Tucked away in the hills of Arroyo Grande past the train tracks sits Tiber Canyon Ranch. I arrived on a sunny afternoon to a nice breeze, reminding me that I was no longer in my native North County. There to greet me outside the barn were owners/farmers Chris and Will.
As we made our way toward their main event space, I soaked up my surroundings - the barn, the grounds, the view - I was enchanted by the design. The emphasis is clearly on the natural beauty of the place with huge sheltering oaks, swaying eucalyptus, and splashes of color from the manzanitas. The patio and deck spaces are a simple and elegant compliment to the landscape.
I also noticed the details of seating areas decorated with a little whimsy, like bowling balls half buried in the leaves, and sculpted wrought iron banisters along the stairs of the barn. When I learned that Chris and Will are artists by trade, I wasn’t surprised. They designed the property for weddings and events, and have hosted hundreds over the past 15 years.
A custom built Bride's Cottage is nestled beneath the oaks.
The first question off my lips was where “Tiber” came from. Chris explained that down the hill where I drove under the train tracks there used to be a railroad whistle stop named Tiber, after the oil company that worked the field along Price Canyon Road. That’s why Chris and Will like to say they are “Bringing a kinder, gentler oil to the valley”, which, of course, I thought was brilliant and accurate marketing!
Then I wondered how the couple decided to grow olives. Will explained that the vision and dream for the property had always been olives. He had a childhood friend who was Italian and taught him about cooking and about oils, so it was always at the back of his mind to make oil a bigger part of his life. Chris and Will chose the property because it had the space for an orchard already cleared. Ten of its acres had previously been planted with apricots, but after WWII it was not maintained, so by the time Will and Chris came along, it was ready for a revamp.
When the pair arrived in Arroyo Grande, there were only a few other olive growers in the county, so they knew they would need to do some research and networking to get their orchard started. Through the EcoFarm conference, they got connected to olive cuttings that were brought back from Italy by chefs who worked for the famous Chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in the Bay Area.
Chris and WIll bought the extra cuttings and, with the help of their artist friends, planted the baby trees with great sweat and care. Imagine shaping hundreds of gopher baskets and hand watering hundreds of plants, and you’ll get an idea of what small scale olive farming looks like!
Tiber Canyon specializes in Tuscan varietals. Photo courtesy of Will and Chris.
From there, they waited six years for the first harvest. All the while, Will continued (and continues) to take cuttings and propagate new trees so that he can give them to friends and neighbors that want to try their hand at farming. Everyone’s fruit gets pressed at once, and Will and Chris keep track of who gets what finished product - a collaborative olive operation of sorts.
Once the fruit is ready - when it’s approximately 70% ripe - it is picked (again with help from their friends) and brought to the mill immediately for pressing. The fruit needs to be processed within 24 hours of harvest to maintain quality, so harvest time involves a lot of scheduling, and hoping that volunteers will help pick rain or shine!
Now, I didn’t know a whole lot about olive oil before my conversation with Will and Chris. I knew it was delicious and healthy, but I didn’t know much about growing and processing. They, thankfully, graciously educated me.
First in my education - Tiber Canyon extra virgin olive oil is a “one cough” oil…..Huh?
In the olive oil industry, there is a common descriptor for oils. They are a “one cough”, “two cough” or “three cough” oil. Meaning, how peppery and green do they taste? The earlier the fruit is picked, the pepperier they are in your throat. I had experienced this before and now I knew why!
Tiber Canyon is able to produce a smoother “one cough” oil because of the climate in their neck of the woods. A milder winter means that they can wait longer to harvest because frost will not set in until later in December. Therefore, their fruit can be a bit riper when they pick it.
Any other food nerds out there excited about that tidbit?!!
Second piece of education - Tiber Canyon citrus infused olive oils are “married at the mill”.
I’ve seen citrus infused or rosemary infused olive oils before, but never paused to understand how those flavors come together. Well, it turns out, it is a true blending. Will and Chris bring local citrus - mandarin tangerines, meyer lemons, and yuzu lemons - to the mill to be pressed with the olives. All the fruits are pressed whole so that the oils from the citrus peels are blended together with the olive oil. The mixture is then run through a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water and, voila! Citrus infused olive oil!
Tiber Canyon offers products in various pack sizes, including a sample pack perfect for gifts!
The Best Part
Last piece of education - how to eat Tiber Canyon olive oils and vinegars (not gonna lie, this is probably my favorite part of the educational experience).
Many of you might know that pairing different wines with different foods or meals will bring out more flavors in both the wine and the food. Pairing oils with food is pretty similar.
For example, if you’re making a salad with peppery greens, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil will soften the pepper without masking it. A ceasar salad would go nicely with the yuzu olive oil to give it that extra citrus zing. Similarly, if you are looking for a dressing that kicks it up a notch, the yuzu vinegar could be your secret weapon!
I could go on and on about flavor combinations, but I think it best to let your imagination and, hopefully, new found appreciation for high quality oil, motivate your next kitchen experiments!
I like to add my Tiber Canyon EVOO to toast and top it with local avocados!
You can find Tiber Canyon’s Good Food Award (2014) winning oils on their website, at the ranch, and at local retailers including SLO Provisions, Mint + Craft, Cornercopia Fresh Market, and The Crushed Grape.
Chris and Will have been friends of our organization for so long, they can’t quite recall when they came across Slow Money SLO. Whenever it was, they have been avid supporters ever since! We deeply appreciate their generosity to our organization, tireless work to make their product the best it can be, and commitment to building community around food!
Slow Money SLO commends this excellent business for their sustainable and organic practices, and for their great advocacy for local food and farming!