Last week I was introduced to the southern Central Valley by Vincent Ricchiuti, a fourth generation farmer who carries on the tradition of his family’s 100-year-old farm while issuing in new ways of thinking about value-added products. Vincent is the force behind ENZO Olive Oil Company, an award-winning organic extra virgin olive oil producer.
The ENZO Olive Oil estate occupies P-R Farms land near Madera. I arrived via the highway 99 overpass, which offers spectacular views of grapevines and olive trees set against the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. It is this idyllic image of Southern California agriculture, captured in countless postcards, that drew thousands to live in the Eden of California.
California agriculture is being forced to evolve. Pressures range from increased South American imports to rising labor costs. Vincent’s father Patrick followed Fresno State’s Agriculture Department in its experiments with high-yielding olives with interest, aware of the possibilities these machine-picked varietals offered to stone fruit. Olives additionally have a lesser demand for water, which is now a major challenge for Central Valley farmers.
There is also an ancestral tie that this Italian American family has to olive oil production. Vincent told me of the impactful trip he took to his family’s ancestral home in Bari, Italy to purchase pressing equipment. The olive milling process includes the following steps:
- Whole olives, including the pit, are first crushed by an electric hammer mill crusher and turned into a paste.
- The paste is then pumped into the Malaxer, which helps stir the olive paste and extract oil from the olive cells. After 40-45 minutes, puddles of extra virgin olive oil will begin to form on the surface of the paste.
- From there, the paste is pumped into a decanter, a horizontal centrifuge which spins at 3000rpm. This separates the solids from the liquids.
- The liquids are then pumped into an additional vertical centrifuge which operates at 7000rpm. This process separates out any remaining water from the initial olives.
- The extra virgin olive oil is now in its final stage where it is collected into tanks and ready to be bottled as Olio Nuovo (New Oil) or held in storage to allow for natural filtration.