Just like a fine wine, or a pure chocolate, discovering a high-quality olive oil requires time, a lot of tasting, and quite a bit of education. And just like you learn about the qualities of wine from a good wine sommelier, learning what is in a pristine bottle of olive demands the expertise of an olive oil sommelier (yes, that is a thing!), or an expert farmer. Luckily, not too far off our local backroads, we have one of the Bay Area’s finest olive oil locations, where they grow, harvest, press and bottle a local, liquid gold and sell it up the street from the olive grove. Learning what makes this East County olive oil so special demands a bit of a lesson in Brentwood, a taste of history on olive oil, and a discussion of how to distinguish a fine olive oil. We also offer a peak into the location where you can purchase your own bottle of this Brentwood delicacy.
How Olives Came to East County
History books tell us that the olive was native to Asia minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean over 6,000 years ago. The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees around the world, some stories telling that the olive tree existed before spoken language did. From the Mediterranean, the olive tree spread throughout Southern Europe and into northern Africa. The olive, and olive oils, gained their notoriety from the early Greek and the Romans. As the oil has always been revered as sacred, it was used in religious Christian ceremonies – which is how they ended up in California. Catholic missionaries coming to California for missionary purposes, brought with them the olive tree for food and ceremonial uses. In fact, most California 4th graders learn that the missionaries planted olive trees at all of California’s 21 missions in the 18th century.
Fast forward several hundred years, and you find yourself sitting atop one of the rolling hills of the far East County surrounded by groves of Spanish varietals of olives. In 2000, lifelong residents Sean and Maria McCauley planted a robust olive grove on their property. Olive trees are known to be weather resilient and require little water, making them ideal for the long dry summers of East County. But, the McCauley’s selected to cultivate olive trees because the they are beautiful, and at the time, the growers were not quite sure how they wanted to farm their beautiful acreage.
Jump forward a few more years, and the McCauley family found themselves inundated with olives. Not knowing what to do with the abundance of fruit, they began to harvest and crush the olives to try their hand at making olive oil. Their first year of olive crushing left them with a mere 25 gallons of Brentwood’s first olive oil. The unique and buttery taste, stemming from the rich Delta farmland, was a major hit for the local community and demand increased. Today, McCauley Olive Groves produce over 10,000 gallons annually.
What Makes A Fine Olive Oil?
Again, just like a fine wine or a high-quality chocolate, not all olive oils are the same. Even how the olive oil is made can impact the overall qualities of an olive oil, including taste, aroma, color and texture. To find a truly supreme olive oil, you have to look for a few core characteristics:
- type of olive
- how the oil is extracted from the olive
However, other traits such as how the fruit was grown, harvested, milled into oil, and how the oil is packaged and transported all can impact the overall quality of an oil. Other qualities that are assessed in high end olive oils are traits such a shelf life and health benefits.
When it comes to purchasing the finest olive oils, you want to find a virgin olive oil, which basically means the oil is taken from the olive using purely mechanical, or physical conditions. The words refined, or pomace mean that there has been some sort of chemical treatment used to process the oil. Many bottles come with the term “extra virgin” on the labeling. Currently, there are no federal standards to guarantee that an oil labeled as extra virgin, is extra virgin. The California Olive Oil Council will certify an oil as extra virgin when it meets the Council’s strict standards. These standards include laboratory evaluation that no heat or chemicals were used to extract the oils as well as a series of taste panels used for sensory evaluations of taste that will demonstrate flavor defects that occur due to milling errors, or problems in transportation, storage or bottling.
Hence, the best olive oils are best when they are fresh pressed. This means, the more quickly an olive is pressed after harvesting, the better the olive oil that will be produced. The closer a mill is to the olive tree grove, the more quickly the olives can be rinsed in cold water, separated from stems and leaves and be pressed. The shorter the window of time, the better, and healthier, the olive oil will be. Experts will also tell you the oil will taste much nicer as well. To take advantage of the best health benefits, the oil should then be consumed within 18 months of pressing.
What Makes McCauley’s Olive Oil Superior?
The olives that are grown, harvested, pressed, bottled and sold from McCauley’s Olive Grove are an overlooked treasure in California. If you review what makes an olive oil superior, the oils produced by McCauley all fit the bill.
- First, the 3 Spanish varietals that are grown within the expansive, and expanding, olive grove are all recognized and celebrated for the oils they produce. As some olives are better designed to be eaten, the olive trees on their property are best harvested for their delectable oils.
- Second, the olives are grown on the rich Delta soils. These lands have been known to be nutrient saturated for decades, and one of the reasons this far East Contra Costa Delta community has been recognized for superior quality produce farms for decades. The mineral rich soil is ideal for cultivating rich, flavorful, robust fruits and vegetables. The olive trees are no exception.
- Third, the harvest of McCauley Olive Groves is an intricate production that ensures minimal handling of the fruit. Early harvests were done solely by the McCauley family. The operation has expanded beyond the initial five faces, but still ensures only the highest quality harvest standards.
- Fourth, the handling and transportation of the olive oil is minimal. Directly from the olive grove, the olives are transported down a short track of Vasco Road to their mulling plant. At the plant, the olives are washed in cold water and separated from the stems and leaves that get trapped in the harvest. The fruit is then cold pressed. “Cold Pressed” is a process in and of itself but ensures the high-quality olive oil. This important step preserves the taste, and the integrity, of a superior product.
- Fifth, all the storage and bottling of the oils happen right at the McCauley Olive Groves. The entire process is completed in-house and ensures minimal handling, the correct conditions for storing and bottling, and incredibly fresh olive oils being sold to customers every day of the year. There is no place in East County where you can get virgin olive oil as fresh, and as locally produced, as you do a McCauley’s Country Store.
Brentwood residents have been enjoying the golden liquid from McCauley’s for years. But, we think it is time the rest of the state knew about this hidden gold mine in the local backroads of Brentwood.
Where Can You Find It?
McCauley’s variety of olive oils is available online, at local Farmer’s Markets, several East Bay retailers and from their online store. A visit to their Country store cannot be overlooked. Not only will you find their pure olive oils available in a wide variety of sizes, you will be invited to an olive oil tasting! McCauley’s Country store boasts a dozen varietals in olive oils. You can find anything from lemon and basic infused olive oils to jalapeño, Chipotle and garlic blends. We had the opportunity to complete a tasting and each and every flavor was a phenomenal culinary moment. My personal favorite was the unique taste of the lime infused oil and a bright oregano infused oil.
As you wander through the Country Store, you will be inundated in all the local goodies they have in stock. There is a rich variety of balsamic vinegar from Napa that blend ideally with their olive oils. There are pastas, local honeys, a wall full of stuffed olive varieties, and even olive oil-based soaps and lotions. Making the lotion and body-care lines even more special is the fact the soaps are made from the olive oil the McCauley family grows right outside in the nearest fields. Regardless of what you are looking for, or perhaps do not know you are looking for, the local delicacies that fill store shelves and gift baskets, are exceptionally tasty. And for repeat customers, if you bring in your olive oil bottles back, they will refill them for a discount…helping reduce waste and promote environmentally sound business practices so welcomed in the local community.
Visit McCauley Olive Grove Country Store at
- Website: McCauleyOliveGroves.com
- Address: 380 W Country Club Dr. Suite G
Brentwood, CA 94513
Love Olive Oil? Explore
If you love olive oil, or are even just curious about olive oil, McCauley’s Olive Grove and Country Store are the perfect places to begin your local backroad adventures. If you are ready to branch out beyond Brentwood, here are some great places to visit.
Lucero Olive Oil – located in Corning, California
Chacewater Winery and Olive Mill – located in Kelseyville, California
Kiler Ridge Olive Farm – Paso Robles, California