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Olive Oil

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A taste of the Mediterranean comes to southern Oregon.
olive oil by istockphoto.com

Rolling hills, lush vineyards, olive groves. Northern Italy? No, it’s southern Oregon. Olives are a new crop in the Rogue Valley.

In the last couple of years, Oregon growers have begun to experiment with new bushy varieties of olive trees suited to growing in high densities and mechanically harvested for extra-virgin olive oil.

The olives grown here will be different than those from California. The latitude and climate in southern Oregon are similar to Tuscany’s, where northern-climate olives are picked when they’re green, with potentially higher polyphenol levels, the antioxidants that make olive oil healthy as well as flavorful.

Just as Oregon grapes produce distinctive wine, Oregon olives will produce distinctive oil. Experimental plantings of olives are also showing up in the Willamette Valley and the Columbia Basin. In the Rogue Valley, olive grower Jeff Hoyal donated 60 of his new trees to OSU’s Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center for evaluation. They will observe how the trees respond to low winter temperatures in the coming years. “I expect that cold snaps down to the single digits are more common here than in Tuscany,” said SOREC plant pathologist David Sugar.

There, researchers will test three varieties—Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki—that are being planted all over the world where climates are believed suitable.

“It’s an olive oil boom,” said Sugar.