Well Oiled

Bariani presses its luck with sumptuous olives

By Gabrielle Myers
March 2022

My first encounter with Bariani Olive Oil was my first encounter with California olive oil.

Roaming the Berkeley Farmers Market, I found the Bariani stall and took my first oil shot, delivered by one of the brothers who grew the olives and pressed the oil. The oil coated my mouth in a grassy fattiness, soothed my throat and sank into my belly.

Four decades ago in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the only olive oil available to me was mild, light and imported from Italy and Spain. In California, I savor a drizzle of amber green oil pressed from olives a few miles from where I cook. This oil makes leafy greens and grilled fish or meats sing complex songs.

A citrus salad of blood orange and Oro Blanco grapefruit transforms itself with the round herbaceous hit of olive oil’s unctuous drops.

As I visit Bariani’s orchard and production facilities, the treasure of California olive oil inspires me to head to the kitchen and pick a green leaf or piece of sliced bluefin to dunk in the precious liquid. I inhale the olive presses’ sweet fruity scent and the hefty wooden aroma of the balsamic curing oak barrels, marveling at the stainless steel holding tanks.

Bariani uses Mission olives because they are a heritage variety in California. Sebastian Bariani makes his Forager nocino liquor with California black walnuts instead of traditional English walnuts. The California walnut is endemic to our area.

This family’s commitment to the best production practices for olive oil taste and orchard health, a passion for what they love, and the communal yet independent spirit make me appreciate what Bariani brings to our table.

The Bariani family emigrated from Lombardy in Italy to Sacramento in 1990. Santa, the mother, unhappy with the olive oil she found here, started growing olives and pressing her own with the help of husband Angelo and four sons, Sebastian, Luigi, Emanuele and Enrico.

The family soon had too much oil, so they gave bottles to friends. The oil became so popular that friends suggested the Barianis go into business, and the company was born. What drives the Barianis is simple. As Sebastian says, “It makes us happy. This is what we love.”

Located on a 180-acre orchard of heritage Mission and Manzanillo olives in Zamora, north of Woodland, Bariani maintains its family roots by limiting cultivation and production to what the family can manage. There’s no interest in Big Ag.

By holding the work within the family, Bariani has mechanized many parts of cultivation, processing, bottling and packaging. In the spirit of efficiency, the Barianis recently purchased an olive harvesting machine that can do the work of 100 people. The family maintains sustainable practices that replenish what is taken from the earth.

In the spirit of organic agriculture, the Barianis distribute production wastes such as leaves and stems back into the fields for soil health, or give the material to a local rancher for cow feed.

Olive paste, which results from the olive crush, is spread around the orchards with a manure spreader. Olive pits, pounded to resemble crushed granite at the end of the production process, are funneled into a furnace, which warms the production space and fuels the family smoker.

As I drizzle Bariani’s early harvest olive oil on thinly sliced salmon and green garlic-laced purple mizuna from Full Belly Farms, I think about what Sebastian Bariani told me as morning winds whipped around us in late winter’s growing light:

“What I love about farming is that every day is different. You can plan, but there are always problems, and you can find solutions. You have to constantly learn. No one is ever an expert.”

Olives and their movement from orchard to table contain life lessons not just for the farmer, but all of us.

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at gabriellemyers11@gmail.com. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered at fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacrame

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