Field Report #3
From: Robin and Kathryn at Fat Gold
Let’s talk about what just happened, and what happens next.
What just happened is: THE HARVEST. Our first ever, now complete. We did it with the help of our friends, friends of friends, hired work crews, and more over three weekends in October and November. We milled the fruit we harvested at Frantoio Grove in San Martin, about forty minutes south of the Fat Gold grove in Sunol.
Here’s what five tons of olives turns into:
It will be no surprise to hear that this first harvest taught us a lot. Early on, our friend Dafna Kory, one of the country’s best jam makers, prophesied: “You’ll pick the last olive… the very last one… and it is at that moment you’ll understand everything you should have done differently from the start.” (We might be making Dafna sound more like a wizard than she is. Only slightly, though.)
Another first: we sent out our inaugural shipment of olive oil in December. We had enough of our First Crush to fill 80 tins, and 80 tins is what we sent. Future shipments won’t be quite so constrained, which means we can accept more subscribers, and indeed, more people have subscribed in the weeks since we shipped this—some of you on this list!
Those of you NOT subscribed: there is room for you, too! The next shipment will go out in February, and you can sign up, of course, on the Fat Gold website—which has a new look to match our First Crush packaging.
Throughout the past year, particularly on our Instagram, we’ve been trying to educate you about olive oil—the whole process of making it. That will continue, of course; but if you are, ahem, impatient, and would perhaps like to know EVERYTHING about olive oil ALL AT ONCE, then check out this podcast from our friends at Gastropod:
Gastropod’s hosts, Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber, came out to join the Fat Gold harvest; they recorded the rustle of the trees and the roar of the mill. They also chatted at length with Kathryn. All in all, it’s a truly immersive report, and we’re honored to have been included.
We were also featured in Edible East Bay recently and, fair warning, it is disgustingly cute.
Here’s a link, but really, the way to see this is on paper. If you live in the East Bay of California, pick up a copy of the winter issue—you’ll find it stocked in all your favorite fancy food establishments—and look for the little feature about us.
One more thing—about good chemistry.
As a producer, if you want your olive oil certified extra virgin, you submit it to two different places: a lab, for chemical analysis, and a sensory panel, which is basically a taste test by trained professionals.
We just received results from the first phase, the lab, and guys: they are really, REALLY good.
The chemical analysis looks at things like free fatty acid, peroxide, and UV light absorption, all of which are indicators of oxidation—bad news! There are specific thresholds you need to beat for your oil to be considered extra virgin; in fact, California has the strictest in the world. For starters, your free fatty acid level must be lower than 0.5%. Wellll, all of our oils came in at 0.16%!
We also had the level of phenols in our oils tested; they’re a kind of antioxidant. More than thirty phenolic compounds have been identified in extra virgin olive oil, and while researchers are still trying to determine which ones have exactly what effect, we know they’re all important for a number of reasons:
They protect the oil from oxidation! They act like natural preservatives, sacrificing themselves to protect the integrity of the oil and extend its shelf life.
There is mounting evidence that they protect us from oxidation (💀) too. Scientists suspect the phenols in extra virgin olive oil help ward off breast cancer, heart disease, dementia, and more.
You can taste them! If an oil has high phenol levels, it will very likely be robust—bitter on the palate, spicy in the throat. Oils with low phenol levels usually taste milder.
For an extra virgin olive oil, a phenol level considered low might be in the 100s—that’s measured in milligrams per kilogram—while levels over 300 are considered high. The phenol levels in our oils range from 444 to 520!
The next step in the extra virgin certification process is the sensory panel. Our oils will be taste-tested by a group of experts trained to recognize defects that lab tests can’t, such as rancidity and fermentation. That will happen before we send our next shipment!
So, we start 2018 with a year’s worth of lessons ready to be put into practice and a few hundred gallons of olive oil…
…that is apparently just packed with antioxidants. Oh, and: it tastes great, too.
Thanks for following along,
–Robin and Kathryn