Top Marks WOODLAND FAMILY PRODUCES WINNING OLIVE OILS
BY GWEN SCHOEN FARM TO FORK
everal of my friends are wine connoisseurs. As they pour, swirl and inhale, they debate nuances, profiles and top notes. I nod appropriately while politely sipping whatever is in my glass. When it comes to olive oils, though, it’s a whole different ballgame. I can pour, swirl, sniff and debate color with just as much enthusiasm as my wine-swirling friends have for a cabernet. Knowing that, you’ll understand why I was so excited to discover bottles of Frate Sole extra-virgin olive oil produced in Woodland, displayed on the counters at Masullo, a pizzeria on Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento. Owner Robert Masullo is a very picky chef, which is an excellent endorsement. “I use only top-grade, locally produced products at the restaurant,” says Masullo. “This oil is produced from olives grown on a family farm in Woodland.” Several things about Frate Sole captured my attention. First there’s the name, which means brother sun in Italian. Like wine labels, labels on olive oils are often beautiful works of art. This one certainly falls into that
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Jim and Andrea Mayer
category with its warm sunset colors and smiling sun. Most important, there’s the oil itself. The bottle is dark green to preserve the color. With a nod to my wine connoisseur friends, I would describe it as deeply golden and slightly green. The flavor is fresh and grassy but mellow, like butter with a peppery kick at the end. Wow. Perfect for dipping bread, drizzling on fresh mozzarella or floating over minestrone soup. Jim and Andrea Mayer along with their two college-age children grow the olives and bottle the oil at their family farm in Woodland. The farm
is 20 acres with nine acres planted in olives. The family moved there 20 years ago from Land Park with a plan to farm the land. They just didn’t know what they wanted to grow. “We went through a trial-and-error phase, planting different things,” says Jim. “Then we gave olives a test. We had such good success we began planting different types until we finally settled on Tuscan varieties: Frantoio, Leccinio and Pendolino. They produce a high percentage of oil and flavors our customers seem to enjoy.”
According to the Olive Oil Commission of California, California produces just 3 percent of the olive oil consumed in the United States. It’s a bit unusual to find an active farm so close to Sacramento. “Olives require a Mediterranean climate,” Mayer explains. “The Sacramento region is perfect. As a bonus, they are a drought-tolerant crop. We do irrigate with a drip system, but our water use is far lower than many other crops.” Frate Sole is not certified organic, but that certainly is the way the Mayers approach their farming practice.