Penna California Olives
Maurice Penna is probably California’s most innovative olive processor. His products have been featured in these pages before. Now he has come up with several new products which I would like to make you aware of.
Olivasecca is a new, pitted dry olive that is perfect for nibbling on. Its culinary and snacking possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Produced from dry grown, fully ripe manzanillo olives, fermented, pitted, then dehydrated, Olivasecca does not have the intense salty taste of traditional salt cured dry olives. Macerated in good oil, herbs and spices, they are wonderful with aperitifs. Adding Olivasecca to stews gives a flavor lift and provides depth to the sauce. Eaten out of hand, Olivasecca has a meaty, savory flavor, that is more-ish.
Penna varietal olives like Kalamon, take their flavor from the traditional curing process. The Penna Kalamon olives are cured like the Greek original, have the same taste, but are Californian through and through. (They cannot be called Kalamata, a place in Greece, but are called by their varietal name, Kalamon.) As far as I know, these are unique in California. Give a California twist to a “Greek” Salad with Penna’s Kalamon olives.
The Spicy Black Ripe Olives are large, naturally ripe manzanillo olives, fermented, then pitted and spiced with peppers and garlic. Put a bowl of these on the table and watch them disappear.
Besides olives Maurice Penna has begun to make other hors d’oeuvres preparations, enticing anytime, but splendid for summer entertaining. His Asiago and Parmesan Dip is one of these with others on the way. Here Asiago and Parmesan cheeses are grated together, spiced and mixed with olive oil for a cheesy, savory, but not pungent spread, that only needs good bread to be spread on. Crostini made with this spread could not be easier to make.
(N.B. According to Maurice, the olive crop in the upper Sacramento Valley at Orland and vicinity has been hit hard by a freeze in April, just before flowering. In some orchards there will be no crop on manzanillo and sevillano trees. This will definitely have its effect on olive availability and prices.)
It might seem strange to speak of olive groves in cold Berkeley. They are not in Berkeley but in Oroville, Butte County. This is the name of a project started in 1913 by a group of 28 young University of California professors –none in agriculture–as a retirement scheme. Four hundred acres of orchard were planted to mission trees, then popular. It worked well, and by 1922 was in full swing. It fell into dis-use about 1960. A unique agricultural enterprise even for California, it has now been reactivated.
In 2004, as a motion picture and real estate development dropout, Darro Grieco and his wife Olivia, purchase the original property for environmental considerations and his incipient interest in olive oil. Not having been used for some years, the orchard was considered for redevelopment, but was coveted for its certified organic situation. Darro Grieco showed me some samples from the 2007 production and one lot of only 13 gallons I found to be an exceptional Mission oil. This we bought and had labeled as selected by Corti Brothers.
Mission is the “native” variety in California. It was planted at the Missions, hence its name, and has a very narrow window for the production of fine, balanced oil. Picked early, it is very bitter; picked late it is flat. The Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 Mission oil we offer is a wonderful example of well made Mission oil with medium fruitiness, some pungency and a light bitterness with a harmonious finish. It is perfect for summer tomatoes.
This is a very good introduction to Mission oil. If you want to create a mental data base of oil characteristics, the Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 Mission would be the proper place to begin.