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Meet Maurice & Cindy Penna

What does it take to talk olives, think olives, eat olives, and even dream olives on a daily basis? If you asked Maurice and Cindy Penna, a husband and wife pair of olive enthusiasts and growers, they would tell you that all it takes is a love of olives. They are passionate about sharing that love with the world.

Penna – Gourmet Olives

And what the Pennas do is make olives available at a price that won’t blow a grocery budget. The Pennas own M&CP Farms, 100 acres of olive production, processing and packing, located in the fertile Northern Sacramento Valley of California. They have owned the land since 1951.

Maurice, age 59, was actually born in Australia to Italian parents from the village of Revigliasco di Asti. Maurice moved to California in 1951, when his parents purchased the land that is now M&CP Farms. He attributes his farming knowledge and appreciation for fine foods to his family upbringing.

Cindy is a native Californian and has spent most of her life in the Sacramento Valley. Her grandparents were from the Orland area. They owned a well-known nursery, the same nursery that supplied many of the original olive tree plantings that now grow throughout California’s olive region. Maurice and Cindy met in the third grade when Cindy was asked to “guide” the new student from Australia.

As a young man, Maurice spent a few years in the military before choosing a life of farming over the big city. Maurice was fortunate to find a mentor in Elton Develter (1918-1994), a UC Berkeley graduate food technologist and olive expert who spent his entire life in the California Olive arena. Develter shared with Maurice what he had learned traveling the world observing and studying the old ways of olive growing and processing. “Elton imparted so much passion for knowledge and thirst for the old ways into me,” Maurice said. The Pennas have combined Old World curing and spicing practices with safe, modern technology to produce a unique, flavorful and consistent olive. Their company, M&CP Farms, sells both fresh olives for home-curing and retail olives.

M&CP Farms currently retails Penna Olives. Penna Olives are known as “California’s Everyday Specialty.” And that is because the Pennas want olives to be more than just a holiday condiment. Maurice, a home kitchen chef, has developed several recipes which showcase olives. He also promotes the health benefits of this tasty little fruit. Today, the Pennas are dedicated to sharing the full-flavor range of their California olives while continuing to be involved in all aspects of their product’s production, processing and packing.

Penna’s Olives in the Press

2012 July 3rd, Italian Mama Chef “Olives! Olives! Olives!”
You might be asking yourself why am I talking so much about olives, well I’ll tell you. I’ve been given the honor to promote a company that is all about olives. They are Penna Gourmet Foods. Penna Gourmet Foods is a grower, packer and processor of gourmet olives. I’ve been browsing their website and plan to place an order. Penna Gourmet Foods Fresh Olives are available starting around the middle of September (weather permitting) so my order will have to wait just a few months.

2011 September 23rd, in Article Circulation “The Small Olive Crop”  Agricultural Commissioner Doug Compton seems to agree with Penna estimating the crop to produce between 20 and 30 percent of a normal crop, though Penna says it will be closer to the 20 percent range; possibly a 47.5 million dollar loss.

2007 October 17th, in the The New York Times web page “Dining and Wine” section.
An article by Julia Moskin titled “Olives, Flavored by Time, Seasoned With Memories” The online version of the
article also had links to a couple of new curing recipes. We hope to post them here soon.

2007  Featured on Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats” was an episode about curing your own olives.  We  were proud to be listed as a source for fresh olives for curing on his website ( www.altonbrown.com.)

January 11, 2006 issue of the The Chico Enterprise Record , in the Style/Food section, an article titled  “Pennas embrace gourmet olive market” By STEVE BROWN – Staff Writer, Chico Enterprise-Record.
ORLAND — Welcome to the savory world of gourmet olives.

It’s a world where olives are eaten every day, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are eaten in salads, pizzas, pasta dishes, breads and casseroles. Some of them are eaten stuffed — with cheese, garlic, almonds and jalapenos — and some of them are the main ingredient in spreads and sauces.

It’s a world where many varieties of olives are appreciated: The calamon (or kalamata) from Greece, the sevillano from Spain, the lucque from the south of France and the mission, which has been in this region for centuries and is most commonly used in olive oil. These varieties and others are flourishing in California.

It’s a world where olives are allowed to ferment for months to acquire a smooth, mellow taste. It’s a world where people are becoming interested in curing fresh olives at home.

It’s a world where quality matters more than quantity. While major olive packers process tens of thousands of tons of olives a year, gourmet businesses measure their output in the mere hundreds of tons.

Above all, it’s a world where people wouldn’t think of mocking this ancient Mediterranean fruit. Olive aficionados are not amused at the childish practice of placing an olive on the tip of every finger and then wiggling them around.

Maurice and Cindy Penna, who own M&CP Farms, are plugged into this world. On 100 acres south of Orland, they have grown, picked, processed and packed olives for the gourmet market for the last 20 years. About 40 percent of their business consists of picking and shipping fresh olives to people who want to cure them at home. Cindy said Italians, Armenians and Greeks in New York and Canada have always been steady customers. But nowadays the public in general is becoming interested in learning home-curing techniques. The thriving online component of their business bears this out. The Pennas have even started a blog to give customers pointers on how to cure olives.

“It’s a unique flavor, different from anything they can buy,” Maurice said.

The Pennas have been in the business long enough to know that the love of olives has been around forever. In the Middle East, some individual olive trees are believed to be 2,000 years old. What’s new is that Americans are starting to take more notice of olives and are becoming receptive to trying an array of products.

“People are just more willing to try new things,” Maurice said. “I have 600 pounds of fig paste. I want to do an olive fig spread.”

Some of the Pennas’ more exotic products include an olive and vegetable spread called muffaletta, a spicy pesto sauce, a blend of Sicilian olives and extra virgin olive oil called crema verde and olives stuffed with blue cheese. “We want to keep adding to our line of special products,” Cindy said. “Coming up with new products and presenting them at food shows is a big part of why I love this business.” Cindy also loves the trees themselves — their gnarled trunks and long greenish-gray leaves.

The Pennas aim to be at the forefront of the gourmet olive business. They enjoy being recognized for their knowledge of the industry and for the quality and reasonable price of their products. But they don’t mind keeping a low profile. Some of their products are packaged under what are called “private labels.” This means other companies, such as The Oak Pit, Queen Creek and Napa Style, package Penna products under their own labels.

“It all comes down to dollars and cents,” Maurice said. “If your ego is so big that you have to put your name on every product, you may miss out on opportunities to sell it.”

Recently, the Food Channel asked the Pennas for samples of their olives and olive tree branches to use on Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats.” “They won’t mention our name, but their Web site will have a link to our Web site,” Maurice said. The show is scheduled to air either this month or in February, he said.

The Pennas prefer to carefully choose their markets. Chico shoppers are familiar with their products. They’re available at Maisie Jane’s, Made in Chico, S & S Produce and Raley’s.

“We’ve gone into the Bay Area to some degree, but we don’t have a real wide distribution,” Maurice said. “We want to grow our business only up to a certain point. We want specialty shops and our own online business to drive sales.”

When the Pennas bought their property in 1979, they grew organic oranges for a few seasons. “But there were too many variables in the climate we couldn’t control,” Maurice said. “This area is the farthest north where oranges are grown commercially.”

This is a much better climate for olives than it is for oranges, but unpredictable weather in May, which is the normal bloom time, can be a problem. “The best weather is dry, with high temperatures between 75 and 80, with light winds,” Maurice said. Hot weather can “cook the pollen,” he said. “And rain at bloom time can wash the pollen off the flowers.”

M&CP Farms is a self-sufficient operation, except the demand for the Pennas’ products has outstripped the amount of olives they grow on their property. “We do some buying from neighboring growers,” Maurice said. The Pennas have plans to increase the yield on their own property by interplanting rows of kalamata olives among existing rows of sevillanos on 75 acres. Both varieties are grafted onto the root stock of the more vigorous mission olive tree. “We will double the number of trees from 48 to 96 per acre,” Maurice said. The Pennas also grow seven acres of lucques.

The Pennas provided this recipe, which puts their Sicilian style olives to good use.

SICILIAN OLIVE SALAD – Recipe on our recipes page.

(The above article was also mentioned on the Specialty Food website, http://www.specialtyfood.com.)

October 12, 2005 post on the olive blog article called “Buying and Curing Olives”(Olives and Olive Oil Section)
Mentions our web site and our blog on curing fresh olives. Weblog has lots of olive information.

October 12, 2005 issue of the The Star-Ledger , an article titled Taking the olive cure. Mentions our web site and what type of consumer would be interested in curing their own olives.

Spring 2002 issue of FB World.com (1st paragraph of article)

“Orland, California growers Maurice and Cindy Penna are the leaders in Northern California olive growing. They are distinguished as the only ripe style olive processor in Northern California. M&CP Farmer have been producing pre-ripened green olives since 1975 on farming land that has been in the family since 1951. However, the olive orchards themselves have been commercially viable since 1915 and are some of the oldest in the state. The focus for the Penna’s is on quality olives and olive produces that puts M&CP Farms at the forefront of the custom packed fresh olive market in California.”

February 2001 Issue of the California Olive Oil News

“Maurice Penna of M&CP Farms / Penna Olives / Loam Ridge was one of many olive producers showing new stuffed olives. He had a tasty display of new olive pates and tapenades and several new cheese stuffed olives. His Extra Virgin olive oil, a blend of Ascolano, Sevillano, and Manzanillo was one of the most memorable of the show.”