In Italy, locally produced olive oil has always been a social mainstay to be revered, guarded, and shared. It is a singular offering that expresses the character of its region and even of the family that harvested and milled it. By the same token, attitudes toward how it should be rendered and described have remained the same for centuries—rather strict and specific. No messing about with tradition!
Then along came Greg Hinson, an American wanderer taking his infant daughter on day trips about the Italian countryside. “I was discovering the magic of extra virgin olive oil and the social bonds between families, their passion for olive oil, and how they traded oil between themselves. And I learned that there were so many styles of olive oil that were specific to types of dishes. I found that fascinating and wanted to learn more.”
What especially intrigued him was something almost invisible to the Italian—they were using whole fresh lemons as an astringent to clean the granite milling wheels at the end of the harvest, and then discarding the resulting liquor. That’s when the light bulb went
on for Hinson.
So he returned to California a year later, rented an old olive oil press, and began his experiment of crushing whole organic Meyer lemons with foraged Mission olives. And that was the beginning of this new irreverent category of citrus-crushed olive oil.
His first growers were organic pioneers who used solar, biodynamic, and fish emulsion feeding programs before they were cool or widely practiced. “We grew together,” he says. “They planted more trees, and I made more olive oil. I was connected suddenly to passionate farmers who taught me that the health of the soil, water, and air is key to growing nutritious, healthy food.”
The road, of course, was not always smooth. Initially rejected by olive oil festivals in California as being “not real olive oil,” Greg persevered. “I thought, this is the same reaction as in Italy, but this is California, and we don’t have to repeat the same narrow interpretation as the Old World, right?”
Through it all, his focus has always been on the purity of the product and the process. “This product’s simplicity is what still amazes me. It is two perfect foods combined and crushed together. That’s it.
“I’ve been a vocal advocate for organic farming beginning with my first olive oil crush in 1995. My farmers had an old-school reverence for the land that was in their bones and in the way they lived their lives. We are now planting over 1,700 new acres of organic olives and converting conventional orchards to organic with another 500 acres. What I’ve learned is that if you create a market and pay a sustainable price to your farming partners, they will walk together with you.” And that is definitely a walk worth taking.
Make it! Cauliflower Steaks with Blood Orange & Vadouvan Spice (featuring O Olive Oil)