This post comes to us courtesy of olive oil expert Liz Tagami.
With grocery shelves filled with refined seed oils of indeterminate origin and shelf life, it is sometimes easy to forget that authentic extra virgin olive oil must be purchased when it is fresh. Access to good olive oil relies on the farmer and weather, and upon the miller who turns the olives into oil — this is an artisan product, not an industrial one.
Williams-Sonoma buyers travel the world working with farmers, but we found the source for our Williams-Sonoma House Olive Oil in our own backyard. Three hours north of San Francisco is the town of Corning, the olive capital of California, where you can find nearly 2,000 acres of prime farmland and the source of our olive oil.
These olives are grown, milled, blended to Williams-Sonoma specifications by a master miller and, finally, bottled to order. Hot days, cool nights, good soil and just the right amount of rainfall make this the ideal place to grow olives, and springtime is bright with fresh white blossoms and the buzzing of bees.
California had a very light harvest last year, both due to the weather and because olive trees are alternate bearing — large crop years are always followed by a smaller year. The 2012 harvest should be a large crop year. The trees were heavily laden with flowers a week ago and are now beginning to show signs of fruit.
Not all blossoms become olives. Unseasonable rain or wind can knock blossoms from the trees before the fruit has set, so farmers are still watching and waiting to see how thick with olives the branches will be. If you visit the olive orchards this month you will start to see little green fruits the size of BBs, which will reach full size by the time the kids are headed back to school.
We’ll file another update in the middle of summer to let you know how the crop looks. Meanwhile, here is a tasty olive oil gelato that you might like to try. Please enjoy!
Olive Oil Gelato with Balsamic Strawberries
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 Tbs. aged balsamic vinegar
In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk and cream. Cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pan.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed until thick and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and beat until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Slowly add 2 cups of the hot milk mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating until just combined. Slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking with a handheld whisk until combined. Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and a candy thermometer registers 175°F, about 15 minutes.
Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Place the bowl in a larger one partially filled with ice water and cool the custard to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the gelato to a chilled container, cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.
One hour before serving, prepare the strawberries: In a bowl, combine the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, scoop the gelato into individual bowls and top each with 1/4 cup of the strawberries with their juices. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.
About the author: Liz Tagami spent the first 25 years of her career as a merchant for major US retailers, including 11 years at Williams-Sonoma. Since 2008 she’s operated Tagami International, a food and wine brokerage, as well as a consulting business called Tagami Sourcing & Services. Both businesses focus on extra virgin olive oil from the major growing regions around the world. Liz is a member of the California Olive Oil Council, a contributing writer for the Olive Oil Times, oil & vinegar columnist for Gourmet News, a panel speaker at the UC Davis Olive Center, a speaker at the olive oil symposium at CIA Greystone, and a speaker for the past three years at the TerraOlivo Congress in Jerusalem where she is a judge. She is also an advisor, lecturer and judge at Olive Japan, Tokyo.