Growing Olives in Florida
Ready to dress your greens with EVOO from the Sunshine State? Some of the conditions for growing olives are favorable – Florida’s sandy, well-drained soils, sun and abundant rainfall are similar to those of the Mediterranean, where olive trees thrive. But there are concerns about whether there’s enough cool weather for fruiting and too much rainfall during bloom periods, according to the Florida Olive Council. Professional and backyard gardeners are now growing about 300 acres of olive trees in the state.
In Ocala, Clear Creek Farm is growing olives on 25 acres, in addition to raising fullblood Wagyu cattle. Camila Ramirez says one of the varieties is Arbequina, which is easily adaptable to different climates and produces a mild, aromatic oil that the U.S. palate likes. "The Arbequina variety has been the most widely planted variety in Spain for several years," she says. "The oil produced from Arbequina is quite aromatic and fruity with very little pungency or bitterness."
The Arbequina olive tree pictured is about four years old and was planted a year and a half ago on the farm, Ramirez says. The buds appeared the week we spoke with her in early April, and they will begin to flower in the next two weeks. "These flowers are both male and female flowers – the males pollinate the females and successfully pollinated female flowers will turn into olives," she says. "The arrival of spring brings a gradual increase in the temperatures, as well as more daylight hours. This triggers the beginning of the budding process in the tree."
Clear Creek is using Mission olives from California in their state-of-the art olive mill. "This mill is manufactured in Italy and can process up to one ton per hour," she says. "We also have a very unique piece of machinery called the Leopard, which is a multi-phase decanter that separates the pits, paste, water and oil. Traditionally, these centrifuges combine the pit and paste and the farm has to manage the waste, but with this special piece of machinery – one of two in the USA! – we are able to mix the paste in with our cattle feed/hay (very rich in Omega fatty acids), dry the pits' compress and turn into fire starters (for pellet stoves, for example) and get oil with 30% higher polyphenol content."
The last step of the process uses a machine called a vertical separator, which separates the oil from any remaining moisture. "This oil is called “olio nuovo” (new oil) … It is freshly pressed, still has sediment (no racking yet) and therefore has a remarkable flavor," Ramirez says. "Olio nuovo is typically bottled and consumed immediately – it will only last about three months in a bottle due to the sediment." Clear Creek allocates a small percentage of their production to olio nuovo. The rest is pumped into stainless steel tanks for settling. "Oil that is racked for three months in a tank will last up to two years in a bottle – it's preferable you use it within one year, though," she says. The pictured oil is from Late Harvest Mission olives brought from California to test their mill. This year, they will start processing olives from their own grove and selling it at the Wynwood market.