Tired of wine tasting? Try olive oil tasting.
We love all things Italian—including, of course, olive oil.
Unfortunately, according to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, as much as 75 percent of the extra virgin olive oil that is imported from Italy to the United States is unpure. The Italian Mafia is to blame: the Mob takes pure olive oil and cuts it with cheaper oils, then sells it at the higher price and pockets the extra cash.
In light of stories highlighting the health hazards of adulterated extra virgin olive oil—from the 60 Minutes exposé to author Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity—many Americans have started sourcing the staple ingredient domestically.
Loaded with antioxidants and healthy fats, extra virgin olive oil is now being produced in the States at a rate like never before. Last year, California, the leading American producer of olive oil, churned out four million gallons—more than 10 times the amount the state produced in 2004.
Olive trees are now also grown in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Alabama, and Hawaii (on the island of Maui). With so many olive orchards, Americans can find a new pastime: olive oil tasting.
Here, nine orchards that make their own EVOO and are gorgeous getaways, too.
This may be wine country, but olive groves have been around for almost just as long as the vines. Spanish missionaries initially planted the trees centuries ago as they made their way north. The Golden State now features approximately 682 olive growers and 39,000 acres of olive orchards.
Dry Creek Olive Company
Get your boots dirty and walk through the vineyards and orchards at Trattore Farms (Italian for tractor), home of Dry Creek Olive Company. Their seven-ton granite stone mill was shipped in from the Perugia region of Italy and combined with a modern hammer mill to produce unfiltered EVOO. Try estate-grown olive oils infused with Meyer lemon, jalapeño, and lime or a more traditional blend that can be tasted during a wine, olive oil, and food pairing meal inside their cliffside mill, which has Tuscan-like views of the valley below. The 40-acre property includes 10 acres of olive orchards with 22 varietals that are co-mingled among the estate-grown vines.
Lucero Olive Oil
Lucero Olive Oil is based in Corning, a small community off Highway 5 known as “olive city.” There, three generations of families make the buttery Miller’s extra virgin olive oil (a great EVOO to pair with fruit). See century-old trees and visit a tasting room that is open year-round. More than 16 varieties of olives are spread across six orchards including 2,000 “centennial trees” whose fruit is harvested by hand. Each November, Lucero employs a Sicilian technique known as agrumato (arumi means citrus in Italian), where whole fruits like lemons or oranges are crushed into the oil in order to boost flavor. Take a free tour of the mill and head to the tasting room, which showcases 16 varieties on tap or 12 extra virgin oils in bottles.
Besides cultivating its expansive vineyards, Jordan Winery has been making olive oil since the 1990s. It now has 18 acres of scenic rolling hills planted with olive oil trees in Healdsburg, California. The trees grow a mix of Frantoio, Pendolino, and Leccino style olives from Italy, and Arbequina olives from Spain to create a soft and buttery unfiltered blend. Olives are handpicked in the Italian brucatura tradition, where pickers use buckets harnessed around their necks to store olives they pluck off the trees. The oil is blended during the winter before being bottled in March and released in May. Three-hour estate tours are held May to October, Thursday through Monday and cost $120—which includes a gourmet meal pairing food, wine, and olive oil.
Bondolio Olive Oil
With its red clay tile roof and decorative Italian-style clay pots, Bondolio Olive Oil looks like a slice of Italy. Karen Bond and her husband Malcolm turned this former almond farm into an olive orchard after a trip to southern Italy. Then they imported and quarantined 1,200 Sicilian trees for two years before they harvested their first crop in 2009. It’s just under an 11-mile bike ride from Davis, California, one of the nation’s best bicycle cities. Once at the farm, take a tour of the mill and orchard (offered by appointment only). Then, do an outdoor tasting of the farm’s balsamic vinegars paired with pizza made from the built-in-Tuscany wood-burning brick oven.
Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, this region of California is known as the fruit and breadbasket of the world, and its delicious olive oils are no exception.
ENZO Olive Oil
Turn off Highway 99 and down a long driveway past hundreds of olive trees to ENZO Olive Oil Company, the largest organic producer of olive oil in California—and the United States. Ricchiuti Family Farms produces the 100 percent estate-grown organic extra virgin olive oil in its home of Madera, along with almonds, peaches, plums, and mandarin and navel oranges. Complimentary tours and tastings of their seven types of olive oil, which include garlic and citrus-infused varieties, are offered 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment.
Thanks to its hot and arid climate, Texas is the second-largest producer of olive oil in the U.S. with approximately 250 growers and 4,000 planted acres.
Texas Hill Country Olive Company
The rolling hills in this Lone Star region—similar to those of Tuscany—make it good for growing olive orchards. Located 30 miles west of Austin, Texas, Texas Hill Country Olive Company is home to a certified-organic olive orchard that has five varieties of olives and a built-in-Florence mill. Enjoy sangria and try EVOOs and fruit-infused balsamic vinegars while going on their $15 lunch-and-tour, offered four times a day on Fridays and Saturdays.
Bella Vista Ranch
The intimate Bella Vista Ranch is known for its small-batch varietals, including a peppery and pungent Coratina olive oil pressed onsite with an Italian frantoio (olive oil press). Owners John and Patricia Dougherty have been pressing oil since 2001 and are more than willing to share their knowledge with curious visitors. The Roman-style farm in Wimberley, Texas also includes a vineyard and winery. Take a $15 tour at 1 p.m. on Saturday or noon on Sunday, and make sure to try their blackberry wine jelly or go berry picking while there.
The Peach Tree state might be known for pecans and grits, but the warm climate and fertile soil here also make it ideal for olive-growing.
Georgia Olive Farms
Take the long way around to Marietta—Highway 37, also known as “Georgia Grown Trail 37” is lined with farms selling everything from pecans and honey to grits and wine—on the way to Georgia Olive Farms. The olive farm, which opened in 2011, claims to be the first to harvest olives east of the Mississippi. Wander through the high-density orchards—think 650 trees per acre—and then sit on a picnic table behind the Italian-made mill for a homemade pesto and olive oil tasting. Tours are by appointment only, but visitors can come in the evening and do a tasting at their leisure—don’t forget to bring some wine to share.
The Willamette Valley wine region in the Pacific Northwest is home to two-thirds of the state’s wineries. With its warm summers and cool evenings, it’s an ideal setting for agriculture—and it's just as great for growing olives as it is for growing grapes.
Red Ridge Farms
About an hour south of Portland, Red Ridge Farms boasts over 10,000 olive trees on its 200 acres. Try the robust and spicy Oregon Olive Mill Tuscan EVOO, a blend of Pendolino, Leccino, and Frantoio olives that works well with grilled steak and roasted vegetables. Also don't miss the koi pond, lavender fields, or the Durant Vineyard, which is known for its Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Take a free daily mill tour at 11 a.m. June 1 to September 31 or pay for one of the tastings or a meal that pairs food, wine, and olive oil. During the weekend before Thanksgiving, Red Ridge hosts an annual Italian festival called Olio Nuovo (meaning “new oil” in Italian) to celebrate the farm’s freshly milled oil.