In conversation with Sarah Vachon, Co-founder of Citizens of Soil

Citizens of Soil create award-winning single estate extra virgin olive oils that represent the people and places they come from, sourced from female farmers that practise regenerative agriculture in their groves.

From Michelin-starred chefs to home kitchens, Citizens of Soil bring oils to elevate the table *and* the farmers, creating a more fair, sustainable, and flavourful table and turning a commodity into a community. 

To celebrate stocking their delicious oils on Studio Dine Store in our new 'deli' section, we sat down with Sarah Vachon, co-founder of the brand, to chat all things hosting and hear about their journey so far...

 

Citizens of Soil founders sat at a blue table pouring Olive oil over various foods

 

How did Citizens of Soil come to life?

It started here: We wanted to help our friends. They are like our big fat Greek family. And they—like many families across the Mediterranean—have been making olive oil as far back as anyone can remember.

They were producing it to a high standard because they used so much of it themselves, but the rest was sold on to some no-name middle person at whatever the current market rate. Olive oil is seen as a commodity and treated as such.

But their oil is so delicious and they were looking after their trees in such a conscious way, so we thought if only we could get into people’s hands directly—the oil would speak for itself. 

So, we set out to learn everything about olive oil that we could and actually do a harvest and milling to be a part of the whole process.

 

Why Olive Oil?

BECAUSE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL IS THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD. 

We’re just obsessed with it. Long before we worked in it, we used it on everything (from food to skincare).

Diving into the world of olive oil felt like going into the world of wine. Only somehow even more sacred and certainly more inclusive.  

Its wide variations in flavour, its uses, and its increasing health benefits which science is only beginning to understand (despite “the Mediterranean diet” being consistently rated as the best food lifestyle in the world). 

And yet, people just don’t know anything about this very common pantry staple. We’ve seen people shift to more small-batch coffee, craft beer, and artisan chocolate. Those same people would tell us that they love olive oil, but then could maybe only name one or two mass-market global brands or say they got a bottle on holiday. That, to us, spoke to an opportunity.

 

What's your favourite part of the job?

It’s probably a tie between meeting the incredible people at the first mile who produce the oil itself and the moment when customers become full-on subscribers and really start to give a shit about quality olive oil.

It’s that connection—bringing the hard work and artisanship of our producers to the table so our community here in the UK is that much closer to the supply chain. Only then can you really appreciate and value it.

 

What inspires you?

The maverick and thoughtful women who make many a quality olive oil around the world while also doing it in a regenerative way. This stuff is not for the weak. 

These women, just by being women, are already disrupting the rules of a very traditional industry. Now they’re also having to tackle “big agriculture” and find ways to work better with nature, all while mastering a fresh fruit juice (which is what extra virgin olive oil is) through a quick production to ensure a high quality.

   

 Harvest of Citizens of Soil Portuguese Single estate extra virgin olive oil

 

A career moment that made you really proud?

When we launched in Selfridges and started working with our first Michelin-starred chefs. 

It just meant so much to tell our farmers and show them their name on a product being stocked at places so renowned and respected. They never thought they’d see their name on a bottle of olive oil abroad—especially at the sort of places they’re in.

 

When you're invited to dinner, what do you take with you?

A bottle of nice extra virgin olive oil. It’s got a similar place at the table and tells the same story of terroir and provenance as wine, but it’s more inclusive to every lifestyle and diet. Plus, it lasts longer once opened than a bottle of wine!

 

Pouring Olive oil over a large stack of messy plates on a dining table

 

In your opinion, what makes a great host?

Being a great host means making your guests feel very comfortable and completely looked after. To me, it’s often the details: the table is set and everything one could possibly need is quickly on-hand. There’s the right music to the right level. There’s good lighting and candles.

It’s also about making sure they’re well fed, with food and drink flowing so that something is always on the table even well into the night.

Crete, where our flagship single estate olive oil is from, is famous even in Greece for its overwhelming hospitality. They used to say that when a traveller came through, you never knew if it was a god or mortal. As such, you treated everyone like a god.

We just loved this and have learned so much over the years from the Cretan hospitality.

 

What's your current favourite pairing for your olive oil?

We’ve got a new one every week, but we’re pretty stuck on olive oil and ice cream. This only works with a nice extra virgin olive oil, but it’s a game-changer on ice cream. Add some sea salt and it’s divine. 

 

What's next for Citizens of Soil?

Our mission is about turning a commodity into a community.

We’re really motivated by the response we’ve had and what it means for our farmers, so now we’re looking at the next ones..

We want a range of single estate olive oils, all uniquely representing the people and place they come from.

Closing the loop and minimising our waste while trying to have a better impact is also very important, so we’re looking at more refill solutions now. 

 

Greek single estate extra virgin olive oil on blue background Portuguese Single estate extra virgin olive oil   

 

Quickfire Q's - 

 

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury.

 

Your drink of choice...

Wine.

 

Go to comfort food...

Pasta, tacos, and chocolate.

 

Best restaurant you've been to...

Too many. And too many outside of the UK. The ones we always go back to and recommend in London would be: Barrafina and The Quality Chop House. 

  

The cookbook you reach for the most?

Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. It’s got so many amazing stories about olive oil and just chock full of the sort of Mediterranean simply classic recipes that I live my life by. 

No dinner party is complete without...

Obviously olive oil, but also the right playlist is what sets it apart from just being “dinner”.

 

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