This weekend, I cashed in a LivingSocial voucher for the Ojai Olive Farm, a quaint ranch nestled in the rolling hills of the Ojai Valley. The small operations room was surrounded by beautiful olive trees that were over 130 years old, with delicate leaves and huge, gnarled trunks. Cacti dot the landscape and huge boulders rest among hills that share space with avocado and tangerine trees.
Did you know that two things can be done with olives? You can either cure them or make oil out of them. I’m glad I didn’t find out on my own, but our tour guide warned us that a fresh olive is not the most palatable treat. At the Ojai farm, the olives remain on the tree until fall, when they’re a deep, plummy black. They are hand picked and put into crates to be pressed the same day they are picked.
After the olives are washed, giant machines smash the fruit into a paste, and then the paste is whirled around thousands of times until the oil separates from the water and solid matter. The oil is filtered 15 times against thick, cottony sheets, and the fresh oil is immediately bottled or placed into gigantic drums. All of the machinery is stainless steel to protect the taste of the oil, and this machinery was specifically shipped from Italy to ensure authentic and premium olive oil processing.
After seeing the manufacturing process, we were herded into a heavenly room with rows and rows of gleaming olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I grabbed a napkin with some bread cubes and got to tasting. There were about 10 different varieties of olive oil, some flavored like lemon or raspberry, and some traditional styles which were very sharp and tangy. Some described them as “grassy”, but I thought that was harsh!
Did you know when you buy olive oil, you should avoid oils that say “pure” or “light”? What that means is that the waste portion of the olives after they’ve been pressed was used to make the oil. For premium taste and flavor, you should always buy olive oil marked extra virgin. You’ll be able to tell in the taste – and one more way to check is to read the bottle and see where the olives come from. If the bottle says something like “made from olives in Tunisia, Greece, Africa, Spain and Italy”, run for the hills – because basically that means that you’re buying yucky used up olive juice. Your olive oil should come from only one place, and it should be extra virgin. (Also – use your olive oil within 18 months, and store in a dark, dry place away from heat sources.)
My LivingSocial voucher included one bottle of olive oil, one bottle of vinegar, and an olive tree! I settled on a garlic flavored olive oil and a delicious pomegranate balsamic vinegar. I thought the vinegar would be awesome on a salad, as it has a slightly fruity, sweet taste that pairs beautifully with the tongue-tingling tang of the vinegar.
Here I am with my olive tree. I’m super excited to get it planted in the ground, and it already has one baby olive on it! When the olives are ripe I think I’ll take a stab at curing them, but luckily I’ll have plenty of time for that, as most olive trees produce the most fruit around 5 years old. Did you know in Crete, Greece and Jerusalem there are 3,000 year old olive trees?! Can you imagine?!
If you’re ever in the Ojai area, you should definitely visit the Ojai Olive Farm. I had a great time and learned a ton, and my belly left feeling super happy. I also picked up some handmade olive soaps – and you have a chance to win one if you come back on Wednesday when we’ll celebrate reaching 150 Facebook fans! So now Double Chinners, I gotta know – are you a fan of olives? If not for eating, how do you feel about olive oil? Let’s chat… ‘cuz olive olives. (and bad puns).