My family and I had the great pleasure of visiting the Sciabica Gift Shop in Modesto, California a few days ago for some olive oil tasting and a quick tour of the olive groves. (Yes, yes, I know I should be resting up from having a baby.. but I’m so stir crazy!!)
I had reached out to the Sciabica family requesting the opportunity to review their product a few weeks ago, and was delighted to receive a sample of some of their flavored oils. Some of you know I am HUGE extra virgin olive oil fan. Between the health benefits and the taste, it’s what I primarily cook with. I have a few “favorite brands”, but after doing some Google searching / researching of brands closer to home, I was extremely interested in trying Sciabica’s.
Sciabica’s caught my eye because their award winning olive oils are GMO Free, cold pressed and locally grown. All of their 100% Extra Virgin California Olive Oils are unrefined and contain no imported olive oil, chemicals, artificial colorings or preservatives. And being cold pressed, the olive oils retain all of their flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Win, win, and yet more win!
Additionally, the Sciabica family produces the undisputed oldest continuously produced California Olive Oil available today.
About the Sciabica Family Olive Oils
From the Sciabica Olive Oil website:
In 1887 Nicola (Nick) Sciabica was born in Marsala, Sicily. As a young man he learned the ancient art of producing olive oil in the mills of Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani, a very famous olive and olive oil production region on the island. In 1911 he immigrated to the United States. Nicola settled and started a family in Waterbury Connecticut. Still, Nicola long desired the Mediterranean climate, and was told that he would find what he was looking for in California. However, upon arrival in San Francisco he was met with a little disappointment, as it was summer time and he expected a bit warmer climate. He eventually came to Modesto, California in 1925 with his wife and their 3 sons, and he fell in love. Nick said, “This is like home.”
The Sciabica Family began farming a small grape vineyard in Modesto that year, not for wine, but to sell fresh for wine making. During prohibition, our customers were allowed to make a small amount of wine for personal use. It was there, with the knowledge that Nicola brought from olive oil making in Sicily, in 1936 that they began the production of Marsala® Brand Olive Oil (named after his birthplace) which is the undisputed oldest continuously produced California Olive Oil available today. The family still resides, farms and produces olive oil on the original land today.
Through the years, the efforts of Nicola, his children, grandchildren and great-granchildren have made the Sciabica Family’s olive oil unmatched in quality and flavor. Joseph Sciabica, who headed the family operation for 74 years, would always say, “You can’t beat experience.”
In the late 80’s the Sciabica family began keeping olive varietals separate all the way to the bottle (just like wines). For over 30 years they have been offering their single varietal olive oils under the Sciabica’s® label. More recently, they have expanded their line to include Fresh Pressed Unfiltered olive oils and “Fresh Flavored” olive oils, which are made fresh in the presses by sending Lemons, Oranges, Jalapeños, Basil, Garlic, Rosemary, Limes or Habaneros with the olives through the presses. Just 2 ingredients – no artificials or heat infusion.
Today, Nicola’s grandsons Nick and Daniel, and great-grandson Jonathan, carry on the Sciabica tradition of California olive oil production, the way Nicola did over 7 decades ago. They are committed to offering unique and exciting new products that live up to the quality and consistency that many have come to expect from the Sciabica Family.
Our Experience Olive Oil Tasting at Sciabica’s
So I mentioned that Sciabica’s sent us some flavored olive oils to try out and review (and I’ll share more about those below!). But with my mother-in-law in town visiting her brand new granddaughter Thyme (she is a huge olive oil fan as well), and me being stir crazy to get out of the house, we decided to make the two hour drive from Visalia and drop by the Sciabica Gift Shop in Modesto for some olive oil tasting.
Even though we stopped by rather unexpectedly, Jonathan Sciabica was very welcoming and walked us through the many olive oil varieties they offer. As much of a foodie as I am, I had never been olive oil tasting before, so it was quite exciting! (Olive oil tasting is kind of like wine tasting, except without the hoity toity atmosphere and exaggerated slurping.)
Even Tessa got in on the olive oil tasting action!! Once we’d sip on an olive oil variety, Tessa would reach for and nom up the remainder of the oil in the tasting cup. (She wasn’t sure if she liked the vinegar tasting though! hehehe…)
As mentioned above, most olive oils are a blend of multiple types of olive varieties. While Sciabica offers olive oil blends, they also offer the individual, pure olive varieties. (Just as there are different types of grapes and different types of tomatoes, there are different types of olives.) I had never before tasted individual olive oil varieties so it was quite the educational culinary experience! From buttery Mission olive oil to peppery Arbosano, to smooth and full flavored Sevillano, the flavors were so distinct and unique it was amazing to think that such a broad flavor profile could all fall under the vague and all-encompassing title of “olive oil”.
In addition to the olive varieties, we got to try a sampling of flavored oils. The flavor injected into these oils had to be tasted to be believed. Seriously. I don’t think any amount of text can fully convey how very lemony the lemon olive oil is, or how spicy and vegetable fresh the jalapeno is.
The extreme infusion of flavor in Sciabica’s flavored olive oils is because they do not infuse the flavor through heat like most olive oils. Instead they send fresh fruits or herbs with the olives through the presses. For example, fresh, whole lemons will get crushed with the olives in the mill to produce Lemon Olive Oil, and big, beautiful jalapeños will go through the same process for the Jalapeno Olive Oil. The process is cold, all natural and amazingly fresh tasting. (CLICK HERE to check out a video of the process!)
I had already tried the garlic, basil and lemon flavored oils at home and so far the lemon was my favorite (I’ve been using it to make a honey mustard vinaigrette, and have been eliminating the lemon juice in the recipe since the lemon flavor is so strong!) But when Jonathan pulled out their Orange Olive Oil paired with their Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar, I was sold on my new Sciabica favorite!!
The Orange Olive Oil and Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar duo was so good, and the flavor so crisp and intricate, that I can eat those two alone on a salad and feel like I’m having a complex, gourmet dish! We picked some up at the gift shop, and I’m very much looking forward to orange and pomegranate flavored salads when I kick start my “lose the baby weight” diet next week!
After the olive oil tasting, Jonathan was kind enough to show us the original groves planted by his great-grandfather that started it all in Modesto. The grove was situated behind the house his grandfather built, where his family currently resides. In a world that is increasingly becoming industrialized and taken over by “Big Agriculture”, it was refreshing to see this family owned and operated, heritage rich grove. The rolling hillside with olive and pomegranate trees was beautiful and unassuming. While it is only one of many groves owned by the Sciabica family to produce their award-winning oils, it was fun getting a little behind the scenes peek at the groves that started it all.