24 Jun

Olive oil company crushes competitors

By Julia Hollister,

A small Sierras foothill olive oil company has risen to the same exalted status as California wines.

Apollo Olive Oil Company, in the tiny Yuba County community of Oregon House, received the honor recently at an international competition in Italy where hundreds of olive oils from around the world were judged.

“We submitted our oil for a tasting panel in Munich last month,” said Apollo founder Steven Dambeck. “We were one of 750 entrants and then one of 125 finalists. A blind tasting selected the top 10 in the world and we were thrilled. It was really powerful.”

Apollo was one four olive oil processors from California in the top 125, a sign that the Golden State is making a name for itself in the olive oil world. The other finalists were Figueroa Farms, Santa Ynez Valley; Stella Cadente, Anderson Valley; and Ron Asquith, Ojai.

“Finding the ideal growing conditions for olives is just like the whole magic formula with grapes,” Dambeck said. “Olive trees are more particular than grapes and grow in only one-fifth of the state; our olives seem to have more intense flavor.”

Dambeck said the secret tool that propelled the small processor into the international spotlight is their state-of-the-art mill. Also, Apollo is one of the few California producers who grow their own fruit and process the oil.

In the hour that an olive spends in the typical mill, it is in constant and intimate contact with oxygen, according to Dambeck. This contact destroys antioxidants at a rapid rate. His new mill is able to capture virtually all of the antioxidants because it extracts the olive oil under vacuum.

“An olive is made up of three ingredients – oil, water and solid material,” he said. “There are two functions in the process: You mill the fruit and press it.”

To separate the oil from the other substances is a three-step process. After crushing the fruit, it ends up looking like oatmeal and then is kneaded (like bread) for 45 minutes. This allows the oil drops to adhere to one another. Once that happens, the oil is liberated from the water and solid. Traditional methods involved putting olive paste into flexible baskets and extracting the water. Now many processors use a centrifuge.

In the past, Apollo made its olive oil only with the classic stone mill system. The classic stone mill system, as opposed to the modern centrifugal system, requires attention to every detail. With access to this new vacuum system, Apollo can create olive oils that are crafted and also retain their full antioxidant content.

“The problem with traditional milling is that the olives are exposed to violent movement that introduces oxygen,” he said. “When this happens, the oil starts to degrade. We knew if we could find a way to run the mill without oxygen, we would have a superior oil.”

Dambeck found a man in Tuscany whose invention operates under vacuum. With the mill, Apollo can extract more distinct, superior flavors. Dambeck said this technique will be the technology of olive oil production in the future. It is also one of the few producers that are both certified organic and certified extra virgin. Because the United States has no labeling laws for the extra virgin designation, an olive oil can claim extra virgin status on its label without being truly extra virgin, and without even being comprised of olive oil. Certification guarantees that the consumer is buying 100 percent extra virgin olive oil with no defects and of high quality. Only certified extra virgin olive oil guarantees the presence of a high quantity of the antioxidants, which are responsible for the health benefits attributed to olive oil.

“All of the of judges are the rock stars of the olive oil world and were very gracious after our win,” Dambeck said. “They were glad to welcome us into their unique fraternity and on the world stage.”

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