- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
“California producers are now capturing the fresh fruit flavor of the olive,” Vossen said. “When I started, they were getting bad information from old-world producers. After visiting newer olive oil production regions and tasting good olive oil, I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is what we need in California.'”
Vossen launched a tasting panel and put on educational seminars. He studied and researched olive oil production, planted demonstration orchards and traveled around the world to learn from the most experienced producers and researchers.
California growers now use up-to-date farming methods, harvest mechanically or by hand to ensure fruit quality, and replaced antiquated oil extraction techniques with stainless steel decanters and centrifuges. The outcome is olive oil that tastes spicy, peppery and pungent; oil that serves more as a flavorful and valued condiment than an ordinary fat.
Vossen was immersed in extension education his whole life. His father was an extension agent in Minnesota for 40 years. His sister was an extension home economist. Though he went to the University of Minnesota with no intention to follow in their footsteps, he took a botany class and “totally fell in love with plants,” Vossen said. He earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1978.
After graduation Vossen traveled to Happy Camp, near the Oregon border, to visit his brother.
“It was 70 degrees and sunny in the winter. I thought Northern California was paradise,” he said, and he decided to stay.
Vossen enrolled at UC Davis, earning a master's degree in pomology in 1981. Just a few days later he started his life's work as the pomology advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County. He later added responsibility for specialty crops in Marin County.
Over his career, Vossen developed and implemented a comprehensive research and extension program. He wrote hundreds of articles and made many presentations on the production and marketing of apples, Asian pears, kiwis, hazelnuts, chestnuts, berries, heirloom tomatoes and other crops.
He authored some of the first UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publications on organic production, founded the Sebastopol Apple Promotion Committee and a Sonoma County ag marketing program to promote local products, and formed the California Olive Oil Council. His olive oil sensory panel was the first to be recognized by the International Olive Oil Council in the new world.
A significant achievement of Vossen's career was establishment of a UC Master Gardener program in Sonoma County in 1982. At the time, few California counties had Master Gardener programs in place. Vossen enlisted volunteer gardening enthusiasts to be trained by UC academics in research-based gardening systems. The program has continued for 34 years, training 30 new volunteers every year. There are currently 320 active UC Master Gardeners in Sonoma County.
“We were the first to put together a board of directors and develop original programming,” Vossen said. “We made a difference in the community, reducing landfill inputs of green waste, improving water conservation and reducing pesticide use.”
In retirement, Vossen said he plans to garden, travel and enjoy good food.
“I will judge at olive oil competitions, do some private consulting and enjoy continuous summers hiking all over the northern hemisphere May to October and the southern hemisphere November to April,” Vossen said.
- Author: Diane Nelson
One notion — the so-called “fridge-test” theory — says you can determine the purity of your extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) by putting it in your refrigerator. If it solidifies, you can trust your EVOO is pure — or so the theory goes.
Is that scientifically accurate?
No, according to new research from the UC Davis Olive Center. Testing seven samples under cold conditions over eight days, researchers discovered the fridge test is unreliable in detecting either the purity or quality of olive oil.
“None of our samples showed any signs of congealing after 60 hours in a laboratory refrigerator set to 40.5 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. “Even after 180 hours, the samples never fully solidified.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have such a simple test that could indicate an olive oil’s market grade, but it is much more complicated than that,” said Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties.
“All olive oils contain a small amount of saturated fatty acids that solidify at refrigerator temperatures,” said Vossen, an olive oil expert. “The amount of solidification is equal to the amount of saturated fatty acids in the oil, which depends mostly on the varieties of olives used to make the oil and to a lesser extent where the olives were grown. Solidification does not indicate freshness, purity, flavor, extra virgin grade, or any other quality parameter.”
The fridge-test theory surfaced on a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show which aired Feb. 11, 2013, to more than 3 million viewers. While cautioning his method isn’t fool-proof, Dr. Oz. encouraged viewers to test the purity of EVOO by seeing if it solidifies in the fridge.
“After the show aired, we were swamped with calls from people who were concerned they were being ripped off,” Flynn said.
So the Olive Center conducted a study. They refrigerated seven samples, including two EVOOs, an olive oil, a canola oil, a safflower oil, and two blends. Some samples showed minor congealing at the bottom of the bottles, but none solidified completely.
“It’s true that waxes and long-chain fatty acids in extra virgin olive oil can lead to the oil solidifying in the cold, although relative amounts of these compounds vary from oil to oil,” the study said.
Olive oils are graded based on how the oil is extracted from olives and on chemical and sensory standards. True extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives without heat or chemicals and must have no defective flavors such as rancidity. Extra virgin olive oil is more expensive than other oils and is therefore an attractive product for fraud.
Using sensory and chemistry testing, the UC Davis Olive Center is working on dependable methods for detecting when an extra virgin olive oil is fraudulently labeled. In the meantime, the center advises consumers to choose an oil within 15 months of the harvest day (not the best-before date), look for a certification seal indicating that the oil passed chemical and sensory tests, and seek (and store) oils protected from light.
A farm advisor who has been instrumental in developing profitable niches for farmers was named "Outstanding Agricultural Educator" with a 2012 Pedro Ilic Award, for his dedication to small-scale farming.
Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties, accepted the award on March 5 at the California Small Farm Conference in Valencia.
"Paul has contributed tremendously to the success of the growing California olive oil industry," said Shermain Hardesty, who presented the award and is director of UC's small farm program. "Paul helps farmers connect with consumers who are willing to pay the price premiums necessary for their high-quality products. And he was one of the first to recognize 'local' as a marketing attribute."
Vossen is one of the founders of the UC Davis Olive Center. He was also instrumental in the first organic production manuals published by the university, which were for apples and olives. He conducts field research on specialty crops, including tree fruit, berries and vegetables, to share with farmers in his region and throughout California.
"Paul Vossen has passion, energy and enthusiasm for his profession and his clientele," they wrote. "He easily moves from teaching farm workers to discussing olive oil production with an olive grower visiting from Spain."
Vossen knew and worked with the award's namesake, Pedro Ilic.
"One of the really neat things about Pedro was that he was so passionate about the small farmer, and I really think that's why this award lives on," he said. "He was such a hard worker and so dedicated to the small farmer."
Ilic's untimely death in 1994 prompted the UC Small Farm Program to annually honor those who carry on his legacy of personal commitment to small-scale and family farming. Ilic was a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Fresno County and one of the original advisors of the Small Farm Program when it was established in 1979.