With the spirit of a Texas wildcatter, Dallasite Trigg Dealey is out to change the course of Texas agri-history... bucking the warnings of a Texas agri-institution.

IN A SULTRY CORNER OF ARCODORO, ITALIAN EXPA-triates from across the Metroplex gather in the evenings to re-create a bit of the homeland. As they congregate, the slick personality of the Cedar Springs eatery and mecca for Dallas wannabes begins to fade, replaced by the warm exuberance of Roma’s Via Venato. Patrons exchange gener-ous hugs and kisses, and hearty Italian greetings fill the air, escalating at the appearance of one particular gentleman.

“Come stai, Treeg? Treeg, Treeg, come stai? Ciao, Treeg!”

The salutations are returned in Italian, but with a distinctly Texan inflection that the Italian men are too generous to criticize. In fact, they seem appreciative of the earnest effort “Treeg” is making, of the American’s desire to become a paisano.

“Treeg,” the popular newcomer, is Kenneth Trigg Dealey-Highland Park native, cousin to the Dallas Morning News Dealeys, and of Irish-English extraction-truly an unlikely Italian.

But Gioacchino Longobardi, a pianist and conductor of some distinction from the Isle of Capri, explains that Dealey is a bona fide celebrity here. Because Dealey is the one who is bringing Italy to Texas. Over a glass of smuggled-in La Palia, Trigg Dealey, Dallas’ newest brand of oil baron, unfolds his grand quest and exposes the conservative Texas institution that would thwart it.

THE ITALIAN IZATION OF TRIGG Dealey began in the late 70s when his travels on the Italian Veterans tennis circuit took him to Riva del Garda and the island of Ischia. There he discovered the heart-healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet, with its concentration on breads, pastas, fruits, vegetables, legumes, white meats, fish, and fat from olive oil. Dealey plunged into the health craze with gusto, and all things Italian soon became an obsession.

When he became a single parent in 1984, Dealey hired Italian nannies to care for his daughter, and he began to study the language and culture. The more people he met, the more his spiritual bond with Italy grew. He yearned to create a solid business tie to the country.

When Dealey discovered that olive oil was gaining in popularity at home, he began to study the prospect of acquiring an olive oil distribution franchise for Texas.

To learn more about this new oil business, in 1988 Dealey joined the Northern California Olive Oil Council, a group that promotes the only existing commercial industry of olive producers in the states. Until World War II, a substantial olive oil business thrived in California, begun with trees imported centuries before by the Spanish. After the war, though, the competition from cheaper vegetable oils effectively shut down the industry.

Decades later, in the 1970s, a number of winery owners rediscovered the old olive groves and decided to try to revive the trade. They determined that a boutique market existed for expensive, first-pressed extra virgin olive oil, and several small estate bottlers began to spring up.

The response to their product was positive even though the oil they produced was what Dealey describes as “the harsh Spanish variety made primarily from table olives.” For the next few years, Dealey observed the progress in California while continuing to monitor the strong growth of U.S. imports.

Then in 1989 Dealey’s idea to import and sell olive oil locally took a new turn. Dealey discovered an extensive 1985 Texas A&.M study by the late James O.

Denney and extension horticulturist George Ray McEachern. The study defined a “thermal adaptability zone” in a large portion of southwest Texas that might support the cultivation of fruit-bearing olive trees. The study also indicated “that a number of Texas sites show temperature patterns similar to where the olive is cultivated.” Olive trees growing here in Texas? To Trigg Dealey, the possibilities seemed endless.

The prospect of actually growing olive trees in south Texas spawned a research effort for Dealey over the next few years, and he set out to gamer support for his ideas from anyone who would listen. But while the Texas Department of Agriculture was supportive, unexpected criticism came from a key player in the Texas A&M Extension Service-one of the authors of the thermal adaptability report.

“At the time, I was floored, simply floored,” remembers Dealey. “George Ray McEachern told me pointblank that there was no way I or anyone else was going to grow olives in Texas. It had never been done, he said, and it was not going to be done. No its, ands, or buts. But why would A&M go to such lengths, then, to put together this very expensive study which to me suggested the opposite ? George Ray never gave me an answer to that, so I considered his statements as one man’s opinion, and pressed on.”

Dealey was not discouraged, but he was haunted by one thing that McEachern had said to him: that there was no history of olives in Texas. While Dealey found McEachern’s credentials unassailable, something about the horticulturist’s attitude bothered him. Surely someone in this century had plarted fruit-bearing olive trees somewhere in Texas, Dealey thought. If they were there, Dealey would have to find them on his own.

With confidence gained due to support from the state agriculture department and with a gut feeling :hat he had come to trust through the year:, Dealey embarked with his California olive oil council on a fact-finding trip to Italy in November of 1992. It was a trip that would set him on a new life direction, and one that would possibly alter Texas agri-history.

SPAIN MAY BE THE LARGEST PRODUCER OF olive oil in the world, but Italy is the largest consumer; and to Trigg Dealey, Italy is clearly the Ferrari of producers. There he met and consulted with Dr. Giuseppe Fontanazza, a world-famous expert on olives. He observed first-hand the giant estate growers and processors. He attended lectures at the Olive Cultural Institute in Perugia and the Gtrli Museum in Imperia, where he learned about the ancient history of the oil and its diverse and romantic qualities. Dealey knew his course was set.

He determined that he would become the first person to import Italian olive trees into Texas for commercial purposes, the first to propagate those trees, and the first to bottle and sell an estate-quality Texas-Italian extra virgin oil. He would show foreign manufacturers-who he believes dump unregulated, low-quality oils on an inexperienced and unsuspecting U.S. buying market-that Americans are capable of duplicating the most outstanding products that are created in Italy. And, he vowed, he would show the experts at A&M. The journey would not be easy.

Dealey returned from Italy buoyed by the news that Fontanazza had analyzed the thermal adaptability report and agreed with Dealey’s conclusion that olive trees could grow commercially in Texas. With Fontanazza’s assistance and encouragement, Dealey purchased a cross section of 200 choice trees from central and northern Italy as well as a few experimental cold-resistant varieties from Greece. In March 1993, Dealey planted 43 trees as a test at a nursery just south of Austin. Then, on a providential day, Dealey met Baxter Adams.

Adams is known in the Hill Country and within agricultural spheres as the originator and key mover in the Texas commercial dwarf apple tree industry. Ironically. Adams says that die same George Ray McEachern who had tried to discourage Dealey from growing olive trees in Texas had told Adams in the late 1970s that it was impossible to grow apples in the area, Unlike Dealey, Adams had been fortunate to be encouraged and assisted by another A&M extension horticulturist, Dr. Loy Shreve. “Dr. Shreve encouraged me to go to the experts on apples, get their advice, then give it a try-just the opposite of the other boys at A&M,” says Adams. After a worldwide research effort, Adams founded Love Creek Orchards near Medina, which today is the apple capital of Texas, with 150,000 trees currently growing within a 150-mile radius.

Because of his experience and success in dealing with the intricacies of soil, pests, diseases, and unpredictable climate, Adams was the perfect person to partner with Dealey. “Texas is a big country,’’ says Adams. “We will grow olives here; it’s just a matter of finding the variety of trees to fit the climate.”

Dealey and Adams now have approximately 157 test olive trees planted at Adams’ Love Creek Orchards, southwest of San Antonio. In March of 1995 the trees will be released from federal quarantine and will be ready for propagation. Already, Dealey has made arrangements to plant thousands of trees at additional test sites with growers as far west as Eagle Pass.

But Adams remains ambivalent about the experience he had with A&M. “There are many good people at College Station with whom we work closely and regularly. But history shows that if you are interested in getting into a new agriculture in Texas, George Ray McEachem is not the person you want to talk to. His office is replete with bad science, bad judgment, and bad politics.

“According to A&M, only a fool would try to grow grapes in Texas. And now look at our wine industry here. And apples and grapes are not their only misses. Just ask around. Hell, if it were up to [A&M’s] McEachem, the only things we would be growing here in Texas would be Johnson grass and cactus! It would be an understatement to say that they are not great innovators.”

WHILE DEALEY NOW HAD AN EXPERIENCED ally, he was still obsessed with his search for existing olive trees in Texas. Though he was having good luck attracting potential growers for test sites, he lacked the confirmation of a producing tree that would add substance and credibility to his plan. Baxter Adams suggested he talk with his advisor, Loy Shreve,, who had recently resigned from A&M.

“Mr. Dealey called me at my home in Uvalde late in 1992 asking about olive trees,” says Shreve. “He seemed real excited when 1 told him about the old trees that I saw being harvested in 1976 over in Asherton. I explained that, of course, as a matter of habit I had included my observations in my monthly report to A&M.” Dealey was stunned and relieved when he confirmed that three and possibly more fruiting olive trees existed in the Asherton area and on other possible sites in the vicinity.

Dealey now had the evidence he sought, but his frustration remained over the exclusion from the thermal adaptability report of this key information that had surfaced a full nine years before the report was published.

As recently as September of 1994, McEachem’s response to the possibility of a Texas olive oil industry was immediate and emphatic. “There is no olive oil industry in Texas, there never has been, and there never will be,” he stated. “We cannot grow olives in Texas anywhere.” He added that “there is absolutely no history of anyone growing fruiting olives here in Texas.”

Questioned about the Asherton trees reported to him by Dr. Shreve, McEachern halted, then said that Shreve was much more “liberal” than he. “Look, we’re just real conservative over here,” he said. “I would love to see it work for these folks, but we’d rather err on the conservative side. You just can’t encourage people to go out and grow olive trees.”

Dealey acknowledges that there are risks involved with planting olive trees, but, he says, there are also potential rewards-big rewards, Texas-sized rewards. He estimates that an estate grove, which takes three years to produce fruit, by handling its own processing, bottling, and marketing, could, at current world oil prices, yield around $7,000 per acre annually.

There’s no doubt that olive oil is a hot commodity. Department of Commerce figures reveal that olive oil imports have almost quadrupled from 64 million pounds in 1982 to an estimate of 247 million pounds in 1993. And, according to the North American Olive Oil Association, olive oil volume sales increased from 9.25 million gallons in 1989 to 12 million gallons in 1993, and dollar sales increased from $185 million to $235.5 million. Olive oil has moved from the shelves of primarily ethnic specialty stores to become the second most popular pour-able oil in the United States, surpassed only by vegetable oil.

As the trend continues, demand may rapidly outrun the current supply. As Dr. Fausto Luchetti, executive director of the International Olive Oil Council explains, “If all 275 million people in the North American market consumed olive oil, no one could supply it.”

DEALEY GETS A DISTANT LOOK IN HIS EYES as he launches into the economics of his new oil business, and he seems focused on a vision far from the smoky restaurant. “Agriculture on any basis is a risky proposition, but like Baxter says, ’It can’t be worse than growing cows.’

“My partners and I are proud of our numbers, and we’re going to make this work,” he continues, gating into his glass of wine. “Sure I’m excited about pioneering olive oil in Texas. It’s become a real passion, We’ve formed a nonprofit Texas Olive Oil Council to assist potential growers with correct information and to promote standards relative to this industry.

“My goal is to have 5,000 acres producing within 10 years. At 218 trees per acre, that’s over one million trees! We’re part of an explosive movement that is bringing back one of nature s perfect products that has existed commercially for thousands of years. I’m already involved with Texas light crude. Why not Southwest Texas extra virgin?”


LIVE OIL HAS LONG BEEN PART OF Mediterranean diets but is relatively new to most Americans. While Dallasites have come a long way from the days when we puzzled over what to do with the stuff on the table at Sru:zi, we prob’ ably have yet to develop the taste of the connoisseur. To help with these finer points, we offer here a crash course on the I elixir of the Greek gods.


ROOTS: As anyone at the Carli Olive Oil Museum in Imperia, Italy, can tell you, the olive tree is firmly planted at the center of the Mediterranean’s mythological history. The most famous story involves a dispute between rivals Athena and Poseidon, who vied for the rule of Attica. Zeus, the father of all gods, promised the land to whoever could offer die most useful gift to mankind. Poseidon offered his powerful horse, Trident, while Athena brought an olive plant, citing its ability to provide shade, warmth, medicinal ointment, perfume, light, and food. Needless to say, she won, and the olive tree became the symbol for the goddess as well as for her eponymous little town, Athens.

HISTORICAL FLAVOR:The Greeks and Phoenicians began exporting olive oil westward to Italy, France, and Spain beginning about 400 B.C., according to The North American Olive Oil Association. By 100 A.D. Romans had become expert producers in their own right, and by 1300 olive oil was considered a staple throughout the Mediterranean world.

HEART HEALTHY? While the Mediterranean diet and its possible health benefits have gotten a lot of press in the last year, it appears that the jury is still out on whether or not olive oil will actually prevent heart disease. Because olive oil has zero cholesterol and has a high level of monounsaturated, rather than saturated, fats-and because it tastes good- its best use is as a substitute for other fats.

BUYERS’ GUIDELINES: Taste is the most important quality in selecting an olive oil-what you want is the true full flavor of the olive. The experts at Zingerman’s, i leading importer, offer these tips: The better oils tend to be darker, running from dark green to gold in color. Extra vi -gin oil has the least acidity and the fullest flavor. Pure olive oil sounds wonderful but is actually inferior in quality, made from lower-quality olives or top-quality olives hat are pressed for a second or third time. If the label reads “first cold pressed,” the oil has been made the traditional way with olives ground by stone mills rather than steel presses. This is the most expensive oil and simply the best you can buy. Olivs oil can tun anywhere from a couple of dollars for a grocery store bottie to more than $30 pet liter: the differences lie both in the quality of the olive and in the production process.

SHELF LIFE: Keep your oil in a cool, dark place. An opened bottle can sit on die shelf for one year and an unopened bottle for up to two years. After that, the oil loses its flavor.

WHERE TO GET IT: Specialty shops are the way to go for premium oils. Dallas olive oil aficionado Trigg Dealey recommends buying locally from Neiman Marcus, Williams-Sonoma, Empire Baking Company, and Al’s Import Foods. For olive oil by mail, he recommends Zingerman’s Catering (313-663-3400); Carti Bros. (916-736-3800); and Dean & DeLuca (800-221-7714).

“Hell, if it were up to McEachern, the only things we would be growing here in Texas would be Johnson grass and cactus !”


“There is absolutely no history of anyone growing fruiting olives here in Texas.”



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