Road trip day 9 – Sonoma olive oil
Before we left San Francisco we considered going for breakfast at Foreign Cinema, a chic industrial style restaurant occupying a covered courtyard in the Mission, known for its food and the foreign films projected onto the walls. It was on several of the lists for best breakfast in San Fran. After a short debate (between a foodie and a non-foodie, it would have been a no-brainer between two foodies) we figured that it would take too long to get out of town and I had a few stops on my list so we wanted to leave at a reasonable time. So we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel and left with our end of day destination being the southern part of the Oregon Coast where the dunes are situated. The following morning we would go dune buggy’ing.
We drove across the Golden Gate bridge for the second time on this road trip and continued north on Route 101 for a short time before exiting onto I-180E towards Sonoma. Our first destination was an olive oil making facility known as the most highly awarded olive oil producer in the USA. The Olive Press was the first olive mill in Sonoma, founded by Edward Stolman, an eclectic and visionary businessman who made his fortune in other fields before turning his attention to olive oil production. Stolman unfortunately passed away but before his untimely death asked his close friends the Cline family of the Cline Cellar Winery and the Jacuzzi Family Vineyard (yes, the inventors/developer of jacuzzi tubs) to buy the business and carry on the production. The Olive mill is located within the Jacuzzi winery in a gorgeous stone mission style structure surrounded by vineyards and 45 acres of olive groves that Ed Stolman helped plant in his day.
Tucked between the rolling Sonoma hills off the beaten path among vineyards and olive groves,The Olive Press is set in a Tuscan style stone building with oversized wooden doors and heavy cast iron hardware. If they weren’t speaking English you’d think you were in Tuscany. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but once inside the doors we found ourselves in a double tasting room, wine on the left and olive oil on the right. We spent most of the time in the olive oil tasting room. The olive oil bottles and vinegars are lined up in the tasting area and you can taste on your own or with the assistance of the staff.
They make three types of oil at the mill: delicate, medium and robust, each corresponding with a specific time of harvest. Of the late harvest delicate category I particularly liked the Sevillano (named after Seville in Spain), a subtle, buttery and delicate oil, gentle olive scent and a lovely golden hue. The mid-harvest medium ocategory included Arbequina, a Master Blend and Koroneiki. These are fruity and ripe, fragrant and rich with grassy undertones and peppery notes. In the early harvest Robust category they offer an Artisan Blend, and Italian Blend, a Winter blend and an Picual. These oil are green and peppery, full flavour with peppery palate and vigorous olive flavours and aromas. My favourite was the Picual, that happened to be in short supply after winning best in class at the largest and most prestigious NY International Olive Oil Competition in April. A truly delectable oil that I would keep for drizzling over bread or vegetables, but not heat up in cooking.
They also make a citrus crush oils by crushing California olives together with citrus fruit. I am not a fan of oil and fruit blends but the blood orange olive oil was refreshing and tangy and would be good for a dressing a crisp green salad. They make a few balsamic style vinegars as well, I think I saw a dozen or so and tasted about three or four. The fig balsamic was thick and sweet and paired nicely at the tasting with the robust Picual. Needless to say I loaded up the Hummer with a few bottles and cleaned out the few Picual bottles left on the shelves. You can order their oils and vinegars online.
There are also tours through the winery and olive oil pressing facility. There were no tours available when we visited but the tasting room manager detected my kin interest and gave us a private tour of the olive mill, adjacent to and visible from the tasting room. It was a crash course on olive oil making from olive grove to bottle. All the olives they press at the mill are hand picked and just like in picking grapes for wine, they have to wait for ripe balance in the fruit. Considerations include yield, ripeness, colour and flavours. Early harvest oils tend to be full flavoured and pungent with a peppery taste. Mid-harvest oils are fruity with vibrant, ripe flavours. Late harvest oils tend to have delicate, sweet and buttery taste.
After the olives are delivered to the mill and weighed they are placed on a hopper and travel by a conveyor to be washed. The olives, including their pits, are crushed into a paste that is kneaded for 30-45 minutes. During that process the oil that is trapped in the paste escapes and begins to separate. After the separation, the paste, consisting of olive oil, water and olive matter is pumped away to be spun at high speed in a centrifuge. The oil is lighter than water and naturally separates during that process. The paste minus the oil is removed and sent to the compost. Oil from the olives and any remaining water is pumped to a smaller vertical centrifuge and from there the remaining water is removed and sent to the compost as well. What is left is the fresh extra virgin olive oil which is collected in a small stainless steel drum. The fresh oil is left to naturally settle under gravity for at least one month before it is ready to be bottled.The Olive Press gets 30-35 gallons of oil per tons of olive. It is a small batch process tended by experts with years of oil making experience. Very much like making fine wines. In addition to pressing their own berries (that’s what they call the olives) the olive Press offers custom crush for growers who want to make their their own oils but lacking the pressing facility. They also offer a community crush for smaller olive growers that do not meet the minimum requirements for a custom crush.
Time flew by. After a long stop at the olive mill we loaded the new loot (olive oils and vinegars) into the hummer and returned to Route 101 going north towards the Oregon coast. We were looking for a place to stop for lunch but without getting off the highway there was nothing we could see. We stopped at a winery that looked promising on top of the hill along the highway, Jaxon Keys. We settled on their wrap around porch with beautiful Sonoma views of vineyards and oak trees and had some wine, cheese and crackers they had in their fridge. This should get us through until we find a real lunch.
Once we settled it was hard to get going again but eventually we continued north. Thankfully as we got on the road I realized that I had left my purse on the patio and we made a quick U turn to retrieve it. I am glad I remembered it then as it would have been annoying to have to track back there later.
Going north we passed through the amazing redwoods again, this time diverting to the older highway to the Avenue of the Giants, an incredible sight. The aptly named giants had an other worldly feel to them, standing wise and silent and so tall and straight.
We crossed the border to Oregon fairly late in the day looking for a decent hotel but nothing exciting came up. We ended up staying in an ordinary place but tomorrow it’s sand dunes and dune buggies so that’s what I had on my mind as I settled in bed for the night.