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Conversations with Thomas Curry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomas Curry.

Hi Thomas, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I like to say my passion for olives started when I planted my first olive tree at the age of six in San Diego, which ironically is where the olive oil industry got started in the 1700s. Having spent my young adult years in the restaurant business in various areas of the country, I ended up in the wine business in Southern CA where I met my wife, Nancy. She had a background in hotel/restaurant management and also found her way into the wine business and we started our lives together with the desired lifestyle to include food, wine and travel.

With our travels, we discovered Fresh Olive Oil and that we have a very different relationship with food here than they do in other areas of the world. In fact, we were unaware that olive oil is actually fruit juice and that the freshness of the product is a critical aspect to the overall quality.

In 1996 we moved our young family to Temecula from Orange County with the goal of being able to grow our own food and raise our daughters with a respect for where their food comes from. We planted grape vines, olive trees and a vegetable garden and settled in with our pet pig Hamlet.

I started studying the attributes of olive oil and landed a position on a certifying board where we certified CA olive oils as extra virgin. I held that position for about 20 years.

In 2001 our first Olive crop was on the trees and I found myself too time-strapped with a winery project I was involved in, so Nancy decided to get things moving. She asked her friend Catherine Pepe to be her partner and the Temecula Olive Oil Company was born. There weren’t any olive mills in southern CA at that time so the ladies had to find time on a mill further north. They both had careers of their own and we had (5) small children between the two families so they did most of their work at night after the kiddos were in bed. Once the inaugural harvest was milled, pressed and bottled, they started to sell it out of the winery I was running. The guests had a hard time understanding why the olive oil would be different than what was in their pantry so we started tasting it, and it was an awakening. 

Soon people started coming back just for the olive oil. It became obvious that we needed to create an educational platform that ultimately connected people to their food source and the people behind the food. Nancy had the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar tasting room solely focused on the local fresh squeezed olive oil we were making. I honestly thought it was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard but the ladies proved me wrong. That tasting room is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Soon we could see that the demand for our oil was going to be greater than the supply so we started looking for more land. We found the perfect parcel in Aguanga, just outside of Temecula and started the work of clearing, clean up and planting. This is home to our experimental grove with over 35 different varieties growing on site.

Not long after our first tasting room opened, the state of CA came to us and asked us to open one in the state park in Old Town San Diego, by the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which is in close proximity to the first commercial Olive mill in the state. This would help them tie things together historically.

We now have seven tasting rooms in Southern CA, including the one at the families ranch where we conduct educational tours and events.

We have been innovative in how we approached the business in many ways. Early on, we started planting and managing groves for local Temecula Valley homeowners, which has created new opportunities for families within the community and then expanded to other southern CA areas, which was the start of what is now the revival of the industry.

Creativity on the production side came from building on knowledge and experience that I received by sitting on the taste panel for the certifying board. This led to the design and development of our own equipment, which we built to enhance the sensory properties of the oil, that results in fresher, fruitier oils. This mill is a blend of Old World and New World technology and is unique in the industry.

As we grew, so did our capabilities and soon, we began to operate the first mobile mill ever created. I would take that mill to UC Davis to educate the industry which included people from all over the world.

My background in winemaking has been helpful in developing our proprietary blends, not just our traditional olive oils but also our co-milled estate oils, where we secure local produce from our farming community to mill and press directly with the olives.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Anytime you are dealing with agriculture, you are also dealing with Mother Nature who has her own set of rules. Draught, Santa Ana winds, hail, are all concerns and we have had many a sleepless night over concern for the season’s crop. That said, the greatest challenge over the last 24 years has been the impact of COVID 19 on small businesses, the supply chain and doubling down on safety measures to ensure the health and safety of our team.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am the company farmer and oversee all milling, pressing and blending of our fresh squeezed olive oils. Our goal is to be good custodians of the earth and we do that through regenerative farming practices which include being net carbon neutral. Being a farmer is a lot of work as it is seven days a week and not a lifestyle for a family unless you are all in. Being a pioneer for olive oil growers in Southern CA has been an amazing journey. It is such an honor and so humbling to hear how our products have impacted people’s lives and to be embraced by such amazing chefs in the culinary world because they believe our olive oil elevates their finished plate. We have an incredible team of passionate individuals in the trenches with us and it allows us to give back to the communities that support us!

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
In the early 80s, I was a sommelier for a restaurant in LaJolla and was featured on the cover of the Wine Spectator for being the youngest person to have written an award-winning wine list. I never would have thought that it would play a role in making sought-after olive oil.

Pricing:

  • Late Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil $22.99
  • Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil $25.99
  • Co-Milled Olive Oil $25.99

Contact Info:

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