Getting into California Olive Ranch for a tour is no easy feat. After a year in the works, we finally made it to the rural community of Artois, where California Olive Ranch sits alone amongst acres and acres of high density olive groves. One of California’s largest and most recognizable olive oil producers, we expect a cool corporate atmosphere but quickly discover the warmth behind the walls of the huge industrial buildings where golden California olive oil is made.
Meeting a Master Miller
You don’t get the chance to meet the man behind the scenes very often, so we feel fortunate to have Bob Singletary, the Master Miller of California Olive Ranch, greet us upon our arrival. Bob has been in the olive oil industry for over 30 years, although this was not his original plan. He was born in Corning, California (aka The Olive City) and came from a family of olive growers, so it would seem natural to follow in their footsteps. However, Bob chose a different path and had a successful career in the corporate world for many years. Then in 1983, he decided to return to his roots and move back to his hometown of Corning where his life had come full circle. But that’s not where his story ends. As life would have it, it was just the beginning.
Perhaps it was a coincidence or maybe it was meant to be, but Bob entered the world of olive oil and hasn’t looked back. After several stints with other well-known olive oil companies, including his own, he was approached by the owner of California Olive Ranch in 2006. After a single meeting, he was asked to come and work for California Olive Ranch to offer his milling expertise. And so the story goes…
Build It and They Will Come
California Olive Ranch started out with groves in Oroville in 1998. Olive oil production was still a fairly new concept at the time, with imported oils still having the highest distribution in the United States. The owners (who are from Spain) saw the similarities in climate and terrain between California and the Mediterranean and were committed to producing world class extra virgin olive oil that could rival those that were produced worldwide and imported. They knew that if they built olive milling facilities to produce fresh California olive oil, the customers would come. With the knowledge and the know-how, California Olive Ranch was already ahead of the game. They acquired more land and expanded their operations to Artois in 2008, building a second state of the art milling facility. Planting high density groves (similar to a vineyard) allowed more trees to be planted, thus producing more olive oil. Today, California Olive Ranch along with its Family Farmers team has 14,000 acres of Arbequina, Arbosana,and Koroneiki varieties planted in hedgerows with 675 trees per acre that sprawl as far as your eyes can see.
It Takes a Team
So what’s the key to making a great olive oil? Teamwork! At California Olive Ranch, each member of the team has an equally important job to do. It all starts with their farming crew who checks the olives for the optimum time to harvest. Each orchard is separated into blocks and testing begins as early as June to make sure the olives are growing to perfection. Once the olives reach their peak, harvesting begins. This is the time the team at California Olie Ranch kicks into high gear, working 24/7 for about 45 days straight to produce fresh California extra virgin olive oil.
California Olive Ranch’s milling facility runs like a well-oiled machine (pun intended) from start to finish. With their olive mill literally sitting in the middle of the groves, no time is wasted in getting the olives to the mill for pressing. The olives are picked when they are a bright green color, when they are considered fresh, fruity, peppery, packed with healthy antioxidants and polyphenols (the good stuff). We’ve seen a lot of olive mills in our day, but this facility is unlike any we have seen before. The milling equipment is the best of the best, imported from Italy, and monitored by sophisticated computer programs to ensure everything is running smoothly. California Olive Ranch considers this equipment an integral part of the team, recognizing how important these tools are in creating high quality olive oil. Therefore, this equipment is kept in pristine condition and is disassembled after each harvest, each part cleaned with toothbrushes.
The most impressive part of our peek inside California Olive Ranch is the storage and bottling facility. We feel minuscule as we walk past 55 foot tall stainless steel storage tanks that tower above us. How oil is stored is extremely important. These climate controlled, nitrogen topped tanks protect the oil from light, heat and air, three elements that can degrade the oil. Even though every precaution is taken to maintain the quality, California Olive Ranch has a Quality Control team that checks every aspect of the oil – from the time the olives arrive, frequently throughout storage, up to when they bottle upon demand. Clanking bottles line up and await their turn to be filled with liquid gold and dressed with their labels. During the bottling line duration, random bottles are pulled every twenty minutes for quality testing before being shipped to retailers across the nation. In addition, all of California Olive Ranch’s oils are certified by Safe Quality Foods and the California Olive Oil Council. The harvest year, lot code, and best by date are laser printed on the back of every bottle. All of these aspects are very important for consumers to know that the oil they are purchasing is truly fresh extra virgin olive oil.
A Company on a Mission
Although we stand amongst machinery and cold stainless steel tanks, we feel the warmth of the people behind the scenes. It is the friendly, welcoming, smiling faces of the employees who carry out the mission of producing the highest quality extra virgin olive oil at a reasonable price. As we have witnessed, we believe the team stands behind this mission 100% without cutting corners. Bob stresses that “Quality is the driving force behind the company” and quickly gives credit to Gregg Kelley (President) and Jim Lipman (Vice President of Operations) who set high standards earning California Olive Ranch worldwide recognition. Kudos were also given to his co-workers, Mary Bolton and Logan Jennings, that help him with the production of award winning extra virgin olive oils.
As we wrap up our day, we ask Bob what makes The Miller’s Blend of olive oil so special. A smile lights up his face, surprised that we are familiar with this blend. Fact is, this is our favorite and for good reason. We find out that the flavor profile of the Miller’s Blend is carefully selected based on the taste of each variety of olive, the percentage of each variety used changing from year to year, similar to blending a meritage wine. When determining this perfect blend, they look for the “Wow” factor when tasting each variety of oil. Blending these varietals brings together a balance of flavor characteristics of each variety – buttery, fruity, herby, and peppery. Bob recommends this oil as a finishing oil or for just about anything from salad dressing to drizzling over a sizzling steak. We recommend you grab a bottle if you are lucky enough to find one on your grocer’s shelf or order online. You won’t be disappointed!
You can find California Olive Ranch award winning olive oils nationwide. Their green square-shaped bottles with olive shaped indentations on the sides (for a no-slip grip) are easy to spot. Look for the label with a farmer holding a bright green olive over his head to experience a little taste of fresh California extra virgin olive oil. Visit California Olive Ranch’s store locator to find a location near you!
Photographs taken by The Grove & Co. at California Olive Ranch in Artois, CA.