Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eating, Imbibing, and Exploring at the Olive Festival



Having won a recipe contest through We Olive, I roped some friends into joining me and my family at the Paso Robles Olive Festival, an all-day celebration of all things olives.












We sipped olive oils, bent olive branches into crowns, spooned olive jam onto olive oil crisps, slathered olive oil lotion onto sun-baked skin, and cooled off with olive oil ice cream – topped with balsamic vinegar.

What we didn’t do, that I thought we would: taste olives. You know, the actual fruit. I envisioned tubs of green, almond-shaped cerignola; slightly wrinkled, almost midnight gaeta olives; and the green picholine to the purplish liguria all swimming in their pools of delicious brine.

It was an odd omission, considering the name of the festival – it’s not the Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival, after all – and it had me craving slightly salty, meaty olive morsels.

But I thoroughly enjoyed the day, surrounded by olive growers, their delicious products, and some other central coast foodsmiths. Here are a few of my favorites from the festival…

Tiber Canyon Ranch, out of San Luis Obispo, lured me in with their bottles of yuzu olive oil. Yuzu is an odd-looking citrus fruit used in Asian cuisines. It’s something like a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin. But its aroma is unforgettable – zesty and potent – and inspiring. So, when I saw Tiber Canyon Ranch’s offering, I had to try it. They do not add the yuzu flavoring as an afterthought. The citrus is crushed along with the olives in the mill, marrying the rich olive oil to the fresh citrus.

Their olives are maintained using sustainable farming practices; they do not use petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. And they prefer a “field blend” which means that they harvest their leccino, frantoio, pendolino and coratina olives together and blend them at harvest, picking and crushing them at the same time. And when they aren’t in the olive groves, you’ll find them in their glass-blowing studio.


Travis Zumwalt is a master woodworker based in Madera. His array of wooden spoons caught my eye. Irregular, organically shaped utensils with the type of wood burned into the handle. It took immense self-control to not fondle each and every one of them! When he lived on Maui, he worked with koa, mango, monkey pod, many types of Eucalyptus wood, cypress, jacaranda, and hale koa. Now based in California, he uses olive, maple, mulberry, oak, walnut, and an assortment of different fruit trees. All his pieces are made by him, by hand, and finished with food-grade oils.

Pismo Beach’s Native Herb & Honey is a 100% Native American-owned company who offers everything from all natural skin care and cosmetics to native spice blends and handmade jewelry. We picked up jars and sticks filled with raw, unfiltered California sage honey…and had a contest to see which of the kiddos could suck the straws the cleanest. That kept them occupied – and quiet – for at least fifteen minutes.

Before we left Paso, I went to We Olive’s store and used my gift certificate that was part of my prize. I walked out with three different bottles of olive oil, two different bottles of vinegar, some olive oil crackers, and more.

I’ll blog about some of the culinary creations I whip up as I go along. Still I felt that I had missed out on eating olives. So, when we made it home, I dashed out to the market, picked up a few tubs of olives, paired them with crusty bread, a triple crème brie, and goblets of chilled Albariño. What a day!

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