Tag Archives: olives

Ojai Olive Oil

I posted a while back on olive history and have previously offered a couple of recipes that include olives. (Just type “olives” into the search bar at right, if you’re interested.) They are tremendously important fruit, especially among Mediterranean cultures. News of their health benefits has given olives and olive oil a great boost in the last decade or so in the United States. Countries with the right, Mediterranean-type weather, including Australia and South Africa, are now growing olives and producing excellent olive oils. Happily, the Mediterranean climate of parts of California have made that state a wonderful producer of olives and olive oils, as well.

While I loved the book store mentioned in the last post, it wasn’t my reason for visiting Ojai. The Ojai Valley has a great climate for olives (as well as oranges and avocados), and it was the region’s fruit-growing, especially of olives, that had brought me to town. The Ojai Olive Oil Company not only produces world-class, award-winning oils, it also offers free tours twice a week, and that was where I headed the day after I first arrived in Ojai. This operation is sustainable, organic, and family owned. It’s also remarkably beautiful, if a little hard to find. (If you go, be sure to follow the directions on their website, as a GPS can lead you to the wrong side of the sprawling ranch.)

Ojai Olive Oil has olive trees from several of the major olive oil regions of Mediterranean Europe, including France, Spain, and Italy. Apparently, both the soil and climate are ideal for the olives, and the trees show their gratitude by producing abundant olives, all hand picked.

In addition to being shown around the orchards, we also got to see the crushing equipment and then, best part, got to taste about a dozen different olive oils. Wow. We were told that the intense, complex, fruity, peppery flavor of course reflected the health and quality of the trees and the care of the process, but also demonstrated the difference freshness can make. Any olive oil shipped from Europe, unless you had it air freighted yourself, will likely be many months old by the time it reaches the grocery store shelf. It will still be good, but it probably won’t be great. For great olive oil, you not only want to buy good quality but also as fresh as possible. I had always wondered why olive oil I had in places around the Mediterranean always tasted so much better than oils I had at home, and now I knew why.

(The stuff on the grocery store shelf is fine for pan frying, by the way, or using in a marinade, but if you’re going to be dipping bread or drizzling it on a salad, that’s when you want the really good stuff.)

Because of the freshness factor, a California olive oil may offer your best opportunity to taste how good this oil can be. Of course, I can offer from experience a definite thumbs up for the oils from Ojai Olive Oil, but it is not the only good olive oil company in the U.S. But you owe it to yourself to try to find something really fresh and brilliant, so you know why olive oil is so revered in so many places. But if you are interested in seeing what the Ojai operation offers, here’s their website: Ojai Olive Oil Company. Enjoy.


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Moroccan Marinated Olives

In Morocco, when you sit down to a meal, olives generally appear almost instantly. The olives may be plain but are just as often spiced or marinated. The marinade in this recipe boosts the already vivid flavor of good olives. If the olives are in brine, rinse them and pat them dry before using them in the recipe. If they are in oil, as is often the case at the “olive bars” at some grocers, you can use them as is, but drain them first.

Marinated Olives
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups (just over a pound) green olives (with pits)

Combine the spices, herbs, garlic, and lemon juice in a bowl. Pour the olive oil in a steady stream, beating it into the spice blend. Toss the olives in this marinade. Put olives and marinade in clean jars, seal, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before using. (Though not for more than 5 days.) Enjoy.

Use a good, fruity, extra virgin olive oil.

You can use whole or cracked olives.

If you have preserved lemons, chopping the skin of 1/2 a lemon and tossing it with the olives makes a nice addition to this recipe (makes it a bit more Moroccan)—but if you use preserved lemon, then leave the salt out of the marinade (the preserved lemons will add all the salt you need). Rinse the preserved lemon first, and discard the pulp (you just use the skin), chop, and add to the marinade before adding olives.


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There are two food items that pretty well define the Mediterranean: the grape and the olive. Roman naturalist and historian Pliny the Elder wrote that “Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.” The olive was the favorite food of the Greek philosopher Plato, and the Roman poet Horace, who identified the olive as a key part of his diet, wrote about Olives in his Odes.

In fact, a great deal of ancient literature contains references to the olive, from the olive branch carried to Noah by the dove in the Bible to Aeneas carrying an olive branch in Virgil’s Aeneid. (Today, the literature that most often carries references to the olive is medical literature, as more and more people come to appreciate the health benefits of olives and olive oil. So it appears that we are finally catching up with the ancients in our appreciation of this venerable fruit.)

In ancient times, olives were often the most important dish at a meal, or at least an important ingredient of several dishes. This importance spread throughout the Mediterranean, and while olives are often present primarily as olive oil in some Mediterranean cuisines, dishes of olives are still as common as salt on tables throughout much of the region.

There are a variety of possible starting points for the olive. It has been cultivated in the eastern end of the Mediterranean since Neolithic times. Egyptian art depicts olive picking, but it is not clear whether the olives were wild or domesticated. Syria and Palestine may have been the first to cultivate the olive, but it appears to have been cultivated in Crete, too, around the same time—about 3500 B.C. By 2500 B.C., olives and olive oil were a major component of international commerce, with olive oil being shipped from Crete to Egypt and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Continue reading


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