If you think an extra virgin olive oil should bear a mild, buttery taste, think again. The real thing, explains Dos Aguilas grower Roger Wolfe, should come with a kick.
“It should have some pepper—some burn at the back of the throat,” he says, adding that this sensation is nicknamed “the Tuscan tickle.”
Sure enough, Dos Aguilas olive oil, which is made with a blend of five Tuscan varietals grown in Corralitos, hits the mouth with a pleasurable richness but goes down the throat with a tingle.
The piquancy comes as a surprise to many first time tasters—a fact that is not surprising when you look at the EVOOs most Americans are accustomed to eating. Reports over recent years, notably one out of UC Davis, have revealed that more than half of the olive oil on grocery store shelves is mislabeled. Many that claim to be extra virgin are, in fact, not. They are likely blended with additives or lesser quality oils. On top of misleading consumers and weakening the collective taste for authentic EVOO, this also means that these imposters lack the polyphenols that make olive oil desirable for its health benefits.
“That’s why the fraud is really unfortunate—if people are doing it for health reasons, they should be getting the real thing,” Wolfe says.
Just as with buying produce from local farms or eggs from a local rancher, finding olive oil from a reputable local source is the best bet for ensuring quality. Dos Aguilas has helped to make this possible since 1999, when its owners decided to swap out some of their apple trees for olive trees. They produce about 100 gallons of olive oil per year, using mills in Livermore or Carmel Valley.
“It’s real, local olive oil,” Wolfe says. “It’s as close to the mill as you can get.”
Their Santa Cruz County grove is picturesquely pastoral and characteristically foggy, especially during summer mornings. Its unique, Mediterranean microclimate gives Dos Aguilas olive oils a distinct Santa Cruz terroir. Varieties grown nearby but inland, where it’s hotter, pack a stronger “Tuscan tickle” punch. Dos Aguilas, while still luxuriously flavorful and zesty, is mellower by comparison.
“When I came this morning they were damp with dew,” Wolfe says, reaching out to touch a six-year-old olive tree bearing bundles of small green olives, “so they are getting some salt air in through their leaves. And without the intense heat of the Central Valley, it mellows things out. Not so much pepper in your face.”
The burgeoning olive oil company knew it was on the right track when it picked up the 2014 Best in Class Gold Medal for North Coast Blends at the L.A. International Olive Oil Competition.
in Dos Aguilas oils—much lower than most are able to achieve and a real indicator of quality. The international standard is .8 percent; California’s is .5 percent, says Wolfe. Dos Aguilas clocks in at a very impressive .05 percent.
Dos Aguilas is available at just a handful of locations: el Salchichero in Santa Cruz, Sunnyside Produce in Soquel, Corralitos Market, Deluxe Foods of Aptos, Jones and Bones in Capitola and Crossroads Books in Watsonville.
But one of its most exciting offerings is the annual U-Pick season. Starting in mid-October, olive lovers are invited to pick their own straight from Dos Aguilas’ trees. People have turned out “in droves” in recent years, says Wolfe, so they are expanding the U-Pick portion of the grove, as well as adding classes on how to cure olives and recipes.
Wolfe senses that the DIY and local food movements are bringing some much-needed attention to quality, local olive oils. Dos Aguilas sees itself as olive oil ambassadors, on a mission to re-educate the masses about the misunderstood oil. There’s a lot to learn, but here are some of Wolfe’s key tips.
1. Beware of mislabeling. Know, for instance, that “cold pressed” is an antiquated term that doesn’t carry any weight anymore. If it’s on your label, it’s there to trick you into thinking more highly of the oil.
2. Other than being extra virgin, the most important to know about your oil is its harvest date. Many companies print the bottling date or “best by” date, but it’s best to know how recently your olive oil was harvested.
3. Conventional wisdom holds that olive oil has a shelf life of about two years. Wolfe says it should be one. The younger an oil is, the better, he says. After a year, he says it’s cooking oil, not extra virgin oil.
4. You want to eat it mostly raw. “I like calling it Mediterranean ketchup,” says Wolfe. “It’s good as a topper for things—on top of French bread, on top of beans, on top of sauerkraut, even.” Not to mention as a dressing, which Wolfe has perfected with a mix of Dos Aguilas olive oil, apple cider vinegar, shallots, and touches of honey and sherry vinegar.
5. If it’s in a clear bottle, forget about it. The “real” stuff should be in a dark green bottle to protect the oil from sunlight. Store yours in a cool, dark place.
Visit dosaguilas.com for more information, and be sure to stay tuned for U-Pick information as October nears.
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist living in Santa Cruz, California. In this fruitful region and beyond, she finds the intersections of food, ag, health and the environment to be the most intriguing realms to write about. A bookworm and vegan foodie, the San Diego native has lived in Santa Cruz for a decade, relishing its redwood forests, fresh produce, delicious wines, and sparkling sea.