Based on the Mediterranean climate and soil, we selected the Tuscan varietals Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino. Frantoio trees are quite common in Tuscan groves as their fruit produces a good oil yield and they are self-fertilizing. Their oil tends to be very fruity and aromatic. Leccino trees are particularly hearty, resisting adverse climates and parasites well. Because they are self-sterile they need pollinators, a role our other varietals fill. Leccino oil has a more delicate and mildly fruity flavor than Frantoio. Finally, Pendolino trees are well known as excellent pollinators and their fruit has a high oil yield. Their oil is delicate and a good complement to our other varietals. In the end, we tried to select varietals in proportions that would give a high yield of a balanced and unique oil.
We keep a close eye on our groves to determine when it is time for harvest. The harvest window for our olives typically starts sometime in September and can extend until early December. Olives vary slightly in appearance from varietal to varietal but generally go from green to black as they mature. Very mature fruit yields smooth and sweet oil but risks damage during the milling process. Olives earlier in their maturity yield the nice peppery pungency desired by so many. But be careful, an under ripe crop can mean a harshly bitter oil. To get an oil that has the right buttery notes up front while maintaining a good peppery sting, we keep a close eye on the maturity of our crop. When it looks like a nice balance of fruit on our trees, it's time for harvest!
Early on an autumn or early winter day we bundle up and head out into the groves. We go tree by tree, laying down a tarp under each one. The tap-tap-tap of the olives hitting the tarp provides the rhythm of the day. Some of the olives are ripe enough that shaking branches creates a rain of fruit. The rest is picked by hand, shearing it off branches sort of like milking a cow. Once the tarps are full, we empty them into buckets, which then get intermittently hauled to the large, 1/2 ton containers. This is repeated until we go through both groves of trees.
Though the harvest is a bit of a hectic time, it also offers a sense of peace. There's an intimacy of going from tree to tree, sometimes scrambling under the lower foliage, sometimes venturing into the upper reaches to gather fruit. It's a perspective altering experience letting us literally see the trees for the forest. Hand picking and harvesting is very important to us since it further connects us to our crop and reminds us why we started Bella de Paso in the first place.
Prompt milling and pressing is essential for maintaining quality and flavor of olive oil. . Luckily for us we have a few local olive mills that allow us to get our harvest pressed efficiently. We take our yield to Foxdale Farms hours after harvest. There, we ensure that our olives are milled using the cold press method, avoiding any adulteration and meeting a key requirement of the extra virgin designation. Our commitment to quality and means pressing as soon as possible after harvest and doing it the right way. We feel like you can taste the difference in the final product.
Much like the rest of our process, bottling Bella de Paso is a family affair. After the milling process, we let the oil sit in our barrels for at least couple months. Gravity does its work and any sediment that was left after pressing settles to the bottom. We also employ a technique called racking. After the oil settles for an initial period, we actual pump it from the top into entirely clean containers, leaving the remaining sediment and water in the old barrel. It's a little more time consuming but when we experimented with it the first time, we were astounded by the difference it made in the quality of our oil. We haven't looked back since!
After racking and another period of settling, we begin to hand bottle and label our oil together as a family. We bottle in small batches so the oil you get sits in its bottles for the shortest amount of time possible. It’s just another way for us to make sure your Bella de Paso has as much personal care as it does quality.
This is a good point to mention our new labels. These were designed under the direction of Alex and made their debut on our 2012 Harvest! Our old labels and logo, while lovingly crafted and very much in line with the emphasis on a family endeavor, needed a refresh. First up was our logo. We wanted something that spoke to both the Old World origins of our Tuscan varietal olive with a touch of their modern California home. Once we had that, we went on to design our new-look labels. There are a couple little touches on these labels you might not realize at first. First, we wanted to emphasize our extra virgin olive oil as originating in California. We believe very much in the community and standards of the California olive industry. Second, the olive branch from our logo appears in silhouette form on the margins of the label. Finally, the top and bottom golden swatches are actually an homage both to the liquid gold that is our oil and the golden hills of Paso Robles, CA. Driving into Paso from the East on Route 46, there are miles and miles of rolling, golden hills often occupied by grazing cattle. Overall, we wanted to create labels that preserved the warm, family feel that comes from our production process while also speaking to the elegant and sophisticated extra virgin olive oil it graces.
While we are involved in the production process from soil to bottle and are confident in the quality of our craftsmanship, we want you to know the quality of Bella de Paso as definitively as possible. That’s why we get our oil chemically analyzed. In the two key components of analysis that determine extra virgin designation, free fatty acid content and peroxide levels, our 2012 Harvest came in at 0.09% free acidity and 12 meq O2/kg peroxide levels. This is well below the extra virgin industry standards of 0.5% free fatty acid and 20 meq O2/ kg peroxide levels. In fact, our commitment to quality beyond a doubt is so strong that our 2013 Harvest will be certified as 100% extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council. So when you purchase Bella de Paso, you know you’re getting a carefully and lovingly crafted oil that has undeniable quality.