I love seeing how things are made, and one of my favorite things as we have traveled in this lifestyle is when we have an opportunity to go to the source and see where things come from. I became really interested in olive oil in particular after talking to our friend Deb, who owned an olive oil store before she went on the road. I really didn’t know much about it until talking to her, but her stories fired my imagination and when I learned that they grew and pressed olives in Texas, I wanted to go.
Cori and I have made plans to go for the last three years but other stuff kept getting in the way, so when she suggested we stop after picking Kelly up at the Austin airport I was all in. I was a little concerned we were going on Black Friday , as I tend to stay in on that crazy day, but we went the back roads and stayed away from the malls and it was a pleasant drive. After picking Kelly up we headed back towards Dripping Springs, which is an interesting town full of wineries, distilleries, and tucked back off a country road The Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company.
Despite it being Black Friday there was a bit of a crowd and a tour was just finishing. We learned that tours were free this weekend because of the holiday, so even though it was a 30 minute wait we decided to stay. While we waited, Cori ordered a chicken and cheese pizza, which we split, and we checked out the really nice gift shop. Lots of their products were on sale, and of course they had several tasting areas set up. They also had a nice selection of imported balsamics which were infused on site with a variety of flavors. In general I am not a huge fan of balsamic vinegar, but these were really nice, and I loved the raspberry infused in particular.
Before we knew it the tour started, and we went into a large tasting room and learned about the history of the company, which I found fascinating. This company was the first organic olive grower in Texas and when they brought in trees from California they did very well because of the limestone soil in this part of Texas. When the owner initially started he really had no idea what he was getting into, but through hard work and some luck he did very well. They sell over 40,000 bottles a year and were so successful that they bought a second farm down near the Rio Grande with many more trees. The original farm was still working and we left the tasting room and walked out into the orchard.
This section of the tour was really informative and we learned that although the trees themselves are very hardy, weather does have an impact on the crop. I also learned that green, purple, and black olives are not different varieties (I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that), but rather the color changed as they ripened. The best colors for oil are when they have a little bit of all three colors in them, and the pickers run their hands through the leaves and the fruits that are ready gently fall into their basket. By the way, the olives that are used for extra virgin oil must go from being picked to mill within 72 hours, and can never touch the ground. One of the many interesting facts we learned about how oil is categorized.
After being in the orchard we moved back inside into the mill and went through the milling process. It’s multiple steps and again I found it very interesting. Turns out that the United States uses 10% of the world’s olive oil but only creates .5%. When olive oil sales boomed international growers were not able to meet the demand and got “creative” in what they called olive oil. Unfortunately rules about labeling are actually set by each individual country, and there is nothing we can do in the US to prevent that. Consequently bargain olive oils are routinely cut with sunflower oil and can contain as little as 10% true olive oil. Add to that the different standards for extra virgin and our guide recommended that we always buy domestic to make sure we are getting the real deal. She even cited a recent 60 Minutes investigation where over 70% of the olive oils tested weren’t pure olive oil. That is an incredibly high percentage.
One of the coolest things we learned was that the pulp helps goats with their digestive tract, reducing inflammation by up to 50%. I thought this was interesting because countries which traditionally grow olives also have goats, so there was a symbiotic relationship between the goats and the trees until we broke it. It takes roughly 7 pounds of olives (varies based on type of olive and the strength of the harvest) to make 250 ml of oil, which is why it has been hard to keep up with the demand.
So how can you tell if you have the real deal at home? If the product is domestic the label should tell you, but if it is imported you need to do a taste test. Basically, you take a shot of the oil and it should go down like water, producing a tingle or even a cough when you drink it. Finally, there should be no residue on your tongue. That all seemed somewhat subjective to me, so I think I would rather do my research and just find a brand that I like that is uncut.
I really liked the tour very much, and since they were having a 20% off Black Friday sale, decided to treat myself to some hand picked extra virgin olive oil and the raspberry balsamic. I think they will taste great in a spinach salad and I am really looking forward to trying them out. I was also really glad that we had a chance to get out and do something fun. Between looking for jobs, training Jack, and Lee working on repairs we haven’t done much the last few weeks. I really enjoyed this and am grateful that Cori went to some trouble to make sure we got to experience it.
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