At Pacific Sun we work with several varieties, also known as cultivars, of olives. Their characteristics are still a subject of debate because the way they are milled can greatly affect the quality of the resulting olive oil and the flavor profile. While there are not yet the same clear standards for olive oil making (like there are for wine making), we do our best to work within our own strict milling standards to guarantee high quality olive oil and to help the cultivars manifest their true essence.
The Mission olive is the only cultivar considered to be 100% Californian. It was brought from Spain and grown first in Mexico City, then in Baja California (with much better results) and eventually from cuttings planted in the California missions. The mission of San Diego de Alcalá was the first to grow this variety.
Exceptional polyphenol count is a hallmark of the Mission olive. When milled properly, it offers assertive olive oils with herbaceous and tomato leaf notes. It’s challenging to work with since it has an abrupt ripening and suddenly loses quality when over-ripe. It’s very complicated to mill once that occurs.
Traditionally, because of a lack of technology and knowledge, people waited until Mission olives were completely over-ripe in order to contrast the bitterness the green olives would bring. Oil made this way was, and still is, altogether uninteresting. However, with proper crushers (such as the one we operate at Pacific Sun Farms), low temperatures, and by minimizing malaxing times, it is possible to make oils of great character and also elegance. But it is always a challenge to balance these requirements. When the oil is milled properly, it provides an excellent foundation for our blends.
This is another variety that came with the Spanish. Mostly a table olive, it can render good olive oil, but only when milled very green. It offers green apple and herbaceous notes.
This is an Italian variety from the region of Le Marche (The Marches), on the East coast of Italy. Ascolano olives present an interesting case in a discussion of how different the same cultivar olive oil can be, depending on the milling. When the olives are green, it offers very aromatic herbaceous and tomato leaf fruitiness.
To work with green, healthy olives is key in this case, since Ascolano is a large, fleshy olive, traditionally more suitable for table olives. Italians make a famous regional specialty “Ascolane ripiene” (stuffed Ascolano), where the olives are cured, then pitted, stuffed, breaded and fried. As it happens with cultivars more apt for curing than for olive oil, it has a low-medium polyphenol count and more sugars and water. This makes the oil quite vulnerable if made with ripe olives and careless milling. When this happens, Ascolano olive oil assumes peach and tropical fruit smells, something that pleases many consumers and also a good deal of people in the industry. However, we have come to learn that, beyond personal preferences and taste, this indicates a lower quality olive oil that was made with lower quality olives and less care in the milling process—and it is prone to rapid decay.
This is one of the most commonly planted olive varieties in California. Originally from Catalonia, Spain, it’s the main olive in orchards made with a system called Super High Density. This system has several challenges, and while it’s quite difficult to make high quality olive oil with it, it allows for honest, relatively low cost olive oil. We treat Arbequinas with great care, and we’re very pleased with our results. Most people assume that Arbequina has to be a soft olive oil with notes of ripe banana. We think those are undesirable characteristics born out of using high temperatures in the milling. Our Arbequinas are grassier, with some gentle notes of green almond and always some bitterness and pungency.
An Andalucian variety with high polyphenol count and great shelf life. Picual is another interesting case where for a long time people assumed that it had an unpleasant fruit profile with a nagging ammonia-like odor. Actually, when that happens, it means that an initial fermentation has taken place. This has nothing do with the Picual cultivar itself. The proof is when Picual olives are milled at optimal ripeness and with care: the olive oil is herbaceous with tomato leaf notes.
We work with Frantoio and Leccino, two typical varieties from Tuscany. These are very fine cultivars, offering perfumes of grass, artichoke and green almond. Frantoio is a bit more assertive, having a higher polyphenol count, while Leccino tends to be fruitier.
This Puglian variety is wonderfully rich in polyphenols. Similar to issues with the Mission, when milled with traditional hammer mills, Coratina oil tended to be too bitter. It was not a pleasant bitterness, and so the variety was therefore considered a cultivar for blends. With newer technologies in the last few years, Coratina olive oils have been winning major competitions as mono-varietals that have remarkable almond, grass and artichoke perfumes. We make a limited amount of this mono-varietal, and it is only available online and to one California retailer.