Photograph by Damon Casarez; Shutterstock
Behind the bar at Ferrari Olive Oil Company in Studio City, a woman fills tiny cups with samples from stainless steel tanks labeled “Pendolino,” “Koroneiki,” and “Arbequina.” Customers slather baguette chunks with the estate-sourced extra virgin oils, made from olive varieties grown north of Santa Barbara. “Taste and compare before you decide,” co-owner Alex Ferrari advises a patron, who is savoring the last droplets of the peppery Koroneiki. The woman’s mind is made up. Ferrari pours her choice into a dark 12-ounce bottle.
Extra virgin or cold pressed? A grassy Hojiblanca or a bright Picholine? Shopping for high-quality olive oil can be daunting, so American consumers—whose demand for the product is growing—need a little hand-holding. In Los Angeles a number of independently owned olive oil tasting bars, each with its own style and sourcing philosophy, have come to their aid.
In 2009, Crystal and Chip Reibel opened Pasadena’s Beyond the Olive, where the focus is on California varietals. “At the time the olive oil world was thrown into turmoil by reports of lax USDA evaluation standards,” says Crystal. While the system is still flawed, the Reibels were encouraged by some outstanding, locally produced oils they’d tasted at California ranches. Today their shop sells approximately 50 Golden State EVOO varieties.
Years of research led Dax Alvarez and Randy Hernandez of Oliana in West Hollywood to Oakland’s Bradley family, olive oil importers who have worked for decades with small mills around the world. Oliana’s infused whole-fruit extra virgin olive oil—made by crushing olives with citrus like Persian lime and blood orange—smartens home-cooked meals in a single drizzle.
To maintain a supply of freshly pressed oils year-round, Yasemin Altuner of Antica Olive Oil, Vinegar, and Spices in Los Alamitos sources from the Southern Hemisphere in April and from the Northern Hemisphere in November. Her customers appreciate the seasonality. “As with wine,” says Altuner, “once a vintage sells out, it’s gone forever.”
Antica Olive Oil, Vinegar, and Spices
11110 Los Alamitos Blvd., Ste. 103, Los Alamitos
Beyond the Olive
10 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena
Ferrari Olive Oil Company
11923 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
8951 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood