BY FRANCESCA VAN SOEST ON MAY 1st 2020
At Cobram Estate, we know our olives. And one of the things we love to do the most is educate people on all the different olive varieties and how their different sizes and flavors impact our oil creation and blending. So to start this series off we thought it would be best to begin with the number one most popular Californian olive variety: Arbequina.
Arbequina olives are by far the most prevalent olives used in the Californian olive oil industry. In fact, more than 80% of the planted acres in California are Arbequina. There are many reasons that this variety of olive is the most popular. The first reason being that it is the most commonly used in the popular superhigh-density (SHD) grove model, which is where the trees are planted in a hedgerow fashion rather than the traditional spaced out olive groves in Europe. This allows for much easier mechanical harvesting which is much more efficient than hand harvesting.
Arbequina trees are also resistant to cold and are relatively tolerant to olive knot, which is one of the most common ailments in Californian olive groves. It also has a high rooting ability, which means that it can root deeper to access more water. This also means that watering is more efficient because the roots get water from the surface and the water doesn’t go to waste once the ground absorbs it.
The fruit itself is on the smaller side and is more spherical rather than obloid. It has no nose and the fruit is a deep green colour when young, and turns from yellow to purple once it is ripe. It is also slightly freckled and has a medium/low retention rate, which means that the branch will release the fruit easily for harvesting. The fruit is typically dispersed evenly in solitary berries along the previous years new growth branches.
The trees canopy is a dark green and the undersides of the leaves are very silvery. When a branch is full of fruit and dropping towards the ground, the leaves will point in the opposite direction, towards the sun, and the leaves are ovoid and pointy.
Because of all of these above features, this fruit is predominantly used for olive oil production rather than for table olives because of its small side, and it is rated extremely highly for its oil productivity and oil quality. The oil it produces tends to be on the mild to medium end, but can have extremely high fruity notes, typically leading to good organoleptic ratings. If you are interested in trying a 100% Arbequina oil, you can head over to our online store where we have a special going for a 1 gallon tin of 100% Arbequina EVOO.
Chef’s notes: Arbequina has a lovely buttery quality about it that lends itself to applications in which you’d normally use butter (arbequina dominant blends are my go-to for popcorn!). A good producer of arbequina will yield a very food-friendly oil; mild yet lively it’s a perfect workhorse for stir-fry’s, salad dressings, and lighter sides like steamed grains or potatoes.