I always do some research on a company when I write about its products, and O Olive Oil was no exception! I had the chance to speak with Mario Aranda, Vice President of O. He’s been with them for over ten years, and the growth and recognition that O has experienced has been rewarding to him.
Mario shared with me the stories of O’s olive trees. The company sources from small family farms in Butte County, California, which is about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento. These farms practice biodynamic farming, which is, briefly, a method that emphasizes the entire ecosystem over simply the crops. The farms do not use herbicides or pesticides, and maintain sustainable farming practices, for instance, by using natural fertilizers. O has been working with these farms for 10-15 years, so they know the exact quality of the olives and the people who worked with them. In many cases, the olive trees that provide O’s olives date back to the times of the Spanish missions in California—they’re hundreds of years old. In some cases, the same families have tended the trees the entire time.
The force behind O is founder Greg Hinson. Back in the 1990s, when he was living with his family in Italy, he would visit small villages. While touring their olive oil–making operations, he noticed that the locals cleaned their presses by pressing lemons. The oil that resulted was delicious, but never reached market. The oil makers always kept it for themselves. When Hinson returned to the U.S., he began experimenting with Meyer lemons, and the first O citrus olive oil was born. He started small, bottling at a friend’s restaurant. When the oil crossed the path of renowned chef Michael Mina, he began ordering it for his restaurants. The accolades quickly stacked up. The company gained exposure through word of mouth, eventually gaining attention and praise from Good Morning America, Oprah Winfrey, Saveur Magazine, and the New York Times, among other media outlets.
So what could Olive Oil have in common with cheese, apart from pairing and cooking possibilities? It looks like that new producers in both areas are getting positive recognition. Just as non-European cheesemakers are gaining respect and fans, non-European olive oil producers are gaining exposure and respect. What I think sets this new generation apart is their creativity. They respect traditional methods, but they don’t feel confined by it. For instance, O offers a staggering array of citrus oils extending beyond the basic lemon—there is jalapeno lime, clementine, and ruby grapefruit. Their wine vinegar list includes champagne, honey apple, and porto. Sometimes these new flavors succeed, sometimes they don’t, but this is what keeps me watching food.
Thank you very much to the people at O Olive Oil Company, especially CFO CJ Spady and Vice President Mario Aranda!