`The Mystique of California Terroir - Olive Oil Times

The Mystique of California Terroir

Sep. 6, 2012
Nancy Flagg

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California is the home of majes­tic red­woods, Napa Valley wines, gold nuggets and vast orchards of almonds, apri­cots and avo­ca­dos. What is it about the California ter­roir, the envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, that makes all this pos­si­ble as well as being ideal for grow­ing olives?

It’s the phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy and cli­mate of the land, to be sure, but more than that it’s the com­mu­nity of grow­ers and their inter­ac­tion with the soil, the water, and the trees. And, it’s the strength that comes from diver­sity in both the ter­rain and the peo­ple that forges the unique California ter­roir.

Olive grow­ing land in California is abun­dant. The great Central Valley with its rich allu­vial soils, the Sierra foothills and the moist coastal regions all pro­duce fla­vor­ful olive oils despite their diverse topogra­phies and hun­dreds of micro-cli­mates. What they have in com­mon is an under­ly­ing Mediterranean cli­mate of hot sum­mers and mild win­ters that is ideal for olives.

The com­mu­nity of grow­ers is as var­ied as the geog­ra­phy. Growers range from small arti­san oper­a­tions using tra­di­tional meth­ods to large com­pa­nies employ­ing super high den­sity tech­niques. What they share, how­ever, is a com­mit­ment to best prac­tices, includ­ing keep­ing the fruit clean, using proper irri­ga­tion and get­ting the olives to the mill quickly.

It makes sense that the diverse ter­rain would result in diverse vari­eties and that proves to be the case. According to a California Olive Oil Council report, there are over 150 vari­eties of olives grown in the state.

Not only does the ter­rain allow for assorted vari­eties, but grower pref­er­ences also play a role. Dan Flynn, Director of the UC Davis Olive Center says that, unlike other coun­tries, there is not a huge tra­di­tion to plant cer­tain vari­eties and grow­ers don’t feel that they have to stick to one vari­ety.

All this diver­sity means that there is no sin­gle California fla­vor pro­file. Even so, are California olives dis­tin­guish­able from those pro­duced else­where? It depends on who you ask. Sam Cabral, a small grower from Glenn County is con­vinced that California olives are bet­ter. It’s the water. We have lots of water here and it makes the meat of the olive big­ger and more fla­vor­ful.”

Dan Flynn says that California olives are fresher than else­where because they’re local (to U.S. con­sumers) and they would meet inter­na­tional stan­dards for EVOO, unlike some super­mar­ket olive oils from other places. A California olive oil has a fresh aroma, and fresh fla­vor. It tastes like it just came out of the orchard,” says Flynn.

Executive Director Patty Darragh of the California Olive Oil Council says that if she were com­par­ing fresh California olives to fresh European ones, she’d be hard-pressed to tell the dif­fer­ence.”

However they are described, it just might be the mys­tique of the ter­roir that makes California olive oils so spe­cial.

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