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Life - Entertain

Find fresh olive oil during California's fall harvest

Olive oil fans can learn more about EVOO with tours and tastings at these mills and ranches in California, from Round Pond Estate to The Olive Press.

Founded in 1991, McEvoy Ranch is one of the country’s largest producers of estate-grown, certified organic extra virgin olive oil. The 550-acre winery in western Marin County has 80 acres of organic olive trees.  courtesy of McEnvoy Ranch

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McEvoy Ranch is open Wednesday through Sunday and requires reservations to visit.  courtesy of McEvoy Ranch

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McEvoy Ranch offers several tour and tasting options, including the At Our Table Experience, an olive oil tasting and sampling of local bites, paired with current wine releases ($30 per person, by appointment). A walking tour of the estate includes a visit to the olive oil mill.  courtesy of McEvoy Ranch

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The ranch is 15 minutes from downtown Petaluma and less than an hour from San Francisco, though McEvoy has a store in the Ferry Building Marketplace, which offers tastings.  courtesy of McEvoy Ranch

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Round Pond Estate has a state-of-the-art olive mill and a grove of 100-year-old olive trees in Napa Valley.  courtesy of Round Pond Estate

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On Fresh Olive Oil Days, held periodically, guests can create their own olive oil blends (with expert guidance) to take home.  Olaf Beckmann

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Round Pond Estate produces four estate olive oils -- Italian, Spanish, Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon -- plus a range of infused and flavored oils.  Bryan Grey

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Tour and tasting options are available daily, including a 90-minute guided tour of the olive mill followed by a tasting of olive oils, red wine vinegars, citrus syrups and estate wines (daily at 3:30 p.m. for $65 per person currently). Hour-long tastings without the tour are offered three times a day for $45 per person.  courtesy of Round Pond Estate

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The Round Pond Estate is home to the historic Olaf olive grove, where eight Spanish and Italian varieties of olives are grown. Olive trees can bear quality fruit for many centuries.  courtesy of Round Pond Estate

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The Olive Press was the first olive oil mill in Sonoma, Calif., and is now owned by the Cline family of Cline Cellars Winery and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.  courtesy of The Olive Press

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Visitors can book tours and tastings at the Sonoma County tasting room online.  Rebecca Gosselin Photography

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Ripe olives are milled within 24 hours of harvest.(Photo: courtesy of Jordan Vineyard & Winery)

High-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is one of the most delicious ingredients available to chefs and consumers, and the cornerstone of the lauded Mediterranean diet. It is one of the few foodstuffs specifically approved by the FDA to carry health claims, and has been linked to myriad benefits beyond its well-known heart-healthy status. There is little argument that high quality EVOO is a wonderful thing, but buying it can be tough for consumers, as there have been well publicized cases of mislabeling, and many stores carry oils that are past their useful freshness dates. Many shipments of counterfeit or mislabeled oil have been seized across Europe in recent years, and there has been so much concern over the authenticity and origin of oil that Congress recently instructed the FDA to step up inspections of imported oil.

The good news for consumers is that olives tend to grow well in the same places as wine grapes, and in recent years the production of exceptional extra virgin olive oil in California’s wine country has skyrocketed. Many of these adhere to California’s stricter state standards and have helpful labeling extras not required by law but extremely useful to consumers, such as the date in which the oil was milled.

California Olive Ranch has been a pioneer in this regard and is now the largest domestic producer and winner of more than 80 awards for its oils, which are the easiest to find nationwide at supermarkets and retailers. The company exclusively makes olive oil, while many of the top California producers are wineries with far less product available. These makers are great destinations for travelers because many offer educational tours, tastings and sometimes meals.

Napa and Sonoma counties are the most popular spots for wine and olive oil tourism, and all of Northern California is a hotbed of EVOO production. Whether you plan an in-depth visit to learn more about the differences in olive oils and how they are made, or just want to buy the best oil at your local store, California should be on your gourmet radar. Fall is the harvest season for olive oil, so many of these places will be crushing olives and releasing the freshest, best new oils through November.

Browse the photos above for a virtual tour of olive oil destinations worth visiting, and a peek behind the scenes at California Olive Ranch, which is not open to the public.

More California: A wine trail in Napa Valley's countrified community

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