Olivia shares her thoughts and pictures about the olives and oil, rich history, animals, and sustainable practices of the estate that produces the oil of Berkeley Olive Grove 1913. She reserves the right to wander with observations about local artists and events, agritourism, education, living with Autism....
Darro's observations will be showing up from time to time also.
Last week, under the shade of a large olive tree, I sat with
Olivia and Darro Grieco, discussing their farm and the oils they’ve produced
over the 10 years they’ve owned Berkeley Olive Grove 1913.
“When we bought this place, it was bank-owned,” Darro
explained. “It had been 20 years since the trees had been pruned properly—they
were 40- to 50-feet high.”
He pointed to the Mission olive trees—there are 23,500 total
on their 400-acre property—and talked about how they’ve cleared out the inner
branches and trimmed the tops. It’s easier to harvest, Darro said, when the
branches are closer to the ground. Plus, fewer branches means less competition
for nutrients and, especially important right now, water. (Their grove is
dry-farmed, meaning the trees rely on seasonal rains rather than an irrigation
Berkeley Olive Grove 1913, named after the group of Cal
professors that planted the olive trees more than 100 years ago, is nestled on
the western slope of Table Mountain. In tasting some of their certified-organic
and kosher oils, which range from mild to full-bodied and include varieties
made with lemons and blood oranges, it’s apparent that the Griecos have reason
to be proud. Olivia demonstrated an olive-oil tasting, pouring a small amount into
a tiny plastic cup and rubbing it in circles against her palm to warm it. After
a few seconds, she said, place your other palm on top to trap the aromas. Then
smell and drink.
My first taste yielded some unexpected flavors. They started
me with their Reserve, the mildest of the traditional oils. Smooth on the
palate, and slightly bitter, it hit me with an intense peppery sensation in the
back of my throat. That, Olivia explained (and I later confirmed on foodchannel.com),
is a sign that the oil is chock-full of antioxidants. The others packed a
little less pepper punch—my favorite was the lemon flavor.
The Griecos have worked hard to determine the health
benefits of their oils. They’ve sent batches off for testing to the University
of Athens in Greece and received positive results, including a report that
their oils are particularly high in a polyphenol that has been proven to
protect the nervous system from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
While walking alongside some of the original buildings on
the property, built circa 1930, Darro shared some of the history, along with
his philosophy for his business. When those professors started their olive
operation a century ago, they did so with the vision of it surviving 1,000
years, he said. That is his and Olivia’s goal as well. Their dedication to
sustainability is part of that—among other things, they have cattle clear brush
and chip the tree trimmings to be reused as mulch.
After spending just a few hours with the Griecos on their
Oroville farm, I felt myself going back in time to an era when food was
naturally wholesome. Go to www.berkeleyolivegrove.com
to learn more about the grove’s history—and future plans, which include adding
a mill on-site.
Another fun opportunity: Adopt your very own olive tree and
harvest it yourself.
RESEARCH: PEER REVIEWED AND PUBLISHED . . . Yee-haa!
Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and Dr. Eleni Melliou, from the University of Athens, have been testing
EVOOs using the 1H-NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) method to determine
the amounts of oleocanthal and oleacein in EVOOs from around the world.
Hundreds of varieties of olive oils have been tested so far.