Coast, to increase inter­est in olive oil appre­ci­a­tion. We expect the sen­sory eval­u­a­tion course, the first on the East Coast, to quickly sell-out to chefs, indus­try pro­fes­sion­als, and oth­ers who want to be able to detect olive oil’s com­plex char­ac­ter­is­tics, ” says Curtis Cord, pub­lisher of Olive Oil Times and one of the orga­niz­ers of the event, adding California is an olive oil pro­duc­ing region in its own right that is even now sur­pass­ing France in terms of total pro­duc­tion. Olive oil is in the news there, you see the groves when you’re dri­ving and there are tast­ings at your gro­cery store. And while New Yorkers have long been exposed to good olive oils on the shelves at the city’s spe­cialty retail­ers, there has­n’t been the kind of out­reach you’d think to the 112 mil­lion peo­ple who live on the East Coast. That’s start­ing to change, and the New York International Olive Oil Competition will cer­tainly be a step in the right direc­tion.”


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