Pasolivo’s olive oil pro Marisa Bloch Gaytan discusses a California staple that's worth a road trip to discover.
Marisa Bloch Gaytan, Pasolivo’s sommelier and master blender
Falling in love with California’s Central Coast isn’t terribly uncommon, of course, and Marisa Bloch Gaytan has followed a well-trodden path to the region. The only difference? The area’s terra firma has dictated her career. After a short stint in the wine-making business, she’s now a level 2 oil sommelier and master blender for Pasolivo in Paso Robles. During her decade at the company, she worked her way up to general manager. “It’s a true pleasure for me to be a part of the entire process from growing the olives to milling to blending the oils,” says Gaytan, who sat down with us to discuss everything from what distinguishes great (and healthful) olive oil to what to expect during a tasting experience.
What are the important factors we should know and understand about olive oil quality?
One key note to point out is not all olive oil is created equal. It’s very confusing for consumers because many oils are falsely labeled. There are oils that are labeled as extra virgin that aren’t, and oils that say light to try to [convey] there are fewer calories, but that’s untrue. California is in the process of passing a bill that will require that if an olive oil label says California, it must be 100% produced in California, which, unfortunately, isn’t being regulated today.
Just because an oil says it’s bottled or produced by a certain company, it doesn’t mean [the company] produced it. There are also many oils that only have a bottling date, which tells you nothing about when the oil was harvested. You want to look for a best by or a harvest date, so you know when the oil was produced.
You also want to make sure that you’re purchasing a single-sourced olive oil. Many bottles will list multiple countries on the bottle such as Italy, Spain, Greece—sounds romantic, right? Wrong. This just means that oils were shipped from all of these places to the destination, where they were eventually bottled. Olive oil is best when it’s first produced, so the longer the oils spend in transit, the less time you’ll have to enjoy this oil.
All of the olives are handpicked.
So, what does small-batch production mean for olive oil?
Small batch means that we don’t do any kind of mass production. This is from the picking process, the milling and the bottling. Many producers have hundreds or thousands of acres of trees, whereas Pasolivo has 45 planted acres. When you have a ton of acreage, you typically need to do some kind of mechanical harvest. At Pasolivo, handpicked. we handpick all of our olives to ensure less bruising or damage to the fruit. We also process our own olives in our small on-site mill. Some producers also run the olive paste through the mill multiple times to extract more oil, which lowers the quality—this is why you hear the term ‘first press’ for extra-virgin olive oil.
We store our oil in stainless-steel vats, which are temperature controlled and have argon gas in them, protecting the oil from light, heat and oxygen. By bottling in small batches, we can taste the oil throughout the year and also make sure it’s being stored for quality assurance before ever bottling it for consumers.
What type of olive oils are you producing?
We produce extra-virgin olive oils and flavored olive oils. Our extra-virgin olive oils are certified extra virgin every year by the California Olive Oil Council. This means that we get our oils lab-tested for acidity and peroxide-value requirements, and then send our oils to a panel of expert tasters who blind taste our oils for flavor defects.
When producing our flavored oils, we either co-mill—which means that we process the herbs, chiles with the olives through the same process our extra-virgin olive oils go through—or we use a pure extract from the fruit or herb we are flavoring with.
Pasolivo is located in Paso Robles, perfect for a weekend-tasting road trip.
What are the health benefits of the olive oils you produce?
Since we get our oil lab-tested every year, we also test for polyphenol levels. The most common polyphenol found in extra-virgin olive oil is oleocanthal. This is the compound that gives you all of the health benefits in oil. Our polyphenol counts always come in at high or very high levels for each oil. With the high polyphenol count, extra-virgin olive oils are known for lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol, having anti-inflammatory properties, being heart healthy, preventing cancer and improving cognitive function.
What kind of tasting-room experience can visitors expect?
We can have upward of 16 olive oils on our flight at any given time. We allow guests to taste as many of the oils as they like, but recommend they taste at least the extra-virgin olive oil flight, so they can taste the difference between them. We then pair the oils with different spices and salts, vinegars and balsamics. We love to give people pairing recommendations and ideas of how to cook with the products. We also have other spreads and sauces, olives, and bath and body products made with our oil and more.
We also offer fresh bread for all of our tastings and gluten-free crackers. We always welcome sipping the oils as well, although that is not for everyone. During our harvest, typically November, we offer full tours of our milling process, so people can see the transparency of how our product is produced. They are also welcome to taste fresh oil off the mill.
What are the tasting notes you point out to visitors in the tasting room?
Pasolivo offers our four plain extra-virgin olive oils, but sometimes we have special releases of others. We offer our Cucina, which is always our most mild and buttery; our Classic, which is our medium-body oil; our California, which is our most green and grassy; and our Tuscan, which is our most pungent and peppery. We then offer a variety of flavored oils that range from herbal flavors to citrus to chile.
What about sustainability?
Our milling process is zero waste. Both the excess paste and water are reapplied to the land, so nothing gets wasted. We believe in protecting and nurturing the land.
Photography by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF PASOLIVO