Is American olive oil about to eclipse Italy's? That's the question Bloomberg Businessweek uses to frame a new piece on California Olive Ranch, a West Coast company using a "fastidious, technology-driven approach" to compete with large European brands. Reporters Peter Robison and Vernon Silver point to the oil's success in taste tests and suggest we're heading for a Judgment of Paris moment, in which forward-thinking new-world producers will prove their worth against venerated old-world rivals.
The analogy doesn't quite hold: California Olive Ranch has shown well against Italy's mass-market products, not its first-growth equivalents. But there's no denying this oil. For several years we've been fans for its price, reliability and availability. At less than $10 for a liter, it's become a staple for quite a few F&W staffers.
- A Crash Course in Olive Oil Politics
- 7 Ways to Use Olive Oil in Desserts
- Great Recipes That Use Good Oil
California Olive Ranch has achieved its success, Robison and Silver write, by innovating in the fields. Olive trees are planted closely together and harvested by machine. (The latter technique is not, by the way, associated with high-quality winemaking when applied to grapes. But combined with C.O.R.'s other quality-control measures, it seems to work well for olives.) The company has also launched a P.R. battle, funding a group that issued a widely-read report, in 2010, declaring a huge amount of imported olive oil to be flawed or fraudulently labeled.
Excellent new world olive oil is not brand new. Nearly 20 years ago, F&W reported on McEvoy Ranch, another producer with its sights set on Tuscany. But C.O.R. is the first to put high-quality, value-priced American olive oil into a significant number of pantries. Its oil, which now sells at retailers from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, generated $82 million in sales last year. One of the company's founders, José Ignacio Romero, told Bloomberg that sales could hit a quarter-billion dollars in three years. Americans are consuming more olive oil than ever before, but, it seems, not much compared to Italians. The market has room to grow.
If you're one of these new olive oil buyers, we have some smart shopping tips for you.