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?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

A candid interview about our olive oil with my 4 year old daughter Giada

Giada and Mike Coldani

Giada and Mike Coldani

I recently sat down with my 4 year old daughter Giada Coldani to discuss the olive oil business and why she likes olive oil. Forced to be immersed into the world of olive oil, both of my children have become fans at a very young age. Both of them have been dipping bread into this gold goodness since before they were a year old and it has gotten to the point where Giada will ask for oil if she doesn’t see it present at dinner (embarrassingly enough; even at other peoples’ houses) The interview with my son Gino will have to be postponed since he is just over one year of age and his vocabulary consists of about ten words.

Mike:    What is your favorite food to enjoy Calivirgin olive oil on?
Giada:    Ummm?  Bread!

Avocado with EVOO and Vinegar is one of her favorites

Avocado with EVOO and Vinegar is one of her favorites

Mike:    What is your favorite food to enjoy our Calivinegar balsamic vinegar on?
Giada:    On sliced avocados!

Mike:    What did you teach your friend Dylan when you went to the olive mill?
Giada:    I taught him how to eat the oil and to play with Vito.

Mike:    Which of our Calivirgin flavored olive oils is your favorite? We have Basil, Lemon, Rosemary, Jalapeno, Garlic, Buddha’s Hand Citron, and Jalapeno-Garlic.
Giada:    I like the Rosemary!
Mike:    I’m pretty sure you haven’t had the rosemary. Why do you like that one?
Giada:    I’m not sure.

Giada Coldani and Dylan Kerns tasting some fresh milled EVOO

Giada Coldani and Dylan Kerns tasting some fresh milled EVOO

Mike:    What is your favorite part about the olive mill where daddy works?
Giada:    The praying mantises in the box where you dump the olives.
(The olives get dumped into a hopper and then conveyed into a washing system. There
are often many praying mantises picked up by the harvester that use this opportunity to get to safety. Giada has a blast collecting them and letting them crawl on her arms before setting them back into a tree)

Mike:    If you worked for Calivirgin what job would you want to have?
Giada:    I want to make the olive oil like you!
(As far as punctuation; it isn’t so much as an overuse of the exclamation point as it is Giada yelling her answers at me like she is on a television game show)

Vito is the ranch dog who is somewhat camera shy and not thrilled to have his photo taken

Vito is the ranch dog who is somewhat camera shy and not thrilled to have his photo taken

Mike:    What are Polyphenols?
Giada:    What do you think it is?
Mike:    I’m asking you what you think.
Giada:    But where did you hear about it?
Mike:    Someone once told me but I forget, what do you think it is?
Giada:    But where did you learn about polyphenols?
Mike:    You know I’m supposed to be the one asking the questions.
Giada:    Daddy, maybe when I’m older I’ll know what polyphenols mean.

Mike:    Why is our Calivirgin olive oil Extra Virgin?
Giada:    I don’t know.

Mike:    Ok, you are getting tired, how about this; who is your favorite princess and why?
Giada:    I like Cinderella, Ariel and Snow White.
Mike:    Why do you like those ones?
Giada:    I like Cinderella because she’s pretty and I like her dancing. I like Ariel because she is magical under water and she marries Prince Eric, and I like Snow White because she has a lot of tiaras.

Don't let the highlighter outfit fool you, she is a farm girl at heart and loves insects and reptiles

Don’t let the highlighter outfit fool you, she is a farm girl at heart and loves insects, animals & reptiles

Mike:    Would you rather work for Calivirgin when you grow up or be a Princess?
Giada:    I want to be a princess!
Mike:    I knew you were going to say that.
Giada:    Then why did you ask me?

Mike:    Ok, your interview is over.
Giada:    Now can I have a treat?
Mike:    Ha Ha!  Ok, I did promise didn’t I !

A Presto!

Buddha’s Hand Citron And An Olive Oil That Brings Prosperity?

Buddha’s Hand Citron (citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) also known as the fingered citron, fragrance citron, or simply that weird lemon squid looking thing sold in some markets; is often gawked at but relatively unknown and somewhat mysterious. 

                For centuries the Buddha’s hand citron has been treasured by Japanese and Chinese cultures symbolizing prosperity, longevity and happiness.  Often popular at New Year’s , it is supposed to bring a household good fortune.  It is often used instead of flowers as a centerpiece that perfumes a room for weeks with its delightful citrus smell and a fruit with the fingers in the closed position has been said to resemble praying hands.

 I have seen them as high as $7-$14 each in some specialty stores which is quite a premium for a produce that has traditionally been a culinary misfit.  This strange fruit is relatively fleshless with a thick rind almost to the core.  Because of its properties it doesn’t produce much juice at all which left it as a source of zest for cooking.  I have also seen it shaved over fish for baking and grilled then laid over salad but both with a relatively mediocre result in taste in my opinion.  It can be candied and added to baked goods but probably the best use I have found was for infusing Vodka.  UNTIL NOW!  After hearing it symbolizes bringing good fortune, longevity and happiness who wouldn’t want to bathe with the Buddha’s Hand!  Now that is actually possible, plus I feel that what we have done at Coldani Olive Ranch is offer an abundance of cooking possibilities for the Buddha’s hand citron by making an agrumato style flavored olive oil out of it.  Introducing Calivirgin Buddha’s Hand Citron olive oil.  We use California grown Buddha’s Hand

A bin of Buddha Hand Citrons before being cut up into pieces and processed with olives

Citrons from a valley grower and created an assembly line of family members to hand cut each fruit into smaller pieces so that they would fit into the olive mill.  The Buddha’s Hand is then processed with our estate arbequina olives and the result is a unique tasting citrus flavored olive oil.  I may be going out on a limb but I have searched the world and I believe we are the first and only ones who make a flavored olive oil out of this fingered fruit.

 I am often asked what it tastes like but I am still working on a good answer.  It doesn’t taste like lemon or our Lusty Lemon olive oil.  The Buddha’s Hand olive oil has a true citrus flavor.  Tasted straight by itself, your first taste is somewhat pungent followed by the floral bouquet of citrus.  I find that it is better accompanied with foods than by itself, the citrus flavor really makes salads pop with brightness adding a nice compliment to bitter lettuce greens.  In the short time we have had it available people have told me they enjoy the flavored oil on fish or as a flavored substitute for butter in cakes and even an accent to marinade wakame seaweed salad.  I recently mixed some with garlic and a dash of paprika and coated some artichoke halves before grilling them on a BBQ and they turned out fabulous. 

As far as bathing in prosperity, longevity and happiness . . . olive oil makes a great skin moisturizer and our Calivirgin Buddha’s Hand olive oil has a nice citrus smell so lather up and perhaps this magical fruit will change your life!  That might be a stretch but I know a lot of chefs and foodies will appreciate what we have done and have fun pairing it with food in the kitchen.          

– Alla Salute!  Mike Coldani

Historical Fact Source: http://www.flavorandfortune.com/dataaccess/article.php?ID=162 D.Karp