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Stories from the valley

Innovation propels Corning’s Historic Olive Industry

Contributed by Jim Morris

As synonymous as garlic is to Gilroy and artichokes from Castroville, olives have been part of the foundation of Corning right from the start.

Just off Interstate 5 in Tehama County, there are a plethora of reminders why Corning earns its name as “The Olive City.”

The main drag in town includes the legendary Olive Pit, which features more than 120 different types of olives.

Mission Olive Tree CorningFrom the freeway you can see olive orchards dominating the landscape. In fact, there’s an orchard in a residential area of Corning with century-old Mission and Sevillano olives that’s still going strong!

Less obvious is the transformation Corning has made from canning olives to olive oil.  At its peak, there were nine olive processing plants operating in the area. Today the number is fewer, although Bell-Carter, the world’s largest ripe olive processing plant, continues. International competition brought about the attrition, however it’s good to see that Corning has rebounded well. It now plays a big role in satisfying America’s steadily growing interest in olive oil. Many have learned about the taste and heart-healthy attributes of fresh, local olive oil.

Liz Tagami 31816

“I sold my first bottle of California olive oil in 1982, from a farmer in Lindsay growing Mission olives,” remarked Liz Tagami, General Manager of Lucero Olive Oil. “At that time, even though I’m a native Californian, I only thought there were two kinds of olives – the black kind on a pizza and the green kind that you put in a martini.”

Much has changed since then.

Thanks to our great Mediterranean climate, adaptable farmers and sophisticated millers, Lucero and several other Sacramento Valley olive oil makers enjoy increased production and demand.

Mirroring the rise of coffee, wine and chocolate, our love of olive oil is growing. U.S. per capita consumption has risen about fivefold in a generation.

Lucero 3

Lucero has fared extremely well, taking nearly 300 awards over the last six years, including both local competitions as well as prestigious international ones in New York, Jerusalem and Tokyo.  Visiting their tasting room is a real eye-opener. They have an array of single-variety olive oils, each with their own flavor profile.

What also caught my eye were their fruit-infused oils, all from locally grown produce crushed and milled with 24 hours. Drizzling their Crushed Mandarin Orange Oil over ice cream evoked memories of a gourmet Dreamsicle – simply amazing!

They even have an olive oil of the month club, along with plenty else to entice you to venture just a few minutes from the Interstate.

One more to keep an eye on is their Chocolate-infused Olive Oil. I’ve tried it and highly recommend it!

Lucero offers public tours which are a great way for an up close look at this fascinating part of our valley.