Meet the First African American-Owned Olive Oil Company

EXAU Olive Oil, co-owned by Skyler Mapes, is as historic as it is distinct.
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As American women continue to shatter glass ceilings, California-born Skyler Mapes of EXAU Olive Oil has the distinction of doing so in Italy—in the historically exclusive olive oil industry. 

The co-owner of EXAU didn't necessarily plan to make olive oil or break barriers. Her company was borne of love and bland oil. Mapes met Guiseppe Morisani in Rome, fell in love, and brought him home to America, where she shared olive oil from her shelf. A nutritionist by trade but an olive oil producer of three generations by heritage, Giuseppe was offended by the generic oil, to say the least. So much so, in fact, that he and Mapes decided to launch their own olive oil company, EXAU, using fruit from the trees planted in Calabria, Italy, by Guiseppe’s family over 100 years ago.

Mapes, who studied architecture and design in college, was raised visiting the wineries of Napa and Sonoma. She began immersing herself in the facets of grape production under the tutelage of her friend Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company in the East Bay.

With her agriculture chops in place, Mapes headed with Guiseppe to his small Calabrian village in 2017 for their first harvest. That harvest resulted in the first bottles of Italian olive oil produced by an African-American woman, much less an African-American co-owner. 

The oil isn't just historic. It's also quite different than what most American palates are used to. There's a unique medium-body flavor created by the Calabrian olive varieties that you don't get in oils from Tuscany (or other parts of the world), where most olive oils available in America originate. 

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It's also a somewhat rare oil. The production at EXAU is boutique, with limited quantities of organic olives. The EXAU team harvests, cleans, and presses the olives all in the same day, creating an exquisite, versatile oil worthy of its name: EXAU (pronounced ex-ow), is derived from the Latin “Ex Albis Ulivis,” used by the ancient Roman’s to describe the most exclusive oil. 

There are many gastronomes between California and Calabria who would agree that there is much to champion about EXAU Olive Oil, from the shattered ceiling to the extremely pleased palate.

EXAU production is limited and bottles are only available through mail order. Visit exauoliveoil.com to get on the waitlist.