Liquid Gold

New varietals, production innovation, and the rise of the farmers' market are changing the olive oil industry in California. Will homegrown soon replace the favorite imports on tables around the West?

Olive ranch

Semidwarf Spanish trees at California Olive Ranch may be the key to good flavor at an affordable price.

Brown Cannon III

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I see myself as a kind of missionary," Alan Greene says. He's surveying his company's olive grove in Butte County, in California's Sacramento Valley.

Stretching out before him are not the towering, irregularly shaped olive trees so familiar in the landscapes of the Mediterranean, but laser-straight rows of squat, precisely pruned olive trees marching toward the Sierra.

"California is now producing a whole palette of olive oils," says Greene, who is vice president at California Olive Ranch. "What's really important is the freshness of the oils, the advantage we have of making oil close to the point of consumption. California oil will always be fresher." Greene and his California Olive Ranch are part of a revolution ― one that will likely transform one of the state's oldest food products: olive oil.

Thanks to a growing appreciation of its flavor and health benefits, Americans consume more than 64 million gallons of olive oil a year ― most of it from Italy and Spain. California's 400,000 gallons are a drop in the bucket. But new producers are making high-quality oils that fetch lofty prices. They hope to woo the committed fan away from Mediterranean oils to the deeply flavorful oils made closer to home.



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