Food & Drink

Kiler Ridge Olive Farm in Paso Robles produces eco-friendly oil

Kiler Ridge Olive Farm produces a lemon-flavored olive oil and four extra virgin varieties.
Kiler Ridge Olive Farm produces a lemon-flavored olive oil and four extra virgin varieties. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Olive lovers will flock Saturday to Downtown City Park in Paso Robles for the 13th annual Paso Robles Olive Festival. Among the vendors participating in the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will be a local favorite: Kiler Ridge Olive Farm.

Perched atop a scenic hill just two miles southwest of downtown Paso Robles, Kiler Ridge Olive Farm was established in 2005 by the husband-and-wife team of Gregg Bone and Audrey Burnam.

The 58-acre, eco-friendly estate orchard was inspired by a cycling trip to Tuscany, where the couple was struck by the outstanding quality of Italian olive oil they experienced.

Visitors to Kiler Ridge are invited to pick a comfy spot outside to enjoy the olive oil tasting experience — and it’s one they’re sure to savor. The outdoor area affords a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside, and the grounds are dotted with the whimsical and inventive metal sculptures of Cain Lopez, the olive orchard’s manager.

Currently, Kiler Ridge offers five Italian-variety olive oils for tasting: a lemon-flavored oil and four extra virgin oils.

That extra virgin classification applies only to oils meeting the very exacting chemical and sensory standards established by the California Olive Oil Council. If you see that seal on a label, it means the oil has jumped through the strictest hoops in the world.

“We’re really focused on making high-quality oils,” Burnam said, adding that all the estate olives are hand-harvested and milled on-site by Bone as soon as possible. In some cases, the time period from harvest to pressing might be as little as 45 minutes, but at most it’s within just a few hours.

All of the olive oils are served for sampling in small plastic cups.

Approach the experience much as you would a wine tasting: smell, sip, savor and swallow. Flavor profiles will include fruity, peppery and a pinch of pungency.

For most of Kiler Ridge’s oils — especially the Late Harvest, Tuscan and Lucca — using them for finishing is the best option. Just drizzle the oils over fresh tomatoes, popcorn and grilled meats, or dip hunks of bread in them.

Heating olive oils will break down their nuances, but Kiler Ridge’s Cook’s Choice can work with something such as sautéing if you keep the temperature low. That’s a good idea with any olive oil, especially extra virgin, because of its low smoke point (the temperature at which oil or fat breaks down and starts to burn).

The tasting experience at Kiler Ridge finishes with an intriguing treat — vanilla bean ice cream topped with estate olive oil and sea salt. Once you’ve tried that combination you’ll wish you’d thought of it years ago.

In establishing Kiler Ridge Olive Farm, environmental concerns were first and foremost for Bone and Burnam.

“We farm sustainably but are not certified organic,” Burnam said. “That includes not using any herbicides, and using only organically approved pesticides, organic fertilizers, et cetera.”

Irrigation is kept to a bare minimum, with a drip system used only during the hottest, driest part of summer, and the emitters are used to efficiently deliver fertilizer directly to the 2,700 trees planted over approximately 14 acres.

Even the leftover pomace —a paste of skins and pits leftover from the milling process — is recycled via a worm composting program. The nutrient-rich worm castings are then spread into the orchard.

In addition, Kiler Ridge’s tasting room and production facility are housed within a solar-powered straw bale building. Combined with a radiant heating system built into the walls, the naturally insulating properties of that type of construction all but eliminate the need for additional temperature controls.

Why go to all this trouble in establishing an orchard? For Bone and Burnam, it’s not just about producing high-quality estate olive oil, it’s also about ultimately making the property self-sustaining.

“Olive trees can live for 3000 years,” Bone said. “So you better think about that when you’re planting them.”

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

Paso Robles Olive Festival

The 13th annual Paso Robles Olive Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in the Paso Robles Downtown City Park. Admission is free to explore the local and out-of-area vendors and enjoy olive oil tasting, live music, children’s activities, cooking demonstrations and a chef competition. Local wine and beer available to tasting and/or purchasing with a commemorative wine glass. For more information, call the Paso Robles Main Street Association at 805-238-4103 or go to www.pasoroblesolivefestival.com.

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