continued “If you’re looking at a liter for $7, I’d think that’s a suspect oil.”
Large supermarkets are widely purported to carry falsified oils, but even small artisanal retailers can get swindled by overseas dealers. Assenti concedes that mislabeled oils have gained access to his store’s shelves in prior years. In one instance, he whipped up a large batch of pesto that refused to solidify in the freezer.
“If you put olive oil in the fridge, it will congeal. Those that don’t congeal aren’t really olive oil, or maybe they’re a blend with something else.”
Olive trees first arrived in San Diego with the Spanish missionaries. The Southern California oil industry grew lavishly in the late 1800s and into the 20th Century, as the tuna-canning business demanded great quantities of olive oil for use in its products. The oil industry dwindled following World War II, the groves replaced by residential sprawl. Lone relics and isolated orchards still exist, though, and local hobbyist-historian Dominick Fiume believes that 200-year-old olive trees dwell somewhere in the county, vestiges of the missionary days. The oldest tree he knows of is approximately 125 years old and dwells at the Arthur and Lillian Gaynes–Cliff May Hacienda, a home on Mount Helix built in 1936 that Fiume purchased last year, along with its grove of 60 olive trees planted about the same time the house was built. Fiume would like to acquire other groves or at least see them reintegrated into active production. Two 100-year-old groves in National City recently received protection via private purchase.
“There are abandoned groves around the county, and because of them the flies are just out of control,” Fiume says. “We’d like to get these trees back into production.”
Lazaneo sees little hope of eliminating the olive fruit fly. He believes the small local olive oil industry does not carry enough financial incentive for agribusiness developers to work toward a solution for the bug problem. In August, all of Fiume’s olives were devastated by an outbreak of flies, while chef Edney, planning to harvest before November, has his fingers crossed. Edney is optimistic, confident that the local olive oil industry is poised to explode, and even Rizzo at the Bernardo Winery, whose last vintage of oil went to bottle in 2001, believes that in the fall of 2009 he will reenter the market.
“In the old country, where my grandfather was from, they never would have sprayed their olives,” says Rizzo. “They would just let nature take its course, and these things would pass. Especially with nonnative insects, they go away eventually.”
Biologists predict otherwise. Though some native parasitic insects attack the olive fruit fly and lay eggs in the invaders’ larvae, says Bender, he believes the fly is here to stay.
“We have the perfect climate here. I think [the fly] will do very well. It certainly won’t just vanish. These things never vanish. I’ve never seen an introduced insect go away.”