Sunday, December 31, 2006

The group gathers and treks


This is the group I referred to in the previous post "Friday." I was about to spend the day with them and learn so much beyond just olives and olive oil, including:

- Gegenbauer makes a red pepper vinegar that is supposed to be amazing.
- Testament for a shop called "Le Sanctuaire" in Santa Monica, which after further investigation I see Food & Wine Magazine raving "No other shop in America offers such a remarkable mix of ingredients, cookbooks, equipment and high design or is such a magnet for innovative chefs."
- I learn about a chef/owner of a bakery who is best friends with the owner of Gegenbauer
- I hear about the forest district of Austria, Waldviertel, and that if I love great food I have to visit it Posted by Picasa

Why I really wanted to be there

I've read about olive oil and it's various methods of being processed. I had some idea what the smell of an olive mill might be (surprise, it smells a lot like olive oil). Seeing oil flowing into a barrel for the first time, though exciting, I could visualize in my head. But seeing an olive or an olive tree, or feeling the resistance of an olive as it's plucked (well, milked is the more proper colloquialism) from the tree, or smelling the soil and feeling the texture of an olive leaf--I didn't have any book education on that or any connection with that through my sensory exploration of the world's olive oils. Everything I had read said that most of the quality of an olive oil is determined by how well the olives and the olive trees are treated. No matter how carefully picked or how quickly pressed or how well cleaned the press, if the olive one puts in the mill hasn't been raised well, the resulting olive oil won't be stellar. I knew Pasolivo's oil was stellar, so I was excited to experience the grove with my hands and nose and eyes.

By the way, the colloquialism is milking because you treat the branch of the olive tree like a teat, pulling gently from the top and squeezing at just the right pressure as you pull down so that the fruit will pop off as you pull (as well as a few leaves and branches which mainly get separated out later). No beating, no shaking, no shimmying of the tree and branches. In the end, the olive branch is giving you it's milk and should be treated with the care and respect of a mother's teat in order to give the best that it can. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Continuing the journey with Olive

How many vineyards have dogs named Grape? Grape just doesn't seem like a good name for a dog... ahh, but Olive is a wonderful name for a dog on an olive ranch, and since she was my guide for my trip up the hill to take pictures of the ranch, I figure that she makes a good guide to start us onto our journey into the harvest of an olive.

Olive is fixated right now on a ratty old ball that every visitor to Willow Creek encounters when they get out of their car to walk into the tasting room. Olive will bound up, ball in mouth, seeking a new fetch companion--for Olive never (never!) grows tired of playing fetch.
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Friday, December 29, 2006

8 weeks, 3 days

Beyond chemical and symptomatic, on to physical proof!
Evidently not twins.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Sorry, as of 9:24pm, Pasolivo Nuovo is sold out

What more can I say?

29 bottles of Pasolivo Nuovo left - When it's gone, it's gone forever

By my count, after receiving quite a few cases, the Pasolivo Nuovo olive oil, one of the boldest, most robust, greenest, grassiest, dandelion-green, kale, citrusy, and beautiful blast of four or five cough polyphenol pepper bite olive oils I've ever tasted (and for some of us olive lovers that's a good thing; we can be crazy like chili pepper lovers), has been ravaged down to 20 500ml bottles and 9 200ml bottles.

That's right, 29 bottles of the 2006 harvest--never to be "Nuovo" again--are left in the United States--hell, I'll just say it: in the world except for a small retail tasting shop attached to Willow Creek Olive Ranch in Paso Robles, California. We make some fine olive oils in this country and this is one of the absolute finest.

The label of this bottling has been emblazened with a special Zingerman's exclusive recognition and...

if you want any of this there is only this last chance.

I intend to, excuse my delicacy here, sell the shit out of this with my heart & soul until every bottle is in the hands of an educated consumer (double entendre intended) who will give it a loving tummy.

It may be gone by Friday night; it certainly isn't making it past Saturday.

If you want me to hold a bottle for you and you live near Ann Arbor, then figure out how to call the deli & place an order for it.

PS -- God, I love my job. I get to eat, sell, teach about, and write about my favorite foods. Basically four of my favorite things to do.... Although it would be nice to actually be paid to write about food. I really need to push myself harder to publish food writing.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mummy #2

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Inside a monkeyface olive

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Miller's slang - monkeyface


Monkeyface - that little shrivel on a portion of the skin of a fruit which indicates that a part of the flesh of the fruit has undergone frost damage; detrimental to the flavor of the oil Posted by Picasa

Miller's slang - mummy


Mummy: a hard, shriveled olive that was missed during last year's harvest and remains on the tree

A mummy tends to attract birds to the fruit of the tree earlier than if no mummies were on the tree, and bird damage to the olives will cause bruising and wounds to the olives which will result in degradation of the flavor of the oil. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 08, 2006

Harold McGee

For those who don't know, Harold McGee, author of the incredibly comprehensive resource book, On Food and Cooking, has a blog--News for Curious Cooks.

He puts a lot of the snippets and sidebar research that he couldn't put in his new edition or into his New York Times column, The Curious Cook, there.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Really close-up

Here's a really close-up view Posted by Picasa

A double-fist of pomace

A double-fisted chunk of dried-out pomace that Josh was kind enough to bring to me, knowing that I would have a photo food geek moment with it. Posted by Picasa

Getting pretty full


85% of the olive ends up here in the dumpster. If this was an industrial operation instead of a small, artisanal operation, then this could be processed even further to remove even more oil, through high heat or chemical processes which would leave edible, but not all that palatable olive oil. Regardless, there's a lot of pomace in an olive. Posted by Picasa

What about the waste?


The first centrifuge separates the olive water, olive flesh, leaves, pits, stems, and leaves (all non-oil), and pushes them back outside onto another conveyor belt which leads up to a dumpster. This solid waste material is called pomace. Posted by Picasa

And then we finally rest


Now, time and gravity can enter the picture. As time goes by, whatever sediment may be left will settle, which is why a newly pressed olive oil may have more sediment than one which has had time to sit. If the oil is taken from above where the sediment settles, than the oil has been decanted. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm going to be a dad!

I'm going to be a father!
I'm going to have a baby!

Woo hoo!

The end of the harvest celebrations

The end of the harvest brings lots of celebration. Everyone involved with olive oil knows how celebratory the creation and consumption of it is. This is the picker's harvest. Out of respect for their privacy, I present this in a collage. So from picker to miller to seller to consumer, it is appreciated by all. The only entity in the process that may not even consumer olive oil themselves is the distributor... so I'm tending to believe that the more barriers that exist between consumer and producer the less chance for quality in the product. Posted by Picasa

A few mixed short essays

Me bottling the olive oil pressed from the olives I and a group of 17 others gathered in an hour and a half: 380 pounds.

The Bite

After waking up, breaking fast, and taking pictures, I discover an olive on the rocks near the milling equipment that had somehow hidden itself from Josh and Rich's eye during the hose down of the equipment. Unlucky olive. I had been waiting to bite into an uncured olive for... well, years. I crave to connect with food, and comprehensive knowledge wouldn't be comprehensive without trying everything.

After the bite, the level of astringency is what I find separates the taste of an untreated olive from the bitterness of a good olive oil, howver robust that oil may be. So many of the flavor components in that bitterness are water-soluble that if the water of the olive is still present, only unpleasantness will result. What I find so remarkable are the overlays of similarity; underneath all that nasty, the interesting flavors, notes, and sensations can be recognized. I can see why we as culinary machines were unwilling to leave the olive alone.

My next desire is to taste straight olive water--I wonder if it could be used like bitters? I wonder if I could sugar it up and let it ferment and what that would taste like?

Jovian Olive Oil Making

For the apron-bedecked Roman God Jove, sitting in his kitchen on Jupiter, making olive oil is easy. Wait for a hot day, smash a grove of olive trees in a mortar and pestle, let everything settle, pour the oil off of the top; it shouldn't take long.

If it's a cold day, you'll have a hard time getting olive oil out of a bottle, much less an olive, since olive oil will turn solid on a cold December Earth day. And on Earth the gravity isn't helping speed up the separation of the oil, water, and fruit solids. [Number One Rule when comprehending olive oil: Never forget an olive is just a fruit.] But I could toss all that mashed olive in a front loading dryer, turn it on for a while and then suck the oil out with a straw, because the dryer will apply enough centrifugal force with its spin to act like Jupiter's gravity (if you spin it fast enough). Add some bells and whistles to make it as efficient as possible at applying centrifugal force to mashed olives and Josh & Rich are as good as Roman gods in the kitchen.


After Robbie and Sarah and I woke up we had quick, light breakfasts of English muffins or toast (mine drizzled with the Orange Pasolivo from the night before--tasty). Our first task that day was to bring empty bottles to the mill in preparation for the Miller's Lunch that day. Joeli had two major events planned for the weekend. The one today was for about 16 people who had paid Willow Creek for the opportunity to pick olives, watch them go through the mill, and bottle and label for themselves 3 200 milliliter bottles of Olio Nuovo. If this sounds a little Tom Sawyeresque, painting fences for Joeli, Catalino & crew, keep in mind it also included a catered lunch of
appetizer: 3 cheeses (truffle cheese, la tur, abbaye de ????), walnuts, pistachios, dates, citrus fruit, turkey pate, and cookie thick flatbread.
soup: butternut squash drizzled with Lime Pasolivo
roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower
shortribs on creamy polenta
apricot rustic italian pie
with an open scotch bar before the dessert.

About 10am the group had gathered and we trekked up to a part of the ranch with Mission and Manzanilla olives. Willow Creek has two blends of extra virgin olive oil: one blend is the signature Pasolivo blend with five Tuscan varietals plus a smidgen of Kalamata; the other is California Blend with Mission and Manzanilla. Both taste amazing. Friday was a hefty learning day for me, listening, taking photographs, and encountering my first olive trees.

Olive Oil 101.03

Olives and avocados (and a couple of other more obscure fruits to the American palate) are anomalies in the realm of culinary fruits. Instead of storing energy in the form of carbohydrates (sugars or starches), olives and avocados store it in the form of fats. You'll best understand what makes a good olive oil if you understand that nothing but containing oil separates an olive from a cherry or a peach or a plum. Take a handful of cherries, squeeze really hard, and you'll have water and sugar (in a water solution) in rivulets of red. In addition to that you'll have all those chemicals which make a cherry look like a cherry and taste like a cherry and an olive taste like an olive. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A little more fun

This is a closeup of the oil falling into the barrel, with some of the unfiltered sediment of the olive collecting at the top. Posted by Picasa

At the end

After those two centrifuges have their way with the mash, the end of the continuous process press is here. The result is being placed into a stainless steel barrel.
Tomorrow I'll show you the vats in which all of the oil is kept. Then, on to the waste from the first centrifuge, called pomace. The next batch of pictures will go further into the beginning, documenting the harvest of the olives from the trees. Posted by Picasa

Everything behind me

That's Rich. He's watching the mill run, always at the ready to adjust or tweak with whatever needs it in order to respect the character of the oil.

To the left of the picture and behind me, there are two machines, both centrifuges. The first centrifuge is specifically made to separate olive oil from its mash, expelling the great quantity of waste product behind it and back outside. The second centrifuge is a more refined one, to decant more perfectly the final olive oil from its spigot. Posted by Picasa

The monster mash in motion

This is a 9x9 grid of high-shutter speed photography arranged in chronological order of the machine while it is running. This is the machine that can't run too fast or the olives will be heated up and lose the flavor components necessary to be considered an Extra Virgin olive oil under the California Olive Oil Council's seal. This is the milling of the olive and the artistry and skill of the miller is at work in the decisions made in this part of the process. Posted by Picasa

Let's do the monster mash

This is the machine that the olives spend their most time in during the milling process. Although some oil could be separated from mash in the condition of the previous picture shown, more oil could be had by mashing for a lot longer. Those olives could be mashed from 45-60 minutes. The miller is trying to find the most efficient moment to begin separating the oil from the water and solids without breaking down the oil by mashing it too long. Posted by Picasa

That's all she wrote

Now I'm just going to start calling it mash. Posted by Picasa

The Central Coast

Central Coast
The Central Coast extends from the San Francisco Bay area Contra Costa County south to the mountain ranges of Santa Barbara County. The climate in this area is influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Salinas, which is about 10 miles from the ocean in Monterey County, has an average January temperature of 50ºF and an average temperature of 73.9ºF in September. Annual precipitation in Salinas averages 13.7 inches. The region generally has a mild climate with cool summers on the coast, where fog is common, and warm summers in the interior, but not as warm as the Sacramento Valley. Although frosts are infrequent in the winters near San Francisco, low-lying areas in the interior of this region can have temperatures below freezing. Winter protection and site selection can be critical factors in some locations in this region. The main temperate fruit and nut crops grown commercially in this area are almond, apple, apricot, cherry, pear, plum, prune, olive, and English and black walnut. It is also a major wine grape, and berry production area.

From a University of California Davis report, "California Climate Zones for Growing Temperate Tree Fruits and Nuts"

on the way down

Like lemmings, the olives fall to their deaths Posted by Picasa

closed conveyor belt

Upon coming inside, the olives will encounter another conveyor belt taking them up close to the roof to get mashed into mush, crushing flesh, pit, leftover stems and leaves. Posted by Picasa

Last moment on the outside

This large tub supplies the water for the bath. A large quantity of water is needed or the olives would cool it off too fast. One must remember that this is December in Central Coast California; although frost is infrequent, the temperature at night gets chilly enough to solidify olive oil.

This is the olive's last look at the outdoors, the rest of the process takes place inside with sterile machinery and artisans at work. Posted by Picasa

Fun to watch also

If I'm there with my camera, I have to have fun. Posted by Picasa