Fresh Off the Press

What is olio nuovo, and is it worth ordering?

Every year at harvest time, Italians look forward to the olio nuovo, or “new oil.” It’s the first extra-virgin olive oil off the press—full of fine olive particles suspended in brilliant green oil. (Ordinarily, fresh-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is stored in steel tanks for about two months before bottling to give sediment time to settle to the bottom and let the oil’s flavor mellow and stabilize.) Italians use olio nuovo lavishly, relishing its fresh, intense flavor, because within several weeks that olive sediment begins to ferment into off-flavors, and it’s all over until next year’s harvest.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have Old World relatives with an olive press, olio nuovo can be hard to come by. It wasn’t until last December, when I visited California olive oil makers in the middle of harvest season, that I had the opportunity to taste olio nuovo.

At the Olive Press in Sonoma, managing partner Deborah Rogers filled a small glass bottle right from the stream of oil trickling out of the press, and we sat down to sample it. The full, vivid, fresh flavor proved addictive. Back at home, I tried olio nuovo from McEvoy Ranch in Marin County and California Olive Ranch in Oroville, enjoying them daily until they ran out.

Many California oil producers sell olio nuovo on their websites, and we're planning to make ordering it a winter tradition. Who needs European connections?

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