a day at the olive ranch

Every time I drive by the McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, I always want to go visit. It’s such a stunning piece of land (550 acres of rolling hills, studded with olive trees) that produces delicious Tuscan-style olive oil. I always seem to miss their tour season so I was really happy when I got an email invitation to their holiday open house. This seemed like a perfect seasonal event that I could bring the kids to and that we’d all enjoy on different levels.

It was a chilly morning when we arrived but we were welcomed with hot chocolate (I think my kids wiped out half their supply) and a spread of delicious olive oil-based treats all made with recipes from their Olive Harvest Cookbook.

There was also a great bluegrass trio called the Earl Brothers playing who we all really enjoyed listening to. They have a refreshingly traditional mountain sound and Robert Earl Davis (banjo and lead vocals) has a wonderfully sorrowful voice. They play shows fairly frequently around the San Francisco Bay area and I definitely would like to go hear them again soon. You can also check out their music on MySpace.

After snacking and toe-tapping our way through the morning, we stepped inside the frantoio (Italian olive oil mill) for a tour. Considering the mill processes olives from 80 acres of orchards, it was a fairly discrete and efficient set-up.

First the olives are poured into a hopper and a defoliator pulls off any leaves and stems.

Even though the olives are “cold processed” (no heat or chemicals) with sophisticated Rapanelli machinery,

The fruit itself is still crushed the old-fashioned way by two heavy (over twelve hundred pounds each) granite
wheels.

After the crushing, the olive paste is pumped into a Sinolea extractor (apparently the only machine of its kind in the U.S.) that works by dipping thousands of steel blades into the paste, retrieving droplets of oil. This gentle process creates no heat of any kind which protects
the fragile composition and quality of the oil. Any vegetative water
remaining in the oil is spun out by a centrifuge.

At McEvoy they bottle two types of olive oil, Olio Nuovo “new oil” which is freshly produced and sold during the olive harvest (and for a few weeks afterwards) and Traditional Blend which is left to settle and mellow in tanks for several months.

I’ve never been much of a fan of new olive oil–it’s much too “grassy” for me, but being there at this time of year it was nice to be able to taste both types side by side.

All and all it was a really enjoyable outing for all of us, festive without being commercial and a nice mix of food, nature, music, education and of course the kids’ favorite–loud machinery!

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