You may be using it right now, as you're cooking dinner, or perhaps you've mixed it into a salad. Olive oil has quickly grown into a popular staple in the kitchen and on the dinner table. But did you know quality extra virgin olive oil is made right here in Kern County?
To find out more we visited Rio Bravo Ranch, located off Highway 178 near the mouth of the canyon. Jim Nickel a local farmer came up with the idea to grown olive trees. The Nickel family owns much of the land near Rancheria road, more than 16,000 acres in all. Nickel and his staff planted nearly 50 acres of olive trees on the east side of their property.
Rio Bravo Olive Oil has grown into the largest olive oil growing operation in Kern County, last year producing more than 5,000 gallons of certified extra virgin olive oil. In their two years of operation they have distributed the oil as far away as Michigan and New York. But you can find it locally too, available in the deli at Luigi's and on your dinner table at Cafe' Med.
“It was a two or three year process of selecting them, and they planting them," Nickel told us as we toured the olive tree groves. "So they’ve come along nicely, we think next year we could get up to 8 thousand gallons," he said.
Back at headquarters, we meet Angie Sembach, who oversees production of the olive oil, she explained to us the complex process of making the oil. "We harvest, we mill, then we send the oil to a lab for analysis, where they test it, to make sure it can be considered extra virgin, then after that it goes to a tasting panel," Sembach explained.
Not only was Rio Bravo olive oil given a seal of approval, they have received two medals from the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil competition. Rare for a product and company just getting off the ground.
Jim and Angie say that's a sign that quality olive oil can be grown in California. It comes at a time when recent reports suggest imported olive oil from Italy lacks the quality it once had. Experts say much of the oil has been tampered with and hasn't been stored properly. "We’ve always know that, but this was good evidence of it," Nickel said.
It's bad Jim says for the importing business, but good news for the future of Kern County's newest crop. “Hopefully people will start buying local. Our decision is are we going to keep expanding? That’s so what dependent on if we can keep selling," Nickel said.
Hoping more people will discover the heavenly liquid, that's grown right here in Kern County.