Paso Robles has become renowned as a grape-growing, winemaking region famous for Zinfandel and myriad other varieties. The area has grown from a handful of wineries two decades ago to now boasting more than 200 wineries and tasting rooms.
Having made regular visits to Paso Robles several times a year for the past 20 years (and enjoying wine club privileges at my favorite wineries including Tobin James and Windward), I have tasted dozens of varietals at dozens of wineries.
Wine may be the main attraction in Paso, but olive oil is now garnering plenty of attention, and accolades.
One of the foremost makers and purveyors of olive oil in Paso Robles is Pasolivo, owned by the Dirk Family of Newport Beach and Irvine.
Pasolivo had an impressive showing at this year’s NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, the world’s largest and most prestigious olive oil competition that serves as the authoritative guide to the world’s best olive oils and the dedicated producers who craft them.
Pasolivo received honors for all five extra virgin olive oils entered for the event. The producer’s main line of extra virgin olive oils – Tuscan, Cucina, Classic and California – each received the competition’s highest award, Gold, with its limited-run Il Singolo olive oil nabbing a Silver.
Pasolivo’s impressive NYIOOC results come on the heels of the California producer’s best-ever showing at Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition in March, where Pasolivo collected 16 medals including Best in Show. The results from this year’s NYIOOC event conclude Pasolivo’s strongest awards season to date.
Since its conception, the award-winning olive oil producer has received more than 120 awards from the industry’s most acclaimed and competitive events.
“We firmly believe that a great end product must begin with quality ingredients, which is why we dedicate an immense amount of time and energy to perfecting our tree-to-table olive oil making process,” said Marisa Bloch Gaytan, a Level 2 Olive Oil Sommelier and Pasolivo’s Master Blender. “Our guests and staff can attest to this difference in quality, but it’s always validating to receive recognition from the world’s top olive oil authorities and maintain our ranking among the best of the best, especially as the competition gets stiffer each year.”
Wait—an olive oil sommelier? Wine sommeliers are plentiful, but olive oil experts?
Turns out Gaytan has indeed become knowledgeable in the world of olive oils. To obtain her certification, Gaytan tasted hundreds of olive oils including rancid ones to understand the difference. She had to take both written and tasting exams that included identifying the variety of olive oil and where it was made, and how to pair it with food.
Gaytan is in charge of Pasolivo’s tasting room, as well as the 7,000 olive trees growing on Pasolivo’s property.
During my annual Paso pilgrimage last summer, I visited the Pasolivo tasting room and sampled more than a dozen different olive oils. By the time I finished, I understood the difference between good olive oil (what I have been buying at my local Newport Beach Pavilions) and superb olive oil.
Yes, there is a cost difference, but it’s well worth the extra dollars to purchase and enjoy what I think is the best olive oil I have ever tasted. Gaytan walked me through the process of how Pasolivo makes olive oil, and it was eye-opening. The care and attention to detail that winemakers put into making their hallowed wines is matched by the precision of picking olives and turning them into olive oil worthy of being labeled a Pasolivo product.
While I was at the Pasolivo tasting room, Gaytan told me that a recent study found that 70 percent of olive oils found in grocery stores labeled extra virgin were not extra virgin. “Look for a certification seal,” Gaytan told me. “Also the date it was harvested, or best by date. Sometimes you see a list of countries—single source is better. Buy from a producer that you know. And if you have California listed on the bottle, it must be 100 percent grown in California.”
I purchased several bottles of Pasolivo olive oil, including the Classic varietal and ones infused with basil and rosemary, plus Himalayan salt, truffle salt and a Tuscan herb spice blend.
After returning from Paso Robles, I asked Brian Dirk about the company, and the property. I read that movie director King Vidor – the director of “War & Peace,” “Stella Dallas,” “Northwest Passage” and “The Champ,” as well as the black and white portion of “The Wizard of Oz” – once owned the 140-acre property. How did Dirk find out about it?
“We fell in love with the area and our realtor informed us of this property,” said Dirk, whose family purchased the property in 2012. “It was already an existing olive oil producing property and tasting room which was part of the intrigue when we purchased. We were excited for the opportunity to grow the business.”
Dirk told me he had no background in anything to do with olive oil production, so when his family purchased the business they brought in experts as well as sent staff to take olive oil courses to help expand their knowledge.
Since Paso Robles is the only place to purchase Pasolivo olive oil (and through the Pasolivo website), does Dirk have any plans to open a tasting room in the Newport Beach area?
“We do have hopes of opening a tasting room in OC in 2023,” said Dirk, although he would not reveal a specific location. I certainly hope it’s in Newport Beach.
For now, go to www.Pasolivo.com and discover the many flavors and styles available. You can order a set of mini versions of their olive oil to see which ones you’ll like—although based on my experience, you’ll love them all! In fact, I just reordered the rosemary olive oil, garlic lemon, and basil. I can’t wait to use them in my kitchen.