Olive Oils Reveal the Robust Character of the Central Coast

By Tracy Wilson

It’s late morning on a winter weekend at the Ojai Olive Oil Company tasting room, a warehouse tucked amid the olive and orange groves in the Ojai Valley’s verdant east end. Reba and Ron Seba, a friendly couple who work weekends at the tasting room, eagerly greet visitors and offer free tours of the orchards and processing facility – all while extolling the health virtues of extra virgin olive oil generally and the sumptuous character of Ojai olive oil in particular.

“It is so fresh and they really take care of the groves here,” Ron says of the organic, family-owned operation. “The first time I came, I was astonished. I had only had Trader Joe’s olive oil. But this — it has a nice richness and personality.”

Indeed, California olive oils reflect much of the varied and vibrant character of the Golden State, and visitors can sample the best in artisanal olive oil at tasting rooms and farmers markets across the tri-county region. The 2019 winter harvest just ended and local growers are celebrating what could be one of the best yields in years.

California farmers grow the vast majority of olive oil produced nationally, but it is the small-batch extra virgin olive oils produced by boutique farms on the Central Coast that are worth exploring. Varietals from France, Spain, and Italy thrive here, offering unique flavors from mild and buttery to peppery and robust. Many growers have further diversified their products to include herb-infused oils, balsamic vinegars, and olive oil-based soaps, lip balms, and creams.

While online sales account for a solid percentage of their profits, many growers see the tasting room experience as a key part of their mission to teach consumers about flavor profiles, health benefits, cooking tips, and production standards.

“At our tasting room, we really emphasize education, provided in a fun, experiential way,” said Audrey Burnam, co-owner and founder of Kiler Ridge Olive Farm in Paso Robles. “Our olive oil tastings take about 30 minutes, and in the process of tasting five or six of our estate olive oils, we try to provide our visitors with an understanding of what ‘extra virgin’ means, how high-quality extra virgin olive oils are produced, what flavors to look for in authentic extra virgin olive oils, and how to use them.”

Audrey and partner Gregg Bone were inspired to start their own olive farm during a vacation in Tuscany. They left Los Angeles and settled in Paso Robles 16 years ago, planting their first trees. Today, they grow seven different Italian varietals on 15 acres with 2,700 trees. They offer tours and a weekend tasting menu of seasonal dishes highlighting their different oils.

Try enough olive oils and you’ll start to notice the different flavors. It is the best way to determine your own palate preferences. Luckily, there are ample tasting rooms across the Central Coast as well as one fabulous festival devoted to olive oil.

Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival

In May, Paso Robles hosts its annual Olive Oil Festival. The event, now in its 17th year, celebrates olive oil producers from throughout the region with tastings, cooking demonstrations, and ample food vendors showcasing fresh, local ingredients. There is even olive oil ice cream!

The festival will be held on Saturday, May 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. To round out the weekend, there will be a pre-event mixer on Friday and a Brunch-on-a-Farm event on Sunday featuring local olive producers.

Visit www.pasoroblesolivefestival.com for more festival weekend details.

Central Coast tasting rooms

California is a world-class producer of olive oil and much like the state’s wineries, many olive oil growers in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Venture counties welcome visitors for complimentary tastings and tours at their ranches and stores. Here is a listing of some Central Coast tasting rooms and growers, who also offer online sales of their products.

Kiler Ridge Olive Farm

1111 Kiler Canyon Road, Paso Robles

This Tuscan-inspired farm offers educational tours, weekend food pairings, and olive oil tastings that conclude with a small scoop of ice cream finished with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. Tasting fee is $5 per person, but waived with a purchase of olive oil in the amount of $20 or more. On Saturdays and Sundays, complementary tours are available for visitors interested in learning more about growing and production of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

For more: (805) 400-1439 or www.kilerridge.com

Olea Farm

2985 Templeton Road in Templeton, just off Highway 101

Olea Farm’s cozy countryside tasting room is located just outside the town of Templeton in the Paso Robles wine appellation and showcases Olea’s award-winning extra virgin Spanish Arbequina olive oil, two blended extra virgin oils, and flavored lemon and basil olive oils. The tasting room is open weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekdays by appointment and offers free tastings. Private tastings and farm tours for 10 people or more can be pre-arranged for a fee.

For more: (805) 610-2258 or www.oleafarm.com

Montello Olive Oil

784 Main St, Cambria

Owner Lorraine Montello offers tasting experience focused on fresh California olive oil and aged Italian balsamic vinegar. Located in Cambria, her tasting room offers free tastings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in charming downtown Cambria at 784 Main Street. Montello also offers a bottle refill program, recipes, and an assortment of tapenades, mustards, and stuffed olives.

For more: (805) 865-4484 or www.montellotastingroom.com

Olivas de Oro Olive Company

2989 Unit-B Limestone Way, in Paso Robles

Olivas de Oro’s tasting room and shop is located in Tin City, a hip industrial space outside Paso Robles offering craft beer and local wines. Olivas de Oro also sells artisan vinegars and other gourmet products, and offers private dining experiences featuring Spanish-inspired dishes. Try the popular mandarin orange olive oil.

For more: (805) 227-4223 or www.olivasdeoro.com

Pasolivo Olive Oil

Pasolivo has a spacious ranch and downtown Paso Robles locations to sample its olive oil. This family-owned operation also produces a range of specialty foods, luxurious bath and beauty products. You can also reserve a stay at the Pasolivo Penthouse on the Park in downtown Paso Robles or visit one of their three locations.

For more: (805) 226-8800 or www.pasolivo.com

Il Fustino

3401 State St, Santa Barbara

Il Fustino’s store offers tastings of its olive oils and vinegars. In Italian, il fustino means “the tank” and the store greets visitors with gleaming stainless steel tanks crafted in Italy. Come here to taste from the tank and then shop from the pantry of olive oils, vinegars, pasta, and other gourmet goodies. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more: (805) 845-3521 or www.ilfustino.com

Rancho Olivos Olive Oil

2390 N. Refugio R, Santa Ynez

Drop by the Rancho Olivos farm stand in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine country to enjoy free tastings of their artisan olive oils, which include Spanish and Italian blends as well as specialty flavored oils, including jalepeño, garlic, and meyer lemon. The farm stand is open Monday to Thursday from noon to 4 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The ranch is located Santa Ynez.

For more: (805) 686-9653 or www.ranchoolivos.com

Ojai Olive Oil Company

1811 Ladera Rd, Ojai

Located in the east end of the valley, Ojai Olive Oil Company’s rustic tasting room offers free tours of the orchards and processing facility. Sample regular and infused organic olive oils, including pixie tangerine, garlic, rosemary and lemon. Balsamic vinegars, olive oil soaps, lip balm, and creams are also available. Ojai Olive Oil Company bottles can also be purchased at the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, held Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. just off the Downtown Arcade along Ojai Avenue.

For more: (805) 646-5964 or www.ojaioliveoil.com

Ojai Tasting Room

326 E. Ojai Ave, Ojai

Carolïna Gramm offers a curated experience in organic Californian extra virgin olive oil and savory balsamic vinegars from a central tasting room and shop in downtown Ojai. Carolina’s products include a luscious fine skin care line. Hours are generally 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Wednesdays. The tasting room is located in the heart of downtown Ojai.

For more: (805) 798-5900 or www.ojaitastingroom.com