The Rocky Mountains of Southwest Colorado is not the first place you might imagine as a source for high-grade, extra-virgin olive oil.
Yet Telluride residents Jenny Russell and Molly Galetto are changing that: together, these two women, in this small town, are bringing organic EVOO produced by small-scale, family-run outfits in Italy and Spain to Telluride.
The idea to start an EVOO company — called Olioveto — began about five years ago, when Russell spent a year with her husband on his sister’s farm in Italy.
“She makes phenomenal olive oil,” Russell reported, “and I tried some other great olive oils while I was there.
When Russell returned home to the box canyon and began to purchase EVOO in grocery stores, she found in wanting.
“It’s not the same quality,” she said. (Part of the problem is storage: light, heat and oxygen are the enemies of olive oil, and grocery stores … well, let’s just say they’re not champs at climate control.)
So Russell couldn’t order the good stuff, either.
“I tried,” she said. “We’d seen a lot of the small-batch farmers had stopped harvesting olive trees. The big EVOO companies won’t pay these farmers what it costs to produce olive oil. Families will harvest it for themselves, but they won’t bring it to market, because they won’t get paid.”
Through her book club in Telluride, Russell had become chums with Molly Galetto.
“She’s knows marketing,” Russell said, “and I’m a lawyer. She said, ‘This sounds really fun.’ I said, ‘Hallelujah!’”
On that jubilant note, the pair founded Oliovieto, to bring high-quality oils (and balsamic vinegars) to Telluride, and to pay local farming families in Italy and Spain a fair price for a fine product.
“Part of our challenge is educating the consumer,” Russell said. “I completely understand, if you’ve never tasted high quality olive oil before, how you might think that’s it bitter. It’s supposed to be bitter. It should get you in the back of the throat. It tastes peppery. That’s EVOO. People tell me they prefer ‘buttery-tasting’ olive oils, and to me, that means it’s rancid.”
The company sells its oils and vinegar (among other places) at the Telluride Farmers Market, where there is a different special each week, through the Norwood Fresh Food Hub and through Vicki’s Fresh Food Movement. Three favorite oils from last year, according to a press release, will be returning this season: “a grassy Picul from Nobleza del Sur in Spain, an herbaceous Intosso from Trappeto di Caprafico in Abruzzo, and a smooth blend from Pacina in Tuscany.”
“Shipping has been our biggest nut to crack,” Russell said frankly. “It’s expensive and you don’t want your product to be prohibitively expensive, but we’re committed to our farmers.” The company typically flies its EVOO into the U.S. “as cargo on passenger jets,” Russell said, but the pandemic grounded most flights, so “we’re coming over by sea, on a wine-shipper.” (A fresh batch of oils was due to “reach our shores,” as Russell put it, sometime Friday, June 12.)
“We have a commitment to these farmers,” Russell summed up. “They’ve done their jobs” (the most recent batch of oils was harvested in November). “We decided to do our level best” to get their products Stateside “and to try build our business any way we can.”
As the pandemic has proved, from local farmers markets to Italian and Spanish producers of fine olive oils, we truly are in this together.
Learn more at olioveto.com.