Food & Drink

Searching for the perfect olive oil? Valley growers have quality choices

ENZO produces olive oil in Madera

Watch as the ENZO Olive Oil Company creates extra virgin olive oil at the company's Madera plant.
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Watch as the ENZO Olive Oil Company creates extra virgin olive oil at the company's Madera plant.

As interest in extra virgin olive oil grows, so does the number of local oils available on the market.

The San Joaquin Valley is home to nearly a dozen olive mills, crushing thousands of gallons of premium oil a year. Among the local leaders in the industry are the highly acclaimed Enzo Olive Oil in Clovis, Rosenthal Olive Ranch in Madera, Bari Olive Oil Co. in Dinuba and Fresno State. The newest company to open is Scout Olive Oil in Clovis.

With so many oils available, how do you know what you like and what’s the difference among the oils?

For starters, if you want the highest quality olive oil made in California, look for the California Olive Oil Council’s seal on the bottle. The Berkeley-based organization certifies that an oil is extra virgin olive oil.

Also, the flavor of the oil is dictated by the type of olive milled. In most cases, the label will indicate the type of olive used. If you like a milder, buttery flavor, look for an oil made from the arbequina olive. The arbosana olive has nutty undertones along with some grassy notes and is often blended with other oils, like the arbequina. The koroneiki has a more aggressive flavor with grassy and peppery notes.

Several of the local olive oil makers also produce oils with different flavors, such as garlic, lemon, jalapeño or basil.

A good place to find a variety of local olive oils is We Olive in Fig Garden Village at Shaw and Palm, Sam’s Italian Deli and Market on the corner of First and Clinton, Piemonte’s Italian Delicatessan, 616 E. Olive Ave., Fresno, and The Market, 7088 N West Ave., Fresno.

Experts and olive oil makers urge people to attend tastings to figure out what they like. The experience is like sampling wine or craft beer. Your palate will dictate what flavor tastes good in your mouth and in your cooking.

Raul Vasquez, manager at We Olive, says one way to figure out what you like is to determine what you plan to use it for.

“Some people just want to put it on their skin, or in salads or just to use to dip bread, since that is all they have ever seen olive oil used for,” Vasquez said. “We do a lot of education here.”

Much of what attracts people to olive oil is the buzz about it being healthy for you.

Katrina Van Conant, co-founder of Scout Olive, says the more people become familiar with olive oil, the greater the desire to try different flavors and blends.

“It is sort of like wine, in that the more exposure people have to it, the more willing they are to try new things,” she says. “And pretty soon you can begin to see all these foods that can go well with it.”

Van Conant keeps four different olive oils in her pantry, ranging from the mild to the bold and each one has its own specific use.

The milder flavors work well in baking, salad dressings and with fish, while the medium and bolder flavors pair well with grilled meats, dipping bread, sauces and spicy meals.

One additional advantage of buying local is that the oil is fresh. In the olive world, it’s called first press.

“With California olive oil you get the current crop of olives,” says JoAnn Sorrenti, owner of the Sierra Nut House in Fresno. “And you can taste the difference between that and what you may find in a regular grocery store.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

Guide to Valley olive oil

Here is a sample of local olive oil producers and where you can find their products.

Scout Olive Oil, Clovis

  • Price: $15, 250 ml.
  • Buy: Online, garibaldigoods.com/; Meat Market, 1990 N. Fowler, Clovis; Piemonte’s Italian Deli, 616 E. Olive, Fresno; Sam’s Italian Deli & Market, 2415 N. First St., Fresno.

Rosenthal Olive Ranch, Madera

  • Price: $18, 500 ml.
  • Buy: Online, rosenthalolive.com; Piemonte’s Italian Deli; The Market, 7088 N. West, Fresno; We Olive, 716 W. Shaw, Fresno; Sumner Peck Fruit Stand, 14439 N. Friant.

Enzo Organic Olive Oil, Clovis

  • Price: $17.99, 500 ml.
  • Buy: Online, enzostable.com; Enzo’s Table, 1959 N. Willow, Clovis; Sam’s Italian Deli; We Olive.

Fresno State Olive Oil

  • Price: $15.99, 500 ml.
  • Buy: Fresno State Gibson Farm Market, 5368 N. Chestnut Ave. Fresno; We Olive; The Market.

Bari Olive Oil Company, Dinuba

  • Price: $16, 500 ml.
  • Buy: Online, barioliveoil.com; Sam’s Italian Deli, Piemonte’s and Simonian Farms, 2629 S. Clovis Ave., Fresno.

Vargas Olive Oil, Reedley

T-Roxels Bistro Blends, Fowler

  • Price: $28, 33.8 fl. oz.
  • Buy: Online, troxelsblends.com; Guliano’s Fruits, 13233 Highway 41, Madera.

Burroughs Family Farms, Denair

  • Price: $15.99, 500 ml.
  • Buy: Online, burroughsfamilyfarms.com; Burroughs Family Farms, 22323 E Monte Vista Ave., Denair.

Rio Bravo Ranch, Bakersfield

DeLeonardis Olive Oil, Visalia

  • Price: $15
  • Buy: Visalia Farmers Market, Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., E. Main Street and N. Church and on Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Sears parking lot on S. Mooney and W. Caldwell avenues.
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