On a hot summer’s day earlier this August, we joined the throngs of hundreds of olive enthusiasts as they flocked to the 9th Annual Paso Robles Olive Festival on the Central Coast of California, sponsored by industry leaders We Olive and their passionate owners Frank and Ruth Mercurio. This dynamic duo is fully committed to engaging and educating the public about both the culinary and nutritional benefits of fresh, extra virgin olive oil – and what better way to do so than hosting an olive-packed adventure in the summer sun? The idea of a weekend full of olive bread, olive oil, tapenade and perhaps a few dirty martinis had us quickly skipping up the coast to join in on this annual celebration of all things olive! Both pros and novices alike shared in an all-day event filled with delicious olive-filled foods, local wines, artisanal crafts, and of course – the finest olive oils California has to offer.
Among the olive-obsessed, olive oils are treated much like wine and our senses were on overload swirling, sniffing and sipping what the olive aficionados refer to as “liquid gold.”The true stars of the weekend, however, weren’t in the bottles at all, but in the eclectic group of olive farmers who stood by pouring out their knowledge and product for the foodie fest crowds! These local olive farmers live for educating the masses on the power of locally sourced extra virgin olive oil for health and vitality. Many of these farmers are living out their retirement dreams among the olive groves, or are young entrepreneurial spirits creating the kinds of artisanal products so many of us are eager to get our hands on!
We wanted to hear from the farmers themselves about what drew them to life on a farm and decided to reach out to a family who has turned olive farming into a three-generation-long tradition. Dan and Ashleigh Rohde are the heart and soul behind the award-winning Templeton Olive Oil and were happy to give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what life amongst the olive branches is truly all about – turns out, it’s a family affair!
TCM: Tell us a little about your history with olives. How did you first become olive farmers?
TRF: It’s been quite the journey! Wilmington, North Carolina was our home when our first-born was a baby, and we had a great life there with a photography business. After a while though, we found ourselves craving…more. While visiting our folks in the central coast of California, we met a friend of theirs who had planted 1,500 olive trees in Templeton, California. We learned more about their venture, and by the end of our visit it was a no-brainer: The production of California olive oil was a wonderful business to be in.
The rest was serendipitous, to say the least. We flew out to Templeton and not only found a place that had just gone on the market – it already boasted 3,000 three-year-old Arbequina Olive Trees! Just like that, we sold it all and moved!
We are so grateful to have had so much support in the beginning from both our family and friends. The idea of having an outdoor career with the whole family involved was a wonderful dream come true in this season of our lives.
TCM: What do you love most about running the olive farm?
TRF: Well, it’s wonderful that we are together. We love the hard work outside and watching creation daily. Helping the trees produce an amazing fruit that is so beneficial for us in many ways is beyond words. But being a farmer is tough work – and the picture that we thought we were getting into is a little different in reality – much harder. But you know what? We like it better than the initial “picture”…it’s much more rewarding!
TCM: What makes your olive products at Templeton unique?
TRF: Templeton Olive Oil has consistently had a very unique taste. We like to harvest early, which does create a stronger flavor and more robust, peppery finish. It’s great for salads, dipping, pasta and so much more! We like to keep our olive oil simple, focusing on the pure taste of extra virgin olive oil. The excitement and rapid growth of the California EVOO industry has been a joy to be a part of – we have won several awards, which makes us happy to know people enjoy our oil, and we like watching our fellow growers have success as well.
TCM: What is the difference between extra virgin olive oil and regular old olive oil?
TRF: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is pressed without the use of heat, which yields less oil – but far better quality. To be certified “extra virgin,” the olive oil must have less than 1% free-oleic acid. And on top of that, it must exhibit superior taste, color, and aroma – so really, “extra” simply means the best! The benefits are endless: reduced risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, stabilized blood pressure, the list goes on. Buying California EVOO ensures that you will get not only the highest quality oil, but also the freshest, healthiest and best tasting oil on the shelves. That’s why we like to be a part of the EVOO movement!
TCM: What is the easiest thing people can do to find the best olive oil on the market – and keep it that way for as long as possible?
TRF: You want oil that is pressed recently. It does not age like wine. It lasts longer in a dark bottle away from light and heat.
TCM: Beyond the kitchen, how do you use olive oil in your day-to-day life?
TRF: Plainly put: Olive oil is wonderful for your skin and hair! But again, it needs to be certified “extra virgin” to maintain all those natural antioxidants so essential to keeping your locks lovely and skin glowing. The great part is that it feels fantastic, and once you start using it, it becomes an easy and refreshing part of your daily life. We personally have seen such amazing results on our skin and hair. Our T.O.O. Soft Beauty line is fairly new on the market, but has been wonderfully received! We are so excited to share something that has been known and used for centuries and that our whole family has enjoyed for years. It is infused with either lemon or lavender, and believe it or not, we all style our hair with only oil now – wet or dry!
TCM: Here at The Chalkboard, we believe that everyone has something to teach and everything has something to learn. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a farmer, and what is the biggest lesson you hope to impart on your family, other farmers, and your community?
TRF: Like most, we’ve learned that we have a lot to learn! We are enjoying sharing what we know with others and receiving advice from long-time farmers of all kinds that are from this area. We are trying to instill a good work ethic for our children as they take care of 200 trees together. (Each of their rows is named after animals they thought of!) We hope to impart to our family the love of this beautiful land God made, this embracing community, and this free country we are so blessed to live in. We hope to unite with other farmers about local concerns and hope to be a benefit to our community both with our olive oil as well as with our lives and resources.
Garlic Vegetable Flatbread With Mushrooms and Blood Orange Balsamic Caramelized Onions
By Chef Kellen Moore, Serves 4
What You'll Need:
20 oz package frozen cauliflower
1 Tbps 24 Seasoning Blend
3/4 cup reduced-fat smoked gouda cheese
3/4 cup shaved parmesan, romano, and asiago cheese
1 tsp black pepper
6 Tbsp Garlic Olive Oil
1 white onion
2 medium shallots
3 tsp salt
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup Blood Orange Balsamic Vinegar
8 oz sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
1 Tbsp chopped basil for garnish
Finely shred 1 zucchini. Cook frozen cauliflower per package instructions. With a food processor, chop the shredded zucchini and steamed cauliflower until the vegetables are fine and granular (the goal is to replicate flour).
With a thin kitchen towel, take a moderate handful of the fine cauliflower and zucchini, place in the center of the towel, and strain the liquids out. Place dry cauliflower and zucchini mixture in a large mixing bowl. Repeat step until all of the cauliflower and zucchini has been strained of liquids. (Tip: do this step numerous times in small amounts to ensure the majority of the liquid is removed).
Add 1 egg, 1/2 cup of reduced fat smoked gouda cheese, 1/2 cup of shaved parmesan romano and asiago cheese, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 1 Tbsp of 24 Seasoning Blend, and a pinch of salt to the dry cauliflower and zucchini mixture. Mix all ingredients together.
Grease a large cookie sheet and place the vegetable flatbread mix on the sheet. Mold the mixture into an oval shape and evenly distribute.
Glaze the top of the flatbread with 2 Tbsp of We Olive Fresh Garlic Olive Oil.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While oven heats, finely slice 1 white onion and 2 medium shallots.
Heat a large skillet with 2 Tbsp of garlic olive oil. Add sliced onions, 1/2 tsp of black pepper and 2 tsp of salt. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes or until onions have caramelized (golden), stirring regularly.
While onions cook, place flatbread crust in oven for 35-40 minutes (until crispy and golden brown).
Heat a medium skillet with 2 Tbsp of garlic olive oil. Add sliced mushrooms and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes.
Cook the mushrooms for 5 more minutes with 1 tsp of salt (or until soft) and remove from heat.
Once the onions have caramelized, add 1 Tbsp of brown sugar and continue to stir for an additional 10 minutes.
Add 1/3 cup of blood orange balsamic vinegar and cook for an additional 10 minutes (until the vinegar is thick and infused in the onions).
Remove the flatbread from the oven and even distribute the onions, layered with the mushrooms, and sprinkled with 1/4 cup of reduced-fat smoked gouda cheese and 1/4 cup of shaved parmesan romano and asiago cheese. Garnish with basil.
Once the toppings have been placed, return to oven for an additional 10 minutes (or until cheese is melted and golden). Remove from oven and wait 5-10 minutes for flatbread to cool. Serve and enjoy (can be garnished with additional fresh basil).