March 2021: The anatomy of a batch

Here in Oakland, we are preparing our June shipment to subscribers. Looking back, our March shipment was a textbook case of what Fat Gold is all about—what we aspire to do in the world—so we thought it would be interesting to break it down in some detail.

And, since we’re selling the little bit extra that remains in our online shop, if this “anatomy of a batch” entices you to try a tin, perhaps as a preview of how a Fat Gold subscription feels… well, that’s a bonus!

We say that we are a “small-batch” olive oil producer, and we mean something specific by that. We think it’s important to know the provenance of our olives, and to tell their story all the way to the tin. (Including the harvest date on the label is, of course, the absolute bare minimum version of this—and one that too many producers don’t bother with.) For our subscription shipments in particular, it is often the case that one batch comes from one grove on one day.

In November 2020, three mornings in a row, we picked up a batch of frantoio olives from Panacea Farms in Vernalis, California. The grove there is well-established, the trees planted wide. A grove doesn’t have to be beautiful to produce great olives and great oil, but, when you’re rolling up in a truck every morning, it doesn’t hurt.

Here’s Kathryn with Panacea’s owner, Kacie Klein:

Kathryn and Kacie in front of the lovely grove

All three mornings, we drove the olives from Vernalis to Jeff Martin’s mill in San Martin, about an hour away. Same olives; same mill; different days. And, you guessed it: the oils are all different!

To set the stage, we should tell you about the frantoio olive generally. It’s the most ubiquitous variety in Tuscany; in fact, the word for “olive mill” in Italian is “frantoio,” which tells you everything you need to know. It is THE oil olive of central Italy.

Today, frantoio is popular to grow in California, too. Even compared to other oil olives, frantoio tends to have a high oil content. That oil, in turn, tends to be very balanced; though it’s notoriously robust, it also has plenty of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency, AND it’s high in antioxidant phenols.

Basically: frantoio is a winner.

But what about these frantoio olives in particular?

Two of the three batches went to subscribers in our March shipment.

Frantoio Green and Frantoio Purple tins, side by side

The oil we made from the olives on the first day is elegant and smooth. Its flavors are precise and clean: fresh green olive and green almond. There’s even a little cinnamon in the aroma. We called this one Frantoio Green.

The oil we made from the olives on the second day is robust and rustic. It’s spicy and bitter, with more aggressive flavors: artichoke and arugula. We called this one Frantoio Purple.

These olives were hand-harvested by the crew at Panacea Farms. That’s a mark of distinction, because all the other fruit we sourced this year was harvested by machine—either a small, clever repurposed pistachio harvester or a goliath over-the-row harvester engineered just for olive trees.

The fact that the olives were hand-harvested means these batches are among this year’s most expensive to produce. We thought it might be interesting to show you a cost breakdown for the oil in one of these tins:

Fat Gold price breakdown

As you can see, the most expensive ingredient is the labor required to get the olives off the tree. Milling comes next, and then the fruit itself. The oil doesn’t do us any good trapped in its cells, stuck on the tree; we need to get it off and out. That’s the essence, and expense, of this substance.

And that’s the anatomy of a batch! A particular olive harvested a particular way from a particular grove on a particular day, milled that same particular day… and now, most of it has been shipped off to nearly a thousand kitchens and pantries around the country, but a little bit does remain. Take a peek at the online shop if you’re curious.

Our next shipment goes out in early June, so there’s still time to nab a subscription, either as a gift or for yourself.

Shifting gears: Fat Gold is featured in the current issue of Edible East Bay!

Kathryn pictured in the pages of Edible East Bay

You can read about Kathryn and some her olive oil maker peers; that same link will reveal some really nice recipes, including an approach to cooking a steak with nothing but salt, pepper, and olive oil that is Robin-approved. You can also find some recipes for tasty olive oil cocktails!

Finally: as we send this, California’s olive trees are blooming! This is the part of the year when we all hold our breath. Weather plays an important role; if it’s too hot, the blossoms will wilt before attracting pollinators, while spring storms can rip them right off the trees. There’s a lot that can go wrong, but, when it goes right, new batches are born, all up and down the state.

Thanks for following along!

–Kathryn and Robin

You can sign up to receive our seasonal Field Report, which includes harvest updates, olive oil intel, and the occasional coupon code: