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December marks the end of the California Olive harvest, and now begins the process of curing the olives.
A majority of them come from family farms, but a small portion comes from wild or forgotten trees. Those forgotten trees are growing in Calaveras County, in California's most historic olive orchards.
Terry Beaudoin knows the history well. He is the only table olive operation in the county. Beaudoin and his friend Salvatore Manna co-authored a book called Olives in California’s Gold Country.
"The very first orchard that we have been able to research is up in a little town called Jesus Maria. They were planted in 1845," said Beaudoin.
The first olive tree in California was planted in Calaveras County. Italian immigrants brought them over during the gold rush and the construction of the transcontinental rail road. For a while, Calaveras olives dominated the industry.
Up until 1963, Roca Bella Processing owned nearly all the olive orchards in the county. When the company shut down, so did the olive industry.
"The olive industry in Calaveras County completely went fallow for 50 or 60 years," said Beaudoin, "and all the history seemed to evaporate."
Today, Roca Bella's orchard is dominated by cows, but olives are making a comeback.
"Olive trees are just super-resilient and they live forever," explained Beaudoin.
Calaveras County has a number of award-winning olive oil producers. And the new owners of Roca Bella are currently back in the olive business, making their own blend of olive oil. You can taste some of the fine products at the Calaveras Wine, Cheese & Olive Festival, this summer.
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