Outside Hollister below the majestic foothills that lead the way to Pinnacles National Park is Oils of Paicines, a small family-run business that produces award-winning, certified organic extra virgin olive oil.
“Some of the olive trees are more than 50 years old,” said Barbara Rever, who owns the thousand-acre farm with husband, Jerry Ginsburg.
The couple, who are both physicians—Rever is a nephrologist and Ginsburg a cardiologist—started Oils of Paicines in 1999 when they decided to harvest all the olives on their property and found they had in their possession a bumper crop.
“We only had 80 trees at that time, and with our neighbors’ 40 trees we got a thousand bottles of olive oil that first harvest—we have about 1,300 trees now,” said Rever. “That is when we went into business; we did not know what to do with all of this olive oil.”
Now the business is producing thousands of bottles of extra virgin olive oil more per year and using it in value-added products, including a line of bath and body products, gourmet mustards and loose leaf tea.
“We have the most wonderful mustards,” said Rever. “We work with people from Pennsylvania—Baptists who live like they did 200 years ago. They take the oil and mix it with mustard seed and other ingredients to make the mustards.”
Mustard flavors are Bavarian beer, cider mountain and classic Dijon.
“All our extra virgin olive oil is certified organic as is the olive leaf tea, which is hand-picked and the leaves dried in the sun,” said Shelley Hartman, who manages the sales and marketing side of the business. “The line of bath and body products all use organically grown herbs.”
The company also imports a very high quality balsamic vinegar from Italy.
To get the most out of their crop, the couple grow Mission olives, a high-yielding variety that was introduced to California in the 1700s by the Spanish missionaries.
“The Mission olive produces a lot of oil per olive, other varietals like those from Italy produce a little less per olive. Olive trees become most productive between 40–50 years old and most of our’s are 10–12 years old,” said Rever. “Olive trees can actually live a thousand years. It also depends on the soil, weather and whether you irrigate, and we do irrigate our trees, but we did not for a number of years.”
Indeed, the olive tree is drought-tolerant and Rever said many olive growers dry farm. Last year’s rains, however, have made the olive trees on the property bushy and iridescent.
Before starting the business, Rever and her husband would can their olives to preserve them, but it is a very arduous task, she said.
When asked what compelled them to start the business, when they both have such busy careers, Rever said it was a new food trend that was taking over California in the 90s that convinced them to go for it. Olive oil became vogue and diners everywhere were dipping bread into little bowls of olive oil and balsamic vinegar before their main course. And just like that, Oils of Paicines was born.
Now their extra virgin olive oil can be found at independent markets, restaurants, delis and at a ranch stand at their Paicines farm.
Their olives are hand-picked in November, when the olives turn from green, purple to black.
“We used to harvest quite late in December or January when we first started but we have noticed the olives are maturing earlier,” said Rever.
Once harvested, the olives are immediately sent to a mill in Hollister.
“We press at Pietra Santa in Hollister where they have a stone press from Italy, which many people say adds sweetness to the oil when pressed,” said Rever. “We are very fortunate that we do not have to travel very far. It usually takes us 2–3 days to pick all the olives. The minute we finish in the evening it goes straight to Hollister and pressed within 24 hours. We take daily trips to the mill during harvest.”
When the oil is returned to the farm it is stored in bins for a few months to allow the flavor to go from peppery to buttery.
Before it can be labeled extra virgin, the olive oil is sent to a lab in Oklahoma to check it meets stringent criteria. Four years ago a study by the University of California at Davis found that nearly 70 percent of olive oil labeled “extra virgin” was anything but.
Since Oils of Paicines started at the turn of the millennium, the California olive oil industry has blossomed as consumer demand for quality extra virgin olive oil grew.
“California and Arizona are the only two states in the U.S. that can grow olives—the weather has to be cold and then warm,” said Rever. “In the last 10 years there has been a burgeoning of olive farms all over the state and there are mills throughout California.”
According to the California Olive Oil Council, there are more than 40 mills in California with more under construction or expanding.
Last year, the state’s 400 olive growers produced 3.5 million gallons of extra virgin olive oil and as of this August, there are over 40,000 acres planted in California for the production of extra virgin olive oil, with an estimated 3,500 new acres to be planted each year in the state through 2020, according to the industry group.
“Just like winemakers, olive oil makers are very passionate about their products,” said Rever, whose extra virgin olive oil took home the gold ribbon for its class at the Napa Valley olive oil competition last year.
And for her and her husband, whose day-jobs put them at the forefront of people’s health, the heart-healthy properties of their passion product are another reason to celebrate.
“There are many medicinal effects of extra virgin olive oil,” said Rever. “It’s a monounsaturated oil and we don’t encourage people to cook it at high temperatures but to use it as a garnish on salads, fish, bread and vegetables. There has been indications that extra virgin olive oil may have effects to prevent certain cancers and because it is an antioxidant it has anti-inflammatory properties so it may help with joint diseases. It may also decrease blood pressure if taken regularly. As a main ingredient in a Mediterranean diet, we have seen much lower incidences of cardiovascular disease in those populations.”
Oils of Paicines will be showcased at next month’s Olive Festival.
“The Olive Festival has been a wonderful addition to this county,” said Rever.
Oils of Paicines, we-love-olive-oil.myshopify.com. 831-389-4263.
San Benito Olive Festival is on Saturday, October 14 at San Benito County Historical Park in Tres Pinos.