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California Olives

Background

According to the California olive industry, olives originated in the Mediterranean countries of southern Europe. Olives were brought to Mexico, and subsequently to California, in the 1700s. However, commercial production did not begin until the 1800s. The industry developed at that time to satisfy the rising demand for olive oil, and production began to flourish in the Central and northern valleys of California. Originally, California olive production was intended for oil. By the early 1900s, however, advances in canning technology promoted higher returns for canned olives, and producers changed to producing olives for canning.

Overview

Today, California remains the only U.S. state to commercially produce olives. Over 99 percent of production is canned as California-style black olives. Much of the olive oil consumed in the United States is imported. The USDA classifies the olive as a fruit, not as a vegetable or an oilseed.

Because of its historic predominance for canning, California production comes mainly from table olive varieties. The two main varieties of table olive trees in California are Manzanillo and Sevillano. Manzanillo olives are ideal for the black ripe market but can also be used for making oil. Given its low oil content, the Sevillano variety is used primarily in the table olive market. In 2007, 112 thousand tons of Manzanillo olives were produced and 14 thousand tons of Sevillano olives (NASS).

Value-Added Marketing for Olive Oil

Historically, the olive oil industry in California has existed mainly as a option for olive producers in years when production was especially large or when harvested olives were of poor quality. In recent years, U.S. demand for olive oil has increased dramatically, but much of the increase has been met by European processors. Despite this European dominance, the California industry has grown in recent years, but much of the growth has occurred in niche products, allowing U.S. producers to receive a premium sufficient to cover higher costs of production (Barrio and Carman). By 2007, over 400 olive oil companies existed in California.

Olive oil competes with other lower-priced vegetable oils such as canola, corn and safflower oils. Some U.S. producers believe that enforcement of grading standards as published by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) could help high-quality California producers compete with European imports. The California Olive Oil Council (COOC), founded in 1996, has established an Extra Virgin certification program that certifies oil that has been pressed from 100 percent California-grown olives and meets IOOC standards for chemical and sensory analyses.

Demand

Per person consumption of canned olives has been variable since 1970, ranging between 0.78 and 1.80 pounds. In 2006, per person consumption was 0.74 pounds of canned olives (ERS). Canned olives produced in the United States are often consumed on pizzas while most imported canned olives have been preserved and serve other uses. The continued popularity of Mediterranean cuisine also contributes to sustained consumption.

In contrast, demand for olive oil has increased significantly in recent years, largely in response to the increased publicity of associated health benefits for nonsaturated vegetable oils. Some of the promoted beneficial attributes of olive oil include being a source of antioxidants, vitamin E and monounsaturated fat, which helps to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Production

In California, olive oil production occurs primarily in the Sacramento Valley and in the North Coast. In the last ten years, olive oil growers have used Italian, Spanish and Greek varieties and high-density plantings to take advantage of mechanical harvesters for more efficient production.

Olive production has been highly variable over the years, largely due to the alternate-bearing nature of olive tree production. The 2007 crop totaled 132.5 thousand tons and was valued at $86.7 million. According to NASS statistics, in 2007, California accounted for 31,000 acres of olives in the United States. Total acreage has remained between 30,000 and 40,000 acres since 1980. In 2007 96 thousand tons of the olive crop were used for canning and just 12 thousand tons were crushed for olive oil.

Prices

U.S. grower prices for processed olives have varied over the years but have generally declined. Prices peaked in 1981 at $1,200 per ton and were $655 per ton in 2007. Weather and the strength of the dollar against the Euro are two factors that influence prices.

Exports

The quantity of olive oil exports in 2007 totaled 3,650 metric tons (MT), falling below the quantity of prepared olive exports, which reached 4,194 MT. However, the value of exported olive oil ($9.4 million) was higher than that of prepared olives ($8.1 million). The oil was primarily exported to Canada, Mexico and Hong Kong, while the olives were shipped mostly to Canada and Japan. (FAS)


Imports

The United States is a net importer of olive products. During 2007, the country purchased 266,512 MT of olive oil valued at $966.4 million and 153,757 MT of prepared olives valued at $421.2 million. U.S. olive oil imports came mainly from Italy (58%), followed by Spain (18%). Spain also accounted for nearly half of the prepared olive imports, followed by Argentina and Greece. (FAS)

 

The olive tree is revered as one of the longest living and hardiest trees on earth. A slow growing tree, it can bear fruit for hundreds of years. Eventually, the trunk will wither and shoots develop at its base, growing into a new tree; hence its reputation as the immortal tree. Olives grow best in climates that are mild in the winter and hot in the summer, much like the warm inland valleys of California.

The olives mature all summer, and are harvested in the fall mainly by manual picking. Harvesting machines have been utilized to pick the fruit, but trees are usually harmed in this process. The crop for the next year begins soon after harvest of the current year. Microscopic flower buds begin forming by November.

Olives straight from the tree are too bitter to eat without some kind of curing.

Making the Sicilian green or Greek black style olives

The olives are treated with a brine solution and most nutritional value of the olive remains intact. The olives then ferment for a few months. The fermented olives are sized, graded and packed into glass jars. They can be pitted and stuffed with a variety of flavors, or they can remain whole packed in brine with herbs, oils and other pickled items such as garlic and peppers. The large black olives made using brine are known as Greek style olives.

Both versions, especially if made from California olives, are delicious on their own or in your martini with a little of the brine included!

The olive tree is revered as one of the longest living and hardiest trees on earth. A slow growing tree, it can bear fruit for hundreds of years. Eventually, the trunk will wither and shoots develop at its base, growing into a new tree; hence its reputation as the immortal tree. Olives grow best in climates that are mild in the winter and hot in the summer, much like the warm inland valleys of California.

The olives mature all summer, and are harvested in the fall mainly by manual picking. Harvesting machines have been utilized to pick the fruit, but trees are usually harmed in this process. The crop for the next year begins soon after harvest of the current year. Microscopic flower buds begin forming by November.

Olives straight from the tree are too bitter to eat without some kind of curing.

Making the Sicilian green or Greek black style olives

The olives are treated with a brine solution and most nutritional value of the olive remains intact. The olives then ferment for a few months. The fermented olives are sized, graded and packed into glass jars. They can be pitted and stuffed with a variety of flavors, or they can remain whole packed in brine with herbs, oils and other pickled items such as garlic and peppers. The large black olives made using brine are known as Greek style olives.

Both versions, especially if made from California olives, are delicious on their own or in your martini with a little of the brine included!

About the California Olive Committee

The California Olive Committee is comprised of two canneries and thousands of family farmers, who raise olives on about 27,000 acres of orchards that crisscross the warm inland valleys of California.

California produces over 95% of the olives grown in the US--but that doesn't mean we're all big business. Ours are not mechanically run, industrial farms, but multi-generational orchards powered by hardworking American farmers and their families. Plots come in all sizes and they are individually serviced by some of the finest stewards of our land. They range from small 5-acre lots to 1,000-acre multi-crop farms, but strict growing and handling standards remain consistent.

There are two main varieties of trees that produce our olives: Manzanillo and Sevillano. These different varieties produce different sizes of olives, giving consumers a choice ranging from small to super colossal.

Olive trees are by nature an alternate bearing fruit. (In other words, they produce a big crop one year and a smaller one the next.) This means the harvest can vary from under 50,000 tons one year to over 160,000 the next. The trees generally bloom in May, with small cream-colored flowers blossoming all over the orchards. This is the first indicator of what the fall harvest will be like. The olives grow and start to ripen throughout the entire summer. The harvesting begins while the olives are still green, but starting to show a little darkening color.


Harvest season generally starts in September and goes into November. To assure absolute quality, harvesting is done by hand. The crews use ladders to reach the fruit and painstakingly hand-harvest the olives off each branch, tree by tree. There can be 1,000 olives on each tree, so each crewmember will pick only 2 or 3 trees in a day. Once the trees are picked, the olives are sent to one of California's two olive processing plants. (Which, by the way, are also multigenerational family businesses.) At the plants, the olives are sorted, graded and stored until they are ready for curing.

Curing is essential to the process because olives straight off the tree are much too bitter to eat. While there are many different curing methods used around the world, in California, most olives become California black ripe olives, which are prized for their firm texture and smooth, mellow taste.

The method of processing California Black Ripe Olives was invented by a housewife in the late 1800s and that same recipe is followed today. It is a multiple-day process that starts by putting the olives into a lye curing solution that leaches the bitterness out. This is followed by a series of cold-water rinses, which removes every trace of curing solution. During the multi-day curing process, pure air is bubbled constantly through the olives. This air is what creates their natural, rich dark color. A trace of organic iron salt (ferrous gluconate) is sometimes added, which acts as a color fixer so the olives will maintain their rich black color after the cans are stored.


Canning is the final step. Ripe olives are canned in a mild salt brine solution and, because they are a low-acid product, are heat sterilized under strict California State health rules. In addition, they are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to ensure consistent quality, color, flavor and texture. California Ripe Olives are offered in a variety of convenient options including: whole, pitted, sliced, chopped or wedged. They are readily available year round in the grocery store.
 


References :

http://www.californiaolivesandoliveoil.com/olives.htm

http://www.calolive.org/olives/about-the-california-olive-industry.aspx

http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/fruits/olive_profile.cfm

 

 

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