Visitors enjoy samples at Lodestar Olive Oil near Oroville, California.
It's the cheese? No, among California specialties these days, it's the olive oil. In 2008 the state turned out some 675,000 gallons. That's almost double the production of five years ago; by 2013 oil output may reach 4 million gallons.
For the first time, any California grown olive is more likely to be pressed into oil than to be sold pitted or whole. And some of these oils, meticulously milled within hours of the late-fall harvest, rank among the best extra-virgin varieties in the world.
Here are five places to taste fine California oils—freshest in winter—with their distinctive, salad worthy flavors, from smooth and buttery to throat-ticklingly pungent.
- Dry Creek Olive Company in Healdsburg offers a pleasingly sharp blend made from Tuscan olive varieties (Leccino, Frantoio, and others), a mild Arbequina-based oil, and, early in the season, a grassy olio nuovo. Tour the mill by appointment. (707) 431-7200, drycreekolivecompany.com.
- Lodestar Olive Oil claims the only tasting room in Butte County, a major olive center. Try the fruity mission variety late-harvest oil—the maker's specialty from its century-old trees—and a more piquant early-harvest version. (530) 534-6548, lodestarfarms.com.
- McEvoy Ranch, a pioneer California producer, maintains a stall in San Francisco's Ferry Building, where in winter you can taste an olio nuovo and a mellower blend. In March, tours and tastings resume at the Petaluma ranch after a winter break. Make a reservation at (415) 291-7224 or mcevoyranch.com.
- Pasolivo in Paso Robles sells a snappy, green olio segreto (secret oil) from an unnamed variety and a peppery Tuscan blend. (805) 227-0186, pasolivo.com.
- The Olive Press, with outlets in the town of Sonoma and at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, makes at least eight extra-virgin varieties. Try the delicate, apple-scented Sevillano or the peachy, almost tropical Ascolano. (800) 965-4839, theolivepress.com
Photography by David H. Collier
This article was first published in January 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.