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Golden olive harvest gives Kentucky-owned First Fresh its second gold medal in a row

Bill Sanders found a formula for what has become one of the world's best extra virgin olive oils – First Fresh. It is bottled in California and distributed from a warehouse in Springfield, Ky. (Photo provided)

Editor’s Note: Since this KyForward story ran, Bill Sanders’ First Fresh olive oil business has been so successful that his First Fresh-California 2013 harvest won a gold medal, for the second consecutive year, from the California Olive Oil Council Annual Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. In addition, First Fresh has added eight new stores to its retail family in Delaware, Florida, Washington D.C. and Cincinnati.
By Judy Clabes
KyForward editor
At first glance you might think Bill Sanders just couldn’t figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. But the fact is that the multi-careered Sanders is a fellow with an inquiring mind, a sharp intellect – and so many interests he’s just cramming as many as possible into one busy, productive and entrepreneurial lifetime.

Sanders grew up in Maysville, the only child of William, a manufacturing supervisor, and Mary Helen, a homemaker, proud of their son’s academic accomplishments at Mason County High School, University of Kentucky then the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.

First Fresh is an exclusive blend of the oils from three olive varieties: arbequina, manzanillo and ascolano. (Photo provided)

The good son returned to Maysville to head the trust department of the local bank when, after seven years, he couldn’t deny the siren call to Washington, D.C.  His political activism had begun in high school and later with the College Republicans, so – without a clear job in mind – he turned away from a promising banking career and headed to the nation’s capital.

Once there, he worked in senior positions in the administrations of Reagan and both Bushes, primarily in Departments of Labor and Energy and the Farm Credit Administration. During law school, Bill became passionately involved in Thoroughbred racing and breeding and eventually served in several capacities as a thoroughbred pedigree consultant, president of Amtote International and director of government affairs for Televsion Games Network. In 2011 he came home – after his dad’s death – to be closer to his widowed mom and began to expand his olive oil business, Crush+Press. 

In the mid-90s lightning struck again in the form of back problems that led him to an obsession with health and fitness. He resolved to change his life – or his lifestyle.  Doing nothing by half – do you see a pattern here? – he ran the first of seven marathons, pain-free.  He was focused on healthy eating, established his first health-related business, More Life, More Sunrises, giving inspirational “living-the-better-life” seminars.  He did related video production and event planning.  

Practicing an innate obsessiveness, Sanders:

· Trained in sensory evaluation of olive oil and in Tuscan cooking in Italy
· Completed a sensory evaluation of olive oil course at the Univ. of Calif.-Davis
· Studied wine at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone
· Trained at the L’Acadamie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Md.
· Traveled extensively to wine and olive oil regions of the world
· Served as the U.S. spokesman for 100 percent Tunisian Olive Oil and conducted consumer and employee education programs for major retailers

How committed was he in his pursuit of excellence in olive oil and wines?  Well, he went to wine school instead of the Republican National Convention, when the choice was his.

By now, he’s hitting his stride. After launching Crush+Press, an online store for olive oil and gourmet food products, he founded Sanders and Co. LLC  – and has found a perfect formula for what becomes one of the world’s best extra virgin olive oils – First Fresh, a healthy, perfect, exclusive blend of the oils from three olive varieties: arbequina, manzanillo and ascolano, produced in Corning, Calif., by Lucero Olive Oil LLC for Sanders’ company.  These trees are aged trees from the 19th, 20th and 21st century.

“We perfected a fruity, buttery, spicy blend,” he said, “with each olive bringing something special to it.”

Sanders has become an advocate for what Socrates called 'liquid gold.' (Photo provided)

Now, Sanders has reached rock star status as an advocate for the oil Socrates called “liquid gold.” He’s on a continuous international “Extra Virgin (avoiding rights issue with the the book, Extra Virginity) Tour,” inexhaustible in his advocacy for the real stuff and its incredibly healthy benefits. 

And – just so we’re perfectly clear – he doesn’t mean that stuff you buy off the grocery shelves.  He stops short of calling it motor oil, but it doesn’t take much to catch his drift.  It might be that unmistakable expression of pure disdain.

It isn’t just his well-trained taste buds and superior sensibilities.  The mass-marketed stuff is the dregs of the olive oil process with all healthy properties virtually extracted – and too old by the time it reaches shelves to be truly good enough for human consumption.  He blames non-truth in labeling and lax standards for the “fraudulent” oils foisted on an unsuspecting consumer.

The U.S. is the third-largest olive oil consumer in the world, but most of the consumption is of lesser quality oil.  Sanders is determined to change that.

His first First Fresh extra virgin olive oil (truly), produced in 2012, enjoyed a winning streak with three high-profile awards – the silver medal at the 2013 New York International Olive Oil Competition, qualifying to be listed among 2013 World’s Best Olive Oils, a gold medal at the California Olive Oil Council Annual Olive Oil Competition, and a 2012 Prestige Gold award at TerraOlivo, an international olive oil competition in Jerusaleum, Israel.

“It’s a true honor to earn recognition from such prestigious organizations. These awards are a testament to the authenticity and freshness of First Fresh, when many olive oils on the market today claim to be extra virgin, but aren’t.”

Long-time friend and fellow Kentuckian, Mac Riley, president of BAHR Associates in D.C., says, “His many friends know Bill as an incomparably bright, talented and captivating personality.  He could successfully apply his energies to many endeavors.  But, Bill’s passion, his love, is olive oil.

“My wife and I entertain regularly and we use olive oil on and in the majority of foods we serve. We were among the fortunate few to first taste Bill’s oil.  Since then, we haven’t bothered with anything else.”

Sanders' award-winning First Fresh is available online and at a variety of retail outlets. (Photo provided)

Bottled in California and distributed from a warehouse in Springfield, Ky., First Fresh is sold in Fairway Market in New York City, at Good Foods Co-op, Wine+Market and Lexington Seafood in Lexington, Jon Carloftis’ Rockcastle River Trading Company in Livingston, Liquor Barns throughout Kentucky, Paul’s Food Markets and Lotsa Pasta in Louisville, Kremer’s Market and The Party Source in Northern Kentucky, in 100 locations in 15 states plus D.C. – and in places throughout Maysville, Ky., you wouldn’t believe. 

Well, would you believe a jewelry store and local museum? Maysville supports one of its favorite sons.

“I’m on a mission, not just to sell olive oil,” he says, “but to change the way people think about olive oil.

“Americans are using olive oil that is the equivalent of a brown or black banana.  They are just a fat – with not enough juice. I aim to introduce more Americans to authentic and affordable REAL extra virgin olive oil—Olive Juice!”

First Fresh comes in 500 ml. bottles and is a “quality oil at an affordable price” (about $20 a bottle). A smaller 250 ml bottle is planned for this summer.

In June, Bill is launching a second olive oil with Manfredi Barbera, a fourth-generation Sicilian olive oil producer, called First Fresh 2 Village Blend. This is an exclusive blend of three olive varieties from three Mediterranean villages—Andria, (Puglia), Italy; Écija (Andalusia), Spain; and Kalamata (Peloponesse), Greece.

His first year, he sold 10,000 bottles.  His goal this year:  25,000.

He’s a one-man advocacy band, personally doing 500 hours a year of tasting demos in stores.

Having perfected his taste buds, having found the perfect olives for his oil, Bill Sanders won’t stop until as many people as possible join him in a taste.  It’s for your own good. after all. 

Information about First Fresh: SandersFirstFresh.com. You can follow First Fresh on Facebook here, email bill@sandersfirstfresh.com or call 202-744-2176.

Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward.

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