One finds Ojai Olive Oil Company at the end of a dirt, rut-filled road. It’s a bit bumpy, but after the meandering up through the neighborhoods, the tight u-turn after a missed turnoff, and the increasing lushness and ever-crowding foliage we enter another world.
The day is overcast and the main building looks more barrack than business, but once the door is entered, we’re greeted with smiles and invitations to step into the tasting room and to sample the product at our will. We do not hesitate further.
First the olive oils: Tuscan organic extra-virgin olive oil with a flavor of grass and pepper, Provençale organic EVOO with a hint of sweetness and fruit, and Andalusian organic EVOO has a sharp snap to it. All are bottled in deep blue glass bottles with gold labels, either squared 250ml or long, slender 375ml in size.
The infused olive oils are potent with flavors of mandarin, basil, garlic, rosemary, and lemon. At $17 for 250ml, it’s difficult to choose, but after another round of tasting to narrow the field, the garlic infusion wins out (and we have been delighted with the results).
The traditional balsamic vinegar is syrupy and dessert-like (i.e., magical), the white balsamic solid and tangy. The other balsamic are infused with fig, peach, pomegranate, tangerine, raspberry, blackberry, and cinnamon—all flavors distinctive and strong, though not overpowering.
We speak with Alice Asquith, wife of Ronald (who passed away in 2013) and learn that the company was founded by her husband in 1999. Over 100 olive trees were part of the 35 acres of land he purchased—and those had been planted between 1860 and 1880.
Note: We’ve learned from the website that the olives from these trees were sent to Cordoba, Spain for testing. The result: “the trees (are) a reputable Spanish variety called Lechin de Sevilla.”
Asquith produced his first olive oil in 2000, then proceeded to plant several varieties of olive trees including French Columella and Picholine; Italian Fantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino; a Spanish tree called Hojiblanca; and a Sicilian Noccelara del Belice. In 2013, the company’s “signature” EVOO was awarded “Best in Show” by the California Olive Oil Council.
It was cold when we arrived and inside is chillier; the young woman at the cashier wears a down jacket. Alice is initially over to the side where huge silver olive oil vats commandeer the space, so visitors see right into the operation (and learn more so on a tour). She’s an engaging, entertaining woman with an easy way with a story—and the history—of the impressive business she built right alongside her husband.
Ojai Olive Oil Company, 1811 Ladera Ridge Road (off Hermitage Rd), Ojai 93023. Tasting Room hours: Mon. & Tues., 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Wed., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thurs. & Fri., 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; and Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tel. 1.805.646.5964. OjaiOliveOil.com.
Free educational talk and tasting on Wednesdays, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. No reservations required.
Tours happen not at an exact time, but once enough people show up; about one per hour. Each tour takes 25 to 45 minutes, “depending on the size and disposition of the group.”
Photo, olives, top right: Pixabay.com.