Texas is experiencing another oil boom, but this time it's a lot tastier! While olive oil has long been grown in foreign countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal, our Lone Star State is catching onto the market, and pioneers like Jim Henry of Texas Olive Ranch are the reason why we're able to regularly use local extra virgin olive oil in our Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil & Sea Salt ice cream.
In 2005, Jim Henry planted olive trees in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which is now home to the largest producer of extra virgin olive oil in the Southern United States. Now you can also find that olive oil in one of our top-selling everyday flavors, from a company with similar values and goals as our own: to make great-tasting natural products without any additives or artificial flavors.
"This is the highest quality EVOO you're going to find locally," said Josh Henry, Jim's son and "the wrangler" at Texas Olive Ranch. "[We have] a connection to Mother Earth, and a respect for the tradition and love for the olive oil and what we do."
Strangely enough, Texas Olive Ranch all got started when Jim was a buyer for Pier 1 Imports. His job took him all over Europe, and his innovative spirit raised the question, "Why doesn't Texas have any olive trees?"
Jim was determined he could plant in orchard in Texas, whose climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean. And so he planted two: one in Marble Falls and one in San Antonio. But the climate was too cold for the Italian varieties he'd planted and the crops never produced. It was when he visited a friend in Parisos Springs and saw their thriving 70-year-old Spanish olive trees in their backyard that he knew what to do.
And so, with a business partner, he planted 40,000 olive trees and in three years was able to produce 20,000 gallons of olive oil -- the most olive oil produced in the state of Texas.
"It was the coolest experience to see my father's dream come true," Josh said.
Those same trees still produce an average of 20,000 gallons, mostly of the Aberquina variety. The family also planted 70,000 more trees in Victoria a few years back and was expecting its first harvest this year, but Hurricane Harvey had different plans for the orchard.
"We lost 30 percent of our trees and all the fruit," Josh said. "It was a real bummer, but that's Mother Nature. It's what we have to bow down to. We're hoping, after assessing the damage, we can get a good crop next year."
The reason why the Arbequina trees have done so well in south Texas, according to Josh, is because they require a good temperate climate and benefit from the aromatic, sandy loam soil in which they're planted. Once they're picked with a mechanical harvester, the bins of olives are taken to their press, which presses 2.5 tons of olives per hour. Josh says they do this toward the beginning of the harvest season, when you might not get as much volume but do get higher quality olive oil. The oil then goes into barrels, which get sealed so they don't oxidize, and then goes through a racking stage. During this stage, any remaining sediment is removed, leaving only beautiful golden olive oil to be bottled and sold.
While olive oil has been a long-time commodity of the Mediterranean, Josh said the bigger brands are slowly getting exposed for selling lower quality products than what they tout. A lot of businesses are guilty of a process called adulteration, where poor-quality oil can be chemicalized to give it a different aroma and a different look.
"It's combining a lot of bad properties into an older version of oil, like a rancid or below virgin state of olive oil," Josh said. "It's a real funny game, and we try to stay above that. Honesty and quality are why we're doing this."
With quality olive oil, the benefits are nearly endless. While many people consider it as a finishing oil, Josh said a big part of his job is to educate people on how olive oil can be great for cooking, is full of antioxidants, and even helps rid the body of free radicals, making it a cancer-fighting ingredient.
"When we think of olive oil, we think and believe it's a world treasure," Josh said. "The evolution of the benefits of olive oil is going far beyond eating with it and cooking with it."
You can find the fruits of Texas Olive Ranch's labor on the shelves at Wheatsville, Whole Foods, and soon at places like H-E-B and even Amazon. Texas Olive Ranch has also partnered with local business Olive + M to provide olive oil-based skin care products. And, as always, you find it in our scoops and pints of Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt ice cream!