It all started in Tuscany, 2001. Farmer Al and Chef Becky visited a B&B during olive harvest. On a warm, sunny day, they picked olives by hand into nets beneath the trees with their host Georgio and four members of his family (representing four generations!). While they picked, Georgio’s family prepared a lunch, which they ate together right there in the olive grove. Farmer Al shares that it was nothing fancy, but it was delicious and unforgettable. Each ingredient was honored for its seasonality, its unique flavors, and how it harmonized with the others. And he’ll never forget the bright green color of the olive oil they pressed shortly after lunch. When Farmer Al and Becky got back from the trip, they planted the first of the now 400 olive trees on the farm.
The story of Frog Hollow’s extra virgin olive oil actually started centuries before this lunch—with the Italian olive growers who perfected the Tuscan extra virgin olive oil blend. It’s this blend, refined over generations by Tuscan growers like Georgio, that we replicate on the farm. The blend is a family of four olives—each with their own personality, boldness, and purpose.
Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, and Maurino are the characters in our olive oil’s story. Frantoio olives are fruity, bitter, and a bit pungent. They make up 55% of our trees and therefore about 55% of our oil. Not all Frantoios ripen at the same moment, so at picking time, they’re about ½ purple and ½ green. Then we have the Leccinos, an olive with both sweetness and spice. They make up 20% of our trees. Next, the Pendolinos are unusually sweet and almost all ripe when we pick them. At 15% of the mix, they’re a great counterbalance to the grassy qualities of the Frantoio. And the Maurinos, only 10% of our trees, ripen late, so their fruit is a bright, solid green when we pick them at the same time as the others. All of the varieties contribute unique health-boosting antioxidant properties and flavors.
To get good oil, you have to get three things right: 1) the olives themselves, 2) the harvesting, and 3) the processing.
Thankfully, at Frog Hollow, we’re rich in all three. How we grow and manage the trees, our longtime picking crew, and our relationship with the facility that presses our oil all harmonize to make what might be the best olive oil you’ve ever tried.
1) Good Olives
Our 400 olive trees (just about 2 acres) border the other stone fruit orchards. Not only do they serve as windbreaks and habitat for beneficial wildlife, but they’re drought tolerant and less thirsty than other crops. Olive trees are well-suited for a changing climate and they fit in well with the regenerative ecosystem of Frog Hollow. Like any other crop on the farm, our team pays attention to the health of the soil through each tree’s entire life, which yields healthy, delicious fruit.
2) Good harvesting
Our crew of about 30 people harvests our trees entirely by hand. With some trees more than 20ft tall, the process is a bit different than harvesting other stone fruit. The team must cover their gloves in duct tape and run their hands along the long branches to strip them of fruit. When the trees are so tall that the olives are hard to reach, the team simultaneously prunes the branches and harvests the fruit from the fallen limbs.
Each person picks olives into picking totes, which are weighed out in the orchard and dumped into a big bin. Each picking tote holds about 30-40 lbs of fresh olives (depending on ripeness), which makes a ½ gallon of olive oil. A record producing tree last year had 300 lbs of olives (5 gallons!). But typically, a single tree produces about 2 gallons of oil. That’s still double the average for olive oil producers worldwide.
Magana, the tree team leader, takes stock of how many pounds of olives were harvested today
We plant the different olive trees in the order of our Tuscan ratio, alternating between the varieties as we go down a single row to get that just-right blend. That means that when we pick that row, we get olives at different stages of development and the flavors are already mixed in the right ratio in our picking bins.
3) Good processing
We rush these bins off to McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma to be pressed, same-day, into oil. Just two days of harvest might yield more than 8,000 lbs of fruit, all of which goes from tree to oil in 1-3 days! Frog Hollow has been sending olives to McEvoy to be milled at their state of the art olive press since 2005. And it’s been such a fulfilling relationship over the years.
We just got our first batch back this week, in fact. The first thing you notice is the smell. Fresh cut grass, bitter greens, and tomato vines. It’s a buttery, rounded flavor that builds in your mouth to a peppery finish. It’s thick, too, and probably high in polyphenol levels given the bright green color. Our harvest will continue another two or three weeks, at which point we’ll start bottling and selling our Olio Nuovo. Last year, we harvested 26 tons of fresh olives, which yielded 860 gal of oil. This year, the trees look even more full. We can’t wait to share the harvest with you.
In the meantime, enjoy the 2020 Extra Virgin Olive Oil made with olives from our friends and specialty olive oil producers at McEvoy Ranch. It's 20% off right now as we make room for the new season's oil!