Though very young in contrast to other parts of the world, California is one of the fastest growing areas for quality olive oil production with around 750 olive farms and 50 mills located throughout the region.
Olive oil production in California began in the 16th Century by Spanish missionaries who brought Mission variety olive trees to California from Mexico and began planting them alongside other European varieties. Since there are no native olive trees to the US, the varieties of California olive oils tend to be very unique adaptations of foreign favorites such as Koroneiki from Greece, Arbequina and Arbosana from Spain, and Frantoio and Leccino from Italy.
The California olive oil industry went through a very long period of stagnation as it focused its attention mainly on the production of table olives, but in the past 15 years California producers mounted a major effort to increase production by planting thousands of acres of new trees, building new mills and producing oils that can be on par in quality with some of the best oils imported from the Mediterranean.
An innovative farming system known as “super high-density” orchards helped to reduce costs and improved quality. In the high-density grove, trees are tightly planted and pruned so they can be mechanically picked by a harvester that quickly sucks the olives off the branches. In traditional groves, the olives are raked or shaken from the tree by hand, resulting in a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. In addition, an acre of high-density olives can contain up to 900 trees compared with a traditional grove that will hold less than 100.
Because high-density planting currently only works with certain varietals, such as Arbequina and Arbosana from Spain and Koroneiki from Greece, these tend to be the most popular varieties found in California olive oil. While opinions currently vary in regards to high-density planting, many who implement the system believe that the rapid harvest actually produces superior oil.
Premium quality California extra virgin olive oils produced today typically have grassy and fruity aromas with a smoother, buttery flavor and subtle peppery finish. In numerous blind tastings, high quality California oils can certainly hold their own against the best quality Italian, Spanish and Greek oils.
When browsing our online olive oil shop, you can buy some of the best California oils made by award-winning producers, Calivirgin and Grumpy Goats, as well as our own Amoris California extra virgin olive oil produced exclusively for OliveOilLovers.com.