Back in the 1990s, when high-quality extra-virgin olive oil began to appear on the shelves of specialty food shops in the United States, the selection was almost entirely from Italy, a fact attributable to savvy Tuscan producers who were quick to appreciate the potential of the U.S. market. Nowadays, Spain and Greece are prime producers and exporters too. I also find wonderful oils from New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, and, increasingly, California. For the longest time, California, though it has a climate perfect for growing olives, was absent from the list of well-regarded oil-producing regions of the world. The state's history with olives is long but not particularly distinguished. Spanish missionaries brought olives to the West Coast (by way of South America) in the late 18th century; indeed, the state's original olive variety (which used to be harvested mostly for lamp oil, sacramental purposes, and also for table olives) is called Mission. But a glut of low-priced European oils and a long-standing preference among American cooks for vegetable oil held California back. Even as late as the mid-1990s, Mort Rosenblum, an olive expert and the author of the book Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit (North Point Press, 1996), said of California oils, "[They're] good, but essentially they're imitations of Italian oils. And right now you can get better ones from Europe."