You don’t need to spend too much time living in San Luis Obispo to realize how many opportunities there are for wine tasting. Seriously, there are so many places to try. Unfortunately, wine tasting isn’t available to everyone. I was born in September, so most of my friends had their 21st birthday before me — so I get it.
But there’s another type of local tasting experience anyone can try — olive oil tasting. I love olive oil to begin with, so maybe I’m a little biased, but it really was a lot of fun.
I’ve never been olive oil tasting, so I visited Olea Farm in Templeton to see what it’s all about.
The farm was first planted in 2002 by Yves and Clotilde Julien, who moved to California from France to follow their passion for olive oil. Yves said when he was young, his parents had friends with an olive oil grove in the south of France. His passion about olive oil started early and didn’t go away.
“At the age of 45, we decided, ‘Okay, let’s do the dream,’” Yves said.
While Yves said he and his wife did know a lot about making olive oil when they began the farm, they also studied at UC Davis which was a lot of help.
The couple chose this area for their farm because “it would be a mistake” not to — and Yves said the best place for growing olives has the same weather that’s best for growing grapes. Olive trees need weather that’s not too cold and not too humid, Yves said, and this is a perfect spot to grow them.
“If you take the whole United States, California is the only state where you can grow olive trees,” Yves said.
The farm is also one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been to in this county. I seriously could have stayed and walked through the grove all day.
When the Juliens started Olea Farm, almost no other local places made olive oil, Yves said. They intended for it to be a way to make oil just for themselves, but gave some to friends who came back and asked to buy more. The farm grew from there.
The farm sells oil to 33 restaurants and catering businesses around the area and in Los Angeles, Yves said. The Juliens also travel to other local olive oil farms and make oil for them using Olea Farm’s mobile mill — Yves said its the biggest one in the world and makes two tons of oil an hour.
Olea Farm makes six types of olive oil and lets visitors taste for free.
Each Olea Farm oil is distinctly different and completely delicious. The tastes differ based on several things, including the time of year the olives were harvested and where the olives are from. Yves said his favorite oil is the Spanish Arbequina oil because it has all of the aspects that olive oil should have: pungency, bitterness, fruitiness and a “nice aftertaste.” It’s also extremely popular with the public — Yves said the Arbequina usually wins some sort of award every year.
The farm also sells other products including vinegars, honey and body butter and hand lotion with olive oil.
Olea Farm’s oil became popular right away, Yves said — not because it was the best, but because there were no other options. People were curious and wanted to learn more about olive oil — they were used to it coming from Europe, he said.
Yves had me try a brand of the standard European oil you can buy at a local grocery store, and it was a huge disappointment after the Olea Farm oil. Yves described it as water.
When people discovered that oil could be made in California, they wondered why European oil was so different, Yves said. Europe has good oil, but Europeans keep it for themselves, Yves said. In California, olive oil labeled “extra virgin” is required to be 100 percent extra virgin, Yves said, whereas in Europe that’s not the rule — the majority of the oil can be lower quality, and as long as it has some extra virgin, it can still have that label.
The Juliens didn’t plan on Olea Farms becoming the operation it is today, Yves said. Within two years of planting trees, the property was too small to keep up with the business. The farm now has trees on various other local pieces of land and takes care of the trees and buys back the fruit. It has 1,200 trees on the farm and 10,000 total. That’s a lot of oil. But Yves isn’t complaining and said Olea Farms plans to keep growing.
“The problem is not to sell the oil — the problem is to have enough,” Yves said. “It’s a good disease.”