Today I’m heading out to McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, California. I signed up for their first Orchard Walk and Mill Tour of the season. I hope to learn more about olive oil production and see an actual organic olive tree ranch. The drive into the McEvoy Ranch is absolutely gorgeous. The sun is shining bright and it looks like we will have good weather. The location of this private residence is set amongst rolling hillsides, away from town. The directions to the ranch don’t register on my GPS, so I am forced to read the directions that I printed out from McEvoy Ranch. We were told to pull up to the “rabbit gate” and it will automatically open. I thought to myself, “What is a rabbit gate?” as I envisioned a gate small enough for a rabbit to fit through like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Let me just say (in my defense), that I’ve been up since 5 am this morning and my mind isn’t quite awake yet. I continue to drive on a small one lane road, passing old oak trees along the way, enjoying the peaceful surroundings. Then, at the top of the hill, I see it. The rabbit gate! A big beautiful iron gate with a huge rabbit sculpture sitting atop the gate as if he is welcoming me to his home. I approach it slowly, waiting for it to magically open, as it does just that. I drive through slowly as Mr. Rabbit watches me. Once I’m inside the gate, I am lucky enough to witness wild jack rabbits crossing the road. I am in Wonderland!
McEvoy Ranch Tour
I park my car by the pond and go inside to join the tour. We are a small group which is led by three ladies who ask us to gather by the pond so we can get started. We walk past french lavender plants buzzing with bees and beautiful wild purple irises. The surroundings are stunning and I envy the ladies who get to work in this beautiful environment every day.
They start off by telling us the story of the owner of McEvoy Ranch, Nan Tucker McEvoy, the granddaughter of Michael De Young, the founder of the San Francisco Chronicle. She was looking for a place for retirement and wanted enough land for her grandchildren to be able to run and play and fully enjoy. After finding this perfect location, she found that the land was zoned as agricultural. Well, she was raised on a ranch in Oregon and knew she didn’t want to raise animals and vineyards were already growing in the area in abundance. Having taken a cooking class in Tuscany, and falling in love with the taste of Tuscan olive oil, she thought of importing Tuscan olive trees for the production of olive oil. Everyone told her it would never work in this environment, which made her more determined to make it work. Thank goodness for her determination because this is one sweet ranch!
The guides of McEvoy Ranch told us all about how the olive trees are babied to bear fruit. This is an organic olive ranch, therefore they get more attention than most, paying special attention to the environment as well. I like that they utilize everything from the olive, not wasting any part of the fruit during the production of olive oil. The water from the ponds are aerated by pumps (that look like rocks) to keep the water moving so algae won’t grow. This keeps them from having to add chemicals to the water to kill the algae. The water is filtered underground by sand, which is then transported to the mill for many uses. They also have a windmill to generate power. In the orchards, the olive trees are watered from the same water that has been filtered from the ponds, therefore eliminating any chemically treated water from ever touching the treasured trees. Organic materials such as boron and copper are used to keep pests away from harming the fruit, and they use it sparingly. Even though the fruit fly can potentially harm their crops and their profit, being an organic, earth friendly business, they don’t feel that they need to overspray the orchards and kill all fruit flies known to man. They only want to keep them under control during the peak time when the fruit flies are ready to lay their eggs, so in turn, their fruit is not harmed or damaged. The phrase “Can’t we all just get along?” comes to mind. I think this is a pretty cool place if you ask me!
McEvoy Ranch Mill Tour
We come to the point in the tour where we actually get to enter the mill where the olive oil production begins. I’m actually amazed at how pristine this place is. I’ve never been in an olive mill, but this isn’t what I expected. They tell us about how experts from Italy came to help get the ranch set up. They imported the “Ferrari” of all milling equipment used today, obviously meaning the best of the best. But, the one piece of “equipment” that instantly caught my eye was the huge stone wheels that sat atop a flat stone surface. It was an old fashioned olive press like the ones I’ve seen in books, only life sized. It was much larger than I would have guessed from the pictures I have seen and quite impressive. The press is still used in the mill today but the “Ferrari” equipment is preferred due to its speed. They talked about how the olives are picked and pressed the same day. They do not leave their fruit to sit and risk deterioration to start and spoil the quality. The olives are weighed, washed, pressed into a paste, and then the olive oil is extracted from the pomace. The oil is then filtered and the water is separated from the oil. After the water is extracted, the olive oil is transferred to a decanter where it will sit for a few months to settle.
“What happens to all the crushed olive pieces and parts?” someone asks. Of course they have an answer. The water that was separated from the oil is stored in tanks for later uses. The woody residue leftover from the pressing is used as compost. The residue actually needs a little assistance from neighboring animals (uh-hum, manure) to be added to start the composting process. It is a full time job in itself to manage this process. They use the water that was separated from the olive oil and put into storage tanks to water down the mounds of compost until it is ready to be used as fertilizer for the orchards. Wow, they don’t waste anything!
They harvest the olives in early Autumn and release their first batch of “Olio Nuovo,” which is a cloudy version of the olive oils we are used to seeing. It is the highest quality extra virgin olive oil they produce and there are groupies that wait for its release in January, like a fine wine. When asked if they had any left to sell today, I was told “No” as it isn’t considered “Olio Nuovo” (New Oil) anymore because it has already settled for several months, therefore it isn’t cloudy or as pungent anymore. Aha! I get it! Another cool factoid! I guess I’ll have to wait till next January.
We move on to the tasting room where the table is waiting for us with pieces of bread waiting to take a dip into the olive oil that is poured into beautiful “wave” dipping plates. There is also a wonderful salad that was prepared with fresh greens picked from their gardens. We get a brief introduction on how to “taste” the oil. A small amount is poured into a compostable cup. We are told to cover the cup with our hand and swirl the oil around to warm it up. When you remove your hand from the cup, smell the aroma. “What do you smell?” we are asked. I smell grass, but their description sounds more appetizing – sliced artichokes, fresh celery, raw carrots. We then are told to drink the oil but first let it sit in your mouth while you breath air in through your mouth so you get the full flavor, then swallow. A few people cough because it’s too strong, but I taste pepper and imagine it coupled with an aged balsamic and crusty bread. Yuuum!
We are told that this is the only olive oil that they produce and it is certified organic extra virgin olive oil. Mrs. McEvoy chose the bottles the olive oil is sold in because she thought they were pretty, even though the bottles are clear (a no-no in the industry because light and heat are not oils friends). So, in order to protect the bottles from light and heat, they have put them in a beautiful box for protection. She explained that the US is not protected like the European countries by the IOC (International Olive Council), but California has the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) which is the equivalent. The olive oil you buy from McEvoy Ranch is certified Extra Virgin with a label on the bottle from the COOC. It is also certified USDA Organic and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). They also list their harvest date on the bottle so you know exactly how old the oil is when you purchase it. McEvoy Ranch recommends using their oil within 6 months after opening the bottle for freshness. These are all good things to know and I’m glad I’m able to share with you. Be on the lookout for this high quality EVOO the next time you shop. It can be found at high end retailers like Whole Foods or simply buy it from the ranch directly online. It does make a difference to buy quality over quantity, don’t you think?
McEvoy Ranch Summary
Overall, this was a great tour that I would highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in beautiful scenery, high quality organic extra virgin olive oil, and magical rabbits who can open new doors (or gates) to a world you never knew you were missing until you got there! Thank you to the ladies who gave the tour. You did a great job! I’ll be back in the fall when you have your Community Milling Day to see those big stone wheels turn to their hearts content. You can count on it!
They also have a beautiful selection of luxurious bath salts, soaps, scrubs, and body lotions to swoon over in their 80 Acres Body Care line of products. They are paraben free, phthalate free, and blended with extra virgin olive oil, of course!
For more information on McEvoy Ranch, please visit their website at www.mcevoyranch.com.