Liquid Gold: Making Olive Oil

By Executive Chef Justin Wangler 
In: Recipes

After the grapes come off the vine in Sonoma County, the next big harvest to take place is olives.  This time of year is when you can enjoy olio nuovo, which is a fresh pressed olive oil that is bottled immediately after harvest, without filtration.  It is at this time when olive oil is at its best and freshest.

This year we decided to harvest the estate olives at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center to make our own olive oil to use in the kitchen. Making the best quality olive oil possible was our goal, so we hand picked the olives, which is a harder and dirtier job than you can imagine.

There were six of us and we were able to harvest all the olives on the property that day.  We ended up with a mixture of Frantoio, Manzanillo, Mission, Picholine and Sevillano olive varietals totaling 857 pounds.

Even after such a challenging year for produce, our olives looked really good.  There was a small amount of frost damage, but because we hand harvested, we were able to pick around the bad olives. We chose the best fruit, including both green and black olives in order to achieve a blend of ripeness levels.

With stained hands we took the olives over to the City of Sonoma to a company called Figone’s of California to be processed immediately.  It is important to start processing the olives right away; otherwise, they will start to ferment.  We had our friend, Frank Figone, custom crush our olives within two hours of being harvested.

Figone’s uses some of the best extra virgin olive oil processing equipment available, made by Rapanelli (from Italy).  After participating in the olive oil making process, I have a new respect for olive oil and the people who make it.  I learned how much work actually goes into processing olives and now I understand why the oil is so expensive.

Our olio nuovo turned out amazing.  It is really fresh, balanced and rich with a nice grassiness and a slight peppery finish.