July/Aug. 2011 California Country magazine
Story by Nancy Walery
Photos by Fred Greaves
San Diego grower stakes his claim as first to produce avocado oil
Cid da Silva, pictured outside his processing shed in San Diego County, is the only producer of avocado oil in the United States. Bella Vado avocado oil is a standout in culinary applications as well as a variety of skin care products.
The thick, translucent ribbon of emerald green oil that pours from the spout of Ciriaco "Cid" da Silva's olive oil pressing machine is both mesmerizing and mouthwatering. But the liquid is not olive oil. It's avocado oil, a rich extract from Hass avocados that is appreciated not only by chefs, foodies and health-conscious cooks, but which has also cultivated a following in the skin care market.
Bella Vado avocado oil products are distributed nationally from da Silva's family business in northern San Diego County—a region known as the avocado capital of the United States—where he and wife Corinne have carved a niche as the only avocado oil manufacturer in the country.
Cid da Silva's avocado oil processing business is a family affair. Back row, from left: daughter Charissa, 26; father-in-law Chet Lounsbury; mother-in-law Charlotte Salisbury; Cid; and wife Corinne. Front row: sons Stefano, 16, and Dano, 13.
Producing avocado oil, however, was not how they envisioned their future when they relocated from Seattle in 2003 to purchase 40 acres and 3,500 Hass avocado trees in Valley Center.
Stefano and Dano da Silva sort the avocados before they begin processing.
"We bought this place thinking we would be fresh, whole-fruit producers, live the good country life and see what happens," said Cid, a former mechanical and software engineer.
But with San Diego County growing 60 percent of the nation's domestic avocados—and California producing 90 percent of the entire U.S. crop—there was no shortage of competition to sell the whole fruit. So Corinne, an Internet marketing executive-turned-consultant, sought to develop a product derived from the fruit that would provide a more consistent revenue stream than the fresh fruit market.
What the couple discovered was an untapped market with potential for both culinary and cosmetic applications.
Charissa da Silva evaluates the clarity of a fresh batch of avocado oil.
"We asked ourselves: As the largest avocado producer in the nation and second largest in the world (behind Mexico), why is there no one in the U.S. already producing avocado oil?" Cid said of their fact-finding results. "Why not do this?"
"Starting a business is challenging, especially one like avocado oil that people don't know much about," added Corinne, who handles the marketing side of the operation while her husband focuses on the processing side. "It's mind-boggling how much it takes to build up a brand. But once consumers understand it, you have a pretty serious following. It's like watching a child grow up—you get to see the product mature and take on a personality of its own."
Armed with experience from their high-tech world, combined with Cid's farming background growing grapes, bananas, sugar cane and avocados on the Portuguese island of Madeira, the da Silvas took that leap of faith. In 2006, they built a 3,000-square-foot processing shed and purchased an avocado depitter/deskinner and olive press system that can churn up to 2,000 pounds of fruit paste per hour.
Avocados are kneaded in a malaxator until pools of oil form on top of the paste. It takes about 2,400 pounds of paste to make enough avocado oil to fill a 55-gallon barrel.
The venture (www.bellavado.com) is a three-generation family affair, with three of the da Silvas' five children regularly pitching in alongside Corinne's parents.
Hass avocados are the only variety the da Silvas press because they produce the best-tasting oil and in high yields, Cid said. Most of the crop comes from their 40 acres, with some fruit coming from other local growers. At the peak of the pressing season (May, June and July), about 2,400 pounds of processed avocados will fill a 55-gallon drum with pure, unfiltered oil in about two hours. Bella Vado bottles only cold-pressed, unfiltered and unrefined avocado oil to ensure that the product retains the fruit's unique characteristics.
Thicker, greener, yet mellower in taste compared to olive oil, a little avocado oil goes a long way in flavoring foods. But the da Silvas also wanted to add variety, so Bella Vado also offers avocado oil infused with locally grown lemons and limes, as well as an olive oil blend using fruit from a nearby olive grower. A garlic-infused blend using California-grown garlic is scheduled for release later this year.
Dennis Stein, co-owner of Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego, shown with avocado oil producer Cid da Silva, says Sea Rocket Bistro uses lemon-infused avocado oil on salad greens and a grilled sardines appetizer, but it also pairs well with a good dipping bread.
Avocado oil's high smoking point (520 degrees) makes it ideal for uses across the cooking spectrum: You can bake, fry and sauté with it, use it as a dip and in recipes, or simply drizzle atop entrées and vegetables.
Bella Vado also offers a line of avocado oil-based bath and body products that currently includes soaps, lotions, lip balms and hair serums, with plans to expand into face creams and body butters. The skin care line now accounts for about half of the da Silvas' business, as consumers discover avocado oil's moisturizing, antibacterial and antiwrinkle properties that can also soothe irritating skin conditions.
Whether consumed or absorbed by the skin, the avocado—and its oil—has an impressive nutritional profile: It has heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and no trans fats, is rich in vitamins, minerals, beta carotene and omegas 3 and 6, and contains no cholesterol, sodium or gluten.
"Avocado oil has all that goodness, whether it's packed into a bottle or into a body product," Corinne said.
Since the first batch of avocado oil was pressed in 2006, Bella Vado has earned a place in the spotlight—thanks in part to several farm-to-table restaurants in the San Diego area that emphasize products from local growers and producers.
"We love the oil because it's local, unique, organic and tastes great," said Dennis Stein, co-owner of Sea Rocket Bistro. Stein discovered Bella Vado while searching for a local olive oil producer to feature at his restaurant, located in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. The bistro uses the lemon-infused avocado oil on its grilled sardines appetizer, accompanied with slices of bread for dipping and in other menu offerings as inspired by the chefs.
"Something unique is more fun to eat," Stein said. "It's much more interesting when avocados are such a big part of our local agriculture."
"What's surprising to most people is that avocado oil does not taste like avocados," said Michael McGuan of The Linkery, a farm-to-table restaurant in the North Park area of San Diego. "It has more of an herbaceous flavor, and customers love it."
But if you ask The Linkery's chef, Max Bonacci, he'll tell you the oil has more of a citrus-like flavor. He has used it as a vinaigrette in a stone-fruit salad and as a stir-fry oil, but thinks it stands out with a dipping bread or on greens.
"It's a little citrusy-fruity," Bonacci said. "It doesn't match up with the brilliant green color, and people expect something different before tasting it."
Earlier this year, the da Silvas embarked on two new product ventures. During the winter months when avocado oil is not in production, the family began pressing olives from a local grower. Impressed with the results in both flavor and yield, Cid decided to add "olive grower" to his résumé and recently planted 10 acres with dwarf olive trees.
Veterinary food producers have also asked that the da Silvas sell them dehydrated avocado pulp for use in pet food formulas to address skin and coat problems in animals.
Meanwhile, the da Silva family's primary goal is to grow market share.
"Avocado oil is still a niche player as a specialty oil and we're working hard to develop a following," Cid said. "It can be used in so many ways, so the possibilities are endless."
Nancy Walery is a reporter in Escondido. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Where to find Bella Vado products
Certified Farmers Markets
Little Italy Mercato, Downtown San Diego
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Date St., India to Columbia
Sundays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
3960 Normal Street at Lincoln
Markets/Grocers in California
- Whole Foods Markets in Hillcrest and La Jolla (San Diego), and Tustin (Orange County)
- Major Market (San Diego County)
- pH Miracle Center, Valley Center (San Diego County)
- Elliott's Natural Foods, Sacramento
- Shopper's Corner, Santa Cruz
- Thom's Fresh Organics, San Francisco
- Marina Supermarket, San Francisco
- Rainbow Grocery, San Francisco
- Santa Rosa Community Market, Santa Rosa
- Mariposa Market, Willits
- Ukiah Natural Foods, Ukiah
- Eureka Co-op, Eureka
- Eureka Natural Foods, Eureka
- Cal Mart Calistoga, Calistoga
- Wildberries Market, Arcata
This is a partial list. Locations may change. Please check with the specific market for availability.