Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Culture and History

Athena’s Blend Gold Medal Award Winning Olive Oil

We named the best oil of this year Athena’s Blend. It received a Gold Medal at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition, and was named as one of the best olive oils in the world. Athena’s Blend, grown by our Chef Marvin Martin, and milled at IL Fiorello will be available soon.

Olive oil culture is centuries old and rooted in the Mediterranean region. It is an indispensable ingredient at any good table. This magical tree, is the symbol of the Mediterranean culture, the centerpiece of gastronomy and health.

In Greek mythology, Poseidon, God of the Sea, and Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and War, both aspired to lend their name to the fledgling city of Athens.

Zeus, King of the Gods, in Greek mythology, decided that the honor would go to the one who created the most useful gift for Mankind. Poseidon drove his trident into the earth, from which emerged a spirited horse.

Athena drove her spear into a rock from which an olive tree grew. “Not only would their fruits be edible, but from them an extraordinary liquid would be obtained that would serve as food for man, relief for his wounds and strength for his body.”

Athena won the contest as the olive tree would bring peace and prosperity. A symbol of peace, abundance, victory and life.

Enjoy Athena’s Blend in good health.


The Health Blog


Recently two articles have garnered the intense interest of the public. A dietary recommendations article and an article on cancer. Both having to do in part with olive oil. First and foremost, human nutrition is very complicated, and it is a very difficult research to undertake. Let me briefly tell you about each article and its potential impact on health. Following my 35 year career in health care and oncology, I find these publications of particular interest in the business I am now running, producing really good olive oil and utilizing sustainable agriculture.



The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

This group has recently published a document about the amount and type of fats each person should eat. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee with the Health and Human Services Department have changed some of the fat requirement amounts that are allowed. In discussions with a dietician colleague, she says to remember that “fat is your friend”.   Although fat often gets a bad rap, it is one of the essential elements in the human diet dedicated to providing energy  and fuel for the body.

Here are my comments:
Comment number 1: They are still saying total fat should be lower. Unsaturated fats, in our case Olive Oil, is still preferential to saturated fats (animal fat).

Comment number 2: They are still saying that processed,precooked, and packaged foods are BAD. They are much too high in saturated fats (bad fats), salt, and sugars.

Comment number 3: Cook good food and eat food with color such as dark green, bright orange, and yellow; NOT just white food.

Comment number 4: Eat more vegetables and fruits than meats and seafood.

Comment number 5: It is all in the balance.  Th “Mediterranean diet” (or as I like to call it, a subsistence diet) is a plant based diet that is balanced with good lean protein in small amounts and real extra virgin olive oil.  This coupled with exercise creates a healthy balance.

Remember, human nutrition is very complicated.


In a recent article out of Australia by authors, LeGend, Breslin, and Fostera that was posted online Jan 2015, in the journal, Molecular and Cellular Oncology, the authors state that  oleocanthal, a chemical found in olive oil, will kill cancer cells. Oleocanthal rapidly and selectively induces cancer cell death via lysosomal membrane permeabilization. (LMP).

This is NOT a human nutrition research study. This is a study of human cancer cell lines in the lab. This is a bench lab study. But indeed, the results are very interesting and promising.

The take home message is not to take this interesting research out of context. Cancer research is very complicated and may take 5-10 years to even begin to do human studies.

The bottom line is:

Remember, cancer research is very complicated.

Remember, human nutrition is very complicated.

These articles stand on their own scientific merit, and science is always evolving, changing, and gathering more data.

Planting in the Garden

beeEverything seems early again this year. We are responding to Mother Nature’s calls of Spring even though it is only February. I feel sorry for my friends back East in all the cold and snow. I hope this blog gives them hope for planting.

Everyone has spring fever here at IL Fiorello. We are busy getting the garden going again and redoing the herb garden to supply our culinary classes. Pruning in the groves is ongoing and is the topic of a future blog.

The garden beds are being filled with rich compost and seeds are flying around as staff members  share planting ideas. So far we have in the ground: cabbage, radishes (both red and white), beets, lettuce (five kinds), leeks, carrots, turnips, chives, kale, mesculin, chard, fava beans, snap peas, broccoli, and cabbage. The rhubarb is starting to get full and raise its head. Nothing better than strawberry rhubarb pie in the Spring. I am sure we will continue to plant more varieties of vegetables. Nick, our assistant miller and gardener extraordinaire, says that there is nothing better than fresh vegetables right from the ground. We all agree. We are all “vegephiles”, people who love vegetables. Our Executive Chef is also looking forward to doing a class on vegetables from the garden.    photo

Joseph, our master gardener, has been busy replanting the lemon grass and dividing the heads. It is lovely and fragrant, and so delicious in soup and stews. We have also trimmed the lavender and are trying to root sprigs to plant some more.  We are considering an organic certification but still have to work out how to control the weeds especially in the new small trees. Watch for sunflowers to poke their heads and turn toward the sun this summer.

Recently, Elisabeth brought back garbanzo beans from Italy, and they are getting pre-soaked before being planted in the garden next to the Mill. She returns  to Italy tomorrow to live in Sicily and make wine at a natural winery on the slope of Mt. Etna. She will blog from there to keep us updated on how to grow Nerello Mascalese wine.

Plant and enjoy the benefits of living in California.  We are all very lucky to have this opportunity. Come see our garden grow.

The California Olive Oil Commission

The California Olive Oil Commission was formed under the stewardship of Senator Lois Wolk. Similar to the Almond Commission, the Olive Oil Commission was created to standardize nomenclature as well as the processing of oils from California.

Is this a good thing, at the right time or not? Fortunately everyone has their opinion and gets to express it. On July 16, 2014, the California Senate held a meeting for open public comment on the California Olive Oil Commission.  Over 100 people attended to provide testimony and input on the document. Growers and producers of olive oil from California, European Union, including representatives from Italy all gathered to give their opinions about the process and the document.

The Olive Oil Commission became law on January 1, 2014 and became operational effective March 24, 2014. The Commission proposes grading and labeling standards for California.  It is important to have accurate statements and definitions to help California define our unique product.

In our opinion the use of certain terms, specifically, “best by dates” and “first cold press”, are detrimental to the language in the Commission’s document. These terms confuse our consumers. Some people who sell olive oil make claims that it cures diabetes, lowers blood pressure and other medical claims, which are misleading; stuff and nonsense. We in the industry have let such ridiculous claims go unchecked too long. It is time to change.  It is time to base your definitions in fact and science.

The real emphasis is that we in California want to promote a clean product: Extra virgin olive oil, certified by specific guidelines.

Just this week in Taiwan, a court settlement was levied against suppliers of adulterated oil.  The IL Fiorello Olive Oil Company was interviewed by Taiwan news media last fall about this very serious problem. This is an example of both the economic and consumer fraud issue that California is trying to address with the California Olive Oil Commission.

Come in to IL Fiorello and ask us about the Commission and how it affects us as producers and how it can benefit consumers.cooc_seal_shadow

Refer to:

  1. Senate Bill 250.
  2. Lois Wolk Senator California (D)

Testimony July 15, 2014

  1. Divergent Views on Proposed California Olive Oil Standards

Olive Oil Times

By Nancy Flagg on July 22, 2014


Gelato picture

JULY is national ice cream month, but we have something much better. Italian Gelato!!! Celebrate!

IL Fiorello has gelato, made by Leo Leo in Paso Robles. The family is from Florence, hence the name Leo, or Lion, the symbol of Florence. Fantastic, delightful, perfect, amazing, colors and flavors. 99 to be exact. Each week we will offer different flavors. Current favorites are Passion Fruit Sorbet, Chile Chocolate and, of course, Olive Oil Gelato made with our own olive oil and drizzled with lemon olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Heavenly.

We served gelato in the colors of the French flag at our Bastille Day celebration, Blueberry blue, Honey Lavender white, and Strawberry Basil red. We do have fun. The next offerings will include Pistachio.  Everyone who has gone to Italy will testify that this is the test of how good the gelato really is. We will have my very favorite in the Fall, Chestnut. Beautiful creamy vanilla with chunks of chestnuts. Drizzled with a wee bit of balsamic it is my perfect gelato. Or maybe creamy gelato with a shot of espresso on top, called affogato. Or maybe stracciatella, chocolate bits interwoven into super creamy gelato. Or maybe just espresso, dark and rich. So many to choose from. We purchased peanut butter and jelly for the kids, and all the adults ate it because of the clarity of the flavors. Great!

We had such a hard time trying to decide what flavors to have at IL Fiorello. It was a very hard job tasting each and every flavor. You should have seen us by the end of the day. Wanting to taste more and more but groaning with pleasure at the wonderful flavors and colors.  Maybe we should hold a contest as to which one is the best, that would be a lot of tasting, but we could rise to the occasion.

We have had many requests to sell the gelato by the pint and gallon so we are making plans to do just that. How fun is that idea?

Look up Leo Leo.  Their web site is too good to be real.  Then come to IL Fiorello for a taste. See the gorgeous photo below from their beautiful web site.

When my girls were young we used to read all the Shel Silverstein books for children and adults. This one poem makes me laugh and sigh, as Mr. Silverstein died all too early. He has entertained many a person with his wit and art. Buy all of his books and read to the children with a scoop of ice cream to top it off. This poem is just delightful for national ice cream, really gelato, month.


By Shel Silverstein

Eighteen luscious, scrumptious flavors

Chocolate, lime and cherry,

Coffee, pumpkin, fudge banana

Caramel cream and boysenberry.

Rocky road and toasted almond,

Butterscotch, vanilla dip,

Butter brickle, apple ripple,

Coconut and mocha chip,

Brandy peach and lemon custard,

Each scoop lovely, smooth and round,

Tallest ice cream cone in town,

Lying there (sniff) on the ground.

Come in and have a double scoop cup- no spills.


Chocolate, Olive Oil, and Dolcetto

Olive Oil TrufflesHere at Il Fiorello, we like to play with unique pairings of olive oil, food, and selected wines.

One of our favorite pairings is chocolate olive oil truffles and Galvan Family Cellars’ Dolcetto dessert wine.  This pairing in particular is mouth-wateringly delicious.  The truffles are made with dark chocolate and our Leccino olive oil, a winning combination if ever there was one.  The silky, yet pungent, Leccino blends with the chocolate such that the truffles positively melt in your mouth.  Adding the dessert wine, 99% Dolcetto grapes blended with 1% brandy, only heightens the flavors with its notes of dark plum and cherry.  The complex flavors of the chocolate, oil, and wine make this the perfect afternoon indulgence.

So many people have tried wine and chocolate but have you ever considered throwing olive oil into the mix?  Keep in touch for more fun food and oil pairings from Il Fiorello and Executive Chef Marvin Martin.

Working A Tasting Room

When working in a tasting room, you never know who is going to walk through the door. The guests might be completely new to olive oil or they might be experts. They may want an in depth tasting or they may just be interested in one type. Fortunately, we have something for everyone. However, being mentally prepared for everyone takes a little more work.

The key is knowing your own strengths. Personally, I love food. Eating is one of my favorite things to do. Therefore I’m more likely to talk about food pairings than say the health benefits of olive oil. I have a background in science but I know that not everyone is going to be interested in that aspect of olive oil. So, not only is food a topic I enjoy but it’s something everyone can enjoy. The tastes of the different oils are going to speak for themselves. Everyone is going to have their own reactions to each of the oils. But, by engaging the guests in a topic that everyone loves, the experience is going to be more enjoyable for everyone involved, myself included.

A family came in the other day. They had never done an olive oil tasting before. The two little girls were so incredibly excited to hear that our White Peach Balsamic goes great on vanilla ice cream (the younger one’s favorite flavor) while their older brother was more interested in trying our Chili oil on popcorn. After their mother and I swapped tips for mashed potatoes with our Leccino olive oil they headed straight to Safeway for supplies.

You never know what’s going to stick with someone. So talk about what you know and love. Excitement is contagious!

Buy Local to Avoid Economic Adulteration






This Spring we attended a conference at the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, titled Fighting Economic Adulteration in the Market Place. The Secretary of California of Food and Commerce was the key note speaker. Secretary Karen Ross defined that “economic adulteration is the fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of substances in foods or beverages to increase the apparent value of quality of the product, while reducing the cost of its production”.

In California, as it pertains to olive oil, anyone who uses the term Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the label must have the certification seal on the bottle. This is an industry standard that has international implications as much of the oil in the US is adulterated with seed oils that are chemically and high heat refined oils. According to Secretary Ross, “this is an illicit activity for economic gain”.

The top adulterated products according to the speakers at this conference are olive oil, lemon juice, honey, maple syrup, saffron, milk, orange juice and apple juice. Extra Virgin oil can have no additives, and in modern times there is no such thing as first cold press. Most of the producers are milling with centrifuges and not pressing and making olive oil requires some heat for the chemical reaction to take place to produce oil.

So buyers beware, but more importantly buyer BE AWARE.

Buy local, talk with your producers, and trust but verify.

Visit us at IL Fiorello 2625 Mankas Corner Road Suisun Valley where we grow and mill our own olives.

Perils of Food Fraud

Food fraud was recently defined in a report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense. Intentional or economically motivated adulteration includes the fraudulent addition of non-authentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances – without the purchaser’s knowledge – for economic gain of the seller.

In California, olive oil must have a certification label ensuring that the oil has passed a chemistry test and a master taste test to be extra virgin. Truth in labeling with harvest date, mill date, and origin should be clearly apparent. Ask your oil purveyor to tell you the origin of the olives, where it was milled, and the type of storage after milling. You should be able to see the chemistry profiles of each oil, proving that it passed the tests for extra virgin oil. Ask and you will be better informed.

In California, you can assure you are getting extra virgin olive oil by looking over the bottle and finding the certification label from the California Olive Oil Council. This label is only given to a producer when the oil has been chemically tested, then moved on to the master taste test, as described above.

Here’s the label you should find on your bottle of certified extra virgin olive oil:


It’s Awards Time?

Today at the Olive Farm we tasted our 2012 harvest oils and selected which oils were to a standard to be sent to competitions. This taste review of our oils allows us to compare new oils, compare how the oils tasted from initial harvest, and now after decanting and resting from milling.

Competitions are important for us to compare our oils to other oils from millers and growers in California and around the world. It provides important feedback to us as to how the masters taste panels and judges assess our oils in comparison to all the other entries. If you do not do ongoing comparisons of how your oils taste, you will not be able to self-judge and change or maintain you’re growing and milling practices.

Dependent on oil variety, each oil has a range of flavors from pungent to mild to green to buttery. Each oil also has a shelf life at which the oil is at its peak, losing flavor, or just developing great flavor at 6 months after milling. Much of the oils’ flavor depends on harvest time – early or late – method of milling, and post-milling handling, or storage of the oils before bottling. Much of the oils’ flavor depends on the individual olive tree variety. At Il Fiorello we grow many types of olives and have many decisions as to harvest time, milling methods, and storage. The oil competitions allow us to compare our decisions in harvest, milling, and storage with others of similar varieties.

The competitions are: New York International Olive Oil, LA International, Yolo, California Olive Oil Council, and Napa competitions. We select specific oils to be judged at each show depending on variety, interest, and previous performance in judging.

We have been very successful in winning multiple awards for the past 6 years and look forward to a continuation of this record. Remember: It is only a subjective tasting by judges who have been tasting oils for a long time. The goal is to find the oil that best represents what a specific variety should taste like. Given that different varieties may taste different if grown in different climate regions, under different conditions, or variances in milling, this becomes a difficult job.

We will submit our oils and await the results of the judging. In the meantime come taste our oils and be a judge yourself. It really is in the end what you like and how you want to use the oils in your diet and kitchen.