So, my time at the olive farm is drawing to an end. I have two potential sites in mind, and have been chatting with the hosts, so hopefully I will have some more concrete plans in the next day or so.
But with my departure being imminent, there is still a lot to do on the farm. For example, pick more olives. Today, after about 10 days of picking for almost 8 hours a day, we are about half done. Luckily, Jen and I haven’t had to do it by ourselves. We’ve had help in the form of another WWOOFer, and a few day laborers and family members coming in to help.
When we are done picking for the day, the mill is run at night. So far about 200 gallons of oil have been made. Once the olives are done, the whole process starts over again with pruning trees. Trees are pruned to make them easy to pick, and to thin out leaves so sunlight can reach the olives for next year. Then all 20,000 trees are revisited again to check irrigation lines, and then again to fertilize.
The olives that are being grown are Arbequina olives that originate from Spain, and Koroneiki olives that are from Cyprus.
Arbequina olives are also used as table olives, and have a low polyphenol type, giving it a buttery smooth taste. They have a very high oil concentration making them some of the most popular olives for oil production. These little guys are chubby round olives and look almost like grapes. They are easy to pick because of their size, and the low density of the trees. It is a good olive to grow in California because it likes hot, dry weather.
The Koroneiki olives, on the other hand, have a high polyphenol count, which gives the oil a more peppery taste. These two olives together provide a nice blend for the oils. These olives are smaller and ovoid shaped, and kind of lame to pick. Because they are smaller, it takes longer to fill your bucket, completely deflating your sense of accomplishment. Plus, the trees are denser and more leafy, and the olives don’t grow in as nice of bunches, slowing you down, so you don’t clear as many rows. It’s hard to get a good score on American Olive Pickers when you’re picking the Koroneikis.
This pairing of Koroneiki and Arbequina olives is not uncommon, especially here in California. According to people who know about such things, the flavor profile is a favorite of those who enjoy Tuscan style cooking. I will have to take their word for it.
But here’s the neat thing about all of this. Based on the weather and such factors, which trees produce what amount of olives changes from year to year. One year, the farm might get a 30-70 ratio, and the next 40-60. Which if the experts are to be believed, those extra Koroneiki’s could pack quite the extra punch.
I find the same thing happening with my honey, where the flavor can be drastically different from year to year, and even other beekeepers close to me can have different tasting honey.
This concept of food tastes being affected by local environment and climate in pretty familiar in the wine world. It’s called terroir, or a “sense of place” (Yes, it is supposed to be capitalized, because, I don’t know, the French, I guess.) In addition to wine, this is also associated with teas, coffees, tomatoes, certain wheat varieties, cannabis, and cheeses.
So, as I learn more and more about the Nordic Diet, that is largely concerned with reducing environmental impacts of agriculture through local food, this concept is circling around in my head.
I’m sure there is a very meaningful connection to be made here between food, sustainability and travel. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite coalesced yet. All I will say is this: When food is so connected to place, travel becomes immensely more meaningful and insightful. Taste now becomes another way to get a feel for a place. And I think that’s neat.
This also makes me relax a little about standardizing production on my honey products. Now I can send fancy italicized french words at people and make it totally legit.