Stonehouse California Olive Oil with Alex Mart

If you don’t recognize the name Stonehouse Olive Oil, think back to the last time you went to the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. Amid the crowds of hungry folks browsing the wonderful spread of artisanal foods, there stands a spot, laid out with thick wooden tables and friendly faces, such as Stonehouse Customer Service and Online Sales Manager Alex Mart. On the tables stands an array of dark and amber bottles filled with magic elixirs, and little bowls of delicious goodness in front, ready for the tasting.

Well, a trip to the Ferry Building is less conceivable now with the pandemic, but you can still witness the experience that is Stonehouse oils with FMOW. I sat down with Alex Mart on what makes Stonehouse so special.

The company started in 1996. At the time, olive growers and olive oil producers were scarce in California, and the creators saw a chance at doing their own thing. “There was a lot of olive oil fraud, so if we can’t trust oil coming from overseas, why don’t we make our own?” Alex said.

Stonehouse rose as a company advocating for the local food system and production transparency. It was becoming easier and easier for food companies to cheat their way into peoples’ stomachs, and Stonehouse knew it needed to join the counterforce focusing on quality ingredients, independent farmers, and local production.

And they’re doing just that. Now, after 24 years — 17 of which had its base in the Ferry Building — Stonehouse is still keeping up its values of being a strong small business, collaborating with local California farms one-on-one, and producing high quality, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).

Alex explained Stonehouse’s process. Local California farms and bottling services are contracted on a close, personal level with Stonehouse workers, who regularly drive miles to check in on harvests, milling, and bottling.

“We are committed to quality, so we are super involved; the owner is there at the farms for harvest, she’s checking on the crops, talking to the farmers, she goes to the bottling facility, so we really know and can speak for the quality of the products,” Alex said.

Most farms reside in California’s Capay Valley.

After olives are picked, they are immediately pressed in order to ensure extra virgin standing. Alex said that earlier than 24 hours is needed. The olives are pressed in giant grinders, pit and all. In the olden days, old stone mills pressed olives and separation took longer, leading to more air exposure. Oxygen, according to Alex, degrades oil and reduces the quality. Now, production sites are able to use centrifuges to separate the juices from the solids, leading to both a cleaner product and less air exposure.

The fun part, however, is how Stonehouse gets creative. Their flavored oils are made by throwing in whole fresh fruits or herbs into the grinder along with the olives, so that the essential oils of the fruits or herbs can incorporate deeply into the olive oil. And the flavor cannot compare to artificial flavorings or dried fruits.

“It will knock your socks off,” Alex said. “When you start with really good ingredients, it’s hard to do it wrong.”

That is what makes Stonehouse special. As a team of less than a dozen, they are the epitome of a small business that truly cares about the product they craft and what goes into it. As Alex said, their mission is to hand a product with transparent ingredients to customers so that cooking can become simpler, tastier, and healthier. As everyone knows, olive oil is really the base for so many dishes. “We are really trying to empower people to have good ingredients and cook at home,” Alex said.

What is most admirable to us here at FMOW is Stonehouse’s appreciation for local farmers and the farmers’ market community. “We are really big on the ‘eat local, support local’ movement, especially since in the beginning we sold exclusively in farmers’ markets for a long time,” Alex said.

As of now, Alex said the team is excited for the current female president to take full ownership of the company and the upcoming harvest of a beloved farmer’s new varieties. And in terms of us here at FMOW, we are more proud than ever to have a partner like Stonehouse in our market. Check them out now in our Pantry section.

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