By Caroline J. Beck March 06, 2009
For California producers of olive oil and table olives, the launch of the UC Davis Olive Center in January 2008 represented a milestone in the industry’s growth.
What makes the UCD Olive Center such a powerful concept is that now, in one place, a collective of the most important issues facing the industry can be tackled in a centralized way. “What UC Davis has done for grapes and the wine industry, the Olive Center is trying to do for olives and olive oil,” said Dan Flynn, Executive Director of the UCD Olive Center.
Brady Whitlow, President of Corto Olive describes it as a very symbiotic relationship. “We provide a real-world reason to make advances in olive oil research and they provide us with a reliable, independent source of information and expertise,” said Whitlow. “We’re looking to the UC Davis Olive Center to be a world-class lab and resource for our emerging industry,” he added.
To further their initiatives, the UCDOC assembled an accomplished group of academia and industry advisors to lead a variety of educational and research activities. And through extensive outreach, they are partnering with organizations like the California Olive Oil Council and the California Ripe Olive Coalition, as well as industry leaders like the Robert Mondavi Institute, the California Olive Ranch and Nurstech. “The whole concept is very cohesive. This is the first time that table olive and olive oil producers have been brought together and backed by the technology and resources that UC Davis has to offer,” said Felix Musco, President of the Musco Family Olive Company. “It’s a great benefit for the California grower.”
Since the launch, UCDOC’s focus has proved to be a cornerstone for a wealth of activities, all designed to support the industry’s growing success. "The UC Davis Olive Center has quickly emerged as the academic authority on table olives and olive oil in North America," said Flynn.
But, according to Flynn, the first year was all about laying the groundwork for future activities. Since its inception, the UCD Olive Center delivered in full measure on its three primary objectives: promoting the value of California-grown olives and olive oil; engaging in research initiatives that provide meaningful and actionable industry information; and doing it all well within budget – a fiscal challenge for any endeavor in 2008, let alone one tied to limited educational funds.
With support from industry contributions, income from sales of UC Davis-branded olive oil, and volunteer involvement, the Center’s activities have resulted in both a surplus of operating funds and an olive oil inventory to sustain the coming year’s budget.
In the area of research, two completed studies are expected to be released by mid-2009: a comparative study on the sensory attributes of imported and California-grown black olives; and a survey of super-high-density olive production.
“We’re anxiously awaiting the results of the table olive study,” said Musco. “The research is solid and the results will be based on very objective measurements between California-packed and foreign-packed product. We believe it will quantify the quality differences between the two,” he added.
According to Flynn, the agenda for 2009 is even more ambitious.
“We are really pleased with our first year’s results, but 2009 will be an even busier year for our faculty and researchers," said Flynn. The coming year is marked by further research on subjects ranging from organic orchard management and olive fly control to olive oil processing and sensory profiles. To support their initiatives in education, UCDOC plans to sponsor a series of courses and discussions designed to provide current information on industry issues.
They are also launching an Internship Program for students and volunteers in hope that their efforts will generate enthusiasm among the next generation of the California olive producers. Finally, one of the biggest events for 2009 will be a three-day international conference, “Beyond Extra Virgin” to be held June 21-23, sponsored in cooperation with the Culinary Institute of America. “As a sponsor, we see it as a great opportunity to gather experts in the olive oil community and culinary professionals to build on each other’s experience and knowledge,” said Corto Olive’s Whitlow. “It’s all about furthering our collective efforts to promote California as a world-class olive oil-producing region,” he added.
Clearly, Executive Director Flynn and the UC Davis Olive Center have set the bar fairly high for the next few years, but for a one-year-old, they have made an impressive start to providing the industry with a very strong U.S.-based education and research resource.
If you are interested in learning more about the UC Davis Olive Center and their upcoming activities, visit olivecenter.ucdavis.edu.