Good taste of olive oil supports good cause at U-M Cardiovascular Center

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - One of the newest olive oils offered among the flawless selection at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor is Owens Creek, a Sicilian varietal that brings together good taste and a good cause.

The University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center receives $4 from every bottle sold of Owens Creek.

The full-flavored, smooth-textured oil with a peppery finish is grown at Owens Ranch in California by Walter Hewlett who is extending the family legacy of innovation into healthy new products for the kitchen.

"We're very interested in prevention. One of the ways we can also do that is to promote products which are generally healthy for the heart," says cardiologist Kim Eagle, M.D.,a director of the U-M Cardiovascular Center.

"Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. A tablespoon or two a day of olive oil reduces cardiovascular risk. Extra virgin olive oil, like Owens Creek, tends to lower blood pressure."

The story of this olive oil actually starts in Ann Arbor when Albion Walter Hewlett, Walter's grandfather, became one of the youngest medical professors in U-M history and an early advocate of the electrocardiogram.

While A. Walter is well-known in the world of cardiology, it's his son William Hewlett who made Hewlett a household name with Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful companies of the 20th century.

Now Walter Hewlett, the second oldest of William Hewlett's children, has created an impressive launch into olive oil production with an old-world growing style of wide spacing on a farm of 5,000 trees on 35 acres of orchard land.

Although the trees are just 3years old and at the very beginning of their producing years, the oil is already remarkably good. The California Olive Oil Council has awarded Owens Creek a gold medal for the flavor of the Sicilian varietal.

The 2010 Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition presented a gold medal award to Owens Creek Company for their Quartetto Classico Tuscan Blend. In addition, a silver medal award was presented for Owens Creek's Quartetto Viola Sicilian Blend.

"My sister and I ended up inheriting a ranch called Redington Ranch, which is on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley," says Walter Hewlett, a physicist and musician who had great times in his finishes of the Boston marathon.

"At that time I didn't know anything about really good olive oil. I didn't realize the difference between a high-end Tuscan oil and the oil that you can buy in your local grocery store. I learned what a wonderful food this is and how it can really change the eating experience.

"When a customer buys a bottle of Owens Creek olive oil, I hope they will get a great experience from tasting it and say, ‘Gee, this is something I'd like to have with my food.' " Hewlett says.

All the trees at Owens Creek are straight from Italian rootstock, not hybrids. Olives are handpicked and pressed within 24 hours. Because of warmer temperatures at Owens Creek which is located in Mariposa County, in the Sierra foothills of Yosemite National Park, Hewlett's oil is one of the first into the press each fall.

"I eat a lot of olive oil and the fact that it tastes really good and it's good for you is one of those rare opportunities," says Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzweig. "There are a lot of things in life that probably feel good, but they're not so good for you. This is one where you're really getting both-it's the best of both worlds."

Zingerman's is a popular delicatessen and upscale food retailer known nationwide for its selection of olive oils, breads and cheeses.

"The partnership between the Hewlett family, the Cardiovascular Center and Zingerman's offers the potential to promote health in our community and raise money for cardiovascular research, particularly in preventive cardiology," says Eagle, the U-M cardiologist.

"Often innovative ideas are not yet tested enough to go to a traditional funding organization like the National Institutes of Health or even the American Heart Association, so donors and foundations can have a huge impact on our program by helping us seed early ideas," he says.

About 15 years ago, the Hewletts honored their grandfather, Albion Walter Hewlett, with an endowed professorship at the U-M Cardiovascular Center.

That professorship was bestowed on Eagle, an expert in heart attack treatment guidelines, advocate for school-based programs to reduce childhood obesity, and co-author of "Heart of a Champion," which chronicles the health journey of legendary U-M football coach Bo Schembechler.

The University of Michigan is on the forefront of innovative, advanced efforts to combat the magnitude of cardiovascular disease, the nation's leading cause of death.

Its skilled teams study and treat cardiovascular diseases -- from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart failure and stroke to aneurysms, arrhythmias, heart valve disease and heart-related birth defects.

"If I could just say, ‘One of the things I did with my life was to promote some really good eating habits, promote a great food, get Americans to wake up to what a wonderful thing olive oil is'
that would be an achievement in itself. I would be so happy and proud to be able to say I was part of that," Hewlett says.

To order online, go to Zingerman's mail order at

To learn more about preventative cardiology, go to the U-M Cardiovascular Center web site

Owens Creek Company

Written by Shantell M. Kirkendoll

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