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.


Feb 272012

Years ago I was part of a small group of Georgia Legislators invited to attend a few scotch tastings hosted by adult beverage giant Diageo. I have been a fan of good scotch since I was allowed, at age eighteen (legal age in Georgia in the 70’s) to sample some of my Dad’s scotch collection.

At these scotch tastings I learned that I had a gift for detecting and identifying the flavors that made up each scotch. Of course I was at that time, and still am, untrained so I had to associate some flavors and smells with things I recognized. My favorite association was what I named ‘old Bandaid’. Some levels of peat smoke actually smell like the Bandaid brand adhesives from my childhood. Bandaids don’t have that distinctive odor any longer, but I was with a group of people who were my age or older and they understood what I meant.

Both of my parents were very sensory oriented. You could often find Mom sticking her nose up to a fresh cut pine board or Dad running his hands across the stones of a rock wall. After a childhood of watching them do this and feeling embarrassed by their naked admiration for the physical world, I turned into them.

Even though I won’t be becoming a professional olive oil taster, for reasons explained in my article yesterday, at home I carefully taste each bottle of extra virgin olive oil I open. I run through a mental checklist of what I am tasting and if it’s not defective I decide how I might use the oil in my cooking. As I explained in an article from last week, if the oil is defective, it goes straight into the trash bin. Why buy food that is fresh and increasingly more expensive and ruin it with a nasty oil? There is no compellingly reason to do that.

Tasting olive oil is different from tasting alcohol-based beverages. The alcohol in scotch, wine, or other spirits seems to act more like a vehicle for the smells and flavors, transporting them to your senses. With olive oil the taster has to do the transporting him or her self by employing strippaggio. The flavors do not seem to ‘bloom’ well unless strippaggio is employed. The easy way to find this out is to place a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in your mouth and just swallow. What did you taste? Could you identify any flavors? Then place a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in your mouth and from the front of the tongue begin to suck in air as the oil coats your mouth all the way to the back of your tongue, then swallow. Ask yourself again – what did you taste and could you identify any flavors? The answer will be yes. By the way the air sucking thing you just did is strippaggio.

Thanks to writing about olives and olive oil, and to making my tasting opinions known to all and sundry, my friends and family have ordained me an olive oil tasting expert. If they have some olive oil in the cabinet, they will present me with it and ask me to taste it. If its not labelled extra virgin or already opened then I get to say no. If it is labelled extra virgin and unopened then I feel honor bound to give it a go.

This past weekend I was in Savannah and popped over to my friend, Carol’s, house with a bottle of wine. We drank and chatted and she invited me back for breakfast the next morning before I headed back home. After breakfast Carol said, “Oh. I almost forgot. Someone gave me a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and I want you to tell me if its any good.” I gave her a little speech about the things I might be able to detect and the things I might not. She thrust the bottle at me.

We carefully read the labelling on the front and back: EVOO – Rachel Ray – Product of Italy – Expiration date in 2013 – Colavita … I grabbed a tablespoon and poured. I cupped my hands around the spoon and waited until it had warmed some, smelled, then tasted. The smell was oily which didn’t bode well. Then I had a tasting experience that confused me. It confused me so much that I forgot until almost too late to chase it with a caramel or peppermint.

The oil was greasy and rancid, but had a lot of pepper in the back of the throat. What did that mean? I didn’t think it was possible for such defects as greasy and rancid to be present along with a positive attribute – pepper. If you know, please tell me.

I got a piece of candy in time to keep from getting sick and unceremoniously said, “Chuck it!” I chewed my caramel and hit the road. Goodbye Carol. Goodbye Savannah. Good riddance Rachel Ray EVOO.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jan 122012

As soon as possible after stepping off a plane last Thursday, I tossed some clothes in the laundry, kissed Mr. Olive Crazy and the little olives hello and goodnight, and caught a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning I packed my car with the backpack I travelled to and from Florida with a few weeks ago and the toiletry bag I had to leave behind when I flew. I headed for Savannah and the Southeastern Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

It was tough to leave my family again but I was excited about seeing my farm-country buddies, especially the guys from Batten Tractor in Douglas, Georgia and from Oxbo International, a specialty harvester company with several locations around the US. I was also excited about attending the first Olive Educational Session to be held at the Conference.

While I waited in line at registration I looked around to see who I knew. I spotted extension agents, the Governor’s agriculture liaison, a couple of Congressional aides, a clump of blueberry growers, and some organic composting folks. Under normal circumstances I would have made the rounds, shakin’ hands, and howdy doin’, but I was on a mission. I needed to get to the Olive Session on time and get a good spot.

Inside the room I selected an aisle seat with an unobstructed view of the podium. Perfect. Now I was free to have lunch and wander about until the session began. I saw lots of friends and collected a whole bunch of cheek kisses. I also contributed my fair share too.

On the way back from the cheek kissing frenzy I ran into Paul Miller, the President of the Australian Olive Association. He was looking non the worse for wear considering all the world travelling he does in the name of olive oil quality, truth, justice and the insert-your-country-here way.

Paul was one of the presenters at the Olive Educational Session. Even though I had met Paul before, I had never heard him speak. I was looking forward to his presentation.

By the time the Session started the room was packed. Dr. Mark Hanley of Georgia Olive Growers Association and Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms were two of the first speakers up. After dignitary shout-outs and thanks to helpful people, the educational part got underway.

Jason talked about the timeline of Georgia Olive Farms attempts to grow olives in the southeast. I’ve heard him make this speech several times and I still enjoy it.

Then came Kevin Shaw who, along with his cousin, Sam spends most of his time in the groves. Kevin went into detail about how Georgia Olive Farms consulted with specialists, selected the site, prepared the soil, and planted the trees. He talked about the tree and row distances they used, staking and trellising, and the fertigation system they employed. He then spoke about the years of care and worrying – the disasters (real and feared) and successes. He finished his speech by explaining harvesting trial and error, milling, and an extra virgin olive oil product that was not nearly enough to meet a fraction of market demand.

Kevin’s speech was honest. “This is farming,” he said – plain and simple. Even though olives grow in California and Texas there is no playbook for growing in the southeastern United States. It is a risk, but a risk Kevin and his cousins felt was worth taking.

The audience had lots of questions. I could tell from the type of questions that these were growers who were excited but cautious. Many had been burned before by promises of amazing results and big profits, and the Shaws did not make any promises. I thought that took a lot of restraint from guys who are distributors of the Super High Density (SHD) varieties available in the United States sold by the California company, Nurstech.

Next up was Paul Miller. Paul talked about the marketability in the United States of high quality olive oil, gave US market probability data, and acreage projections in the southeast. He talked about the world olive oil market and coming changes. His speech was full of great information. I would love to hear the long version of it sometime.

Just before the end of the Session was near, a couple of olive growers gave testimonials. Normally I would have zoned out at this part but one of the testimonials involved USDA funding that was sought by one of the growers. After initial approval the USDA denied the funding. The grower appealed and won. This was some news I had been waiting for and was pleased to hear.

I left the room having been “olive educated” and wanting more. As I walked through the convention center corridors headed for cocktails with my tractor and harvester buddies I thought about how I could synthesize all I learned and share it with you. I realized that synthesizing the information would not be useful. I decided that I will take certain aspects of the speeches, research those aspects and expand on them in separate articles.

The worldwide olive and olive oil industries are expanding and changing, some parts slowly and some parts very fast. I am committed to keeping up with what’s happening and keeping you informed.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jun 102011

Oh my goodness, I finally got to a city with internet. Over a week ago, as I prepared to go on vacation for the summer with Mr. Olive Crazy and the young Olives, I checked cell phone and internet coverage for all the locations we would be visiting. I was proud of my advanced preparations, each location was covered, Olive Crazy would proceed uninterrupted, BUT NO.

For over a week I’ve had spotty cell coverage and no internet. Olive Crazy has suffered. To further add insult to injury I haven’t had a single olive, any olive oil, or spotted an olive tree the whole time. There was one spot of sunshine and here is some photographic evidence.

The Trustee's Garden in Savannah, Georgia

The Young Olives visit The Trustee's Garden location in Savannah, Georgia. The site of Georgia's first commercially grown olive trees.

Miss Olive Crazy at the Trustee's Garden

My daughter, Miss Olive Crazy, pointing to olives listed as commercially grown produce at The Trustee's Garden in Savannah, Georgia.

Yes, The Trustee’s Garden in Savannah, Georgia was my bright spot in an oliveless existence. Even though the garden has long since vanished, I am comforted knowing that my state once successfully grew and benefited from the fruit of my favorite tree.

Now, with four guaranteed days of internet I am preparing myself and all of you for the uncertainty of the future as Olive Crazy turns her steering wheel west and travels across country to California and lots of olives. Ahhhhhh!

May the sun shine through your branches.


Mar 182011

Before Thomas Jefferson was our third President he was enamored of olives, not just for their delicious fruit but for “the blessings which this tree sheds on the poor” and how its oil provides “a proper and codortable nourishment.” He envisioned the poor and enslaved of the new United States as benefiting from the cultivation of the olive tree by growing an olive tree for each slave, in order to provide that slave with a more healthy diet than currently available.

By the way, I looked up codortable and didn’t find a real definition for it. I’m finishing this article assuming the word has positive connotations. If you know what it means, please let me know.

In 1787, TJ, as he is referred to on the Thomas Jefferson Monticello website, went on a more than three-month journey through Mediterranean and Alpine Europe. He gathered fruit and vegetable samples, took temperature measurements, kept a diary, and had a good time, all as a private citizen.

When he got back to Paris he wrote a glowing report about the ancient olive fruit to the South Carolina Society for Promoting Agriculture. The Society commissioned TJ to buy some olive trees and several years later they arrived in South Carolina. The intention was to establish the first American olive colony. Interestingly, Oglethorpe’s Georgia Colony had planted olive trees in the Trustees’ Garden sometime before 1735 before TJ was born. The fate of Savannah’s olive trees was in the hands of Joseph Fitzwalter, the public gardener, and Paul Amatis of Charleston who was in charge of the nursery there. Amatis was supposed to relocate his plants to the Savannah garden, but Fitzwalter and Amatis did not get along, there was a ‘my garden’s better than your garden argument’ with Amatis threatening to shoot Fitzwalter. Fitzwalter lost his job and the olive trees and other plants were left to whoever would care for them. The weather and neglect took its toll and in 1755 when Georgia’s Royal Governor, John Reynolds, razed the garden for housing all that was left were the hearty olive trees and some other fruit trees.

For thirty years, before, during and after his presidency, Thomas Jefferson, tried to make his plans work for a commercial olive colony in South Carolina and one in Georgia. He blamed the South Carolinians for “nonchalance” and the rest of the south for humidity. In truth very few of the trees he procured were planted, knowledge of olive tree root physiology (the roots hate to be wet), disease, the mercantile feud between Georgia and South Carolina, and other factors played a big part in TJ’s Olive Crazy vision going awry. He even planted different types of olives in his South Garden at Monticello. They did not do so well since Virginia is not a good fit for growing olives.

Even though Thomas Jefferson did not succeed in his great olive vision he was a frequent importer of olives and olive oil and enjoyed sharing these dishes with friends and Members of Congress. I am certain Thomas Jefferson was right. We can commercially grow olives in other parts of the United States than California. We must have the correct types (cultivars) matched with the correct conditions. For several years now a number of Georgia growers have planted olive trees for commercial production. TJ would be proud.

Number 3 – I salute you.

May the sun shine through your branches.