Ark of Taste
California Mission Olive
The California Mission Olive is a variety unique to the United States. Although its origin was believed to be Spanish, tests at the University of Spain at Cordoba were unable to link it to any of the 700 varieties documented there. The roots of the California Mission Olive are in the orchards of the Jesuit and Franciscan missions founded several centuries ago throughout California. Mission towns pressed the olive into oil, which was used for cooking, healing wounds and lubricating machinery, as it had been in Europe for over 4000 years. Batches of oil were also blessed and used in sacramental ceremonies.
Since its introduction to California in the late 1700s, the Mission variety Olive has evolved through interplantings, numerous locations and natural selection. Yet during that time, no effort was made to assure that newly propagated trees were from the original Mission trees. An important recent milestone was the discovery of an original grove which had once belonged to Mission La Purisima Concepción. This has now been restored and is providing authentic cuttings for new plantings.
In addition to the conservation efforts at La Purisima Concepción there have been several grassroots recovery efforts for the California Mission Olive: Sonoma’s Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Jose are now once again harvesting its trees for oil; Mission Soledad has replanted a full California Mission Olive grove; and Mission Santa Cruz has added number of authentic California Mission Olive trees to their property.
There are a handful of producers now making and selling California Mission Olive Oil for the market and public awareness of and demand for the product will help sustain burgeoning recovery efforts.
California Mission Olives are unique in that they are suitable for both the pressing of oil and the curing of table olives. Both black oil-cured and green brine-cured table Olives are mild in flavor. Depending on the degree of ripeness, the oil made from early harvests can have a mild grassy, astringent taste, while a later harvest yields a smooth and mild taste.