How much do you know about olive oil? Due to its growing prevalence in our restaurants and kitchens, there’s a good chance you’ve partaken in the extra virgin variety today!
Between salads, sautes and emulsions, it’s easily possible to consume olive oil every day of the week. Yet how often do we stop to consider the origins and characteristics of this transformative anointment? Recent press has highlighted the importance of vetting your olive oil supplier, and where better to start than close to home? You may not know this, but there is olive oil production within 50 miles of Austin!
Bella Vista Ranch is one of the oldest olive farms in Texas, tucked away in a pocket of Texas Hill Country only a scenic hour’s drive from Austin. We had planned to spend an afternoon on the orchard tour, and soon regretted not allowing for additional exploratory time.
The hardest part about the drive to the Wimberley, TX area is keeping your navigator on task, as the green hills and surprising herds of exotic and domestic animals can be very distracting. Vineyards, ranches and distilleries dot the route, and all seem ready for visitors if you want to extend your day and experience.
The ranch itself is small and picturesque, with the expected groves of silvery olive trees and surprising rows of grapevines (Bella Vista Ranch is also a winery). This early in the year, the trees were lacking in olives and just approaching blossom, but we are already planning a return visit to witness the harvest in the fall.
Our tour guide Colleen is the daughter of the proprietor, and extremely knowledgeable in the history of the olive plantation and the entire process of manufacturing the oil. I now have enough reciprocal knowledge of olive oil to write a separate treatise on the varieties and certifications, but the most memorable experience is the tasting.
Have you ever tasted olive oil?! I don’t mean have you ever eaten food with olive oil on it, or even “tasted” some after finishing your salad. A true olive oil tasting means sampling small pours of straight oil, much like a wine tasting. There is even a proper way to sip the oil, slurping back air to fully experience the spicy green flavor coating the back of your tongue.
The clear winner is the Gold Medal Coratina Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It’s currently on its victory lap after the New York International Olive Oil Competition, and its creators say it’s the only Hill Country olive oil that isn’t a blend with California olive oil. The recent recognition in New York has created a bit of a rush, so there isn’t much left in stock.
Some things I have learned from my olive oil studies? True extra virgin olive oil expires and is considered fresh for less than a year. Olive curing is a carefully restricted process, currently not approved for Texas production. The pumice created from the olive oil production is considered a biohazard! Don’t you feel like an expert already?
Tours and tastings are regularly available at Bella Vista Ranch. Let me know what you think after you make your own visit!
What do you know about olive oil? Have you ever tasted true Texas olive oil?