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Mukilteo couple's olive oil is a Northwest rarity

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  • Charles Pancerzewski of Mukilteo tries to attract shoppers to his olive oil stand at the farmers market in Snohomish. Pancerzewski has been selling hi...

    Elizabeth Armstrong / The Herald

    Charles Pancerzewski of Mukilteo tries to attract shoppers to his olive oil stand at the farmers market in Snohomish. Pancerzewski has been selling his premium extra virgin olive oil at local markets and shops for three years. He anticipates that he will sell between 1,000 and 1,500 bottles at farmers markets this season.

  • Charles Pancerzewski of Mukilteo sells bottles of his premium extra virgin olive oil from New Zealand under the label Far North Olive Growers Ltd.

    Charles Pancerzewski of Mukilteo sells bottles of his premium extra virgin olive oil from New Zealand under the label Far North Olive Growers Ltd.

Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski didn't know much about olive oil when they bought a 25-acre olive grove in New Zealand.
They learned fast, after the man tending their land went bankrupt and they discovered he had planted a variety of olives that won't produce at their balmy northern New Zealand grove.
That's how Charles Pancerzewski, a retired accountant who lives in Mukilteo, began farming an olive grove in another hemisphere.
And that's why you can find premium extra virgin olive oil produced in New Zealand in local farmers markets and stores under the label Far North Olive Oil. The couple spends November through May working in New Zealand and the rest of the year in Mukilteo.
Olive oil is a relatively new industry in New Zealand and a small one, compared with major exporters such as Italy and Spain. In fact, New Zealand olive oil producers hardly make enough oil for their own domestic needs, so this is probably the only New Zealand olive oil in the Northwest.
That doesn't mean the couple's oil isn't good. Each olive variety and grove lends the resulting oil a distinct taste and aroma -- akin to fine wine -- Pancerzewski said.
Extra virgin olive oil is the best, made without a hydraulic press or centrifuge.
Processes that use heat or intense pressure degrade the oil and take away most of its health benefits.
"Basically, you'd be better off buying canola oil," he said.
The European Union requires that extra virgin olive oil meets a number of chemical requirements and contains no more than 0.8 percent free acidity. In olive oil, free acidity is a measure of decomposition. The couple said their extra virgin olive oil contains less than 0.2 acidity.
Since olive oil is a valuable commodity and easy to doctor, olive oil fraud is a fairly common international problem, he said. Unscrupulous purveyors water down high-quality oils with lesser-quality olive oils and other vegetable oils or dress it up with colors and flavorings. Sometimes lesser quality olive oil processed in refineries, exposed to heat and solvents, is passed off as extra virgin.
The couple takes pride in the quality of their product. They offers oils from three varieties of olives: Leccino, a classic Tuscan olive species with a peppery finish; Koroneiki, which offers hints of fresh herbs with a mild peppery finish; and NZ J5 olive, a New Zealand variety with a fresh, green aroma and a hint of pepper. They offer three sizes of bottles; the 500-milliliter bottle costs between $25 and $30.
When buying olive oil, know your source, Gayle Pancerzewski said. Quality oils usually label when the olives were pressed, not just when they were bottled. The distinction is important because sometimes olives are pressed in one location, but stored, shipped and bottled in another. The best are pressed and bottled immediately.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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