Olio nuovo: How to use and where to find season’s freshest, boldest olive oil
Snugly-planted rows of Arbequina olive trees surround the Séka Hills Olive Mill in Brooks, where the annual olive harvest is in full swing. You can hear it in the rumbling sounds of harvesting machines and see it in the treasured bright green oil seeping from the separator.
Olio nuovo, or new oil, is the year’s very first olive oil — young, unfiltered and zesty as can be.
“That unique chartreuse green comes with a pungency and freshness that’s like biting into a green olive,” says Jim Etters, director of land management for Yocha Dehe Farm and Ranch, which includes Séka Hills. “There’s only one way to experience that, and it’s once a year.”
Olive millers in western Yolo County, a burgeoning region for olive oil because of its unique soil, undulating topography and Mediterranean climate, and others throughout Northern California are harvesting around the clock to produce this seasonal treasure known for its bold, peppery bite. The first bottles hit specialty grocery stores this week, just in time for holiday gifting and drizzling on endless scoops of mashed potatoes.
Unlike most olive oils, olio nuovo does not go through a racking process to remove sediment. The olives are simply pressed and the oil bottled, the emerald-like bits of sediment adding extra zing to every glug. As such, it is not used for cooking. Stick to a great extra-virgin olive oil to make flavorful desserts like Alice Medrich’s Sherry and Olive Oil Pound Cake, or to sauté onions or sear chicken, like Braised Chicken Thighs with Almonds, Honey & EVOO.
Use olio nuovo as a finishing oil and drizzle with abandon on everything from eggs and baked potatoes to pastas, salads, pizzas and winter soups, like Rosetta Costantino’s silky Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. To experience its unique flavor and color profile, you’ll want to consume the oil within about three months.
“It won’t go bad, but it will begin to mellow, lose its vibrancy and some of its polyphenols,” says Pamela Marvel, co-owner and grower at Grumpy Goats Farms, a 20-acre olive farm located six miles north of Seka Hills, in Capay.
Marvel and her life-and-business partner Stuart Littell specialize in robust oils with particularly high polyphenols, the antioxidant micronutrients also found in berries, nuts and chocolate. Grumpy Goats oils are made from seven organic olive varietals grown on the farm. The land was an old alfalfa field when the couple planted their first trees in 2008.
This year’s olio nuovo will be made from Picqual, which, like the farms’ flagship Cortina, is slow to ripen and sometimes doesn’t get harvested until close to Thanksgiving, when the first winter frost hits. “We often do a little dance while we wait and worry,” Marvel says. “But the Picqual is ready. It will be a very complex oil, pungent, lively and wild.”
Farther south, at Bondolio Olive Oil in Winters, Karen and Malcolm Bond have transformed their old almond farm into a veritable Sicilian frantoio, where free-range chickens roam and a small vineyard grows Nero D’Avola grapes, a rarity in California. The 10-acre organically-farmed olive grove is flanked by a compact, modern mill, built in 2015, and an outdoor tasting room with a wood-burning pizza oven and dramatic, ceramic-topped community table custom made in Deruto, Italy.
That’s where you can taste their olio nuovo drizzled atop pizza at a holiday open house on Dec. 13. This year’s olio nuovo is a blend of Nocellara, Biancolilla and Cerasuola olives that is common in Southern Italy but rare among oils produced in California. So, too, is their orchard, where the olive trees are light green compared to dark Arbequina trees, and shaped like umbrellas, their thin branches sagging under the weight of slender green and purple olives.
The Bonds fell in love with Italian olive oil 18 years ago when the owner of a B&B invited them to taste the olio nuovo harvested from her family’s 1,000-year-old olives trees in the foothills of the Apennines, just east of Naples. The experience was so transcendent, especially for Karen, that the couple decided to specialize in Italian varietals.
“I’ll never forget it,” says Karen, who now holds a master miller certificate from the UC Davis Olive Center. “We wanted to bring that taste and feeling of Sicily to California.”
Where to buy and taste
In addition to the Capay Valley, a few Northern California olive oil producers are offering olio nuovo this year, including McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company in Fairfield and CaliVirgin Olive Oil in Lodi.
Bondolio Olive Oil: The mill will showcase its olio nuovo at an outdoor holiday open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 13 at 9352 Campbell Road in Winters. Admission is free. Taste the oil and purchase pizza, wine, beer and other beverages; www.bondolio.com. The olio nuovo is also available at Market Hall Foods in Berkeley and Oakland and at Quail and Olive in Carmel Valley.
Seka Hills Olive Mill & Tasting Room: Tours and tastings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays at 19326 County Road 78 in Brooks. Tours: $10. Make reservations at www.sekahills.com. Or taste the oils and Seka Hills’ wines at the holiday open house on Dec. 12 in Brooks, or at the Old Sugar Mill tasting room at 35265 Willow Ave. in Clarksburg. Find the olio nuovo at Market Hall Foods, DeMartini Orchard (Los Altos) and The True Olive Connection (an online-only shop) in Santa Cruz.
Grumpy Goats Farms: The orchard is located at 23946 State Highway 16 in Capay. There is no mill or tasting room but outdoor tastings are available by appointment by calling 530-796-0000. The oils can be purchased at www.grumpygoat.com as well as at Market Hall and San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market.