“If my cuisine were to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of subtle, aromatic, extra-virgin olive oil.” – Alain Ducasse
When most people think about Napa Valley they tend to think of the bountiful grape harvests in the fall. And there’s obviously good reason for this. But what many are not aware of is a lesser known but just as valuable harvest.
In Napa Valley autumn also means olive harvest, which usually starts in November and can run as late as February. Wine grapes and quality olives happen to grow best and thrive in the same climate – that Mediterranean-style environment that is found here in Napa with its warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights.
And with fall at our doorsteps and the weather shifting to that familiar time of year, outdoor entertaining can take on a seasonally themed touch with dishes featuring locally grown olives and a exploring the various ways to enjoy locally extracted olive oils.
Napa Valley, California, and the Golden Riches of Olives
While most of the olives and olive oil consumed in the United States comes primarily from Italy, Spain, and Tunisia, we do produce almost five percent of our own. And California accounts for 99 percent of all the olive oil production in the U.S. and has reached the status of a world-class producer.
California’s olive oil history goes back more than two centuries, long before any wineries. When Spanish explorers moved north from Mexico into what is now California, they brought with them Franciscan fathers. And it was these missionaries who planted olive trees at each of their twenty one established missions.
Much, much later, olive production took on a more commercial bent, according to the O’Connell Family Wines website,
“Olive oil has a long history in Napa Valley. In the 1800’s, an entrepreneurial group created a nursery in Soda Canyon to supply farmers with imported fruit stock, including a wide range of olive trees, to plant orchards in Napa Valley.”
However, the popularity of olives and olive oil production began to wane. As one article notes,
“From these tentative beginnings, the California olive oil industry grew, and by the 19th century, it was thriving. The industry languished, however, throughout much of the 20th century, falling in and out of recessions due to imports and an overall lack of awareness. The situation changed in the 1990s when a new generation of health-conscious Americans rediscovered the flavor and benefits of olive oil.”
From Small Beginnings to a Bounty of Golden Olive Goodness
A little fast forwarding to today and Napa is second only to Sonoma County with the number of olive growers in California.
The harvest is not nearly as massive as the wide variety of wine grapes produced here, but in 2021, according to the County of Napa, the region produced 107 tons of olives, or more than $225,000 worth of produce. While actual figures are hard to pin down, this quantity of olives had the potential to produce over 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of Napa Valley olive oil.
While this may not seem like a large amount, olives typically produce somewhere between 10 to 40 gallons of oil per ton of olives.
Napa Valley is famous for being a premier grape growing region. But what makes Napa Valley one of the best places to grow olive trees?
According to the folks at Fantesca Estate & Winery,
“The reason is because of Napa Valley’s climate and the soil. The dry Mediterranean type of climate of Napa is ideal for the growing of not just grapes, but also olive trees. Mornings tend to be sunny and warm followed by cool evenings. This transition allows the fruit to ripen slowly and evenly. On the other hand, the structure and composition of the soil also affects the quality of the fruits.”
And they can make for a great “centerpiece” of your fall outdoor entertaining menu.
The Culinary Versatility of Napa Valley Olives and Olive Oil
Far too often, the olive oil is relegated to cooking and, on occasion, used to dip bread in. But there are quite a few other ways to enjoy the flavors and textures of Napa Valley extra virgin olive oils.
For example, avocado toast is a particular favorite with many. One version of this healthy snacking treat is to toast a slice (or two!) of whole grain bread, apply some sliced or mashed avocado on top, and top it with sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, some finely chopped nuts and toasted pumpkin seeds, and generous drizzle of olive oil.
The folks at OliveOil.com have produced a brief list of some of they refer to as the “Best Uses for Californian Olive Oil.”
- Drizzle it onto a hearty bowl of Cioppino.
- Use it as a dipping oil for fresh or toasted sourdough bread.
- Top a thin crust pizza with fresh arugula and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
- Use Californian olive oil and apple cider vinegar to dress a cobb salad.
- Host a California wine and olive oil tasting! Try these power pairs: Chardonnay + Arbosana, Sauvignon Blanc + Koroneiki, Arbequina + Merlot.
And we found a great appetizer recipe from Lakeside Table that incorporates olives and almonds.
Fried Olives and Marcona Almonds
- Heat vegetable oil to 450F – Dang! that’s hot! Yep, this is a flash fry. We’re not worried about cooking chicken to the bone. These fry up fast! I’ve fried these in oil heated to 350-375F and they’ve crisped up great, they just need a bit longer.
- Stuff the olives with pesto and dunk them in egg whites.
- Then roll them in cornmeal making sure they’re completely covered.
- Fry them for 1 -2 minutes or until they are golden brown and delicious! Place them on paper towels to remove the excess oil.
- Gently roast skinned Marcona almonds in a dry skillet.
- Mix these two together and serve warm.
And while we’re on the topic of nuts, although almonds are not grown commercially in Napa Valley – though would do incredibly well in our soil – the region produces an abundant harvest of other fruits and vegetables.
Harvest Time is Great for Outdoor Entertaining – And Cal Mart can Help with That!
You can find Cal Mart in downtown Calistoga, at the top of the famed Napa Valley. And for more than five decades, Cal Mart has been a popular shopping destination for those living in Napa Valley and her visitors.
Our legacy for quality and service, and as a family-owned and independent grocery store, is what makes Cal Mart unique. And we continue to offer our customers an enjoyable and memorable shopping experience as we have for more than half a century now.
All of which is a big part of what has earned us the unofficial title of “Napa Valley’s Finest Grocery.”
Some of the highlights of our market include our gourmet cheese department featuring dozens of premium imported cheeses. Being in the Napa Valley, we naturally offer a wide variety of quality wines along with a large selection of craft beers. Other treasures along our aisle include our specialty foods department featuring food items that are unique and hard to find.
Cal Mart invites you to stop in and take some time to explore all that we have to offer. And while you’re here, please feel free to talk with our knowledgeable staff. Shopping may not be hard work, but you can still treat yourself to a cup of coffee or tea from our Coffee Bar and take a moment to look over our beautiful gift baskets and fresh flowers.
And remember that at Cal Mart, you will always find something that is unexpected, unusual, and uncommon!