Metamorphosis of an Olive Grove

So, what goals should we set for this olive oil? Taste is so subjective from person to person, and the general public is accustomed to mild, tasteless and inexpensive olive oil. But health benefits can be scientifically evaluated, measured and enhanced. Monounsaturated fats, phenolic antioxidants, tocopherols and oleocanthal have medicinal benefits that can be found in olive oil. Saltonstall Estates’s aim became the production of the healthiest organic olive oil even if it tasted like castor oil.

To accomplish this, we needed to deficit irrigate, harvest early, and process with as little loss of nutrients as possible. Fortune had it that in 2005 our first Super Premium Olive Oil won the best of the show among 350 olive oil entries at the Los Angeles County Fair. This very pungent, dark green, spicy oil immediately gave our California olive oil a special niche in the market.

It has been rewarding for us to produce this very unique and ‘healthiest of all olive oils’ during the first 10 years; however, there have been some challenges. For instance, 9 out of 10 consumers didn’t like it.There are a few who love the very pungent burning in the back of your throat, but when you know most customers prefer a mild oil, it is not practical to offer this unique oil for sale in retail stores without extensive tasting.

The other challenge faced in the production of our organic oil was cost. With early harvest and limiting water, there is a decrease in both the yield per acre of fruit and the yield per ton of oil. To produce Sir Richard’s intense oil, there may be a yield as low as 10 gallons of oil per ton of fruit. This is compared to 40 to 50 gallons with full irrigation and later harvest. The resulting increase in cost makes Sir Richard’s intense oil almost prohibitively expensive for deep frying, as much of the polyphenols are lost in the cooking.

In 2010, Dr Marco Mugelli, an ideologue from Florence, Italy, appears in the production scene and is developed into the Cultivar milling system. In this revolutionary system, processing is in a vacuum to inhibit oxidation of the polyphenols. At the time of his death, Dr Mugelli was only partially successful in influencing the industry. Large manufacturers did not see that the yield loss and increased cost passed onto consumers were worth the investment. Gianni Stefanini at Apollo Olive Olive Oil in Oregon House, California was the only U.S. Miller willing to exchange cost and volume for Dr. Mugelli’s dream oil.

Given the option at Apollo to produce a high-quality, high polyphenol oil that would essentially have the same medicinal benefits without the aftertaste that induces choking at the back of the throat, therein arose the possibility of serving more of our fellow citizens. The problem is that we have many long-time customers that depend on this medicinal intense oil. The other challenge was price. We would like to serve those of us who don’t have to chose between their children’s milk and a longer life for themselves.

And so voila! Saltonstall Estates now had a line of three oils -- the medicinally intense Sir Richard, the prize-winning Governor Gurdon, and the almost as cheap as other good oils, aged one year, Uncle Ivo’s.