Growing Olives in Arizona
For more than a decade, we have been experimenting with different olive (olea europaea) varieties to establish which varieties grow best in the Arizona desert, evaluating the yield, bloom dates, harvest maturity dates, pollination, fruit size, cold hardiness, disease resistance, and oil quality/profile. Our grove is home to over 16 different varieties with the Frantoio, Grappolo, Pendolino, Maurino, Moraiolo, Coratina, Taggiasca and Mission as the primary varieties planted. Our trees are drip irrigated and the use of pesticides or mold inhibitors is not required as there is no issue with the olive fly or any kind of olive tree molds. Hence our grove is pesticide free.
The two most important factors in the production of a high quality olive oil are the harvest date or fruit maturity and the varietal character.
Harvest Date or Fruit Maturity
The ultimate flavor of any variety can be completely changed by either harvesting the fruit in its green ripe stage (early harvest) or its purple ripe stage (late harvest). The subtleties in between those two extremes can have a major influence on the style of oil produced. In our experience, maturity can even have a greater influence on quality than the variety itself.
Olives harvested and pressed in their green ripe stage will yield oil that has a grassy, bitter and peppery profile that will have a long shelf life, whereas the oil from a purple ripe fruit is often buttery, fruity to flat and does not keep as well. Deciding when to harvest is a key factor in determining the style of oil that we produce at the Queen Creek Olive Mill. For any given variety, there is a very short window of two to three weeks to capture the ideal harvest period to create a distinctive oil.
The varietal character of olive oil is just like the varietal character of any fruit. The variety essentially determines the quality of the fruit and oil. Some varieties thrive more than others in certain climatic conditions. It has been well established that with distinct varieties, distinct oil types are produced. The quantity of polyphenols, aromatic compounds, and many other compounds varies by variety, fruit maturity, and processing technique, which is why there are so many different kinds of olive oil, each with its inherently unique flavor characteristics and stability.
There are many important factors involved in the production of high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The most critical are:
1. Never use fallen olives. Our olives are hand harvested using gentle release methods at the perfect time.
2. Olives are pressed within 24 hours of harvest. “Fresh olives give you fresh oil, it’s as simple as that”
3. We use only mechanical means to extract the oil, never any heat or solvents. Cold pressed!
4. The oleic acid content must be a maximum of 0.8% to be classified as EVOO in North America. Simply put, this is a freshness index. The lower the number, the fresher the oil. We pride ourselves with a value considerably lower, typically around 0.3%