Mix. Blend. Create. The Juice of Meyer Lemons and The Oil of Olives .... Heaven!
To describe just one of Colline di Santa Cruz's olive oils wouldn't be right. Those of you who are already fans know that Chris Banthien produces one of the finest olive oils on the planet. And now, new this year, a very special Meyer Lemon Olive Oil.
We first met Chris in January of 2002. Eliza, my daughter Izabel, and I were headed home from Monterey, California when we stopped in Santa Cruz to pick up our order of olive oil. Chris Banthien, the founder of Colline di Santa Cruz, had agreed to give us a tour of her olive groves.
Somewhere near the Santa Cruz High School, the road began to weave, dip and twist amongst the trees of the Santa Cruz foothills. Houses were neatly tucked away, peaking out here and there, along with the sun. Above, driveways left and right, seemed to lead to nowhere. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and broke out of the forest, and spied her olive groves to our right - neat rows of silvery fruit trees. It was a sunny surprise to finally be able to see farther than the next corner.
A quick hairpin turn to the right and we stopped at a steel gate. The gate opened and we drove slowly up the winding driveway towards a quintessential farmhouse. On our left, rows and rows of purple flowers that gently sloped down to the neighboring property. On our right, rows and rows of shimmering olive trees. We pulled to a stop in front of a modern barn just to the left of the farmhouse. Moments later, Chris Banthien came out to greet us and extended a hand in a warm handshake. With smiles all around, we introduced ourselves. It was our first face-to-face encounter with the olive groves of Santa Cruz and the person who created what is now one of our favorite olive oils.
Chris' work began in 1996, when she purchased a 20-acre plot of land that the locals called "Zucchini Hill". After moving around 30,000 tons of earth and terracing the land, Chris purchased 700 olive trees from an established California olive producer, and imported another 900 trees from Italy. She brought in four Tuscan varietals - Frantoio, Ascolano, Leccino and Taggiasca - to get a particular taste in the oil. She preferred an Italian taste in olive oil, with their signature pungency in the back of the throat.
Chris says that the taste of the olive oil is heavily dependent on two things: the soil and the weather. Even the identical varietals can produce oils with very distinct flavors when grown in different places. As it turns out, the rich soil of the Santa Cruz foothills, combined with the almost constant wet, warm air from the ocean, creates an almost perfect mimic of some of the finest olive groves in Italy.
Colline di Santa Cruz 2008 Harvest Olive Oil
The first taste of Chris' 2008 Harvest olive oil is full-flavored, with a butter-like feel, which then turns immediately into the fruity complexity of the olives that make up the oil. To the tongue - a clean olive flavor. To the mouth - an open, filling feel, with a sense of butteriness that dissipates as quickly as it appears - leaving a wondrous olive flavor. Though I can taste distinct flavors from at least two of the olives, I can't readily identify which ones. For me, the finish is hot and peppery, not at the back of the throat, but at the top of the throat. The peppery kick can come early or late, but always there is a kick. Whether on pasta or popcorn, the pepper is always present - pleasant without overpowering the senses.
NEW - Colline di Santa Cruz Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
Chris' new Colline di Santa Cruz Meyer Lemon Olive Oil is a delightfully wonderful oil. A great Meyer lemony flavor - although not overwhelmingly lemony - with the bright, fruity-flavored 2008 harvest as the perfect delivery vehicle. First you smell the lemons, then you taste the wonderful oil, then comes the lemon flavor. For the finish, the pepper in the back of the throat with just enough pause for the lemon flavor to fully register.
Keywords: Olive Oil, Meyer Lemon, Colline di Santa Cruz, California, Frantoio, Ascolano, Leccino, Taggiasca