Texas ranch offers taste, info on using olive oil

Considering a trip to Texas’ Hill Country for viewing the bluebonnets? You might want to include a stop at Bella Vista Ranch and the First Texas Olive Oil Co. in Wimberley to learn about more about growing olive trees and cooking with olive oils.

Visitors also can learn about how the first olive oil ranch was started in Texas, tour the orchards, taste different varieties and enjoy wines produced at the same location.

Jack Dougherty grew up in the orchards of Santa Clara Valley in California and later had a career as a computer executive. He purchased a dilapidated ranch in 1996 in the Texas Hill Country with the intention of making it a working ranch. Today, it has become home to a family-run business and an agricultural destination.

He soon realized that his ranch was located on the same latitude as the Mediterranean countries. The soil and weather conditions were basically the same.

Countless studies have proven the healthful benefits of olive oil used in Mediterranean diets. It’s high in monounsaturated dietary fats and lends a flavorful taste and texture in a variety of foods. Other benefits of olive oil include potent antioxidants and improvement of LDL blood serum. Studies have shown that 2 ounces of olive oil daily is equal to a daily dose of Ibuprofen.

Greg Henny, Bella Vista’s general manager, explains that one frequently asked question is the difference between virgin oil and extra virgin olive oil. The difference is in the acid content. Extra virgin olive oil is of the highest quality, with an acid content of less than .8 percent per 100 grams. Virgin olive oil acidic content ranges from .8 to 1.2 percent, while anything above 1.2 percent is olive oil. The oils are produced through a cold press process.

The olive oils at Bella Vista are subject to a chemical tasting panel and must pass tests for defects such as vinegary flavor or over-oxidized content.

So what does all this mean to the average cook or chef?

Extra virgin olive oils have a low smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which visible gaseous vapor oil becomes evident, usually indicated by a sputtering of the oil. Decomposition occurs and the oil loses its flavor and its nutrient value. Therefore, extra virgin olive oil is not suitable for frying and cooking at high temperatures. It is best used as a finishing oil, such as in salad dressings.

Virgin olive oil produces fewer oxidation products when heated. It is best when used at medium to high heat. Regular olive oil is more stable at higher heats when compared to most vegetable oils.

Henny says the 1,200-tree orchard no doubt suffered damage during the recent brutal winter, but they are confident the trees will yield a suitable crop. The first trees at Bella Vista were planted in 1998 and the retail store opened in 2000.

One-hour tours, which cost $15 per person, and lectures are conducted each weekend at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. Group tours can be arranged.

The retail store located on the ranch site also features wine tastings from grapes grown on the same ranch. Fresh olive oils and products, such as soap, are also available for purchase.

Bella Vista is at 3101 Mount Sharp Road, Wimberley, about 30 miles west of Austin and is among a village of shops, stores, wineries and restaurants. More information is available by calling (512) 847-6514, emailing oliveguy@bvranch.com or on the website at texasoliveoil.com.