Q&A with Camille, Co-Founder & CEO at Hamama and Janell, Founder of Olive This, Olive That
Camille - Hi Hamama Friends! It’s Camille Richman Co-Founder and CEO of Hamama, here with a very special guest, Janell Pikkane, and we’re here together to announce the launch of our brand new product set: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. This is not just a regular salad dressing combo, this is a really special set for you. We are so excited to be announcing this and it’s the perfect way to be eating more microgreens. Seriously! I have this in my kitchen all the time now. I had a delicious salad for lunch with my kale, my olive oil and vinegar. Thank you Janell for working on this with us and making this dream come true. Janell is the founder of Olive This Olive That and an olive oil expert. Thanks for being here Janell! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your store Olive This Olive That?
Janell - I’d be happy to! Thank you for having me and it's so much fun to do this with you guys!
If I may start off with, we met five years ago when you guys just started your business and we had a launch in my shop and I reached out to you because I loved the idea of microgreens with my Olive Oil and Vinegars. And here we are fast forwarding and you have these wonderful customers out there who can also benefit from using our Olive Oil and Vinegars. I get kinda chills just thinking about that!
C - I know! It’s a long history and I'm just so thankful for you! And actually Hamama friends in the San Francisco area, you may remember Janell from our San Francisco meet-up at her shop where we did a tasting and pairing with microgreens. So long history here excited to be keeping it going!
J - That's right! So I do have this shop Olive This Olive That in Noe Valley in San Francisco and I opened it 9 years ago. I can't believe it's been nearly a decade! And just prior to that I began my long journey with olive oil. I often call it an infatuation and it soon became a deep love affair. As cliche as that sounds it really is true. But really what happened was I had an AHA moment with extra virgin olive oil and I had it on simple greens to be honest and we had some cheese and a pinch of sea salt and BOOM - It was a mind-blowing experience and that was the beginning of what is extra virgin olive oil all about? And why does it make your food taste so much better? And then I took a deeper dive in with the California Olive Oil Council. I wanted to work with local farmers, support our local agriculture and also for transparency to understand where my product is coming from and also for sustainability reasons I wanted to work with local farmers. So my involvement with the California Olive Oil council led me to an apprenticeship on their sensory panel to become an olive oil sommelier. Then I became basically an olive oil sommelier, a sensory panel member with the council about 8, 7 years ago. Gosh time is going by quickly! And what we do on the panel is we actually as a group do blind tastings to evaluate olive oils for that top quality extra virgin status. So that's what I love doing and that’s what the core of my shop is about! It's to help customers and your Hamama peeps be able to understand what they're choosing and using and how to enjoy it. There is a lot of choices out there and it can be overwhelming and we don’t always know what to look for. That’s what I am all about!
C - Amazing! So impressive and I love the shop here in San Francisco! You’ve got to go. So in that vein, all of these flavors and varieties to choose from, what made you select these particular ones? We have a California Extra Virgin Olive Oil and we have a barrel aged Balsamic Vinegar for you. What made you choose these? Can you describe the flavor in your expert vocabulary?
J - So I did choose the two most popular products, oils and vinegars, in my shop because I thought that your costumes would also really enjoy them too. Like you mentioned, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil is from California. All of the olive oils are from California and this one is from Yolo County. It is a family farm and it has been for a few generations. They are an organic farm! This particular variety is the Arbequina which is a very common, ubiquitous variety in California originally from Spain however, this particular one has got a little more of the fruitiness, the bitterness and the pungency: The intensity of these aspects that we look for in olive oil in some other Arbequinas. I love this one! And when I am describing it as fruitiness it means you are going to get a really great aroma, a little bit of grass. You might get a little bit of that green note!
C - I have had that one before!
J - Okay Awesome! Bitterness is always inherent in an olive oil. A lot of people don’t expect that. If you’ve ever tried to eat an olive off a tree you’ll know that it’s very very bitter and you really can’t eat it. So when we turn olives into olive oil we’re going to get some level of bitterness. And you experience that on the tongue as a flavor. And then this pungency, spiciness, sometimes it's identified as pepperiness it's actually a reaction to the health benefits that are in the olive oil. So we’ll talk a bit more about that in a moment. But this is what we are looking for! This is really fresh. This is a key part of having quality extra virgin olive oil. You’re gonna get some fruitiness, bitterness and pungency - Nicely balanced and putting this on top of salads as you mentioned, avocado, anything! Chocolate actually. You’re going to really enhance the flavor of those foods with this quality olive oil.
Now the vinegar is a fermented product! It is an acid so you have your fat and your acid working together to really sort of modify foods and create beautiful balance and amplify flavor. So think of olive oil as a fresh fruit juice that's gonna have some nice green grassy notes and some spice. Think of the balsamic vinegar as an aged fermented product. This one is a blend of balsamic from Italy as well as balsamics from California. They've been aged in the Solera barrel method so it's thicker and sweeter and it is grape based.
C- It's so syrupy! It's delicious.
J - So it's been reduced so the sugars are a little intensified! Yes it's thicker and sweeter. So it's not the tart tangy vinegars that you might come across in a lot of the grocery stores. This one is really a beautiful, mature, rich, viscous, sweet vinegar. It goes really well with the olive oil. Again, two simple ingredients may be a pinch of sea salt on these greens and you have an incredible meal.
C - Yes and that is the key here and where Janell and I and Olive This Olive that and Hamama really connect is: Simple, healthy, fresh, delicious ingredients to eat healthier, eat more deliciously. All of the above!
Thank you for that explanation on your choice here! Can’t wait for you all to try this. Can you explain a little more on the process here? What do people need to know about Extra Virgin vs regular olive oil. Can you go back to that process? You have the olive oils, olives from California. How does it become olive oil?
J - Think of grapes to wine, olives to olive oil. So there is a process involved there and things that are really important is you have to start with quality fruit! Quality fruit, the time that you harvest - You pick your olives - is really important. And then the part where it starts to differ in the process is - Harvesting from the tree, you’ve got your olives, needs to get to the mill where we create the oil within the same day. Within hours actually! Ideally within 12 hours definitely not more than 24 for quality. And then you need to have a good miller who knows what they’re doing, have a clean meal. And then you create the oil all of that the very, very same day!
That’s where it differs from wine! And this is where the fresh fruit juice concept comes from. We are creating olive oil from olives from grape fruit that day! And the other difference between wine olive oil and vinegar is that their aging process does not make olive oil better. If you come away with one thought its that fresh is best! And in the way we determine extra vs virgin in olive oil is that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is top quality - It's only olives so nothing else has been added and the process has been done through a mechanical mill monitoring temperature so no heat no solvents. And then after it becomes oil it goes through two exams, tests, and analysis. One is a lab test and there are standards that are set that are international standards. And then there is a sensory test which is what I am trained to do and the sensory test is important because that identifies if there are defects in the olive oil. You don’t want a defect! The most common defect that we have would be oxidation or rancidity. And that has to do with basically old oil so if you don't’ know how long your oil has been on the shelf or when it was harvested to the key point, then you don’t really know how fresh your oil is. If you aren’t trained or at least a little bit knowledgeable to know what to expect when you taste it you could certainly be consuming sub quality olive oil. This is what I am all about! This is what I am so happy that Hamama is now offering. You do have a certified fresh, most recent harvest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. What happens if it's not extra? It can be downgraded to virgin oil, and then it can be downgraded to worse off - Where it's really “lampante” which is what it sounds like - Used for lamp oil! And we don’t want to be ingesting that! So! Knowing your source, knowing that it is qualified as extra virgin, it's been tested for that and that it's got freshness , fruitiness, bitterness, pungency, is really important to know.
The vinegar is very different right! The vinegar is a fermented product that means we have a process of taking the grapes, we heat the grapes, turn them and boil them for over 24 hours, turn that into a must - It's really really thick and reduced and that goes into barrels and then that goes in with the mother which is what starts the fermentation process. Then all that fermentation process starts to happen and then the great must with the mother reduces in the barrel and that gets put into a second barrel, smaller barrel with more of this great must. So on and so on so that the end product has been aged for a minimum of three years and often quite longer. This product has more health benefits that have to do with digestion. When we think, fermentation and we think of the gut and the microbiome and all of that. That's where the vinegar comes into play!
C - I see!
J - Lots of information there!
C - The health benefits! Keep all the info coming! So I have heard that olive oil and like getting your fats from Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the Mediterranean diet is what makes that particular diet so special and healthy. Do you agree with that? Can you list out some of the main benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
J - Absolutely! I totally agree with the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. If you look at elderly populations in the blue zones, where people are living to be long ripe ages and they’re healthy. One of the blue zones is Greece! And a lot of places in the Mediterranean. So it kind of distills down to “What is their diet?”. Are they enjoying eating together? The enjoyment of food which is another part of the whole Hamama process. Not to divert too much but it's so exciting to watch these little microgreens pop up through the quilt and you can cut them and actually see what you grow and then actually consume it. So there is a lot of joy in that and that also helps with longevity and happiness and that is good for our bodies. So the food - it’s very well known that Extra Virgin Olive Oil has antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in them. So that spice you might experience in the back of your throat when you taste it by itself has to do with the phenolic compounds or the polyphenols that we often hear about nowadays that have these antioxidants in them. So some of the benefits of these antioxidants is heart health. That is one of the biggest ones. It's good stress reliever. If your blood pressure is high we want to calm it and we want to get the stress out, the oxidation out of our body so antioxidants such as the ones offered in olive oil is very good.
It's also good for mental health and clarity. There is more research coming out that it could be helpful to prevent Alzheimers so this is something that is coming up as well. It's also great for weight loss! A lot of people especially if you grew up in the 70s, 80s in the nonfat diet area or era. It's not so true! We need good fats in our diet and a good fat which has these antioxidants and omegas in it and vitamin k’s in it . It's also satiating because it is a fat. And if you are satiated you will eat less food and you will also want to consume better tasting food and not those empty calories. So again it circles back to “Oh my gosh we have these wonderful, I love the spicier microgreens right”. And we put a little bit of olive oil into them and it just takes edges off and you got all of this flavor. It's all you really need to have on a salad for so much good flavor and you're satiating yourself because the olive oil is actually an oil. Another point about the health benefits in oil, because it makes a good fat, it lowers your negative lipids in the body - the LDLs and increases the good lipids - HDL’s. That’s another aspect.
C - Cholesterol right?
J - Yup having to do with the cholesterol exactly! But it also is a conduit for nutrition. So all those phytonutrients, sometimes they are oil soluble only, not water soluble. So you need a fat to absorb those phytonutrients into your system- so a good fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil can bring in some of those nutrients that we are not even realizing we are not getting even though we are eating them because we didn’t have a way for our body to absorb it.
C - Okay that is crazy! That is what we are all about with microgreens here up in the phytonutrients. Maybe some increased bioavailability by pairing with your Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Interesting!
J - Exactly! Tomatoes are one of those too. So if you add some tomatoes in your salad with your microgreens on top, lycopene in tomatoes is only oil soluble . If you go back to the mediterranean diets like Caprese salads, olive oil and vinegar - Greek food! My goodness gracious! All of those beautiful vegetables and fish! If you just did a nice little bit of fish poach it in olive oil, toss some microgreens. I think that would be so delicious!
C - Sounds great!
J - Lots of health benefits in the olive oil. And if I may make a note about cooking with olive oil. There is a myth out there that you can’t cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can! But there are milder oils and oils that have a lot of flavor. Heat will burn up some of the flavor of the oil so you may want a milder olive oil to cook with and by all means cook with it! It's not harmful to your body, you'll just lose a little bit of flavor. And this olive oil that we have chosen for Hamama you can certainly put it in the pan to grill some bread for your toast or saute your onions. For the base of a sauce or anything else that you are preparing, roasted vegetables, put it in the pan! We roast our vegetables all of the time in our Extra Virgin Olive Oil! There are many health benefits in that.
C - Amazing! Okay so it's going to help you eat veggies across the board. No lie! If you have a single drop of this olive oil it is so special and fresh! It makes me want to go cook and get my veggies in.
Sounds like you’re recommending to our Hamama friends - Cook with it! Use it as a salad dressing! Don’t be afraid - Go for it! Roasted veggies - Go for it! Microgreen salad.
I actually just had for lunch a broccoli microgreen salad with some feta, olive oil, chickpeas - Used the olive oil and balsamic as a dressing. Had some leftover greens from my harvest that I dressed as well and I'm going to use those on sandwiches. Love dressing my greens for a sandwich. It's like the next level up! These are great tips for how to use your Extra Virgin Olive Oil and balsamic for recipes. We will be coming out with a few too for you! Janell a few last questions for you. Can you go back to, you mentioned, the Extra Virgin ratings and the different types of olive oils you might see at the store - What makes this really special and something that you know, shouldn’t be on your regular grocery shopping list? What makes this just so above and beyond that I can taste in the flavor?
J - Again, I am going back to source! So your customers are going to trust you and Hamama. You guys do an amazing job right? And you trust me because we worked together for a long time and I trust my farmers to make this olive oil that is my best seller in my shop. And I have to say the relationships all along the way are the most important part because we can trust what we have. When you go into a big grocery store and even if you ask somebody about it they are not gonna know where this came from, when it was harvested, how long it was sitting on the shelf. They won’t be able to tell you about the flavor profiles or the health benefits. So that part right there really sets it apart from grocery store olive oil. And then as we mentioned earlier we have these wonderful layers of flavor, we have some green grassiness, we got some nuttiness, we got some herbaceousness. We got a little bit of peppery spiciness too. So we’ve got a lot going on in the olive oil which again you might pick a grocery store olive oil and its flat. It doesn’t have any flavor at all. In fact you didn’t even realize that Extra Virgin Olive Oil should have flavor.
C - I would compare this to like having my first strawberry out of a garden! Compared to a grocery store strawberry. Where it's just like I did not know it could taste like this. It's full - its full self somehow.
J - Well that's what I call my AHA moment. When I had that AHA moment with the olive oil it's like that AHA moment with a strawberry out of the garden. I get it - It's like oh my gosh I had no idea. Really?? And you can just eat it like candy instead of like a tart, something that you know you don't really want to consume too much of because it makes you pucker. But no fresh strawberries out of the garden are like little gems of candy. So fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil that's quality is going to have a lot of flavor going on in it. And a lot of that spice that you feel in the back of the throat if you taste it by itself indicates that you’re getting all of these health benefits too that really should be part of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil and you may or may not know that from the olive oil that you pick on the shelf. I also want to say we very thoughtfully created the label for Hamama. And one of the things that we very thoughtfully did was put a harvest date on there. And this is really important when it comes to choosing an Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You want to again know when it was harvested; it's like the fruit that was picked off the tree. You want to know when it was picked up and not that it was sitting on a counter or on a shelf for months and months and months.Which always makes me nervous when you can have lettuce that lasts for three months in the crisper. What's wrong with that picture, right?
So this has got a harvest date so you know fresh is best. Think of olive oil as a fresh fruit juice and the closest to harvest date is best. Also included on that label is a shelf life. So olive oil unlike, apples and things can last up to 18 months for the year. So we have olive oil that is quality that has been bottled and stored properly. We’ve got that for the whole year! So we can celebrate having wonderful olive oil all year long. However, once you open a bottle of olive oil, that oxidation process that I mentioned earlier that turns into rancidity, begins. So once you open a bottle of olive oil you want to consume it within 3-4 months ideally. Saving those special bottles that you got on a trip to Napa or trip to Italy or wherever or because it was your anniversary and use it only for special occasions. It's kinda sad because you’re gonna lose it! The flavors gonna go and it's going to oxidize. So it says on the bottle not only the harvest date but it says how long it will last for unopened and suggested time to use it once it is opened. So good reminder that it is a fresh fruit juice so use it generously - Try it on everything. And the other thing it says on the label is how to store it. The enemies of olive oil are air, heat and light and of course time. Storing in your pantry. not on your stove, not on a sunny windowsill like next to your Hamama greens.
C - Similar to your Hamama Seed Quilts which should also be stored in a cool dry area. There you go!
J - It's the perfect pairing. Perfect spot!
C - Perfect! Thank you so much for all of this incredible information Janell and for making this happen! I am so psyched for you guys to try this with your homegrown microgreens. We really hope you enjoy! Let us know what you think. We will post the link to get these from our first batch in the description below and Janell just thank you, thank you for everything. We are so happy to be partners. Thanks again for making this happen.
J - Well thank you! I am thrilled about this partnership too and I am so excited to share our olive oils and vinegars with all of your Hamama peeps. It's a super exciting partnership. Love you guys and to your health!
C - Thank you Hamama friends for joining us for this special new Hamama product sneak peek. Drop a seedling emoji below in the comments if you love olive oil too! We’re really excited about our new Extra Virgin Olive Oil and balsamic vinegar that we’ve sourced with the expert here Janell of Olive This Olive that in San Francisco. Go ahead and order your set now it is a limited first batch. Go to Hamama.com/oliveoil to get yours now! Make sure to also like this video and subscribe if you haven’t already so you get more notifications like this. Visit us online at Hamama.com and connect with our customer happiness team as well at Hamama.com/help. We’re so thankful for you growing with us and enjoy your new olive oil and balsamic! Bye!