Dine With Shayda: Interview

by Angela Morales
Dine With Shayda: Interview - Texas Hill Country Olive Co.

Texas Hill Country Olive Company was recently interviewed by Austin food blogger Shayda Torabi. Full interview has been reposted below:

Texas Hill Country Olive Company is a little piece of Italy in the Texas Hill Country. Located right outside of Dripping Springs on a beautiful piece of land, the Gambini family is growing and manufacturing organic olive oil that has been ranked as some of the best in the country.

They’ve created this amazing oasis in Dripping Springs and invite you to come tour their olive oil making process, olive orchard, and enjoy some Texas Hill Country wine as you learn more about how each olive tree is determined if it is ready to be turned into olive oil perfect for your next pasta dish!

I was able to ask Cara Gambini, co- owner of Texas Hill Country Olive Company some questions about olive oil, their orchard, and some of her favorite (and quirky) things to put olive oil on. Read on, and take a trip to tour their orchard this fall!

What brought you and your family to start an olive orchard?

My father had the dream of having vineyard. We are Italian by heritage and he is love with the idea of having a bit of our heritage here in Texas. We were talking about this dream over Thanksgiving in 2009. He had just read an article about the some other Texas farmers who had planted some olive trees and were starting to figure out what varieties to grow and which areas they would grow best in. It intrigued us! We thought it would be much more fun to be pioneers in a new industry vs jumping into an already well established one (there were already 160 wineries in Texas at that time). It happened very quickly. By December of 2009 we had the land and by spring of 2010 we had trees in the ground. It’s been a labor of love ever since!

Was Texas your first choice or what brought you to Dripping Springs?

We are native Texans and 3rd & 4th generation Italian immigrants. Dripping Springs not only had the perfect land conditions but also shared many similarities to certain landscapes in Italy. It was a bit of a homage to our motherland that we chose to plant where we did.

What does Dripping Springs offer your orchard that other parts of Texas could not?

The trees are planted on a slope in rocky limestone soil – the limestone keeps the soil more alkaline, the slope of the land and the rocks in the soil help with water drainage. There is always a nice breeze in the orchard which helps the pollinator trees (Pendolino variety) to pollinate the varieties that need pollinating.

Where did your olive trees come from, did you source from another famous or known orchard?

We sourced some olive varieties from nurseries in Texas. We have also purchased trees from California.

Was being organic a conscious choice for your orchard or what drove you to invest in that quality of product?

Our organic certification that we’ve maintained for the last 4 years was definitely a conscious decision. It’s a costly investment in both time & money each year but we care so much for the trees and the land we couldn’t really do it any other way. We have never been able to get our mill certified organic so we haven’t been able to claim organic on our bottles. I hope we get there some day but in the meantime we maintain it based on our pride for the quality of product we want to produce.

What goes into making a good olive oil? or What is the olive oil making process?

There are certain guidelines you must follow such as not bruising the fruit too much by letting it fall to the ground, milling within 48 to 72 hours, cold pressing the oil to keep it below a certain temperature during the milling process. In the end these are just guidelines. What makes an olive oil Extra Virgin is simply that it is an olive oil with no defects. To determine whether it is EVOO there is a sensory analysis and chemical analysis. You must have both to really determine if what you have is true Extra Virgin. The sensory analysis is the only way you can tell you if you have a premium or award winning EVOO. The oil must have a good balance of fruity, bitter and pungent – these are the positive attributes of EVOO. The defects are rancid, musty, fusty, etc. The chemical analysis will tell you what the polyphenol count, free fatty acid, peroxide value, etc. If these values come back over or under what the standards are then it would automatically be counted as virgin or worse, Lampante oil (lamp oil – not fit for human consumption). This is a lot to get into in a short paragraph and I wasn’t sure how in depth you want this to be. I can simply or expand on this question if need be. Just let me know how I can help.

What types of things do you look out for to test quality, taste, etc? or Think of how someone without that refined knowledge might begin to pick out the qualities of a good olive oil.

I’m always looking for a good balance for fruity, bitter and pungent. I’m also looking for mouth feel. If it’s EVOO and it’s fresh it shouldn’t hang out in your mouth and feel greasy. If you smell any of the following – winey, reminds you of tapenade, nail polish or wet hay – walk away! I also try to tell people not to shy away from a strong peppery finish. That means the EVOO has high polyphenols and oleocanthols – amazing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties all wrapped up in heart healthy mono-unsaturated fat. Olive oil is one of the absolute best things you can add to your diet.

What’s your favorite part of the olive oil making process?

The look of the oil as it comes out the spout for the first time. It is the coolest color of bright green you will ever see. I also love the smell and taste of fresh unfiltered oil.

What is your favorite thing to make with your olive oil?

I love to pour it on fresh pasta with a little bit of sea salt. It’s a simple but delicious pleasure.

What is the strangest thing you have put olive oil on that others might be curious to try?

Ice Cream or Gelato (preferably vanilla), You can actually drizzle it over the dessert with a little bit of sea salt. Yum!

Anything you think might surprise readers about what it’s like to own and operate an olive orchard?

One of the reasons we thought it was such a cool idea to have an orchard is that olive trees live for thousands of years. They have found 5000 year old trees, crazy right! There is something really magical about owning an orchard that could live that long and be handed down to generations of our family. It’s also a pretty cool feeling when someone comes by for a tour and says this is the first time they have ever seen an olive tree up close. I get a lot of enjoyment from educating people about this new industry in Texas.

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