Olive oil in the West
From its historic roots to its promising future
By global standards, Nan McEvoy’s production is a drop in the olive-oil bucket ― California generates only 0.1 percent of the world’s supply. But by domestic standards, it is part of a tidal wave of new interest in all things olive.
California’s first olive oils came from trees brought over and planted by Spanish padres at the missions in the late 1700s. In the following century, olives and olive oils were significant products.
But in the early 1900s, various factors, including the arrival of cheap and plentiful oils, shrank the market for domestic olive oil. Olive oil became a sideline, as olive ranchers turned to the more profitable venture of curing and canning the fruit.
A few oil makers, however, stuck it out through those lean years. And now they have been joined by many newcomers, as interest in high-quality olive oil has surged during the past decade. Research in all aspects of olive oil production, from variety selection through oil making, focuses on the creation of a superior product.
Even an Arizonan, Perry Rea, has joined in. At Friendly Corners, about 45 miles south of Phoenix, he has planted 43,000 olive trees, from which he expects a harvest in three to four years.