Francesca Van Soest ‘18

Technical Sales Manager, Boundary Bend Olives

Checka’s Question: What is the nature of olive oil?

Keystone Title: From Olive to Oil: The journey of an ancient fruit through the modern processing world

Abstract: Following the life of the olive fruit from tree to table, this Keystone spans centuries, travels from olive groves and farms to processing plants, and finishes on your kitchen table. Francesca’s project explores this staple commodity in depth. She examines the nutritional benefits olive oil, how it is grown and processed, and how it is best consumed, both through tips and tricks for purchasing at the grocery store, and in tasty recipes she includes in the annex.

Why did you choose Quest?
I attended a college fair not really knowing what program I wanted to go into. So when I learned all about Quest and how students are able to take Foundation courses for the first two years, which essentially gives you university level knowledge through a bunch of different courses, I thought, “this sounds awesome!” Then I visited the Quest campus. How could you not get sold on this beautiful place? Quest is so unique. This was my opportunity to be a part of something really different and cool. I couldn’t turn it down!

What inspired you to get involved in the olive oil industry?
I have always loved food. So when I got home to Vernon for the summer after my first year at Quest, I got a job at a local olive oil and balsamic vinegar boutique that had just opened up on Main Street, my favourite spot in town. I applied, got the job, loved it and worked all summer long. I enjoyed the organic chemistry and nutrition side of things. I have always valued olive oil as a commodity, and to learn about its health benefits was super influential for me.

Tell me a bit about your Experiential Learning opportunity with Boundary Bend in California.
I started taking chemistry courses, and then switched emphasis to organic chemistry, focusing on fatty acid synthesis and digestion, among other elements. When it was time to consider my Experiential Learning opportunities, I was referred to Boundary Bend, which is an Australian-based company in California. Their olive oil is called Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

I was anticipating doing my EL in prime harvesting time in November, but they said they’d like to have me on board for August to study the oil accumulation in the olives and work on data collection. It completely encompassed everything I wanted to do: be hands-on in the field, meet the farmers, be present in the lab and attend events with consumers. I ended up staying there for three-and-a-half months.

What makes for a good olive oil?
Find a fresh source. You should always know where it’s from—if it doesn’t say on the bottle, that’s probably a bad thing. Also, it doesn’t get better with age. Do not treat it like a bottle of wine! Consume it as soon as possible.

What’s your go-to recipe including olive oil, Francesca?
I eat olive oil with all my meals, but probably something simple and fresh, like sliced tomatoes and basil, a little onion, salt, pepper, olive oil.

You’re writing a book! What’s it about and when can we read it?
My book is going to be my Keystone Project. It’s a comprehensive guide that follows the olive to oil, and then into human use, so it is pretty much an all-encompassing exposé from fruit to cooking.  It will cover olive varieties that are common to California. I’ve got about five chapters right now, but plan to keep writing. The company that I’m going to work for in Australia has plans to publish it once complete so that’s something really exciting to look forward to.

What do you plan to do after Quest?
At the end of my Experiential Learning at Boundary Bend in California when my internship was complete, I was offered a full-time position in both Australia and California. I’m leaving for Australia five days after the graduation ceremony at Quest. Flights are all booked and ready to go!

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