Nestled deep in the rolling hills beneath Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Ynez Valley of California lies Figueroa Farms, a family owned olive orchard since 2001.
Given the opportunity to meet with the owner, Shawn Addison, I set off on a majestic, breathtaking drive to the property that left me slightly in a state of wanderlust as I truly felt transported to another region of the world. I was genuinely curious and excited to learn about harvesting olives and how once picked, they are processed into the olive oil that we are all love.
Figueroa Farms owner, Shawn Addison
Though the fertile land is optimal for growing olives, it’s also home to many inhabitants ranging from rattlesnakes, deer, wild pigs and quail. That didn’t stop us from walking amongst the 9 different varietals of over 4,300 olive trees. Though we were careful to watch where we walked, it was well worth the adventure to get towards the top and look down at the incredible view over the surrounding orchards and valley.
View of the estate in the Santa Ynez Valley
The drought has been particularly tough on this region of California. Generally by this time of year they get 20-25 inches of rain, this year it’s rained only 4 inches to date. It’s seen in the orchards by the dry vegetation and lack of fruit on the trees. Nonetheless, we were able to get our hands on some ripening olives that will be harvested in October.
Did you know that freshly picked olives right from the tree are very bitter? It’s the process of curing them that makes them delicious and/or eventually pressed to make olive oil!
Their handcrafted quality combined with a modern mill facility on the property provides them with an opportunity to capture a loyal following due to their award-winning oils.
The process starts with hand-picking the olives using a mesh net that when stripped from the branches makes it easier and more efficient to contain the fruit. Olives are picked anywhere from a ripened stage of green to deep purple depending on what their overall goal and flavor profile is (a green olive and purple olive are the same, they are just picked at the earlier ripened stage).
Once picked, fruit is sorted into shallow, well-ventilated bins that allow them to stay cool. Ready to be harvested and turned into olive oil, it takes approximately 1.25 hours from start to finish once the fruit has entered the mill. This is done utilizing a series of machines that results in the final product being stored in large blue barrels appropriately labeled.
Here at Figueroa Farms, they bottle olive oil into four exclusive brands; Camino al Cielo (grown exclusively in California), Organic Estate Blend (95% estate grown), Italian Varietal (Santa Ynez) and Balzana.
Did you know that the Manzanillo olive is the most popular olive grown and harvested due to its mild palette?
We were given the opportunity to sample a few of the oils produced at the orchard. When tasting olive oil, you are looking for three characteristics to define its quality — fruitiness (aroma), bitterness (sides of the tongue), and pungency (peppery in the throat). These characteristics really vary between types of oil and will help define your preference.
Things do do in Santa Barbara County: If you’d like to try any of their olive oils, order from The Olive Source to choose from a wide-range of available options. It was truly a wonderful experience visiting Figueroa Farms and the experience gave me a greater appreciation for the artisanal craft of making high quality olive oils.
By: Kristin Mansky