Saturday, February 19, 2011

49er Olive Oil

The oil is now bottled, and the label (above) is being printed. So we should have product ready to vend by next weekend!

The Name

Here's some background on the label design: I had originally hoped to have a contest at Yuba College to name the olive venture and to design the logo and label. But since the harvest came rather suddenly and unexpectedly, I decided to make some executive decisions myself this season, with the thought that things can change and evolve in the future. I decided to name the olive venture "49er Olive Oil" because it seems to work on several levels: 1. Yuba College's mascot/team name is The 49ers, which of course reflects the gold mining history of Yuba County; 2. The olives were harvested from Teichert's grove in the Yuba Goldfields, an important site from the days of '49; 3. Olive oil is "liquid gold" and we are in the midst of a new California "gold" rush. 

The Artwork

Plus, it so happens that my (first) cousin (once removed), Mort Kunstler, a very successful commercial artist (remember the movie poster for The Hindenburg, with people jumping out of the burning zeppelin? That was him.), has a great painting called, "The Discovery of Gold at Sutter's Mill", and I thought it would look nice on the label. He agreed, and didn't even mind that our wonderful graphic artist at Yuba College, Teresa Aronson, cropped the image. Thanks, Teresa, for your excellent label design! And thanks, Cousin "Mutz" for the artwork! (The folks at Teichert, by the way, love the label and the painting).

The Flavor 

The part of the label that may require the most explanation is "Wild Manzanillo": Up until the harvest, we (me, Teichert officials, Ramon) had been laboring under the belief that the olives were probably Ascolanos. But when we brought the fruit to Lewis Johnson for milling, he immediately ruled out Ascolanos (wrong shape and size, he said), and opined that they were most likely Manzanillos ("Little Apples" in Spanish). Later, when the oil had settled, the folks at Sutter Buttes Olive Oil--Alka Rita Kumar and her husband, Arek Kazmierczak--tasted it and also felt that it was not Ascolano oil, which has a distinctive flavor. I also sent the oil to UC Davis for "Sensory Evaluation", and they, too, suspect that the variety is most likely Manzanillo. Of course, the "wild" designation is my own attempt at marketing flourish, but it's actually pretty accurate, in that the grove is a feral one, and the flavor of the oil is pungent, bitter, and peppery (these are positive qualities in olive oil, according to experts, but they are not necessarily found in most of the olive oil that American consumers are used to). 

The Quality?

So the oil passed inspection, earning the top grade of "Extra Virgin" (which really means, no defects, like rancidity or mustiness), and a style of "Robust". Woo hoo! We're in (social) business!

Here are some excerpts from the UC Davis report on our oil:

Tasting Protocol
The UC Davis Olive Oil Sensory Panel tasted the 49er Olive Oil sample on February 14, 2011. The panel is comprised of 18 members trained to provide descriptive analysis of olive oil and recognized by the International Olive Oil Council in Spain. All samples were tasted blindly and presented using a random four digit code consisting of numbers and letters. Blue glasses were used to disguise the color of samples. Samples were warmed to approximately 28 degrees Celsius prior to tasting. Panelists used green apples and room temperature water to cleanse their palates between samples. Panelists were also separate by dividers and remained silent during the entire tasting.

Samples were rated using the UC Davis descriptive scorecard. Defects, fruit, green fruit, ripe fruit, bitterness and pungency were all rated using a 10 centimeter unstructured line scale. Scores were measured by panelists with a ruler once they had completed the tasting. Samples were also evaluated using 47 aroma and flavor descriptors, divided into the follow groups:
*Ripe fruit;
* Green fruit;
* Mouthfeel;
*Integrated balance;

Results were tabulated using the median of panelist’s scores. These values are presented to the right in the table and in the spider graph below. Descriptors were rated between zero and 10. Those descriptors rated as zero are not shown.

Grade: Extra Virgin
Style: Robust


Ripe fruit
Green fruit
Total Aroma Intensity
Total flavor intensity
Ripe Olive
Aftertaste/Taste persistence (bitterness)

Below is the "spider graph" which presents the above information in a graphical from. I am not entirely clear on the precise purpose of this way of representing the data;  I thought maybe the lack of symmetry in our "web" would be a flaw, but the staff at UCD Olive Center reassured me that a completely balanced oil would probably be pretty bland. They said our oil was perfectly fine to sell, and that although it is pretty bitter and astringent, these are often considered positive qualities of olive oil (see above). In fact, the bitterness is caused by the polyphenols, or antioxidants, which give olive oil many of its healthful qualities. Anecdotally, I can say that, while I was consuming our oil over the holidays, my entire family--except for me--contracted Strep Throat...

The Future

49er Olive Oil will be available for purchase soon at The Eating Well cafe, in Linda, and at Sutter Buttes Olive Oil, in Sutter. We only have 24 cases, and I am planning to give quite a bit of that away to the volunteers and other supporters. So if you want some, act fast! 

Teichert is quite willing to explore making our Community Olive Harvest an annual (or perhaps biennial event), and in giving Yuba College access to maintain, improve, and harvest the grove. I am meeting with them next week to talk about safety issues and other matters. 

Since I am in charge of the Learning Community project at Yuba College ("Learning Communities" refers to efforts to link different courses together, through common themes, common assignments, and integrated learning experiences), I am planning to develop a "confluence model" learning community for next Fall Semester. A confluence model is when several courses, all taught at the same hour/day of the week, are linked by a common theme, with a series of common experiences over the course of the term. So, I am proposing to link courses via the theme of "Olives", and, depending on which other instructors I am able to recruit, our Learning Community can explore such things as, the sociology of olives, the biology of olives, the chemistry of olive oil, the religious significance of olives and olive oil, the economics of the olive oil industry,  the ceramics/art of olives, olive-themed literature, and even the music of olives. The semester will include guest presentations by olive experts, olive oil tastings, student presentations on what they've learned about olives, and will conclude with either an olive harvest festival (in a harvest year) or an olive food festival (coinciding with the holiday season). We can also recruit student clubs and sports teams to help harvest the olives (I'm envisioning a contest to see which student group can fill the most bins!), and these groups can also share in the revenue generated from 49er Olive Oil. 

So yes, I am dreaming big, but ultimately, I hope 49er Olive Oil will become a collective project managed by the students of Yuba College, rather than my own personal obsession...
The very first unit of commercially bottled 49er Olive Oil, in front of the new(ish) sign for The Eating Well Cafe

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