Mission Olives

In the late 1700's, Franciscan Missionaries began the first planting of olive trees in North America with the start of the California Missions. While the California olive oil industry is viewed by many as a new gastronomic endeavor born in the 1990's, the production of olive oil in the Golden State has a story that is over 200 years old.

The culture surrounding olive production in California has even given our state it's own olive, recognized by many international groups as being a "North American" varietal.

The "Mission" olive is aptly named for its first place of propagation by early settlers. It is likely the first olive tree in California and came from seeds transported around the horn of South America bound for the New World.

According to researchers at the University of Cordoba's (Spain) world germplasm repository, the parent olive(s) of the Mission is unknown. What we do know is that the success of this olive variety would be well chronicled in food history.

The Mission olive is a perfect dual purpose olive, firm enough to hold up to salt and lye curing, without much bruising or turning to mush, but also high in oil content for pressing. Efficiency was vital in the New World.

For 140 years, California olive production would be enjoyed by a local market due to the absence of mass transportation and ability to safely “can” the olives for long term storage or distribution to the East Coast.

Then, in 1895, a woman named Freda Ehmann found herself penniless and a widow at the age of 56. Her savings depleted, her sole tangible asset was a 20-acre olive orchard of dubious value.

While her son, friends and a few lawyers urged her to file bankruptcy, Freda reminded her son that the family had always paid their debts.

Working with a professor from the University of California, Berkeley, Mrs. Ehmann developed a method to can and ship olives back to Philadelphia. In 1898, the Ehmann Olive Company was established in Oroville, CA.

With Ehamnn’s success, more olive orchards were planted in and around Oroville to meet the growing demand. Fortunately, the early Spanish farmers had planted the stock from which cuttings could be taken. As a result, the initial olive trees planted were Mission olives. Today, 75% of the Mission olives are located in the Oroville Area.

While the majority of the Mission olives were grown for the black ripe table olive industry, for the past 100 years there has always been someone producing olive oil in Oroville, in the same style and flavor that was produced by Freda Ehmann.

In more recent years, the increased mechanization of the table olive industry, varieties more compatible for processing, become popular in other parts of California. Mission olives are not perfectly round like the Manzanillo or Sevillano olives (Italian varietals) and therefore would not work as well with pitting machines.

In 1998, with the rise of imported olives from Morocco and Spain, the processors need for production efficiency resulted in their lowering of prices paid to farmers for Mission olive crops. Farmers were also encouraged to replace their Mission olives and replant with varietals more suitable for the canning machinery.

Fortunately, with the rebirth of California olive oil around this same time, a few farmers in the Oroville area had already begun to market their Mission olive oil for use by companies around California. In fact many of California's larger olive oil companies have relied heavily on growers from the Oroville area to supply Mission olives for their olive oil brands.

Today, the Oroville area is the only community in California that has it's own flavor and style of olive oil. This flavor is based on tradition, combined with the weather, the soil and the Mission olive trees, with a history in California that has had a great impact on a community of farmers in Oroville and has put Oroville on the map as the place where California grows its olives.

Since 1993 Lodestar Farms is proud to be continuing the 100-year history of olive oil production in Oroville. Lodestar is the True Taste of California olive oil. We hope you will enjoy the fruity, more buttery taste of our Late Harvested Mission Olive Oil that our area is known for.

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