When The Artist was growing up, he and his father would go around town gathering olives from the trees. After asking permission from the owners, they would lay out a sheet on the ground and shake the tree vigorously sending the ripe olives cascading onto the sheet. They would gather them up, package and send them to family members on the East Coast for curing. When done, they would get back bottles of homemade olives, just like the family has made for generations, first in Italy and now in America.
Last week I took a drive up North to visit the folks at California Olive Ranch (COR) in Artois, California. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the drive through the extraordinary Central Valley. It had been years since I had driven that far North on I-5 and I was once again in awe of the vastness of the land and the fields stretching to the horizon, filled with acre upon acre of fruit trees and other crops.
With visions of ancient olive groves in the waning sun of Tuscany and my husband as a child shaking trees with his father in my head, I drove through the ranch toward the 5-story processing plant. The first thing I was struck by was the symmetry of the trees. Unlike the Italian style of growing, these trees are methodically pruned and kept at a specific height and width forming one long hedgerow. This is for two reasons: first, it forces dense growth and fruit production and secondly, it allows them to use mechanical harvesters. This allows for easier and faster harvesting without damaging the trees or the olives. These new methods are somewhat controversial but they certainly seem to be working!
The olives are planted on trellis systems similar to wine grapes, and the similarities don’t end there. Both wine grapes and olives thrive in what would otherwise be considered marginal soil. The conditions in the Artois area are virtually identical to Southern Italy so it is no surprise that the quality of olive oil coming out of COR is as good if not better than many imported olive oils. They have won national and international awards in recent years and the future promises many more accolades.
I will go into more detail about the process of making olive oil in tomorrow’s post, today I want to focus on olive oil in baking. There has been a lot of press on the health benefits of olive oil and I am always looking for ways to make healthy food for my family. I cook with it nearly exclusively and after spending a few hours at COR I doubt I will be using any other type of oil in the future.
There are many things that make COR’s olive oils stand out from the crowd. First of all they are all bottled in dark green bottles to protect the oil from harmful UVB light in grocery stores. Every single bottle can be traced back to the exact grower, grove, harvest date and truck they arrived at the plant in guaranteeing its quality. Each bottle’s label has the harvest and bottling dates on it. You can instantly know how long it has been on the shelves and how close it is to its expiration date. Once a bottle has been opened, it should be used within 30 to 60 days. Beyond that and the flavor and aroma will fade.
I had always thought that the lighter the color of the oil, the milder the flavor, but I learned that the intensity of flavor is determined by the variety of olive and its polyphenol levels. Olive oil may not be the first fat that comes to mind when you think of baking, but it is particularly good in chocolate desserts.
Alice Medrich, America’s Chocolate Queen developed today’s recipe to highlight the fruity qualities of CORs Arbequina olive oil. Arbequina olives are grown mostly in Catalonia, Spain having been brought there from Palestine in the seventeenth century by the Duke of Medinaceli. A hearty tree, they have become the primary olive cultivar in California.
Today’s recipe uses a very simple combination of ingredients to produce an intense chocolate bite. They make beautiful gifts or are perfect for a special event dessert. Mini cupcake liners make them easy to serve individually. While the recipe calls for dredging them in cocoa powder, the most traditional coating, you can use anything that you like. Finely chopped nuts, coconut and melted chocolate are all terrific flavors as well.
The recipe calls for placing the ganache in a bowl and chilling it for several hours. I seldom have that much patience, so I usually pour mine onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet (with sides) which cools it much more quickly.
I know the thought of using olive oil in a sweet dessert is a strange idea for a lot of people, but you can trust me on this one, you are going to love these truffles! If you are looking for a special Halloween treat, you can have these made in just a couple of hours and ready for your guests to snack on. Have a wonderful holiday.
- 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (60% to 62% cacao), chopped
- 5-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/3 cup California Olive Ranch® Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably non alkalized or natural)
- 1 organic or unsprayed orange for zesting (optional) washed well
- Place the chopped chocolate, butter, olive oil and salt in top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or up to 3 days) to harden.
- Remove from the refrigerator and let mixture stand at room temperature for 15 or more minutes to soften slightly.
- Spread the cocoa powder in a shallow pie plate or cake pan. If desired, use a Microplane zester to grate zest from half the orange directly over the cocoa.
- Using a tiny scoop or melon baller, scrape it across the surface of the chocolate mixture to form an irregular round truffle, 1-inch or less in diameter. Place truffle into the cocoa powder and shake the pan to roll the truffle in the cocoa. Transfer to a covered container and repeat until all the truffles are shaped and coated.
- Cover the container and store in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before serving.
- Yield: 36 to 40 small truffles