About Mike Coldani

Husband & father of two. CalPoly SLO graduate with a degree in Crop Science and a minor in Agricultural Business. Currently managing farming operations and Master Miller for family owned & operated Calivirgin-Coldani Olive Ranch in Lodi CA.

The New Big Three at Coldani Olive Ranch

Every year we feel the need to add a new flavor to our line of olive oils.  Eventually we will need to start dropping some but at the end of the year when we look at sales between every flavor they are all within a couple hundred bottles of each other so it is tough to decide which ones to eliminate.  As soon as we start thinking we will discontinue one flavor it will get featured in a magazine or we will get a lot of positive feedback on it and we end up deciding to make it again.


Once again this year; we decided to add three new flavors.  Our number one most requested flavor for the past few years has been blood orange so we decided to take the plunge and finally give it a run.  What a wonderful olive oil!  We sourced our citrus from Southern California and without knowing what to expect this oil turned out fabulous.  Very aromatic with a huge burst of orange flavor.  We recommend using our Blood Orange Olive Oil on seafood, salads, over vegetables for roasting or in baking.  We recently used it in a batch of chocolate brownies and the result was to die for!


Our next addition is our white truffle olive oil.  We have been making truffle oil for a company on the East coast for years and this year we decided to finally bottle some up for ourselves.  Our truffle oil is the only oil we don’t make by crushing the produce together with the olives.  Mainly this is because white truffles are outrageous in price and the process would be a total waste of truffle and result in a bottle of oil nobody could afford.  The other reason is there isn’t many natural oils in truffles (or tubers) so the process in which we extract the oil wouldn’t We wanted to keep in line with our mentality of only using fresh produce to create naturally made and natural tasting oils so we create this oil by sourcing premium fresh white truffles from Le Marche Italy.  Through a proprietary process of creating a highly concentrated small batch of oil I am able to blend back to make a wonderful real white truffle extra virgin olive oil.  There are a lot of fakes out on the market.  If you are buying a white truffle olive oil for under $10/bottle I guarantee you it is either really old and discontinued or it isn’t the real thing.  This is a decadent oil; a little goes a long way.  Try it on potatoes, risotto, pizza or my favorite is over air popped popcorn.

The last oil we made is one I don’t believe has ever been made before.  Sound familiar?  I’m pretty sure we were the first ones to crush fresh Buddha’s Hand Citron with olives and now we are the first to bring you Vanilla!  We go to the New York Fancy Food show every year and it is always interesting to meet the companies who have booths next to yours.  This year we were right next to a vanilla company with sustainable farms in Madagascar.  I was very interested in hearing how vanilla beans are grown and cured.  It is a very time consuming and labor intensive process which explains why they cost so much!  I only wanted the best for our oil so we purchased numerous pounds of their premium A-1 grade vanilla beans and crushed them together with our early harvest green arbequina olives.  I had no idea what to expect.  It could have been a small financial blunder and a waste of great olives if the oil didn’t turn out well.  Fortunately it was a success and I am very excited to see how this oil does this season with consumers and in competitions.   You can get creative with this oil.  Use it to finish the next pair of delicate lobster tails you prepare.  Replace butter with this oil in any baking recipe or try adding it to your next pan of rustic cornbread to add an interesting twist.

That’t it for now.  Please email me with any questions that might come up!  Send mail

Ciao! Mike Coldani


Another Highly Decorated Year For Calivirgin Olive Oils

PRESS RELEASE- JUNE 2015-   The olive oil competition season has come to an end and once again Calivirgin olive oils remained a leader in the Nations competitions. Every variety and oil produced has medaled this year and they have collected 55 medals in total positioning them as one of the most decorated olive oil companies in the U.S. Locally it was an inaugural year for the San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition where Calivirgin oils received more awards than any other company totaling four Gold medals. “Regardless of the award I like to use these competitions as a gauge to make sure our quality stays in the top tier”, said Mike Coldani Calivirign’s line of flavored oils continue to receive honors mainly because they are one of very few companies that produce flavored oils by crushing together fresh herbs, citrus or vegetables with the olives to create true-to-taste flavored oil. Said Gina Sans, “Our new flavor this year was Serrano which won many awards. If you like food with some heat this one is very popular.” Calivirgin Olive Oils are available in many specialty food stores across the U.S. as well as online at www.calivirgin.com.

Harvest Is Upon Us; How Our 2014 Has Been Thus Far

photoOur 2014 Thus Far

With so much scrutiny and skepticism in the olive oil industry these days reputation starts to become more important than ever. Every olive oil company out there has their list of loyal customers and for our family at Coldani Olive Ranch, the responses and comments we get in emails and on our social media mean more to us than you can imagine. Hearing the positive feedback we get is always a huge pat on the back and makes us feel good about the product we have put so much time, effort and passion into.

Olive oil tasting and food competitions are really the only way to hear from “non-customers” or people who are not already fans of our products. Although the total dollar amount of annual entry fees into these competitions “irks” me every year; we use these competitions as a gauge to measure our quality, consistency, and where we stand in the industry.

award photo

41 Awards This Year Making Coldani Olive Ranch One Of The Most Awarded U.S. Companies in 2014.

2014 was a very good year for Calivirgin olive oils. Now that all of the competitions are complete we have our totals for the year and this was one of our most awarded years to date. All of our olive oils received medals this year and we medaled in every competition we entered. We collected 42 medals in 2014 totaling 5 bronze medals, 12 silver, 19 gold, 4 best of class awards, 1 best of show, and one producer of the year award across the major U.S. domestic and international olive oil competitions. In a very short time we are proud to have grown into one of the most awarded U.S. olive oil companies.

Lodi Olive Oil

Another achievement for 2014 was the acquisition of a cross town local olive oil company. Coldani Olive Ranch acquired Lodi Olive Oil Company this year to add a great local name as well as a few more mono-varietals to our portfolio. Lodi Olive Oil Company has a line of award winning olive oils made with varietals sourced from the Lodi/Stockton area and was founded by Leonard Cicerello , Robert Pirie, and Henry Sanguinetti in 2004. A wine distributor, a farmer and a nurseryman created the perfect team to jumpstart a new company in an industry that was relatively new to the Lodi area. Today the Lodi Olive Oil brand is among local favorites with a great reputation. I think this purchase will allow us to distribute the Lodi Olive Oil label across the U.S. (we intend to keep and continue the brand) into states it wasn’t already available.  For more information visit www.LodiOliveOil.com

This Years Harvest

We currently have the calm before the storm. Harvest should start up towards the middle of October. This time of year we are servicing equipment, estimating tonnage, taking pre-orders for product and lining up deliveries of fresh produce for our flavored olive oils. This all comes right before the holidays when online and wholesale sales are also at their peak. Essentially we get all jacked up on coffee, run around in organized chaos and then crash sometime right before the new year. It’s really fun! Actually, honestly, it is. I get this heavy weighted feeling of slight nervousness; somewhat like I did as a kid in the locker room before a sporting event or being crouched in blocks at the starting line on a track before the gun goes off. Everything is fast paced. You know there will be challenges you have to deal with; there always are. You know that you are about to embark upon a sleep deprived harvest of 18-19 hour workdays until it is over. You know you only get one shot at making the olive oil for the entire next year of sales, and you know how important this holiday season is for a retail company. Writing about it almost spikes my adrenaline. That gun is almost raised to start this race; I’ll see you at the finish line!

–Ciao, Mike Coldani

Empty bins ready for harvest

Empty bins ready for harvest

What’s Wrong With Infused Olive Oil?

At Calivirgin our line of flavor crushed olive oils is very extensive and one comment I routinely hear from consumers when they stop by our booth or in a store is, “Oh, they have infused olive oils!” and this is one time that the customer is not always right! At Calivirgin we do not make or sell infused olive oils. Again, “At Calivirgin we do not make or sell infused olive oils!” Ha! I have a large smile on my face as I write this because if we have said this once we have said it a thousand times. I wrote a blog entry a couple of years ago explaining the difference between infused olive oils and olive oils made by crushing fresh produce and herbs by way of the agrumato method. I will not rehash that post but I will try to explain why there is a difference in the finished product. Infusing olive oils is easy.

10's of thousands of pounds of fresh California Jalapenos are used to make our Hot Virgin Jalapeno and Jalapeno-Garlic oil

10’s of thousands of pounds of fresh California Jalapenos are used to make our Hot Virgin Jalapeno and Jalapeno-Garlic oil

Anyone can take regular oil and pour essence or flavoring into it or dump a large tea bag type vessel of dehydrated dried herbs into a container of oil and flavor it. It’s so easy you can even do it yourself at home. Making infused oils like this is very cheap to do, there isn’t much labor involved, and if you sell all of the oil you made you can simply make another batch at any given time and viola’! You now have flavored olive oil that sells for far more than the regular oil would by only adding a few pennies worth of flavoring to it. It may be a great business model but can it compete on taste? Not really. Traditionally flavored olive oils have been made using substandard quality olives.  When I first started making flavors I had many people in the industry asking why we were wasting great fruit (when I say fruit I mean olives) on flavored oils.  I guess it is our companies yearning to produce the highest quality and healthiest product we can and to put our name on something we can be proud of.  Many companies will wait until late harvest when all of the olives have turned black producing a very mild or even bland tasting oil so their flavoring comes through.

Fresh Garlic crushed together for our Guilty Garlic olive oil.  Check out the impressive 2000 lb sacks!

Fresh Garlic crushed together for our Guilty Garlic olive oil. Check out the impressive 2000 lb sacks!

This is also an easy way of taking sub par olive oil or oil with taste defects, masking it with flavor and turning it into an oil the average consumer will pay top dollar for.  In waiting this long to harvest the olives; the phenols and other healthy aspects of the olive oil are reduced but more oil is made.  At Calivirgin we like to think quality is better than quantity.  We harvest our flavors at the beginning of the season when the fruit is at optimum maturity; the same time as when we harvest olives for our mono-varieites such as our arbequina evoo. There is a reason why U.S. olive oil competitions are now starting to judge flavor crushed olive oils separate from infused olive oils. There is a reason why our full line of flavored olive oils at Calivirgin have all won medals year after year at all of the major U.S. olive oil competitions that allow flavored oils to be judged, and there is a reason why at Calivirgin we spend thousands of dollars on locally sourced or high quality fresh produce to crush with our olives to make our flavored oils. I could pour chili oil into olive oil and it will make spicy oil but you would not taste the fresh green jalapeno flavor come through or even taste the olive oil like in our bottle of Hot Virgin Jalapeno. Yes, olive oil has a taste, and you should taste the produce as well as taste the olive oil when it comes to these types of oils. If you wanted chili oil then buy chili oil; it’s cheaper!
The reason most companies do not make their flavored oils this way is because of a few factors. One is cost. Buying tons of quality produce all at harvest time is a large expense that most companies would rather not bear. Sourcing and scheduling all the different herbs, vegetables and citrus we use for our flavors is not an easy task either. Coordinating

Limes used to make a lime flavored olive oil

Limes used to make a lime flavored olive oil

Local fresh basil leaves for our Bountiful Basil olive oil

Local fresh basil leaves for our Bountiful Basil olive oil

for the flavored oils is one of the most stressful parts of our harvest; after flavors are done we can seem to coast the rest of harvest making unflavored regular extra virgin olive oil. Another factor is the fact that flavor profiles of olives will change slightly from year to year as well as with the produce. It is a challenge every year to produce consistent tasting flavored oils with so many variables in the equation but a challenge I feel we have succeeded in tremendously.  As Miller I have found the nature of these flavored oils to be somewhat of a moving target. Olive oils crushed with peppers or chilies tend to get spicier with age (4-5 months) and the citrus oils tend to mellow out after a few months. Making sure every bottle tastes the same year in and year out isn’t easy but I think we have some of the most consistent oils on the market today. Finally and probably the largest challenge for producers; the equipment and olive mill. If a company doesn’t have their own equipment they will be hard pressed to talk a miller or mill into wanting to mess with making flavored oil for them. Running strong flavors like fresh garlic or jalapenos or even rosemary through your hammer mill, malaxers and centrifuges creates the potential for crossover flavors. It is imperative that you get all of one flavor out of the machines before you move on to the next one. Same goes for your transfer pumps, stainless or IBC tote containers that hold the finished oils and anything else the oils come in contact with. Cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. Since we do not filter our olive oil at

My sister Gina and I admiring the fresh basil leaves delivered for harvest

My sister Gina and I admiring the fresh basil leaves delivered for harvest

Calivirgin, after the oil has been extracted there tends to be much more sediment than with regular olive oil. We almost always rack two to three times and in some cases more. All of this adds to the labor included in making the perfect flavored olive oil.
The largest problem we have here at Calivirgin is deciding how much to make of each flavor. Our goal is to sell out of all of our oil each year with no carryover of oil into the next year. New oil is good; old oil is bad. It is with this mentality that we ultimately sell out of certain flavors early each year. Since we can’t make a batch of flavored oil on the fly at any point in the season the trick is to make enough of each flavor to meet the demand without having too much excess creating the problem of having old oil. We sell to many companies who either sell our oil in their fusti refillable bottle type stores or who private label the oil under their own label for resale. Even though we have tripled production of certain flavors every year it is inevitable that we get complaints from vendors who didn’t commit to pre-ordering oil at harvest time who are upset that we are out of our popular flavors going into the holidays and before the next seasons harvest. It is always nice to sell out but we always feel bad bearing bad news when someone orders oil we no longer have.
At Calivirgin we are very proud of the quality flavored olive oils our attention to detail and persistence produces and and we think the fact that our seven flavors have won 64 medals the past two years entering in only four of the main U.S. olive oil competitions including best of class, best of show and a silver SOFI award should prove that flavor crushed olive oils are superior to infused oils but don’t take our word for it; try a bottle for yourself and find out!!

UPDATE 4/24/2014 : This year was the first year that the Napa Valley Olive Oil Competition judged flavored olive oils separately into two categories: oils crushed using fresh produce and oils infused with flavoring. Calivirgin collected 9 medals in this 2014 competition (3 Gold, 5 Silver, 1 Bronze) but a very interesting thing happened. I noticed that for the first time there were very few flavored entries into the entire competition. Very few flavored olive oils are made by crushing fresh produce with olives so I expected there wouldn’t be many in this category but what really sparked my interest was very few oils were entered into the “infused” category when normally there are many.  I believe companies didn’t want to directly promote they simply “infused” their oils and didn’t use fresh produce. They have been implying that this is how their oils were made for years. It will be interesting if competitions continue to split the flavors. I could see them mixing them all back up because less entries means less exorbitant entry fees but that is another topic in itself!

UPDATE 10/1/2014 :  Award count for 2014 for “flavored oils only” was 1 Best of Show, 4 Best of Class, 12 Gold Medals, 9 Silver and 4 Bronze over only four competitions which allow flavored oils to be judged.


Ciao – Mike Coldani



New York, Where Dreams are made of…

New York Times Square

A wise man once said, “New York, These streets will make you feel brand new;
Big lights will inspire you”

Well June was a crazy month!  Two days after I returned from our trip to Australia Julie and I left with my parents to the Big Apple.  At one point there were six suitcases of dirty clothes on my bedroom floor without any time to address them.  The 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show, North America’s largest food and beverage specialty food show, showcased over 180,000 different products from the Javits Center in New York.  I was attending with my wife and parents to work our Calivirgin booth in this massive trade spectacle.  We usually go to the west coast Fancy Food Show held in January in San Francisco but this show was easily 1/3 larger in spectators and exhibits.

Let me apologize in advance for the photos.  Julie’s camera was lost on this trip (either lost or stolen) so the only photos I have are limited to what was taken with my phone.

Summer Fancy Food Show New York

Julie holding down the fort!

This was my second time to New York and a first trip for the rest of the family.  This was also Calivirgin’s first appearance at the New York Summer Fancy Food Show.  Last time I was in New York it was pre-9/11 and in the dead of winter so the city was quite different than my first experience.  On the first day we setup and constructed our booth.  Our 10’x10’ nook is quite simple compared to some of the corporate companies that hire construction crews to set up their 600 sq.ft. spaces filled with LED lights and Plasma TV’s or fully constructed supermarket shelves and display cases.  The show looks overwhelming; actually it is overwhelming but you don’t need to be a multimillion-dollar conglomerate to have a presence there.   With the amount of retailers, wholesalers, press, restaurateurs and culinary foodies walking this show all you need is a great product that looks as good as it tastes and it will sell itself.

Campagnola Restaurant New York

Enormous plate of chicken and sausage, half order of lamb chops with greens, chefs choice pasta sampler, and fried soft shell crab

One thing about New York is there are 2-3 good restaurants on every block and 10-12 great restaurants in every district or area.  One of our more memorable dinners was at a rustic and hearty Italian restaurant in the Upper East Side called Campagnola.  Their tagline is “a country restaurant” and their traditional comfort food with 1920’s wise guy décor and a nightly pianist playing the likes of Sinatra, Dean Martin and other standards are A Country Restaurant with a modern day Soprano’s flair.  The place was packed so our reservation was wise but we did make the mistake of letting our server “just bring us some favorites” with little direction.

"Past, Present, Future, Your Dreams and Desires"

“Past, Present, Future, Your Dreams and Desires”

Mistake because we had so much food we each left with boxes to go and we were still stuffed to the brim.  The trade off was the food was excellent and the evening was perfect. I capped the night off with a glass of one of my favorites.  Sambuca.  They serve it with three coffee beans inside and my server told me they represented, “The Past, Present and Future of my Dreams and Desires.”

On our third night our friend Summer traveled to the city to meet up with us so we put in reservations for a popular restaurant, although we only went late night for dessert.  It was close to 10pm and there was still an hour wait and line

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is a must try!

The Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is a must try!

out the door for a table at the cozy Serendipity 3.  John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale star in the 2001 romance/comedy movie Serendipity with a famous scene where the couple share the ultra popular Frozen Hot Chocolate.  Or as they call it, Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, either way it was pretty tasty stuff! The gaudy décor of tiffany lampshades and eccentric pink and white walls seem to add to this landmark place.  On any given night there could be celebrities, former U.S. Presidents or VIP’s enjoying the experience but tonight it was just the five of us, one Frrrozen hot chocolate, Julie and Summerone peanut butter frrrozen hot chocolate

The Forbidden Broadway Sundae

The Forbidden Broadway Sundae

and a forbidden broadway sundae.  Again we ordered too much but you only live once right?  We definitely needed to walk a few New  York city blocks after this dessert but the experience was worth it.

At a show where tens of thousands of people walk by you it is interesting how you start to actually recognize and notice people from one day to the next or even one year to the next.  One passer-by that didn’t need a double take for my wife Julie and I was Chef Joe Arvin formally known as Chef Joe from Season 14 of CBS’s show BIG BROTHER.  Both being fans of the show, we were surprised we saw instead of heard Joe since his

B.B. was in the house!

B.B. was in the house!

enthusiastic loud booming voice is his moniker.  In fact Julie yelled to him from behind our booth as he passed by asking him why he was so quiet.  Chef Joe was there with fellow season contestant Jen City and season 13’s Heavy Metal Adam Poch to put on a celebrity cooking demonstration and help promote Chef Joe’s new cookbook.  I stopped by each demonstration throughout the week and the attendance was always less than stellar so the large crowd Joe accumulated as Jen City ripped chords from her electric guitar center stage was worth kudos, not to mention he instructed and served some killer crab cakes.  He also signed a cookbook for us, which made our day.  I know, we are reality TV dorks but the cookbook is a good one!

SOFI Awards

SOFI Awards Red Carpet Event

Not only were we representing Calivirgin Olive Oils in our booth but we were also there for the SOFI award show and red carpet event.  SOFI stands for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation and a record number of 2,573 products were entered.  The Specialty Food Association describes the awards as a representation of culinary creativity across America and around the globe.  The Finalists are selected at the Specialty Food Association offices in New York City by a national panel of Sofi Awards New Yorkspecialty food retailers, foodservice professionals and journalists. The selection panel is made up of people from O The Oprah Magazine, Whole Foods Markets, Raley’s, Crate and Barrel,  Di Bruno Brothers, Pier 1 Imports, The Culinary Institute of America,  Good Morning America plus many, many, more industry professionals.

We were honored to be a SOFI finalist in the 2013 awards show for our Calivirgin Bountiful Basil flavored olive oil up against a grape seed oil and a cherry seed oil.  I have written about the agrumato process we use to make our flavored oils and we were humbled to be recognized for our passion by this esteemed award.  It was a dreamlike night and the closest thing to being at an event like the Oscars then I will ever experience.  The finalists were announced IMG_4405and we walked down the center red carpet aisle as tables of retailers, wholesalers, and industry guru’s applauded.  Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.  The keynote speaker was internationally acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson and his opening address was wonderful.  Chef Samuelsson spoke about how the Fancy Food Show blurs the lines between the large corporate companies and the little guys who are “making peanut butter in the basement hoping they’ll be in a big retail store one day.”  Samuelsson went on to say, “That passion for making your own product isn’t something you

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson Photo from: specialtyfood.com

can outsource,” and then asked the audience how many of them argue [over quality] at work. “If you don’t,” he said with a laugh, “you’re not passionate enough about your product.” These remarks hit home for our small family business and brought a smile to all of our faces.  Unfortunately we didn’t win the category we were up for (best oil) but we did go home with a shiny silver runner up award (its heavy too!).  The speech the winning couple gave and the fact that they left the stage to stop and literally tango dance right in front of our family before returning to their table was less modest than what I had planned if we had won and a bit of salt in the wound of disappointment but fortunately the post party was a highlight that quickly made us remember that we were all part of a Basil Olive Oil Sofispecial evening.  We celebrated at an after-party that featured recipes made with sofi finalists’ products and food provided by an array of New York restaurants.  There were about 25 restaurants serving 3-4 tapas style dishes featuring the finalist products.  Some of the creations were to die for and it ended up being a very fun evening.  After that we headed to a private after-after-party.  When in Rome, right?  We ended up burning the candle at both ends; even my father was able to stay awake for the excitement.

All in all the trip was very successful and a great time.  We will definitely be back next year as the show itself proved to be worth it being able to meet with so many retailers, stores and and industry connections.  We were also ableto take in many of the eclectic New York sights and attractions.  Julie and I even got caught in the middle of a flash mob.  Everyone around us just froze, and Julie asked me what’s going on.  Some how it instantly clicked and I said, “Flash Mob!” as I pulled her hand so we could watch from “outside of the dancing mob.”

Below are a few more photos (you can click to make them larger),  Thanks for reading or
Grazie Mille!  -Mike


Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall

Impressive World Trade Center Memorial was a highlight of the trip

Impressive World Trade Center Memorial was a highlight of the trip


central park

Bethesta Fountain in Central Park

Our bottle in the Williams - Sonoma New York Store

Our bottle in the Williams – Sonoma New York Store, only one left!

Central Park Sheep Meadow

Central Park Sheep Meadow

Central Park

Central Park

Guess Who?

Guess Who?

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Calivirgin Down Under…Adelaide Countryside, Olive Oil & Kangaroos

I’m Back! In case you don’t happen to follow my twitter feed; I was presented with the amazing opportunity to travel to Adelaide Australia and observe/work with a few millers and olive oil producing families.  A trip like this was priceless and even though we have consistently produced highly decorated award winning oils at Calivirgin, any chance to learn more and pick the brains of many different people in this industry was invaluable.

Where to begin is tough since this was such an amazing trip.  I can start with how lucky I

Giada & Gino Pre 14 hr Flight

Giada & Gino Pre 14 hr Flight

was that my four and two year old children pretty much slept and kept quiet for both 20+ straight hours of travel there and back (did I mention that I took my wife and kids? Crazy huh?). That was a success in itself.  Upon arrival a few things immediately came to mind.  I guess I didn’t realize that Aussies drive on the left side of the road and I definitely didn’t know that the city of Adelaide had a population of over 1 million people.  A very large city yet it seemed pretty small at the same time.  A 15 min. drive can land you on the beach or in a different direction take you through hills of farming and livestock or into prized wine grape country. Different parts of South Australia reminded me of different parts of California but with subtleties that reminded you that you were in a whole different part of the world.  My eyes and mind tried to take in everything.  Little things I noticed such as how crops were farmed around large Eucalyptus trees much like we farm around oak trees in the Valley or the strange telephone poles made of concrete and I-beam iron (WIKI has a rundown of this Adelaide invention called a stobie pole).  Another thing that is hard not to notice are the


Magpie, Macaw, Rosella, Galah

birds.  Magpies, Galahs, Rosellas, Macaws, and Lorikeets are just a few that you see and hear often.  Perhaps I often don’t appreciate the birds we have in California but we don’t have many birds with the kind of wild colors or loud chatter that seem to take over South Australia.

After I got my bearings and forced myself to power through jet lag it was time to go to work.  Before we headed out we (when I say “We” I mean my “Mate” Peter who kindly opened his home with his wife and near one year old to my family and I) stopped at a bakery for some bread (to sop up the oil later) and a few local food favorites.  I got versed on meat pies, pasties and sausage rolls.  The meat pie is like a hand held chicken pot pie, a pastie is like a

Meat pie, Pastie, Iced Coffee

Meat pie, Pastie, Iced Coffee

vegetable and meat filled croissant, and a sausage roll is like phyllo dough wrapped around ground sausage.  Often served with Ketchup which they call tomato sauce.  We picked up one of each to share for lunch later.  We also got a carton of what I am craving as I write this: A Farmers Union Iced Coffee.  I have to say the brand because I tried about three different brands while on my trip and Farmers Union is by far the best.  It is basically like chocolate milk but with a touch of coffee in it instead of chocolate.  Pretty good stuff! (a quick wikipedia search says that in 2003 Aussies consumed 22 Million liters of this brand just in case you didn’t believe me on how good it is)
The first mill I visited was near Lake Alexandrina.  Beautiful countryside with a few rolling hills.  The area I was at had quite a few yet small blocks of old established olives; mainly Koroneiki, Frantoio and Mission.  The time of year I visited was when Koroneiki olives were at maturity so that is predominantly what I saw being milled while on my trip.  This stop made me smile because the producer was having an extremely hard time processing due to the abundance of leaves, twigs and sticks that were coming in with the olives.  There was more trash in these bins of olives than I had ever seen.

Lake Alexandrina, Olive Groves, Leaf problem in olives

Lake Alexandrina, Olive Groves, Leaf problem in olives

More than this processor had ever seen as well.  What ends up happening is the leaves and sticks clog your washer and create problems with the flow of fruit through your machines.  You end up spending a lot of time clearing the leaves and sticks and you could even get an unusual amount of leaves and sticks through your crusher which could affect taste of the oil or wear on the crusher.  The reason I had to smile was because I have dealt with leaves before and the extra pain in the rear they can cause and this experience reminded me that even though I am visiting on the opposite side of the world in a country that drives on the opposite side of the street and eats their national animal (i’ll get to that later) …they still do the same exact job and have the same exact challenges I have back home.

The next family and mill I visited was in the McLaren Vale Region between the hills and the sea.  A Father/Son run company where Peter jokes that the owner/miller is one of the pickiest and obsessive compulsive millers in South AU.  I think Peter used different words to describe him but I can appreciate the quest for perfection.  The experimenting with speeds of equipment, amount of water used (or lack there of), time of processing and temperatures leads to completely different oils.  We were able to try a few different things and taste the results and it is amazing how slight changes can affect the taste of the oil so dramatically.  This was also my first experience with a disc crusher.  A disc crusher is much like a oversize herb grinder.  Metal fingers interlock on two plates.  One side stays

Disc Crusher on left, Hammer Mill Crusher on right

Disc Crusher on left, Hammer Mill Crusher on right

stationary while the other spins and the fruit and pits are sliced up as opposed to the hammer mill crusher we have which is much like a large cheese grater with a spinning metal hammer that forces the fruit through small holes.  The largest difference between these Australian mills and ours back home is the amount of customers/growers and the quantity of fruit each grower brings in.  The mill we have is much larger than the size of the 2.5 ton mills I saw in Australia (processing 2.5 tons per hour) but each grower would bring in anywhere between a half a ton of olives to perhaps three tons.  They said every now and then someone would have 8-10 tons.  So what you are left with is a new grower scheduled to deliver their fruit every half hour.  They will go through over 15 growers a day. Many of these growers have been doing this for decades.  Every year they bring in their fruit and go home with their 5-50 gallons of oil.  I asked what they do with it.  “They sell it to friends and neighbors or restaurants; they all have their short list of clients they sell oil to” was the response I got.  There was a wide range of ages and types of people bringing olives in.  At home I am used to mechanical harvesting where we start picking in the morning and within an hour I have ten tons stacked up. I will often pick and process 85-90 ton in a day and that isn’t a very long day. Since the majority of these growers hand pick their olives it takes a few days worth of picking before they deliver the fruit to the mill.  A few mills even sold tiny plastic rakes to aide in the picking.  I can’t imagine how hard of a job this must be.  They also sell a motorized handheld rake but the rake costs close to $3000 and if you had 6-7 people all with one you could pick about 4 ton per day.  Easy math means this doesn’t really pencil out but I guess you have to put a price on convenience and getting your fruit to the mill faster and since the faster you mill the fruit after it has been picked the better; any mechanism helps.  Some fruit from larger blocks of trees is picked with a trunk shaker although it still didn’t pick as much or as fast as the oversized mechanical harvesters we use at home. The fruit is processed and at many mills it was the customers responsibility to fill their own containers when the oil came out.  I thought this was unique because essentially they leave one part of my job as miller up to the customer.

Awesome Olive Oil Families, Rakes for Picking Olives, Where Customers Fill Their Containers

Awesome Olive Oil Families, Rakes for Picking Olives, Where Customers Fill Their Containers

I asked if the customers ever spilled the oil when filling their containers.  He sighed and said yes, often little old lady’s will get to yapping and not pay attention.  Then it backs up the whole process while they clean the spill.  It was a long but very educational day followed by one more espresso before we left.  I forgot to mention that there are many Europeans settled in Adelaide and good coffee isn’t hard to find.  In fact Peter mentioned that the city is almost snobbish about their coffee.  I would wake up to a stove top of excellent cappuccino, then on the way to visit a mill we would stop at a mom & pop type roadside business and grab another espresso.  Upon arrival nearly every mill had a Saeco automatic espresso machine for customers while they waited for their fruit to be milled and another shot was almost forced upon you by the owners as almost a customary “hello, welcome to Australia”.  Then one more before we left and sometimes if it was a long drive home I would have my fifth coffee of the day later in the evening.  Mix in a few Farmers union iced coffees here and there and It was a wonder I ever slept.  But Good Coffee?  Yes.   You won’t find a single Starbucks in Adelaide, a few of them opened and were closed years ago.  They have a chain called Cibo that rivals anything Starbucks puts in your mouth plus there are small coffee houses all around the city.  Needless to say I declared some award winning roasted coffee beans when I returned to the states.

The next few days were more of the same.  One company had an Amenduni machine which is the company who makes our mill.  It was slightly smaller than ours and set up to do many tiny batches to satisfy the many customers they had lined up.  There must have been 30 people waiting around for their services.  They mentioned scheduling a customer every 15 minutes.  I can’t imagine dealing with that many personalities day in and day out for 3-4 months straight but I guess it is the norm and they don’t know any different.  The rest of the week was more meeting wonderful families and talking with the millers about their techniques and experiences.  I found that most of the olive oil operations were family owned and had many family members included in the business much like us at Calivirgin.    One company reminded me much like our own.  Father, son, son in law, and close friends working in the mill and the sister working phones like mad behind a desk.  The mother trying to keep everyone happy.  Almost our company to a “T”.  This Mother/Wife mentioned that they love Ellen Degeneres there and the break room TV seemed to permanently be on the Ellen Show.  When I think of all the great things that come from the U.S., Ellen probably wouldn’t have made a top ten list but if she makes the people of S. Australia happy I can live with that!  I invited every family I met to visit in the U.S. and I hope some of them take me up on it.

A special thanks to all the families that let me stand in their shadows and ask them hundreds of questions all while they were trying to work.  I know how easily it is to mess up milling if you talk too much since the job is so repetitive and precise.  The information I was able to gain regarding things like temperature, time, talc vs. no talc, solutions for waste product, and farming technique was priceless.  It was very nice of them to let me interrupt their days and it is much appreciated. As producers we share the same challenges when it comes to market price and competing with adulterated or old rancid oils, we share the same love for making a healthy product and for making it the highest quality possible.  I thought it was interesting how similar my family was to these people I just met when it came to goals, values, and a passion for the business and industry.

I finally took a couple days off from work and traveled with my family to see some sights of Australia other than olive trees and farming.  Cleland wildlife park, the beach, the worlds

Whispering Wall, Jacobs Creek Borossa Valley, Worlds Largest Rocking Horse

Whispering Wall, Jacobs Creek Borossa Valley, Worlds Largest Rocking Horse

largest rocking horse, and some wine tasting in the famed Barossa Valley.  I was not much of a Shiraz fan until I tasted the great bottles produced in this region.  We visited the whispering wall at the Barossa reservoir which is a water dam that is in a concave design.  Due to the acoustic design you can talk to someone from opposite sides of the wall and hear them perfectly even though you are over 470 feet apart.  My son and daughter Gino and Giada had fun with this marvel.

One of the highlights may have been the Roos!  You can’t go to Australia and not see a Kangaroo.  Well  you can actually.  Around the city they are about as common as seeing deer in the states.  After scouring the countryside on every drive we took I finally located a troop of about 20 wild kangaroos basking in the sun.  The wildlife park is a treat though.  I think I had just as much fun as the kids did feeding and petting them.  The larger ones were red kangaroos and the smaller ones were the wallaby’s.  If I held the food up high and made the red kangaroos stand tall I realized they were just as

The Fam with Roo's and Koalas, and the S. Australia Beaches

The Fam with Roo’s and Koalas, and the S. Australia Beaches

big as I was.  I didn’t expect their fur to be so soft and you can feel that they are almost pure lean muscle when you pet them … which brings me to their meat.  On the last night before leaving Peter mentioned to me that you can eat them.  After the horrific look had passed from my wife Julie’s face and being the meat eater I am, I was all in.  We picked up some “roo” from the butchers and to my surprise it tasted just like a very lean cut of beef.  In fact I probably would have thought it was filet from a cow if you hadn’t told me.  My wife did try some against her will and she agreed that it was like steak even though she couldn’t get the cute cuddly marsupial out of her mind.

So with that we packed up my coffee, some wine, some oil and a jar of Vegemite and the family and I headed off to New Zealand to sight see for a few days before the long 14 hr flight home.  Best thing about Auckland New Zealand was the most amazing zoo I may ever see in my life…but that is a whole other story.

and last, a few words that I learned while on our trip:
Chook=Chicken     as in i’ll order the half Chook at dinner.
Fringe=Bangs     My Daughters fringe started to get pretty long during our trip.
Gift Hamper=Gift Basket     Pretty self explanatory
Nappies=Diapers   With a two year old we struggled finding a correct size of nappies.
Dummy=Pacifier     Again, with the little one, the Dummy was a savior on the long flight.
Strip Cheese=String Cheese
Jumper=Sweater    Hey Mate! That’s a fine looking jumper you are wearing.
Prom=Stroller   After a long day we would load the kids up in the prom.
Trolley=Shopping Cart
Postman & Post=Mail  Peter argued with me that we put postage on a letter and deliver it at the post office yet we call it Mail.  Why not put postage on post.
EFTPOS=Credit card or debit   Signs would always say EFTPOS accepted here or not accepted.  Stands for electronic funds transfer at point of sale.

Thank you to the families and companies that welcomed me.  Special thanks to Peter, Allysa and little Easton for letting us wreck their house for two weeks.  Here are the companies I visited that have websites:
Fleurieu Peninsula Olive Press
Australian Olive Company
Olives 2000

Ciao, Mike

Giving a Roo a hug, but soon after he shoulder shrugged me off and insisted on the rest of the food I held.  Not a friendly shrug either.

Giving a Roo a hug, but soon after he shoulder shrugged me off and insisted on the rest of the food I held. Not a friendly shrug either.