California’s olive oil saga begins with the arrival of Spanish Franciscans, who brought olive trees from Central American settlements.
These olive trees were planted along the coast from Diego to Sonoma and in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Historically, olive cultivation in California has been lower than Europe, though there is high production of table olives in the San Joaquin Valley. However, in the 1990s, olive oil production in California was revitalized. As opposed to Mediterranean EVOOs, the emphasis in California is primarily on smaller scale, high quality production.
The Central Valley, separated from the Pacific Ocean by several coastal mountain ranges, is ideal for olive cultivation.
California has a “two season” Mediterranean-like climate, with rainfall in winter months and long, hot, and dry summers. Within the Central Valley lie the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento Valley. San Joaquin Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, while Sacramento Valley was home to the first super high density olive groves in the state of California.
A figure from Olive Oil Sensory Science showing California's olive-growing regions. Organic Roots is located in Region 4. For a closer view, click the image!
Situated in the eastern foothills of the Californian Pacific Coastal Range, the Polit family grows olives.
Their small, family owned & operated business was originally founded in 1983 as an organic rice farm, but in more recent years, they've branched out into cultivating organic olive groves as well. The whole family—Mike, Sherry, Nathan, Lukas, and Nikkol—all work together, though everyone has a different job. With 300,000 trees in their super-high density orchard, there's a lot to do! Watch the video below for more of their story!
The Polit family in their olive groves.
In the Polit family's super high density orchard, there are 13 feet between rows. For the sake of efficiency, there are five feet between trees in each row, and every tree is pruned to exactly 8 feet tall.
For the Polit family, high standards are a given—when it comes to quality, they go the extra mile.
Organic Roots places high value on the quality of their oil: they never use pesticides or herbicides, their state-of-the-art mill is a mere 15 minutes from the orchard (ensuring prompt pressing after harvest), and each step of the milling process is meticulously planned & executed. They even use the byproduct of EVOO, pomace, to organically fertilize their orchards! The family’s investment in quality pays off—in 2016, they were awarded two gold medals at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition.
Freshly picked olives on their way to the mill! Only a fifteen minute ride.
Milling begins with a de-leafing process and a thorough water bath.
Olive oil is produced by grinding the olives (including the pit) into a thick paste. The paste then goes through a malaxer and centrifuge to separate the freshly pressed olive oil from the remaining solids.
And voilá, freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil!
For more information and photos of the harvesting process, read on below!
A broad view of the Organic Roots olive groves in the Sacramento Valley.
Olives are harvested using an Oxbo, which mechanically harvests over each row of olive trees.
An Oxbo unloads the olives on a conveyor belt into the truck destined for the mill.