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Scripps College volunteers make olive oil from campus trees — and beat the pros

In 1976, a California wine shocked the world by beating a French wine in an international blind tasting. On Thursday, olive oil from Los Angeles County won "Best of Show" in an international blind tasting competition. But the big surprise is that the olives were grown on the Scripps College campus in Claremont – and it’s the first pressing ever from those trees.

Nancy Neiman Auerbach teaches international political economy at Scripps, which is one of The Claremont Colleges. She said she thinks this victory is just as impressive as the wine victory 37 years ago.

"I think in some ways more," she said. "We got the community out to pick olives for a four-hour period, and we did it to build community. We had no idea that we would be producing a great olive oil."

The oil is described to have  a "buttery and fruity" taste, with a bite of olive.

The Scripps olive oil was one of more than 500 contenders at the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. Twelve judges sip in the final Best of Show tasting, a blind taste test of all the oils that scored a 94 or above in their class. Scripps' oil was named "Best in Show" in the domestic delicate class, the LA Weekly reported.

Neiman Auerbach said students decided five years ago that they wanted to produce olive oil from the 70 olive trees on campus.

Lola Trafecanty, the director of grounds at Scripps College, said the trees have been on campus since the 1930s. They were once part of an orchard that was going to be removed in the 1960s when a new humanities building was being developed. But the students protested and halted the removal

"They climbed the trees and protected the trees, which led the administration to save them, box them, move them off the perimeter," Trafecanty said. [They] put them back in the courtyards, as well as around the new building." 

Scripps produced about 700 bottles of olive oil and has sold almost of them. Eight-ounce bottles have been offered at select campus functions for $45 a bottle, with all funds going towards future community outreach programs, the LA Weekly reported.

Trafecanty said at this point, there are no plans to enter more tasting competitions, but the college does want to continue producing olive oil. 

"We plan to harvest next fall," she said. "If mother nature cooperates."

(If you're interested in reading more about Scripps' olive oil, check out the official website.)