Local farmer presses holiday olive oil

By Barbara Arrigoni - Staff Writer, Chico ER

OROVILLE - For a local farmer, November means more than the vibrant colors of fall, Thanksgiving feasts and big shopping days - it means harvest.

At Lodestar Farms in Oroville, which specializes in olive oils, the first harvest was recently pressed, and bottles of its limited edition Holiday Harvest oil is ready.

The first pressing was Nov. 17, and the farm owner, Oroville City Councilor Jamie Johansson, is excited.

"For us, it signals not only the start of harvest, but also of the holiday season," Johansson exclaimed at the farm's tasting room on Foothill Boulevard.

Johansson started farming in 1993 when he bought a 20-acre olive orchard on Foothill Boulevard. Some of the trees are nearly 100 years old, he said.

The farm mainly produces olive oil.

"When I started, I quickly realized with the small farm it wouldn't make enough just with canning olives," he said.

In the mid-90s, he began providing olives for oil to a supplier.

"They had the labels and equipment, I had the trees," said Johansson at the farm's tasting room."

The first batch was pressed before Thanksgiving, and he took it to a supplier in Sonoma. To Johansson, the taste was strong, and he was worried about that, but the buyer seemed pleased.

Back then, only about 10 farmers produced olive oil. Johansson then started selling oil to other startup olive oil companies.

"It was a good way to learn," he said.

Now, there are more than 350 different olive oil labels in all of California, Johansson added.

The farmer's main product at the moment is the Holiday Harvest olive oil.

Lodestar also produces four late-harvest blends: an extra virgin olive oil, a lemon-olive oil, a garlic-olive oil and a balsamic-olive oil.

The Holiday Harvest olive oil is always the first pressing of the year and is unique because of its pungency and because the crop is still mixed with green olives.

Initially, Lodestar began making only a few bottles of the special olive oil by request, and a few for Johansson and his family. The original bottles were unlabled.

Over time, the Holiday Harvest oil became more popular, and the farm now produces about 300 bottles a year from mid-November to late-December.

The dark glass bottles bear the Lodestar Farms emblem etched on the front and are signed by the farmer on the back.

He said over time he learned Oroville olives have a unique flavor that dates back to harvesting practices over 100 years ago.

Except for the harvesting for the holiday oil, Johansson likes to wait until the crops are fully ripe before harvesting most of the crops.

By waiting, the fruit yields more oil, the flavor is milder and the oil color is golden.

"The late harvest is what gives the flavor we've become known for," Johansson said.

Lodestar farms has grown from the original 20 acres to an 80-acre orchard. It produces around 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of olive oil a year.

"It's been fun to watch, amazing to watch," Johansson said.

"Now we're one of the oldest olive oil farms in California."

The oil will be available for purchase noon to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Lodestar Farms tasting room, 3719 Foothill Blvd.* in Oroville; Saturdays at the Farmers Market in Chico; and online at www.lodestarfarms.com.

"This time of year is fun," Johansson concluded.

"It signifies Thanksgiving, the start of an olive oil that is really unique to Butte County and to California.

"It speaks to being fortunate to live in an area that has such diverse family farms ... we're proud to be an important part of that community."

Staff writer Barbara Arrigoni can be reached at barrigoni@orovillemr.com or 533-3136.