Taste some of the best oils the Golden State has to offer.
In the mid-18th century, Spanish missionaries in Southern California found its climate similar to their Mediterranean homeland and began planting olive trees as a source for olive oil. Their efforts soon spread throughout the state, but olive oil made in the U.S. was unable to compete with cheaper European oils. It wasn’t until the late 1800s, when Americans discovered a taste for whole olives, that California’s olive industry managed to put down permanent roots.
These days, the Golden State’s October olive harvest follows the wine-grape harvest like clockwork, and once picked, the fruit is ideally milled right away to retain freshness. Today's distributors have created a pantry’s worth of oils with a devoted audience. The olive oil tasting experiences at these seven purveyors are sure to have you saying, “Olive you, California.”
Stonehouse California Olive Oil in San Francisco
Stonehouse’s bright, cheery storefront in the Ferry Building Marketplace is open seven days a week, and features two organically grown groves’ worth of olive oils to sample. Use toothpicks to spear cubes of fresh bread, then taste the wares to your heart’s content. The oils here range from buttery and mildly spicy to lush and grassy, and several are flavored with California-grown produce like basil, limes, and habanero peppers. Don’t miss Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten’s pick, the extra virgin Olio Santo, or the piquant balsamic vinegars on offer.
Round Pond Estate in Napa Valley
Set across the road from its Rutherford winery, Round Pond’s glass-walled olive oil tasting room allows you to gaze at the olive grove while sipping standouts like the rich extra virgin Spanish varietal and the fragrant, zesty meyer lemon from tiny tasting cups. The twenty-minute Splash & Dash tasting allows you to drop in and sample any of the Round Pond oils, while appointments are required for the hour-long Mill Tasting and ninety-minute Olive Mill Tour & Tasting, both of which include artisanal snacks and a tour of the gleaming olive mill.
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McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma
The soft green hills of this 550-acre, family-owned ranch will transport you to the Mediterranean—olive oil and all. Wednesday through Sunday, sit-down tastings include McEvoy’s enormously popular organic and flavored olive oils, as well as its wines and a light lunch, whereas walkabout tours enable you to explore the ranch’s olive groves, vineyards, and gardens. Just be sure to make reservations. Stock up on McEvoy’s olive oils—such as the limited edition, which features a different organic blend each year—in their ranch shop or their San Francisco Ferry Building storefront.
Trattore Farms in Geyserville
At the northern end of Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, this 40-acre farm includes hundred-year-old-plus olive trees and a custom-designed olive mill imported from Italy. Both the estate and reserve tastings include Trattore Farms wines and the full lineup of olive oils, including the gold-medal-winning Alta Mesa and Mediterranean blends, and flavored oils like lime and pink grapefruit. You can also opt to take a tour of the vineyards, orchards, and olive mill in a Kawasaki farm vehicle, but all experiences require advance reservations.
Lucero Olive Oil in Corning
Since 1947, the Lucero family has been specializing in California-certified extra virgin oils—both blends and single-variety pressings—and balsamic vinegars like the pink-hued Rosato. Oil and vinegar tasting experiences at the farm and olive mill in Corning, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, require reservations and include tree-to-table overviews, food pairings, and orchard tours. Be sure to try the unique deluxe chocolate olive oil designed for baked goods, desserts, and more, and ask about the farm's direct-ship olive oil club.
Ojai Olive Oil Company
This third-generation family-owned operation employs sustainable farming methods on 40 stunning acres in the Topatopa Mountains. Though the Ojai Olive Oil Company was founded in 1996, the main olive grove was planted in the mid-1800s; olives from some of these Spanish trees (a varietal called Lechin de Sevilla) are used in the peppery Andalucian extra-virgin olive oil. French and Italian varietals round out the plantings. All tastings here are free and available seven days a week, with extensive tours of the olive mill and groves on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Kiler Ridge Olive Farm in Paso Robles
The owners of this idyllic 58-acre spread just outside downtown Paso were originally inspired by a bike trip through Tuscany. Today, Kiler Ridge Olive Farm has upwards of 2,700 sustainably farmed trees of its own—sourced from Italy and Sicily—plus a working frantoio, an Italian-style straw-bale olive oil mill and tasting room. Their well-lauded lineup of extra virgin oils range from the floral, cinnamon-spicy Nocellara del Belice to the smooth, creamy, and peppery Coratina. Friendly, laid-back tastings require reservations and include walking tours of the peaceful orchards.
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This article was first published in October 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.