The olive came to California in the late 18th century, when Spanish missionaries planted olive trees at each of the 21 missions they established between San Diego and Sonoma. By the mid 19th century, there was a thriving olive oil industry in California.
The industry languished, however, throughout much of the 20th century, until a new generation of health-conscious Americans rediscovered the flavor and benefits of olive oil. Again olive orchards were revived and new groves were planted, signaling a renaissance in the California olive oil industry.
In the 21st century, the California olive oil industry has emerged as leader in the worldwide arena. California oils are produced from a selection of over 75 olive varieties and through a wide range of methodologies from labor-intensive traditional hand harvesting to those that are highly mechanized.
There is truly a California extra virgin olive oil for every palate. The range of climates and olive varieties allows for blends unique to California. These oils represent not only the incredible spectrum of flavors available in the olive, but also the agricultural and environmental diversity of California.
Of the 350 agricultural products produced in California, olive oil is one of the most dynamic. In late autumn, after most of California’s other crops have been harvested, California’s olive oil producers prepare for their harvest and milling season.
Weather and ripeness determine the exact moment the harvest begins. Different varieties of olives are harvested at varying degrees of ripeness to capture a wide array of flavors. Thus, with over 75 olive cultivars in production in a myriad of soil types, climates and microclimates, California extra virgin olive oils present the consumers with a virtually limitless range of flavor possibilities.
Freshly harvested olives are rushed from the field to the mill, where they are rinsed in fresh water, and separated from the leaves and stems. Next, the olives are ground into paste and the paste is mixed to encourage the oil to separate from the surrounding vegetable matter and water. Within days, the vibrant elixir can be in the market, ready for use at your table.