OJAI OLIVE OIL
1811 Ladera Road, Ojai CA 93023
We are open to the public for Tours & Tastings:
Our tours are free to anyone and everyone, and do not require a reservation. We are open every Wednesday and Saturday of the year, rain or shine. The tours do not begin at any specific time, but rather as people show up and are ready to go. We average about one tour per hour, with each tour taking 25-45 minutes, depending on the size and disposition of the group. You are also welcome to head directly to the tasting room to taste and shop.
Our place can be a bit tricky to find, though we do post signs on tour days to help guide you to us. GPS systems will often lead only to a corner of our land, but not the olive mill where our tours are. To find us, as you head up Ladera Road (off Thatcher Road), stay to the left at each fork. You will seem to be going off Ladera Road and onto Hermitage Road at one point, which is indeed the correct way. Another bearing to the left at the riverbed (shortly after that turn towards Hermitage), and you will be on your way up into our little valley. From there on out there are permanent signs marking the way to Ojai Olive Oil, starting at the riverbed. Parking is marked, and make your way towards the green buildings. Tours generally start outside by the picnic tables under the old olive trees, though you may find us inside on especially hot days :)
You can also find us on Sundays at the Ojai Farmers Market in downtown Ojai, from 9am-1pm (300 E. Matilija Street).
The Ojai Valley
Ojai Olive Oil is located on the Asquith Ranch, in the east end of Southern California’s stunning Ojai Valley. Ojai is a remarkable place, with a community every bit as rich and diverse as its natural surroundings. Much of the valley is filled with small, family run farms, with the charming and rustic town of Ojai sitting in the valley's center. Known for events such as the Ojai Music Festival and The Ojai Tennis Tournament, and retreats like the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa and Meditation Mount, there is something here for everyone.
The Ojai Valley has been regarded as a magical place for thousands of years, in part due to its unique geography. The valley runs perfectly east-west, making it one of only a few such valleys in the world. The result of this orientation is early sunrises and late sunsets, leaving the valley bathed in sunlight all day, and making the hillsides glow with each sunrise and sunset. Ojai is famous for its “Pink Moment”, when the eastern mountains glow pink from the setting sunlight. The valley is also considered to be a geomagnetic vortex, one of the few locations, like the Giza plateau in Egypt, where the subterranean structure of the earth causes unique flows of gravitational and subatomic energy fields to emerge from the earth's core. One could say that Ojai has more than meets the eye, with its visual splendor being complemented by more subtle wonders as well.
Ojai's unique geography and properties, along with it's amazing biodiversity, made the valley a sacred place to the Chumash and Oak Grove peoples. These societies made the valley their home for many thousands of years, and their heritage has the region steeped in ancient mystery and native folklore. It would seem that the valley has always been a gathering place for those seeking a more peaceful and harmonious existence. Today it is home to numerous spiritual centers and retreats, and has long been a refuge for many of Los Angeles’ citizens from their hectic lives in the city. Regardless of where you are coming from and what you are seeking, everyone that visits Ojai finds it easy to connect with the sense of serenity and peace that the valley instills.
Even when packed with visitors, the valley is never crowded, and much of the surrounding landscape is protected wilderness. Heading up Route 33 to the north takes one through a seemingly endless array of open space, with hiking trails that can take you to hidden natural hot springs and lush waterfalls. The number of plant and animal species that thrive and co-exist here is surprising, and in fact the Ojai Valley and it's surrounding mountains are one of the world's areas of greatest biodiversity. Within what is often referred to as the California biodiversity 'hot spot', the Ojai Valley region is among the most active and least disturbed. Conservation efforts here have preserved much of the natural beauty and allowed species to continue to thrive. It is no wonder then that the valley has become an agricultural Mecca. Things grow well here, and having a healthy local ecosystem helps. Ojai has drawn communities of farmers throughout recorded history, and continues to this day to be primarily agricultural space. From the Oak Grove people and the Chumash, to the Spanish missionaries, to the early California citrus farmers, Ojai has been home to a multitude of crops and peoples that tended to them.
The Mediterranean climate here is perfect for a wide range of agriculture, and happens to be particularly ideal for olives. The main olive grove on our ranch was planted in the 1880s, back in the era of the Spanish Missions, when there was a communal olive press in the valley. At that time the valley produced a good quantity of olive oil, and the trees thrived here. Their suitability to the Ojai climate is evident in the fact that the trees on our ranch have survived here for over a century, without much care for most of that time. Through droughts, wildfires, and storms, the olive trees have persevered. One of our award winning Extra Virgin Olive Oils comes from these beautiful old trees, a Lechin de Sevilla varietal that produces a wonderfully robust and peppery olive oil.
Permaculture & Sustainable Farming
Part of making a delicious product that we can be proud of is operating in harmony with the land that produces our olives. The best olives come from healthy trees, and the healthiest trees live as part of a strong and vibrant ecosystem. Traditional agriculture isolates crops into artificial environments, where they are pumped full of chemical fertilizers and doused in pesticides and herbicides. Farming organically is a key first step, and beyond keeping toxic chemicals out of your body, it does wonders for improving the quality of the fruit and health of the trees. There is much more that can be done beyond this though, and each additional step adds benefits and strength to the ecosystem, and thereby to the olives and olive oil. Synergistic crops that help feed the fruiting trees, animals that help with fertilizing and pruning, composts and compost teas made of local plant life, beneficial insects that protect fruiting crops and promote pollination... there are a multitude of elements to a happy and sustainable ecosystem. Farming in a way that takes all of these elements into account is known as 'permaculture'. Permaculture is a branch of ecological design which develops sustainable and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. The Asquith Ranch and Ojai Olive Oil are among few examples of a working permaculture farming operation in southern California.
The core tenets of Permaculture are:
Take Care of the Earth: Instituting provisions for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish. The earth is our home and we must take care of it.
Take Care of the People: Instituting provisions for people to access those resources necessary for their existence. Food, water, and other basic necessities are easier to produce from a healthy environment. With harmony comes abundance.
Share the Surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles and help others in need.
Here at Ojai Olive Oil we are still in the early stages of building out our full vision of sustainable farming. We have been an all organic operation for many years, and are proud to use no chemical fertilizers or chemical pesticides of any kind. We are also continually making strides to improve the ecosystem of our land, and our overall balance with our environment and community. Simple things like using our waste products as feeds, fuels, and fertilizers are continually being refined. We have also just begun a water management project that will take many years to fully realize, but is already beginning to show positive results. Water is becoming a big concern for many farmers, but good soil management and rainwater catchment can do wonders for reducing irrigation needs. From simple things like adding your kitchen waste to compost piles, to huge projects like building off-grid power generation, there is lots one can do!
Olives are clearly something we have a lot of, so by offering the olive oil we make to our community, we are able to support our ongoing efforts to develop our permaculture vision and support our family. We thank you for supporting this vision and for supporting your local farmers! And remember, since only 1% of the olive oil consumed in the US is actually made in the US, and virtually all of that is made in California, even if you live in Florida we are your local olive oil farmer :)
Olive Growing, Harvest, & Olive Oil Production
Harvest season is everyone’s favorite time of year at the ranch. The groves spring to life as crews of pickers collect the ripe olives, and the early winter air around the olive mill is rich with the smell of sweet, fresh fruit being pressed. But long before we get to harvest our bounty and mill it into liquid gold, there are 12 months of careful tending to the land.
Olive trees love Ojai's Mediterranean climate, and they thrive here, but there is still always work to be done. Each year begins with a pruning, to trim back the previous year's overgrowth and make space for the new season's olives. Olives will only form on new growth, so pruning properly is a key component of the process. Winter winds can also uproot trees that get too tall, and overgrown trees won't have an much energy to devote to fruit formation. By spring the olive trees begin to flower, and we get our first glimpse of the season ahead. The spring bloom turns to baby olives in early summer, and by fall we can tell how many olives we'll be harvesting, and how well formed the fruit is that year. Harvest time for olives is always late fall-early winter. We generally pick from mid October to mid January, with most of the fruit being picked and milled in November/December.
We pick all of our olives by hand, allowing us to be more selective in what fruit is being harvested. This also allows us to pick at the same rate that we process, keeping the time from tree to mill to an absolute minimum. This is critical, and is something that can only be done when farming on a small to moderate scale. Huge operations make many sacrifices to improve profitability, most of which hurt the quality of the olive oil. At Ojai Olive Oil we do everything with making the best possible olive oil as our primary goal, regardless of difficulty or cost. After being picked, the olives are carried over to the barn, and immediately poured into our olive mill. The mill's first step is a 'Hopper', that cleans off any loose debris like leaves and twigs from the olives. The olives are then taken into the 'Denocciolatore', which removes the pits and pulverizes the fruit. The resulting dark purple paste is directed into large "Granolas", or mixing containers, where it is slowly churned for about half an hour. This allows the droplets of oil to find each other and coalesce, while the crushed bits of fruit, skin and water cling to each other. The final phase is the oil separation, which is done by the "Decanter" or centrifuge. The contents of the mixers is rapidly spun, allowing the lighter olive oil to exit at one end, while all of the heavier elements of the paste exit the centrifuge at the other end. And voila!, we have the season's new extra virgin olive oil.
The paste leftover is transported into large compost piles, where we mix it with dozens of other elements to create a nutrient rich compost. That pile processes for nearly a year, after which time it is used to brew compost teas that become the key basis of our fertilization program. The best food for plants is derived from the decomposed matter of the plant itself. We facilitate that process on an mass scale, and supercharge it with a host of other beneficial microorganisms, micronutrients, and all of the core nutrients that olive trees need to be at their very best. This program has shown great results for us, and we consistently see much higher yields than anyone in our region, and excellently formed fruit.
Before it is ready, the olive oil is decanted and filtered, to remove any remaining particles of fruit and skin, thereby increasing the shelf life and stability of the oil. Unfiltered olive oil is great, and wonderfully sharp and healthy, but it is also only good for a few short months after harvest. If left in the oil, the little particles of fruit will degrade the oil. Companies that claim to sell unfiltered oil are really just using several steps of decanting to do their filtering, which amounts to the same thing, just done more slowly. Truly unfiltered olive oil, or the Olio Nuovo as it is called in Europe, is something one can only get for a few months right after the harvest. After the decanting/filtering step, the oil is stored in stainless steel tanks, in a dark, oxygen free and temperature controlled environment. This ensures that the oil will stay fresh as long as possible, maintaining the oil's healthy polyphenols and delicate flavor throughout the year ahead. At Ojai Olive Oil we only sell olive oil that was made in the most recent season, so that you always know what you are getting is the freshest olive oil possible. We also bottle continuously, so that everything sold is fresh from the barrel within a matter of days. We're only able to do this because we are a small operation, and because we live and work on the ranch every day. Our goal is that our love for our land, our trees, and our olive oil is evident to you when you taste it, and that you get as much enjoyment from it as we do :)