Rich learned it doesn’t take many acres to grow enough olives to generate a healthy income, and that the hardy olive tree survives hundreds of years on marginal soil. “You plant it, grow olives for several years, and even if you get tired of it, you can dig it up and sell it!” Many of Calaveras County’s 39,000 residents live on ranchettes Rich describes as “too big to mow, too little to grow.” He discovered that on just five acres, the-size of the typical ranchette, it’s not difficult to generate 5 to 20 tons of olives from trees that require little care.The fruit sells for $400 to $800 a ton, and each ton yields 45 gallons of oil. Rich also learned that CalaverasCounty is identical in climate to regions of Italy famous for olives. He traveled toTuscany and Greece importing olive trees back to his ranch. While his 15 European varieties grow to maturity, he harvests the crops of neighbors who consider the heavy fruit a bothersome mess but don’t mind the checks he slips under their door.
Rich takes the olives to Modesto or Porterville for crushing, filling gallon drums with the oil. The drums are rolled down a 10 foot plank to the basement of Rich’s Calaveras Olive Oil Company. which he runs out of an 1890 bank building in Copperopolis. In the basement, Rich and his sons check the oil acidity, and then filter them. Upstairs, Rich holds tastings and sells oil in fancy bottles in his tasting room/retail shop.
We also sells soaps, pasta sauces and a variety of Olive Oil related merchandise. Please drop in when you are in the area or enjoy browsing through our web site.
If Ed Rich’s dreams come true, in a few years waiters won’t simply ask diners which variety of wine they prefer with dinner, they’ll also ask, “And with your bread? Manzanillo? Mission Frantoio?” And diners, knowing full well the waiters are talking about olive oil, will pause only to consider their choices. Will it be Manzanillo, with its taste of fresh-picked apples? Or the rare Frantoio - dense, tangy, unmistakably olive? Or the light-bodied, nutty Mission Blend?
To gain such sophisticated palates, Rich imagines chefs and gourmets will travel to the renowned olive-growing region of Calaveras County, much as they now make pilgrimages to Napa and Sonoma for wine. There they will find fine oils pressed from dozens of local groves - the nectar of fruit descending from trees from Italy, Greece and the Mother Lode region of the Sierra Nevada, where Rich lives.
In his search for a way to make a living in a rural area where he says, “Getting paid is a spiritual event,” Rich made a discovery: Calaveras County was once home to a major olive growing and canning enterprise. The canners long ago moved to the irrigated flatlands. But they left behind the nearly indestructible trees on what are now the backyards and ranches of Rich’s neighbors. It dawned on Rich that maybe he could use the trees to create a new industry, where small, family owned orchards have created a popular tourist attraction by joining forces each fall to sell fruit, cider, baked goods and country ambiance.