The search for California’s best liquid gold revealed that a river of excellent extra virgin olive oil runs through wine country.
The Olive Press Sevillano extra virgin olive oil won best in show in the commercial competition, which was added this year to the State Fair’s roster of agricultural contests. The Olive Press also won divisional awards for both the Sevillano and its citrus-infused blood orange olive oil, plus four gold medals, three silvers and a bronze.
“We are thrilled to win best of show at the inaugural California State Fair olive oil competition,” said Nancy Cline, owner of The Olive Press. “Our goal is to support the growth of the California olive oil industry, and being a part of more competitions in state, especially statewide fairs, is huge for the olive oil community.”
So far in 2015, The Olive Press has won 62 medals for its oils.
Among the flavored oils, Nick Sciabica & Sons of Modesto won best of show for its jalapeño extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil makers since 1936, Sciabica’s also won a gold medal for its basil-infused olive oil.
According to the judges’ notes, a best-of-show award signified “a phenomenal oil, showing consummate skill and artistry in growing the fruit, extracting the oil, blending and conserving the oil.”
The State Fair judges divided extra virgin olive oil into several divisions based on origin (if the oil was made from a single olive variety or blends) as well as such characteristics as delicate, medium or robust flavor profiles. In all, more than 40 California olive oil companies won medals in this inaugural competition, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
The best-of-show winners will be honored June 23 on the steps of the state Capitol along with top winners for the State Fair’s annual wine, beer and cheese competitions. In addition, several of the winning oils will be part of the “Best of California” tasting event that same day as well as tastings at a new olive oil exhibit at the State Fair, which runs July 10-26 at Cal Expo. Aimed at commercial buyers, the Best of California event is by invitation only.
Judging was held May 7 in the clubhouse of Cal Expo’s main grandstand. The contest was open to commercial oils, using only olives grown, processed and packed in California. The panel of 13 olive oil experts sampled 140 entries.
“Our goal was 100 entries, so for an inaugural contest, that total was really fantastic,” said State Fair media director Lara Popyack.
Olive oil ranks among the state’s oldest farm products, but is also among California’s fastest-growing agricultural industries, thanks to America’s current appetite for olive oil. Half of all American cooks now consider olive oil a staple. Almost all olive oil produced in the United States is California grown.
“It was an honor to work on this inaugural California State Fair olive oil competition,” said Alexandra Devarenne, the contest’s chief judge. “Mother Nature sent the California olive oil producers a difficult year, but they rose to the challenge. We tasted many outstanding extra virgin olive oils that showcased the skills of the farmer and the miller, resulting in complex and delicious California olive oils that will be a joy to use at the table.”