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Willow Creek Olive Ranch

A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine and Pasolivo Oil

Bitter, peppery and will make you cough. To the layman, this is probably not the most appetizing description when it comes to olive oil. But as Joeli Yaguda prepared us for a tasting at her family’s Willow Creek Olive Ranch, she assured us that these were good qualities. Then she poured.

The olive press
The olive press

In the up-and-coming Central California wine region of Paso Robles, home to dozens of charming boutique wineries, tastings are the main attraction. Usually, though, the glass you sniff and sip from contains a liquid made from grapes. But at Willow Creek, it is the ranch’s signature extra virgin Pasolivo olive oil that is decanted into small, bulbous, cobalt blue cups—blue so that the taster cannot see the color of the oil.

Joeli was hosting us in the ranch’s intimate, sun-filled tasting room, which has been open to visitors on the weekends since July of 2004. (The ranch has been selling to the public since 2000). The tasting room can be found on bucolic Vineyard Drive, where deer graze in fields, falcons soar overhead and the lack of traffic will make you question ever tackling Napa’s Silverado Trail again. Outside on the porch, the family dog lazed in the shade. Inside, behind Joeli through a large plate glass window, we could see the olive press.

Joeli explained that the first aspect we would examine in the oil was its fruitiness. This refers to the aroma, which should carry over into the taste. We inhaled, and the scents were distinct. Grass, tea leaves and artichoke. As instructed, we each held a cup in the palm of one hand and placed the other hand over the top. While the oil warmed, we learned that because olive oil has a shelf life of 18 months, checking the date of harvest on a bottle is important. In addition, pressing time is also crucial. Since the ranch has its own press, Pasolivo can be estate pressed within the optimum 48 hours of harvest. In one case, it was pressed within two hours. This is where the bitterness comes in. A rich, deep and slightly bitter oil means that the fruit was fresh when it was pressed.

Pasolivo olive oil

Once the oil was warmed, we sipped and held just the smallest amount on our tongues, breathing in and out and in again. When we finally swallowed, the aromas did not mislead (or disappoint). The flavors were rich: grassy, vegetal, peppery in the back of the throat. These distinctive tastes come from a blend of five Tuscan varieties grown on the property: Frantoio, Leccino, Lucca, Moraiolo and Pendolino. A dramatic combination that originated after Joeli’s mother-in-law, Karen, tasted an oil in the Italian town of Greve.

The Greve epiphany occurred after the ranch was established. When the family acquired the property fifteen years ago, everyone else in the little known area was planting grapes. But Karen’s research revealed that the climate was also ideal for olives. The ranch’s first bottlings were California varieties, admirable but lacking the Tuscan blends’ strength and pungency, well-suited to American palates. Fortunately, Karen did not fear introducing such bold, startling flavors to the U.S. Instead, she believed this was the kind of oil Willow Creek should be making. If the 2,000 gallons the ranch bottled last year are proof, Karen’s instincts were correct.

Today the ranch uses twelve varieties of olives. There is still a California blend, and along with the signature extra virgin there is a lemon oil, made by crushing Meyer lemon peels with the olives; with a surprising hint of mint, it makes an excellent complement for Thai food. Forthcoming (and back by popular demand after selling out a few years ago): an orange oil made with Minneolas. Willow Creek will also customize bottles. In fact, we first learned of the ranch when we attended a wedding in Paso Robles and were given small bottles as gifts at the reception.

Personalized attention: to technique, to flavors, to aesthetics, to service. It is this—and Joeli’s hint to use the orange oil when making brownies—that sets Willow Creek Olive Ranch apart.

Willow Creek Olive Ranch, 8530 Vineyard Dr., Paso Robles, CA 93446, 805-227-0186, www.pasolivo.com.

by Kim Fay

More Features:
Bariani Olive Oil
Chateau Gayot Olive Oil

More Olive Oils

The Olive Harvest Cookbook
The Olive in California: History of an Immigrant Tree
The Flavors of Olive Oil

Olive Oil Cake

(Updated: 09/28/09 SG)

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