Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Serious about olive oil

Originally published in October, 2003 in the Post Register.
GLEN ELLEN, California – Deborah Rogers is serious about her olive oil to the point of evangelism.

“This is more of a passion than a business,” says Rogers, managing partner of the Olive Press, a small “maker and purveyor” of olive oil in California’s Sonoma Valley.

She punctuates her point by explaining that none of the partners in her business are making money at it.

Now that’s passion.

The Olive Press doesn’t grow olives on site, it just makes the oil. The olives come from around California, some from trees whose roots literally can be traced to early European missionaries. Twelve partners have invested in the operation.

At the Olive Press, as at other olive oil makers in California, you can experience a tasting. Done right, this doesn’t involve dipping a nice sourdough in the stuff.

Nope, you sip it straight.

Some oil is light on the tongue, mellow as it hits your throat. Other blends can actually leave a little sizzle on the way down.

“The olive oil industry is where the wine industry was 20 or 30 years ago,” says Rogers. One of the keys to success, as in the wine industry, is educating the public. Not all olive oil is created equal.

And just because it says “extra virgin” doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot, either. Rogers says that according to international agreement, extra virgin simply means that the oil contains less than 1 percent acidity.

Unless you’re buying in bulk, much of the olive oil sold in grocery stores meets that criterion. The latest craze is olive oils infused with various herbs, a trend not really to Rogers’ liking. She’s a fan of various olive blends, but believes olive oil shouldn’t be altered with spices and such. It’s a personal position – she’ll happily sell you some of the Olive Press’ infused oils (and the Olive Press’ blood orange olive oil is spectacular).

“We consider our oils condiment oils,” she says. She recommends using “lower grade” (and cheaper) oils for cooking, using the good stuff in ways that allow the flavor to come through.

Unlike many of California small olive oil makers, the Olive Press doesn’t sell through retail stores. A 250 milliliter bottle runs about $20, depending on the variety, plus shipping. Go to

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