California has often been said to have a “Mediterranean” climate, so olives are a natural. Back to the days of the Missions, olives have been a feature of California agriculture. Olive trees flourish in much the same climate as grapes, so it’s a natural that the wine regions around Paso Robles are at the heart of the California olive oil movement. And Art Kishiyama is one of the award-winning olive growers who is creating California olive oil that can compete with the best Italy can offer.
A native of San Luis Obispo County, Kishiyama returned to the area outside Paso Robles after a long and varied career in the military and also as a Disney Imagineer. Now, he and his wife raise alpacas and grow olives on 19 acres outside Creston. With his olives, he creates some of the most amazing olive oils you’re likely to find. When I ran into him at the Paso Robles Olive Festival, he was pouring samples of his award-winning olive oils. While all of his extra-virgin oils sported numerous awards, the 2010 Reserve Blend won the Gold Medal at the 2010 L.A. International Competion as well as the Silver Medal from the 2010 Mid-State Fair.
Kishiyama planted his groves in 2003, and the 2009 and 2010 oils represent his 4th and 5th harvests, respectively. Sustainability and responsible farming is a watchword with Kishiyama and his olives. The Olio Nuevo farm use solar energy, and they shred, rather than burn, their prunings, use drip irrigation and do not till, reducing soil erosion. Olives are hand-picked at various stages of ripeness to give different characters to the olive oils he produces.
At the Olive Festival, I sampled both his blended and his Estate Arbequina oils, from both the 2009 and 2010 harvests. Arbequina is an early harvest extra virgin oil that uses green fruit from the Spanish Arbequina olive. The character of the both oils differed between 2009 and 2010 “vintages,” but the difference was most pronounced in the Arbequina. The 2009 oil was spicy and tannic, with an underlying grassy taste, while 2010 had less bite and more of a buttery quality, though still with a grassy, spicy note. Kishiyama told me that it was intentionally so, as he experimented with the Arbequina olives, giving them more water and picking them later, to create a more mellow and buttery flavor for this year’s release. Speaking with him and other growers, I’ve learned that you can fine-tune the character of your oil, not just by using different varieties, but by how much water you give the trees and when you pick the fruit. Creation of an award-winning oil is a science that rivals that of a vintner creating a medal-winning wine! As I sampled his 2010 oils, he added a bit of balsamic vinegar to the Reserve oil, and invited me to taste again. The intense olive quality dropped out, and the balsamic rose to the front of the tasting, mellowed by the buttery oil, for a perfect blending. He beamed as he explained he had blended the oil so that it would highlight the balsamic vinegar in salad dressings and dips. It was definitely a knockout combination.
But Kishiyama was only one of the featured growers at the Olive Festival. The annual Olive Festival, now in its 7th year, is an annual community-based event held in Paso Robles. Facing the erosion of business by local ” big box” shopping malls, the community decided it was time to celebrate local produce and sustainability. The Paso Robles Main Street Association was formed in 2003 with the mission to “restore, promote and enhance the economic vitality and unique historical value of our downtown, while maintaining our friendly, community atmosphere.” And where better to hold events and festivals but in their City Park, near the historic Andrew Carnegie Library, whose distinctive building has been a community focal point for years? Events became even more of a priority after the devastating earthquake of 2003, helping focus the rebuilding of the downtown. A number of festivals and events are held in the historic downtown throughout the year, the Olive Festival among them.
The Olive Festival features local produce and products, food, crafts, and a cooking contest featuring–what else?–olives! Other featured producers include Olea Farms, whose sign “Don’t Depend on Foreign Oil” says it all. Olea Farms, in Templeton, is one of the sponsors of the Festival, and features tasty flavored blends as well as their standard oils. You can taste their Arbequina oil, as well as their Cresendo and European-style blends, plus Lemon Blush and Basil Blush flavored oils. Crescendo is made with 20% Lucca olives, with a backbone of 80% Arbequina to give extra character, great for salad dressings or general cooking where you want a flavorful oil. Try the Lemon Blush with fish, or the Basil Blush drizzled on tomatos or bread.
You can also try oils from Rancho Los Olivos, Alta Cresta, and others. Rancho Los Olivos is located on Highway 46 east of Paso Robles, and specializes in a Tuscan-style blend of five olive varieties. Their oil won a Gold Medal for Best of Class at the 2010 Mid-State Fair.
We picked up some tamales and, spotting a sign for “Chumash Fry Bread,” headed over to pick up some Chumash Indian Tacos, a heavenly dish of beans, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, and (of course) olives, on a slightly sweet and puffy foundation of chewy fry bread.
The booth was run by Violet Cavenaugh, and her friend Crystal Miller explained how she makes the fry bread, while dumping flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and water into a large mixing bowl, measuring everything entirely by eyeballing the amounts. Originally, it was fried in canned lard, but now vegetable oil is used. Obviously Crystal knew what she was doing, as the fry bread turned out spectacularily.
As she did, she shared family history, of how her great-grandfather avoided being taken to a reservation when a Santa Barbara farmer claimed him as his son. They also deal in herbal products, often using ancestral recipes, for Native Herbs and Honey, available online. Native Herbs and Honey even has a swarm removal service, adding unwanted bees swarms to their apiary.
You can also taste local wines and beers, and maybe pick up an olive pie or some Raspberry Swirl or Apple Cinnamon bread from House of Bread in San Luis Obispo. Other local growers include Le Z Ranch Herbs, family farmers who featured herb vinegars and custom blended seasonings, as well as lavender. Try their “Olive You Herbs” blend, designed especially for adding to olive oil, for a delicious bread dip! There are also plenty of fun activities for kids, with Native American sand and rock painting, olive crafts like olive wreath making, and others.
The community park has lately become a focus for all sorts of community-based events, including a free summer concert series (the Monte Mills Band plays Western favorites for the last concert of the season on August 27th) from 5:30 to 7:30 at the City Park gazebo, “Pajama Party Movie Night” featuring 1965’s “Cat Ballou” on September 11th, and “Taste of Downtown,” on September 18th, 2010, where a $25 pass will get you samples from 29 local restaurants, plus 14 wineries. Taste of Downtown will also include a concert in the Park, from 3 to 6 pm.
October and November bring still more events in the Historic Downtown, with the Pioneer Parade, the Golden Oak Festival, plus events to celebrate the upcoming holidays. Find out more about upcoming activities at:
For more information on the Paso Robles Olive Festival, check their web site at:
Art Kishiyama, Owner/Producer
(805) 423-2341 and Fax (805) 238-5015
2985 Templeton Road,
Templeton CA, 93465
Rancho Los Olivos
Organic Extra Virgin Estate Grown Olive Oil
Pablo & Paula Sanchez
Alta Cresta Orchard
6075 High Ridge Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Le Z Ranch: Herbs and Herbal Products
Native Herbs and Honey
PO Box 291
Pismo Beach, CA 93448
Phone: (760) 549-3532
House of Bread
299 Marsh Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Photos courtesy of:
Paso Robles Main Street Association
Curt H. Bentziner of Imagearium, for the Festival Gateway
Robert Stevenson, for photo of Olive Oils
Andrew M. Crockett