On a visit to my uncle in Italy a few years ago he took me to his local frantoio, an olive oil press, where anyone who has a few buckets of olives from their own trees can drop them off. The owners of the frantoio, in this case a co-op of local farmers, then press the olives, produce the oil, and a few days later you return to pick up bottles filled with an amount of olive oil equivalent to the weight of olives you left. Before leaving that morning, I had a discussion that I often have with my relatives who can't understand why something so routine to them is so interesting to me. Don't you have frantoios in California, asked my 80-year old uncle, who has rarely stepped outside of his corner of Tuscany? At that point, I had to say no.
Now, I can tell him that we do have frantoios here in California and they are working much like they do in Italy. And, the olive oil is pretty darned good. A couple of weeks ago, some friends invited me to join them on McEvoy Ranch's annual harvest open house, a day when regular clients and guests make their way to the rolling hills along the Marin and Sonoma border where 18,000 olive trees of Italian origin cover about 80 acres. Just like at my uncle's local frantoio, on this day anyone is invited to bring their own olives to press. And, you pick up an equivalent amount of olive oil later on.
McEvoy, which was founded in 1991 by Nan McEvoy, conducts regular ranch tours, but the harvest open house has a bit more to offer: a chance to show off the season's luscious and deep green, freshly pressed oil. There's also opportunities to buy a tree from dozens laid out in the beautiful grounds and consult with Samantha Dorsey (see above) who patiently fields all kinds of questions about types of olives, curing them, and taking care of trees. Judging from the number of people happily carting away the leafy trees more frantoios will be springing up all over California. Check out the McEvoy shop at the San Francisco Ferry Building for more information on olive oils and tree planting. Or, make a note to visit McEvoy web site in March, when they start their public tour program for 2009.
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