California olive oil industry due for revival?
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)
From Correspondent Rusty Dornin
PETALUMA, California (CNN) -- Some California farmers may soon begin seeing financial rewards due to a trend in healthy cooking: olive oil.
During the 1800s, Spaniards made olive oil in California. After that, farmers' interest in the product waned.
But olives, and their new-found popularity, are again attracting interest from more and more California farmers.
When winemaker Bruce Cohn bought a local vineyard, there were plenty of olive trees next to his grape vines.
Cohn eventually grew tired of the olives falling off the trees and making a mess in the vineyard. "So I picked up the olives and I pressed them and found out that we had some pretty incredible olive oil," he told CNN.
Cohn got a bonus surprise too. He discovered the olive trees on his property were French Picholine. The variety is "pretty rare in California," he said.
There are currently about one thousand acres of olive trees in California that are dedicated to making olive oil, including those belonging to Cohn. But Cohn and other growers are producing high quality oils, and they believe the industry is on the rise.
In Cohn's tasting room, you can sample his wines and you can sample his olive oils -- including the $50 per bottle variety.
"Like wine, (olive oils) have unique characteristics," Cohn explained. The climate, the soil, even the variety all effect the flavor of the oil, Cohn said.
Olive oil experts say the best oils are made by pressing the olives immediately after they are picked.
Nan McEvoy, who grows five different types of olives, installed an olive press on her ranch.
"It's sort of fun finding new varieties and seeing how they do," McEvoy said.
Three percent of the world's olive trees are planted in California. Most of the California olives have been used for canned olives. But some growers have been undercut lately by cheaper European imports and lagging demand.
The competition and sagging market may make more California farmers think of alternative ways to market their product.
"I think we're sensing that these farmers might want to look at our industry as a way to transform their crop to something we can press for oil," said Ken Stutz of the California Olive Oil Council.
Olives can also grow in rocky soil and under adverse conditions.
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