At Kiler Ridge Olive Farm it isn't only the olives that are green; it's a way of life for owners Gregg Bone and Audrey Burnam. Their journey into the world of olives began with a bicycle tour through the Tuscany region of Italy. While exerting the effort it takes to pedal up the steep road grades of that area they took in the expansive views that included olive trees. When Bone, who has an extensive technical and engineering background, was ready for a totally different career, they decided to look for property on the Central Coast of California. Maybe it was luck or was just plain serendipitous, but they found an impressive 60 acres at the top of a hill on the west side of Paso Robles. Here they planted five varieties of Italian olive trees and built an environmentally friendly processing mill and tasting room.
Approaching the hilltop you are greeted with a 360 degree view of the surrounding terrain. It is like standing on top of the world and is hard not to be impressed. There at the pinnacle is the Frantoio, a large straw-bale-based building that Bone and Burnam built. You can tell that it is not made from the usual construction material as you look at the surface of the building and see that it is wavy, not flat. Inside it is a refreshing cool on a hot day and cozy warm on a cold one. The Frantoio is where all the important activity of the olive oil business is conducted.
The major part of the building holds the massive Pieralisi milling equipment that the couple had imported from Italy. Bone, using his engineering skills, is hard at work creating a machine that will raise the hopper in which the olive crop is loaded and dump it inside into the first processing machine. There are ways to do that now utilizing a forklift but requiring about five individual steps. "I want to cut that down," Bone says, "and get my olives into processing as quickly as possible."
Speed is somewhat essential in making olive oil. To get the best flavor and be assured of making that coveted extra virgin oil, it is imperative to get the olives into processing within 24 hours. The temperature is also an important element. It is ideal is to mill at no more than 40 degrees centigrade or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Olives, as they sit in the hopper, generate their own heat.
A tasting tour will have you learning everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil and will most likely change the way you shop for it. Burnham conducts the tours and begins by explaining the types of olive oils. "There is mild, medium and robust," she says. "Greek and Italian olives tend to be more medium and robust. Flavors should be fruity, bitter, and pungent." All three of these flavors should be balanced in each oil.
An oil called Olio Nuovo is made from olives that are very green in color and the oil is the freshest you will find. The olives are picked and quickly pressed and bottled. Olio Nuovo is not stored in tanks for any time which would allow the particles and sediment to settle. Much of that stays in the oil and that is why it must be consumed in two to three months as these particles would begin to ferment. The term olio nuovo means "new oil" in Italian. It is strong, peppery, and fruity and contains a greater amount of polyphenols which are thought to be helpful in warding off heart disease and cancer.
Kiler Ridge Olive Farm is a registered organic farm and is in the process of obtaining certification. The facility is totally solar powered making this a completely green business. There is a full commercial kitchen on site and Burnam uses this to whip up appropriate snacks to use in tastings.
"We have about 1500 Italian olive trees now," Burnam says, "and we plan to increase to 2500." The five varieties grown are frantoio, leccino, maurino, pendolino, and coratina. Starting on the first weekend in November, relatives and friends come to the farm and begin hand harvesting the olives. "I'm the farmer in the family," Burnam says, "and I check every day to see when the olives are ready for picking." The ideal time has the fruit just beginning to turn a darker shade, almost black. "But they are still green inside," Burnam comments.
Right now tasting requires that you call ahead and make an appointment. It is well worth it. You won't want to miss the ultimate olive oil tasting treat that Burnam and Bone offer. "Have you ever had olive oil on ice cream?" Burnam asks.
You are skeptical. Then she serves up a small cup of vanilla ice cream. She drizzles the extra virgin olive oil over it as if it were a caramel sauce. She adds just a touch of sea salt. You gingerly try some and surprise! Your mouth is full of the most interesting tastes of sweet pungency. You chuckle and are a bit embarrassed for having thought, “I am going to hate this." You go on to consume the whole cup, adding more oil and sea salt as you go. Who would have thought to mix these ingredients?
Future plans call for having barbecues and other cooking delights outside on the spacious patio. Tours of up to 50 people can be handled. You can find Kiler Ridge Olive Oil locally at Pipestone Vineyard and Cregor's Deli in Paso Robles. It is also sold at We Olive in Fresno and Beyond the Olive in Pasadena or you can order it online at www.kilerridge.com.
(This article was published in the Access San Luis Obispo County Visitor’s Guide Winter 2012 www.slovisitorsguide.com )