July 6, 2006
Olive Oil, Olive the Time

Bottles of olive oil, like bottles of wine, often bear the year in which the fruit was harvested. Both wine grapes and olives are harvested in the fall and early winter, generally starting with grapes in August and ending with olives in December. Thus, I was taken aback to see the newest releases from Apollo Olive Oil of Oregon House in Yuba County with "2006" on the labels.

Steven Dambeck, a partner in Apollo Olive Oil, explains that the practice of vintage dating olive oil is relatively new and in a state of flux. Without uniform standards, each producer is free to decide how to vintage date their releases. Some settle on the year the fruit was gathered, some prefer the year in which the olives were processed into oil. The issue is complicated by a harvest that may start in one year but not finish until the next.

"We usually straddle the year a little bit, and blend fruit that is harvested early with fruit that is harvested later," says Dambeck. He felt it too awkward to label the oils "2005/2006," so he settled on 2006. Because olive oil is best consumed young, he's hoping the "2006" also will suggest to consumers that this is the year in which to enjoy it.

In the future, the date is likely to end up on the back of the bottle, which is the trend on the international olive-oil scene, regardless of how the date is calculated, says Dambeck.

And speaking of the international olive-oil scene, Apollo's 2005 Organic Sierra Olive Oil was named the "best olive oil from overseas" at Olio 2006, a competition in Munich sponsored by the German travel and food guide Der Feinschmecker. Some 750 olive oils were tasted, around 200 of them from "overseas," which included South America, Australia and California.

The 2006 olive oils now being released by Apollo are the first to be made in the United States with a new vacuum mill developed by Italian olive-oil authority Marco Mugelli. One of just four such mills in the world, though two more are to be installed this year, the system is designed to protect olive polyphenols from oxidation during processing, thereby preserving flavor, freshness and antioxidants, says Dambeck.

The Apollo 2006 Sierra, about two-thirds of which is made with the traditional California mission olive, is a somewhat spicer and more floral version of Apollo's other signature olive oil, the 2006 Mistral, made with five varieties of Provencal olives. The 2006 Mistral has a rounder build and more buttery texture and more green-fruit flavor than the Sierra, but both have the sort of fresh and distinct flavors that suggest the new mill is working well. Both sell for around $23 per 500-milliliter bottle. Locally, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Corti Brothers, Nugget Markets and Taylors Market stock Apollo olive oils.

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