Hard to believe that it’s already been a decade since Paso Robles established a festival for its other famous fruit juice — olive oil. The Downtown Main Street Association’s Olive Festival is celebrating its 11th year in the park on Saturday, and one of the many local labels in the vendor lineup is Pasolivo.
Under new ownership by the Dirk family since 2012, Pasolivo’s olive oil is continuing to rack up awards. Most recently those have included back-to-back gold medals for its California Blend at the 2014 New York International Olive Oil Competition and at the 2014 Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, where the Pasolivo signature blend also garnered a silver medal. Both events are considered among the most prestigious in the country, in part because domestic oils are pitted against oils from around the world.
The Mission (an olive considered unique to California) and Manzanillo (a Spanish olive) varietals that make up the California Blend are only two of about a dozen different olives that Pasolivo produces, explained general manager Cheryl Wieczorek. The rest are Tuscan varietals such as the Frantolo, Leccino, Lucca and Coratina that go into the Pasolivo blend.
The Westside Paso Robles acreage is home to about 6,000 olive trees, which — although not yet certified as such — are farmed organically and sustainably, explained Wieczorek. When harvest time rolls around, typically mid- to late-November before the first frost hits, all the fruit is hand-picked by “about 60 to 80 pickers over 13 to 15 days.”
Within just three hours or less of harvesting, the olives are processed onsite at Pasolivo. The field matter (twigs, leaves, etc.) is removed at various stages before the entire olive, including pit and skin, goes into the olive press.
Centrifuges separate out the oil from the water content and from the fruit’s “paste,” the latter of which is then put back out into the orchard as compost.
The whole process of pressing the oil takes about two hours, but Pasolivo’s work isn’t done yet. In order to qualify for “Extra Virgin” certification by the California Olive Oil Council, the oil has to be sent for rigorous independent chemical testing and blind sensory analysis. If it doesn’t meet all the factors in both areas, it won’t get that coveted COOC blessing.
Despite all the extra effort involved in getting that seal of approval, “we’re encouraging everyone (olive oil producers) to join the COOC. It really protects the consumer,” said Wieczorek.
Indeed, an Internet check of “adulterated olive oil” will reveal a raft of stories about the practice, which has been going on for centuries due to olive oil’s importance in so many cultures. In most cases, the adulteration is fairly benign — you just won’t get what you paid for if the oil isn’t from its labeled country of origin or has been mixed with other oils or coloring agents.
However, in some cases the oils are mixed with non-food grade ingredients with varying levels of toxicity. (One of the most extreme events occurred in Spain in 1981 when several hundred people died as a result of contaminated and mislabeled oil.)
“People are really becoming concerned about where their food comes from,” Wieczorek said. “At Pasolivo, you know that everything’s done right here — nothing’s left the property until you buy it and take it home.”