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UC Food Safety

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Last call for olio nuovo

I’m slow on the artisan EVOO wave. In December, after proofreading the new issue of California Agriculture - Growing Bigger, Better: Artisan Olive Oil Comes of Age, I purchased a bottle for my partner and the next day heard a TV comedian joke about people buying $60 bottles of olive oil for holidays gifts. (Then I felt cheap — I hadn’t spent that much!)

But the tall thin black bottle of December’s New Oil from Katz and Company, near Napa, was so fabulous I decided to start learning the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) lexicon. Did I know for sure whether it was grassy, buttery, peppery or pungent? It certainly was green. Albert Katz this week told me why: “That’s the chlorophyll in the oil; it’s at its height in olio nuovo,” he said.

When the earliest still-green olives are crushed in November, a strong odor of fresh green fills the mill, he explained. The crush smells like fresh artichoke, even parsley, but most predominantly like grass. Katz has been in the business so long that when he catches a whiff of mown grass he looks around to see whether someone is crushing olives nearby.

Darn it, though, Katz sells their olio nuovo only in December, so it’s over. The limited production and short window of sales for olio nuovo, celebrating the first crush, is a tradition in all the major olive-growing regions of the world, including northern Italy, where the name originates. The oil is always unfiltered, cloudy, and as bold as it’s ever going to be. Katz calls it “the pungency of youth.”

This week sees the very end of the season. McEvoy Ranch has bottles of their olio nuovo for sale at their San Francisco Ferry Building store and online through this weekend (February 6). The McEvoy olio nuovo is green, robust, and peppery — peppery means it has a little burn in the throat, which is a desirable quality. (Bitter is a different matter; it’s tasted on the tongue.) Like all olio nuovo, the McEvoy new oil has sediment in the bottom of the bottle, and it has an unctuous quality, a little pleasantly thick and earthy in the mouth.

With the end of the olio nuovo season comes the release of the oils that have been stored for two months; they are already changing — more mellow, more golden — and the sediment will stay in the storage tanks. As they age through spring and summer, they’ll taste more buttery.

Climate affects the taste of oil. “Terroir” is what the environmental factors are called, explain Paul Vossen and Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne in the California Agriculture article on sensory qualities of olive oils.  Katz tastes some roundness and softness in his oil this year, from the cool summer and late harvest.

Different varieties of olive trees produce markedly different aroma compounds. Tuscan varieties, grown by both Katz and McEvoy Ranch, have robust aroma profiles (full-bodied, pungent, complex). A few stores down from McEvoy at the San Francisco Ferry Building, Stonehouse sells its milder EVOO, pressed from Spanish olive oil varieties Mission, Manzanillo, Sevillano, Ascolano and Arbequina. The Stonehouse oil isn’t spicy; it doesn’t burn the throat.

Last week, Katz released its main oils for 2011: Chef’s Pick Organic Extra Virgin and Rock Hill Ranch Extra Virgin. Rock Hill doesn’t taste like the olio nuovo, because a significant proportion of the olives in it are Taggiasca, and they weren’t harvested until after the olio nuovo was made. Chef’s Pick, though, has the same profile, Katz says. Now I know a little of the language, I think I’m going to investigate further and buy a bottle before it sells out. If I wait until summer, I’m told the green will be gone and the grassiness turned more herbal.

For more information on tasting olive oils, check out the UC Davis Olive Center; in August, they have introductory and advanced seminars on sensory evaluation of olive oil.

Paul Vossen is a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and expert on olive oil processing tasting; watch his video on tasting here.

Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne showed Sacramento Bee reporter Gina Kim in this video how to taste oil and recognize fustiness.

The California Olive Oil Council website lists farm tours and tasting rooms.

The Olive Oil Times has an archive of articles on tasting, including one on recognizing rancidity.

Posted on Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 8:24 AM

New citrus hybrid 'Valentine' is all heart

A new UC Riverside citrus hybrid - combining the best traits of pummelo, mandarin and blood orange - could eventually become an ideal and healthful Valentine's Day present.

Valentine pummelo hybrid merges the large size and low acidity of Siamese Sweet pummelo, complex floral taste from Dancy mandarin and juicy red pulp from Ruby blood orange.

The fact that the fruit matures in mid-February, near Valentine's Day, isn't the only reason it was given the nickname 'Valentine.' Cutting the fruit lengthwise and turning it upside-down reveals flesh that looks a little like a vibrant red heart.

The new Valentine hybrid is also an excellent eating fruit.

"It has a complex flavor that is different from the most common pummelo, Chandler," said Tracy Kahn, senior museum scientist with the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection. "It is sweeter and floral and the bright red streaking pigmentation adds to the experience."

The fruit is unique in being grapefruit sized and containing anthocyanin pigmentation. Anthocyanin, an antioxident that gives the fruit its deep red color, may diminish the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer and LDL cholesterol accumulation.

Budwood for the new hybrid was released by UC Riverside to nurseries in 2009. A few retail nurseries will have a small quantity of Valentine trees this year; more are coming in the future.

"Valentine will be a specialty crop, for sure, and will probably be sold for restaurants, in farmers markets and specialty grocery stories once a year, at the peak of its season, around Valentine's Day," Kahn said.

How to eat this new fruit cocktail? Kahn suggests cutting off the top and bottom of the fruit, sliding off the rind, peeling off the pith and cutting out the sections inside the membranes with a knife.

Posted on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 8:02 AM

Produce handling in developing economies

There is a wide schism between the sleek mechanical harvesting machines that briskly traverse California’s fertile croplands versus the field worker with a machete and head-basket, or possibly a donkey laden with woven baskets, that is still most commonly found in many nations.

Produce loss continues to be a significant problem. Worldwide, it is estimated that as much as one-third of the produce grown is never consumed by humans (Kader, 2005). Many logistical challenges contribute to this loss, including: ineffective or absent cooling systems, slow and rough transportation, physical damage from rough handling, and poor sanitation conditions.

In 2010, one of the most popular free titles available on the Postharvest Technology Center’s website was “Small-Scale Postharvest Handling Practices: A Manual for Horticultural Crops.” Written by Lisa Kitinoja and Adel Kader, and currently translated into 10 languages, this title was downloaded by over 22,000 readers last year. While this useful resource is very popular in the United States among small-scale farmers, over 8,000 readers benefitted from the useful content translated into Indonesian, 4,000 from the Vietnamese translation, and over 3,000 from the Arabic translation. Readers learned information about the curing of tuber crops, designing picking poles and catching sacks to gently harvest fruit, and efficient designs for packinghouse layout.  (Link to all ten translations are found under the section “Small-Scale Postharvest Practices” at:

“Many simple practices have successfully been used to reduce losses and maintain produce quality of horticultural crops in various parts of the world for many years,” asserted Lisa Kitinoja of Extension Systems International. “You don’t necessarily need costly handling machinery and high-tech postharvest treatments to be able to deliver quality produce to the marketplace. However, effective management during the postharvest period is key to reaching the desired objective.”

While most California produce shoppers are grateful for the quality and variety available in our markets, it’s nice to know that an effort is being made to improve the produce available to others not quite as fortunate as we.

Photo: Kumasi retail produce market, courtesy of Adel Kader.

Posted on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 8:11 AM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed

Chili Five-O

So you're seeking a panel of judges for your chili contest.

It's a good idea to find a firefighter and a detective – a firefighter to extinguish any four-alarm fires, and a detective to scrutinize the ingredients.

And, of course, someone who absolutely loves those exquisitely hot – did I say hot? HOT! – jalapeno peppers.

That's exactly what happened at the 2011 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, held Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Riverview School, Rio Vista. Toni Tucker of the Rio Vista 4-H Club pulled it all together.

The judges: Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Schindler of the Montezuma Fire Protection District in Rio Vista, and Chef Riccardo Bahena Antunez of the Taqueria Mexico Restaurant in Rio Vista.

They all know their way around a kitchen. They do, indeed. For instance, Detective Rister began preparing meals for her family when she was only 7. She  worked her way through college (criminal justice, Sacramento State University) by waitressing and cooking.

The judges scored 10 dishes prepared by 4-H'ers in Dixon, Vacaville, Suisun, Rio Vista and Vallejo. This was not for the weak-hearted; the teams sported such monikers as "The Red Hot Chili Peppers," "Howlin' Hot Chilimakers," "Chili Banditos," "Super Awesome Chili" and "Cool Beans" (so hot the 4-H'ers had to cool down by wearing sunglasses).

The judges easily detected the subtle flavors: coffee here,  cocoa there, and oh, yes, isn't that a touch of semi-sweet dark chocolate?

Less than an hour later, a winner. The Chili Five-O team from the newly formed Wolfskill 4-H Club in Dixon.

Five-Oh? Because they've been dreaming of vacationing in Hawaii.

“We can't afford to go to Hawaii, and besides, we don't have time – we’re too busy with 4-H projects,” said team member Hannah Crawford-Stewart. “So we thought, why not make a chili based on food from the tropics?”

They did. They created a chili chunked with pineapple and laced with coconut milk and named it “Chili Five-O.”

Hannah, 13,  and her fellow cooks Kaylee Lindgren, 13, Madison Pitto, 9 and Spencer Currey, 15, wowed the judges with their tasty chili studded with ham, sausage, fried and diced pork, and two kinds of beans, kidney and pinto.  "We tested it about 10 times before the contest." Hannah said.

They thought of every detail. They wore Hawaiian attire. They decorated their table in an island motif. They greeted the judges with “aloha!"

The crushed macadamia nut topping was optional. The smiles were not.

“The chili was awesome,” said Rister. “They tested it, tried it and came up with something different. It’s a great recipe.”

Schindler and Antunez agreed.

The judges praised the  “nice kick” and  “good finish” of the chili and the friendliness, enthusiasm and knowledge of the “aloha” team.

Here's the wining recipe:

Chili Five-O
By Hannah Crawford-Stewart, Kaylee Lindgren, Madison Pitto and Spencer Currey of Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

2 cups ham, fried and diced
1 pound sausage, cooked
1 pound pork, fried and diced
2 cups diced onions, cooked to translucent
13.5 ounces coconut milk
15 ounces carrot juice
16 ounces crushed pineapple and juice
5 cups carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
5 cups dried pineapple, diced (small)
Two 16-ounce cans kidney beans
One 16-ounce can pinto beans
5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Cook meat and onions. Combine with liquids and mix well.  Add spices, carrots, celery, pineapple and beans. Cook over medium heat to soft boil (5 minutes). Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally. Serves 12. Optional topping: crushed macadamia nuts.

* * *  *

You won't forget to eat your vegetables in this dish.

Eat-Your-Vegetables Chili
By “Howlin’ Hot Chilimakers” Kiara Madden, Riley Currey and Daniela Setka of the Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

3 cups French onion soup
1-1/2 cups northern white beans
1-1/2 cups kidney beans
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup lentils
1 cup red, green and yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup carrots
2 cups summer squash (zucchini and crookneck squash)
1-1/2 cups eggplant
1/2 cup portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup onion
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons coriander
2-1/2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
6 ounces root beer
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup masa flour
5 strips of bacon, crisp

Broil eggplant and mushrooms. Dice all vegetables. Cook beans and lentils in French onion soup. Add all ingredients except bacon and cook for 45 minutes on high or crock pot for 4 hours. Crisp bacon and chop. Mix in right before serving. Serves 15.

Don't be surprised if Super Bowl Sunday turns into a "Souper Bowl of Chili."

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Color, color and more color

When my daughter was a young swimmer, she wanted to collect a ribbon of every color. Picking up on this, my husband and I encouraged her to eat many colored fruits and vegetables as a game. Red strawberries, green kiwis, and hmmm, what kind of fruit is white? Bananas! Then we have green cucumbers, red peppers, purple eggplant. You get the picture. 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, so why not make it a game? If you had an orange with your cereal for breakfast, have a spinach salad with red onions, mushrooms and sprinkle of bacon for lunch and blueberries on yogurt for your afternoon snack. Let’s see, that covers orange, green, red, white and blue. I guess we’re having a spaghetti dinner! It’s interesting that much of the nutritional value of a particular vegetable can be found by just looking at the color of it.

  • Red — lycopene, anthocyanins — Heart and circulation health, urinary tract health, memory function
  • Yellow/orange — carotenoids, bioflavenoids — Vision health, healthy immune system, heart health
  • White — phytochemicals — Cholesterol levels, heart health
  • Green — indoles, lutein — Healthy bones and teeth, vision health
  • Blue/purple — anthocyanins, phenoles — Healthy aging, urinary tract health, memory function  Phenol

Now that we know what the colors do for us, let’s make sure to keep all the nutrients we can. After planning, shopping and preparing, you don’t want to cook the health right out of your veggies! Of course most people eat their fruit raw, which, in general, is the best thing to do with all fruits and vegetables. An exception is tomatoes. Heat processing actually enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the lycopene content that can be absorbed by the body, as well as the total antioxidant activity. The best way to cook veggies is to steam or stir-fry for the shortest time possible. If you can avoid it, don’t boil your vegetables as their nutrients leach into the water.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that keep you and your family healthy and thriving. Try adding more colors to your diet today starting with this delicious recipe from Family Fun magazine.

Chicken Lo Mein

The best part about this colorful dish is its versatility -- you can pick and choose the vegetables you include to accommodate your family's tastes.

  • 1/2 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced


  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap pea pods, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Chinese baby corn, drained and cut in thirds
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size strips
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions until just tender. Drain out the water. Rinse the noodles with cold water, drain them well, and then set them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, chicken broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Then set the sauce aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the ginger for 30 seconds. Then add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrots and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Finally, add the broccoli, pea pods, and corn. Stir-fry the vegetables for 2 more minutes, then transfer them to a plate.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add half of the chicken and stir-fry it until it's no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer it to another plate. Stir-fry the remaining chicken, then return the first batch to the pan. Add the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Using two spatulas or wooden spoons, lightly toss the mixture until heated through, about 3 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 8:13 AM

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