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

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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

 

 

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,Lorikeet,Malah

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.
Rubbish=Garbage
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:
Bovalina
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.