Thom Curry knows one thing for sure: “California has the best olive oil in the world.” Curry, the founder of Temecula Olive Oil, a family-owned-and-operated ranch in the Temecula Valley, credits the state’s gold standard to the combination of innovation and exceptional weather. Just as wine-tasting has its own techniques, Curry offers some tips for the best ways to taste and savor olive oil:
1. Time it right
“The best time to do a tasting is before you eat, when you’re just a little hungry,” Curry recommends. He prefers a few hours after breakfast to ensure a clean palate.
2. Ditch the perfume
Curry says, “It’s similar to wine tasting; you’re looking for the same organoleptic qualities, but you have to work a little harder.” To best appreciate the subtle flavors, leave your fragrance at home.
3. Drink up
Olive oil is best enjoyed on its own. “The yeast in bread can interact with the flavor,” says Curry. Hold the stemless snifter in your palm for warmth, then sip a bit of oil, aerating it in your mouth before swallowing.
4. Note flavor profiles
Look for three central attributes: fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency. What do you taste and prefer on each scale?
5. Keep it clean
Curry recommends cleansing your palate with a slice of green apple and some sparkling water between each tasting. For strong-tasting oils, try plain yogurt.
6. Go light to strong
As in wine tasting, you’ll try oils from delicate to aggressive. Unlike wine, when it comes to olive oil, the fresher, the better. “It’s simply fruit juice,” Curry explains.
7. Trust your judgment
“I like to tell people it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks…. [The question is,] hedonistically, is this enjoyable for you?” says Curry.
Where to Taste Olive Oil in California
Given that California is responsible for 99 percent of the country’s olive oil production, there are plenty of places to stop in for a sip (listed below from north to south). Make sure to call ahead as many require a reservation.
Completely off the grid in Mendocino County, Terra Sávia relies solely on wind and solar power to turn 3,000 olive trees into organic oil. Taste the fruit of their labor at the industrial-chic tasting room. Wash down the olive-ly goodness down with a glass of house-label Rosé before visiting the onsite aviary.
What started as a humble orchard in 2001 has blossomed into a 160-acre working ranch complete with sheep, pigs, goats, and an on-property bed-and-breakfast. Book a $10 tasting and enjoy the award-winning Arbequina. Stay for the night to get a richer sense of farm life with farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.
A little slice of Italy in Yolo County: From the pruning of the trees to the custom cold-press mill, the Bond family emulates the centuries-old Sicilian tradition. A tasting includes classic flavors as well as creative twists like Mandarin Orange. Groups of 10 or more can enjoy a pie served hot from the wood-burning pizza oven.
Reds and whites aren’t the only intoxicating elixirs to come out of Sonoma County. As The Olive Press proves, there’s gold in them thar hills. During an educational tour of the old-world tasting room, guests learn about the olive-making process from fruit to bottle before trying nearly a dozen types of oil.
Calivirgin specializes in freshly-pressed infusions. Olives from the family-owned Coldani Ranch are crushed with herbs and produce like jalapeno, lemon, garlic, and white truffle. Don’t miss their barrel-aged balsamic vinegar as well.
This ranch has been family owned for more than 150 years, but it’s only recently that fifth-generation farmer Greg Raynor started to press the good stuff. Now it’s the only olive mill in Monterey County. Try the grassy Picual and the buttery Helen’s Blend, which won Best of Show at the 2018 Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition
Since 2001, Temecula Olive Oil has been hand-pressing 100-percent extra virgin oil from a unique blend of olives. Visit the tasting room in Old Town Temecula or book a guided tour of the Olive View Ranch in Aguanga. Often lead by co-founder Curry himself, tour provides a behind-the-scenes look at the harvest and an EVOO tasting at the end.