More U.S. States Home to Award-Winning Olive Oils

Producers from Georgia, Oregon and Texas combined to win seven awards at the world's most prestigious olive oil quality contest, demonstrating that California is not the only part of the U.S. producing high-quality oils.
Transforming olives at the Durant Olive Mill.
Jun. 2, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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Once again, American pro­duc­ers enjoyed an excel­lent year at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, receiv­ing a record-high num­ber of Gold Awards.

While the bulk of entries and win­ners came from California, the cen­ter of U.S. olive oil pro­duc­tion, a grow­ing num­ber of award win­ners hailed from beyond the Golden State.

I do believe our fruit (in Oregon) is unique. It ripens very slowly and I do believe that has some influ­ence on fla­vor and tex­ture.- Paul Durant, owner of Durant Olive Mill

Overall, pro­duc­ers from three other states com­bined for seven of the indus­try’s most cov­eted awards, mak­ing up just under 10 per­cent of all awarded U.S. oils – a far higher rate than their over­all share of U.S. olive oil pro­duc­tion.

After California, Texas is the sec­ond-largest pro­ducer of olive oil in the U.S. Situated just west of Austin, the state cap­i­tal, are the groves of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company, which earned a Gold and a Silver Award.

See more: Best Olive Oils From the U.S.

We are elated and hon­ored to receive another round of awards this year,” co-owner John Gambini said. Under the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate, our awards will help us stand out and solid­ify our place on the stage as one of the world’s best olive oils.”

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The Texas Hill Country Olive Company has been pro­duc­ing olive oil since 2010. Last year, the com­pany made 11,000 liters of olive oil.

Cara Gambini, the other co-owner, said that part of what makes pro­duc­ing olive oil in Texas unique, and some­times chal­leng­ing, is the cli­mate.

Some vari­eties were not as plen­ti­ful as oth­ers and we believe that was caused by Texas’ unique weather con­di­tions,” she told Olive Oil Times. We are learn­ing from these con­di­tions every sin­gle year so that we can do bet­ter.”

However, part of what has made Texas Hill Country Olive Company one of the state’s most suc­cess­ful pro­duc­ers is com­mon among almost all NYIOOC win­ners: an empha­sis on qual­ity.

As a small fam­ily farm, details are impor­tant to us,” Gambini said. We are always weigh­ing the amount of pro­duc­tion ver­sus the qual­ity of the oil. Quality is always our focus.”

John and Cara Gambini of Texas Hill Country Olive Company.

Nearly 1,000 miles east of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company grow the 6,000 Arbequina trees of Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm.

The Georgian pro­ducer took home a Silver Award from the 2020 NYIOOC. Owner Curtis Poling told Olive Oil Times that he expects this award to help fuel an already grow­ing olive oil indus­try in the state.

We were aware that in Georgia, the orig­i­nal set­tlers in the 1700s and 1800s had a his­tory of pro­duc­ing good qual­ity olive oil,” he said. Interest lev­els [in olive oil pro­duc­tion] prior to the announce­ment of our NYIOOC award were already increas­ing in Georgia and this announce­ment will have a huge impact on future inter­ested farms and enti­ties to expand this oppor­tu­nity.”

Poling said that his farm had pre­vi­ously been used to grow pine trees for tim­ber prod­ucts. After doing a soil analy­sis, how­ever, he dis­cov­ered that the area was well-suited to grow­ing olives as well.

Our soil analy­sis and grow­ing zone con­vinced us we had a good chance of pro­duc­ing qual­ity olive oil,” he said.

In spite of hav­ing appro­pri­ate soil for olive tree cul­ti­va­tion, Georgia’s cli­mate and some of its soil char­ac­ter­is­tics dif­fer greatly from other, more tra­di­tional, olive grow­ing regions, which has pre­sented Poling and his team with their fair share of chal­lenges.

Coupled with our sandy loamy soil that drains very quickly, we mon­i­tor deep and shal­low mois­ture per­cent­ages daily so that each tree receives ade­quate water,” he said. Humidity impacts the drift of pollen lim­it­ing bud­ding. We counter that by keep­ing a close watch on nutri­tion lev­els so that the trees have a bet­ter chance of pol­li­na­tion.”

In Georgia, Woodpecker Trail Olive Farm is among a rel­a­tively new wave of pro­duc­ers get­ting into oil pro­duc­tion. Poling believes that soon he will not be alone in receiv­ing awards for his Georgian extra vir­gin olive oils at the NYIOOC.

We have other farms in var­i­ous stages [of devel­op­ment] and we expect to see Georgia pro­duc­ing award-win­ning olive oil over the next few years,” he said.

Harvesting olives at the Woodpeacker Trail Olive Farm. Photo cour­tesy of Curtis Poling.

Back on the West Coast, Paul Durant and his team at Durant Olive Mill cel­e­brated the two Gold Awards and two Silver Awards they received at the 2020 NYIOOC.

“[Receiving these awards] felt great,” Durant told Olive Oil Times. We pro­duced quite a bit of oil this year and it was a really hard slog. I haven’t worked those kinds of hours in a really long time.”

Among the four awards Durant took home was a Gold Award for his estate blend, an oil pro­duced exclu­sively from Oregon-grown olives. (Durant also pro­duces oil from a blend of California and Oregon-grown olives.)

I do believe our fruit up here is unique. It ripens very slowly and I do believe that has some influ­ence on fla­vor and tex­ture,” he said. “[This award] will fur­ther solid­ify our posi­tion as a pre­mier pro­ducer of high-qual­ity olive oil and demon­strate that it can also be accom­plished in a region not exactly known for olive pro­duc­tion.”

However, Durant said that olive oil pro­duc­tion in Oregon comes with its own set of unique prob­lems and chal­lenges.

We had a hard freeze on October 31,” he said. I lost about 30 per­cent of my crop. I lit fires and had four large fans hooked up to our trac­tors to try and pull it across the fin­ish line.”

In spite of the dif­fi­cul­ties, Durant was able to get across the fin­ish line. Along with the unique qual­i­ties endowed upon the fruit by his loca­tion, Durant added that tech­nique is key in pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity olive oils.

Our small batch pro­duc­tion meth­ods allow us to really main­tain qual­ity and make con­stant adjust­ments,” he said. We have been able to get bet­ter yields over time.”


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