Mary West

Hi, I’m Mary West and welcome to Olive Crazy, my blog about my favorite old fruit – the olive. I spent the last three decades as a government relations expert (lobbyist), elected state official (Georgia House and Senate), Army enlisted soldier and officer (Private First Class to Captain), wife (to Tom) and mother of four (three boys and one girl). During this time I worked and represented clients in many areas, some are: health benefits; juvenile law; water management; urban heat island mitigation; crops innovation; energy diversification; national security; and software technology. But I have two great loves (not including Tom and the kids). I love lobbying and I am crazy about olives. In my blog, Olive Crazy, I want to share with you my love of all things olive. I cover topics from growing and harvesting olives to cooking with olive oil, from pressing olives to the proper storage of olive oil, and from the health and beauty properties of the olive leaf to recipes for a delicious martini, and much more. Olive Crazy is for fun and learning. Let’s share what we know, as we explore this old fruit. Best wishes, Mary

Jan 232016

Did you ever wonder about the saying “like pouring oil on water” to describe a calming effect?

From the producers of PBS NOVA © WGBH Educational Foundation; host, writer, animator, and editor, Greg Kestin of What the Physics?!, will show you how it works in this video called Lake vs. 1 TBSP of Olive Oil.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jan 062015
Darrien Ramsey of Terra Dolce Farms and Robert Mullinax of Zebina Whistle-Stop Farms discussing olive  tree pruning

Darrien Ramsey of Terra Dolce Farms and Robert Mullinax of Zebina Whistle-Stop Farms discussing olive tree pruning

A few weeks ago I was in Savannah hanging out with my husband, Mr. Olive Crazy, and visiting friends. Mr. Olive Crazy was dying to try out Cha Bella an innovative restaurant featuring local, fresh ingredients harvested and hunted by real people – no Sysco trucks rolling up here.

We had a great time chatting with the staff, who are also the owners. Of course we chatted about local olive oil too. They confessed that as much as they would love to offer Georgia olive oils on their menu the prices per bottle are too high for them to feature local evoo on Cha Bella dishes AND keep their menu prices down. I get it.

I almost forgot – the extra cool thing about Cha Bella is it’s location. It’s in the part of Savannah that housed the Trustees’ Garden where olives were grown with success in the 1700s. For more on the Trustees’ Garden and olives in Georgia see my earlier article about this subject “Thomas Jefferson Was Olive Crazy Too.”

Before leaving Savannah I met with my friend, Carol Chambers. Carol is a blueberry farmer and landscaping magician. We discussed using olives in some of her landscaping projects. I suggested trying out some of the sterile varieties since olives stain pavement and get tracked in the house staining rugs and floors too. After giving my advice we went for a short trip through her verdant backyard where I stepped in dog poo – tracking olives, tracking poo which is worse? Definitely the poo.

After all that fun I travelled due west to Lyons Georgia where I hoped to pop in on my friends at Terra Dolce Farms. As I turned into the Terra Dolce entrance I saw one of the owners, Darrien Ramsey, driving out. It was lunch time so I communed with the locals over fried chicken at Chatters Restaurant. Chatters is a southern-eatin’ delight and even though we have some great southern cooking places in my town of Wrens I just love Chatters.

Once lunch was over I headed back over to Terra Dolce and met up with Darrien and the second owner of this three-man operation, Tommie Williams. We had a great visit talking about harvesting, weather, tree growth, pruning, successful varieties, milling, production, and much more. It was finally time to go. I wrote a check and walked out the door with half a case of Terra Dolce’s latest extra virgin olive oil.

If you want to try the award-winning Terra Dolce Farms extra virgin olive oil you have two options: You can buy it directly from the farm at the Terra Dolce link provided above or you can stop in to Strippaggio located in Atlanta Georgia in the Emory Pointe Center across from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Clifton Drive.

Back here in Wrens Georgia at the Olive Crazy headquarters, Terra Dolce Farms evoo has dressed many a vegetable, meat and fish dish. It is such a family hit that soon I’ll need more.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Dec 102014

virginBloomberg Businessweek says Sir Richard “the blonde knight” Branson and his Virgin Group are aggressive defenders of their US trademarking. If you’re doing or wish to do business in the US and want to use the word “virgin” in any of your products or materials then expect to hear from Sir Richard’s legal counsel.

And, guess what! I think this might be a good thing.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had occasion to join in on some marvelous olive oil conversations with folks that run the gamut (I’m fighting the urge to type gamete but you may not find it as funny as I do) of the international olive oil trade. At some point there’s always a moan session (not the fun kind) 😉 involving real business threats and random jackassery. The subject of everyone-and-their-brother purveyors of human digestible fats using the terms “virgin” or “cold-pressed” makes these people crazy. Since I am an enthusiast of anything olive and conduct olive research I don’t get bent out of shape about the loose usage of those highly-coveted modifiers. So, when I saw the article about Richard Branson’s fight to be the only “virgin” in town I had to put what that meant to the olive oil industry into context.

In the article, past midway, there is a reference to a Chilean company using the term extra virgin for a vinegar product they wanted to sell in the US. Sir Richard’s legal team filed against them and the Chilean’s gave up. This made me very curious so I thought about what I know about food-oil processing and regulations. I don’t believe Virgin Group has gone after the US Department of Agriculture for their show-piece olive oil standards and I don’t believe they will. I know how seed oils, canola, walnut, peanut, etc. are produced and using any term which includes a form of “virgin” in it is a big stretch. I have seen cold-pressed on coconut oil jars but admit to having no idea how coconut oil is made and don’t care enough to do an internet search to find out. I ask myself – does this mean that olive oil producers, wholesalers, and retailers can expect Sir Richard and his merry legal band to charge to their rescue and take on those companies who violate “virgin.” One can only hope.

Now, as far as cold-pressed is concerned, unless some wealthy influencer latches on to cold-pressed as their business name, for example, Cold-Pressed Records, Cold-Pressed Mobile, or perhaps Cold-Pressed Outer Space (a fictional container storage for space travelers – think Aliens) then I think the olive oil world influencers will just need to depend on themselves and their enthusiast buddies to educate consumers about what it means to be a delicious and nutritious “virgin” olive oil.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Dec 052014

2014 does not equal 2015This summer I was shopping for olive oil. I prefer buying US-grown extra virgin olive oil and ran out of all the latest US-harvested oils from 2013, and the 2014 US oils hadn’t been harvested yet. As is my habit I looked at the harvest dates on each bottle and noticed that one of the big California olive oil producers had a 2014 harvest date on all their labels.

I was surprised since I knew that this particular producer had not harvested in early 2014. I guessed that they had purchased some foreign olive oil that matched the taste profile of their oil and were reflecting the harvest date of the newer oil, or that it was just a mistake. It never occurred to me that something was wrong.

Earlier this year I read the new California Food and Agricultural Code section that created the state Olive Oil Commission. The Commission is comprised of olive oil producers and handlers who produce 5,000 gallons or more of olive oil in a period that extends from July 1st of a year through June 30th of the next year. Today I just reread that law before diving in to the subsequent rules and regulations promulgated under the auspices of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. These rules and regs were enacted on September 26 of this year.

Well! If what I am about to print isn’t just some sloppy legal drafting then it is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers. Check it out.

The following is from the labeling section of the new rules and regulations for olive oil grade and labeling standards:

11.3.6 Year of Harvest. If reference is made to a harvest date, then 100% of the olives used to make the oil must have been harvested during that time period. Because the harvest typically runs from October through January, the dating refers to it by the calendar year; for example the 2014-2015 harvest season is deemed to be the 2015 harvest. When oils from multiple years are combined and the year of harvest is indicated the label must indicate each of the harvest years contained therein. If the month and year of harvest are indicated then 100% of the oil must be from that period. If the season and year are indicted then 100% of the oil must be from that period.

What this says ladies and gentlemen is that California producers of 5,000+ gallons of olive oil annually can claim that their entire harvest is from the next year even if they complete their harvest prior to the end of the year, as long as it’s within the season. What it also alludes to is that producers of less than 5,000 gallons of olive oil a year are out of luck since they are not actually subject to this law.

Considering the updated harvest labeling that showed up on the bottles of olive oil I mentioned above, this is not a mistake. It is deliberate, by one, some, or all. Therefore it is designed to hoodwink consumers. The next time I hear or read one of those 5,000+ California producers or handlers complain about the fraudulent practices of the Europeans and the US olive oil importers I won’t be very sympathetic.

I doubt the author of the original law, Senator Wolk, had this regulated result  in mind. Grab a pen, some redrafting is in order.

May the sun shine through your branches.