Move over, olive; there’s new oil in town. True, walnut oil is
nothing new — the French have been producing it since the 18th
century — but in the last year, two raw walnut vendors at the Santa
Barbara Farmers Markets have started producing 100 percent pure,
cold-pressed oil from their crops. Unlike commercially produced
oils, cold-pressed products do not use heat, which extracts more
oil, but breaks down the flavor compounds and diminishes the
nutritive properties of the nut. Commercial oils also often contain
water, which is used to thin the oil, diluting the taste.
Cathy Oliver of Oliver Family
Orchard starting selling her hand-pressed oil last fall.
Her parents grow several varieties of the nuts on their 40-acre
farm in Woodland, near Davis. Since Oliver lives here in Santa
Barbara, she sells the walnuts at the Farmers Market, and because
she had a small table press, decided to play around with raw and
roasted oils. “My press is so tiny, it only makes two bottles an
hour,” she said. The labor of love shows. Oliver’s oil is rich,
unctuous, and akin to drinking pure, liquid walnuts. Don’t even
think of cooking with this stuff; use it for drizzling, dipping, or
for a simple vinaigrette. You don’t want to do anything to lose
that incomparable flavor.
La Nogalera produces rich-tasting, roasted,
organic oil from several different walnut varieties and farms in
and around the Santa Rita Hills. Their Hibbets Ranch
Lompoc oil is from cool, coastal groves of heritage stock,
developed and grown exclusively on the ranch, while their
Buellton Concord yields a sweeter product. The
Rancho La Viña Cañon Orchard Blend is a buttery
melding of three varieties.
Walnut oil is high in Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, as well as
antioxidants and protein. It has also been shown to possess
anti-inflammatory properties, and studies now indicate that
moderate nut consumption lowers the risk of heart disease, making
most nut oils a healthy choice.
Walnut oil has a lower smoke point than some nut oils, such as
peanut, meaning it shouldn’t be used for frying or most sautéed
items, unless they will cook very quickly — marble-sized new
potatoes are a good choice. The oil is also gorgeous when used for
baked goods such as a walnut oil cake; to dress roasted potatoes,
beets, or barely blanched haricot verts; or as a drizzle over good
quality ricotta served with grilled bread, figs, and pungent baby
greens such as curly cress or chicory.