From Slippery Mess to Success
Olive trees at UC Davis, the world’s No. 1 agricultural school, go back a long, long time. But the campus didn’t get into the olive oil business until 2005 when necessity became the mother of invention.
Along Russell Boulevard, some of those old trees had become a problem: Olives fell on the Russell bike path, which became an oily, dangerous mess. Bicycle riders could slip, and the riders could go flying.
The campus was spending $60,000 a year on cleanup and injuries, so Sal Genito, grounds manager at the time, figured: Why not harvest the olives, press them into oil and sell it? Dan Flynn developed the business model (directing the profits to marketing, promotion and research), and three years later became the founding executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. He’s still there today, leading the center to global prominence in olive and olive oil research — and still selling olive oil, which has become the quintessential campus souvenir.
As for those trees on Russell Boulevard, well, we trimmed them back, because harvesting them became too dangerous, considering their proximity to traffic.
New UC Davis Olive Oils (and vinegars) hit the shelves this week!
Gunrock Olive Oil, a mainstay of the UC Davis Olive Center’s 12-year-old olive oil sales program, is back — only now this extra virgin oil has the “estate” designation, meaning the oil is made entirely from UC Davis olives.
Gunrock Estate is one of two estate oils this year. The other is the first UC Davis Olive Oil in nine years to come from the university’s Wolfskill Ranch, where olives have been grown since 1842.
The Olive Center has previously made oil from the olives of Wolfskill's older trees, but the new Wolfskill Reserve Estate extra virgin olive oil is from the first harvest of a grove planted in 2012 on the Winters-area ranch, now the Wolfskill Experimental Orchards.
“This is a milestone year for us, to have enough trees so that we’re not having to supplement our harvest with donated olives,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center.
The olive oil program had relied on donated olives every year but one — the first year, 2005, when all of the olives came from trees along Russell Boulevard (see box). Since then, the Olive Center has developed three new orchards: two off Hutchison Drive, west of Highway 113, and the one at Wolfskill farther west — comprising a total of about 1,000 early-bearing trees.
The most recent harvest took place in mid-November, with help from student volunteers. The olive haul produced 580 gallons of oil, enough for the two 100 percent campus-grown oils and more.
“Even our Roasted Garlic Olive Oil is mostly extra virgin oil from UC Davis olives, with flavored oil added in," Flynn said.
Mixing in some vinegar
The vinegar in this year's product lineup is the first to come from the Olive Center since 2008’s release of Dinny, a red wine vinegar made on campus and named after the late Albert Dinsmoor “Dinny” Webb, who was a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology.
This year, the Olive Center imported three vinegars from Modena, Italy: Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar, D’Anjou Pear White Balsamic Vinegar and Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar, all described as having “the perfect balance of sweet and tart.”
The oils and vinegars are available at the Campus Store (Memorial Union) and two other UC Davis Stores: Welcome Center (at the Conference Center) and Downtown (630 Second St., at the corner of F Street), and can also be purchased online. Proceeds help support the Olive Center.
More about the olive oils
- Wolfskill Reserve Estate Olive Oil (extra virgin) — Herbaceous and grassy, a blend of picual, mission, arbequina and empeltre olives. 100 milliliters, $7.50; and 250 milliliters, $15.
- Gunrock Estate Olive Oil (extra virgin) — With stone fruit and grassy notes, a blend of more than 20 olive varieties. 100 ml, $6; and 250 ml, $12.
- Roasted Garlic Olive Oil — UC Davis extra virgin olive oil, flavored. 100 ml, $6; and 250 ml, $12.
- Deluxe sampler (pictured at top of page) — Six 100-ml bottles, one each of the olive oils and vinegars. $35.
- Artisan Dipping Oil — Also from last fall’s harvest of campus olives. Released in March, in decorative bottles, 350 ml, $20.
You’re invited to sample the new products during a free tasting session from noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, at the Campus Store, Memorial Union. Olive Center representatives will be on hand to tell you all about the new blends and vinegars, and its research and other activities.