My crush on olive oil began about 2 years ago on a 2 week road trip along the West Coast from Vancouver to San Francisco. There were many memorable moments on this trip ranging from discovering that maybe I really DON’T hate beets after all, to enjoying a simple morning latte with a bagel topped with cream cheese and fresh roma tomato at Cup a Joe Coffeehouse (they also had $1.95 beer during Happy Hour later in the day) which was located half a block away from our awesome and affordable stay at Hotel Vertigo (The film Vertigo was filmed here… hence the name), being woken up at 3am in the morning for nearly an hour by someone playing select tracks of “The Bodyguard” soundtrack repeatedly (at first annoying and then enjoyable and now, surprisingly, one of my fondest memories of the trip), enjoying an upscale all vegetarian meal at Greens, discovering Christopher Elbow Chocolates, to falling in love with Petaluma where you must be careful to not get your car stuck on the train tracks (usually this usually only happens to folks that have either been drinking, are from out of town or possibly both. It’s a somewhat common occurrence, or so we have been told, and may also be considered entertainment for the locals as they drive by laughing with the windows down on a warm September evening).
On this trip I discovered that I love food, love Whitney Houston (you know, back before it was cool to love her again) and that I am a super taster (it’s a real thing, seriously). The one main thing that has had the biggest impact on my life though, started with a stop at the smallest winery in Oregon. Calamity Hill Vineyard is owned by Tom and Marion Vall, family friends of my travel companion. We stopped in for a visit around lunchtime shortly after we left Portland and Marion had prepared a feast for us. Tom gave us a tour of their vineyard and their olive grove, the garden, the chicken coup and their tasting room while Marion finished getting the food together. She made so many dishes, each of them lovingly prepared with produce fresh from her garden, eggs fresh from their hens that morning, and the remaining ingredients were mostly, if not all, procured from other locals in the area. As we ate food, sipped wine, enjoyed the scenery and had some great conversation, we ate… and ate… and ate some more. I can’t remember another time when I ate so much food for lunch but I just couldn’t help myself. Each dish was so simple yet fresh, crisp and full of flavour. I’m not entirely sure what it was about the food on that trip but once we hit Oregon my tastebuds came to life and I was experiencing magic about food that I hadn’t know existed.
One of the dishes that Marion had prepared was red and golden beets tossed with olive oil and possibly some fresh herbs. To give you a bit of history on my perception of beets, my entire life I have hated them. While others around me like my mom and countless other relatives loved them and find them sweet, I found them bitter and well, for lack of a better word, icky. Even still, out of politeness in front of strangers, I put some beets on my plate and decided to choke them back and wash them down with large sips of wine, all the while keeping my face from grimacing as they went down. It was a solid plan. I did that for a few bites but then realized I wasn’t really needing to use as much wine as I originally thought and my face wasn’t twisting into something unrecognizable as I swallowed. I started to taste, maybe even savour the beets and realized two things… 1.) maybe beets weren’t my enemy as originally believed and 2.) golden beets are pretty damn awesome. I was shocked… and I really do mean shocked. I think I annoyed my friend who was with me the rest of the trip whenever I brought beets up after that lunch.
I tried beets a few more times along the way on that trip and I didn’t really like them as much as I had at Calamity Hill. I couldn’t really quite understand what it was about Marion’s dish that made it so much better than all the other beets that I had before and after that. On the way back home, we stopped into Calamity Hill to drop off a “Thank You” bottle of wine from our travels. Tom told us then that we should stop into Red Ridge Farms on our way out to pick up some olive oil. We did and I experienced a moment that has changed me forever.
Red Ridge Farms has a beautiful little nursery where you can buy herb plants, olive trees, etc and a store where you can browse for oils and gifts. Most importantly, you can actually taste their oils before you buy them which was a real eye opener for me. I was floored at how different each oil was and also how flavourful they were. I slowly started to realize that it was the olive oil that had made the beets palatable to me. Just like the right wine can make or break a recipe, so can the right olive oil. They are not all equal and I will challenge anyone who says olive oil is olive oil. They were more expensive than what I’d been used to spending on olive oil but I was definitely ok with that given the quality was so much better (more on that in another post). I only wish though that I knew the proper way to taste oils but that info will come in a later post as well. I ended up buying three different oils and some extras for gifts. When they eventually ran out, I went on a quest in my local area to find a replacement. A whole new world was beginning to unfold before me and that, folks, is start of my “crush” on olive oil.
Since that day, my fascination with olive oil has continued to grow and as I learn more, I’ll share more with the rest of you. So, as you may have guessed, this blog will serve as an outlet to express my love of olive oil, real olive oil in my quest convert new olive oil lovers as well.
(For those of you who don’t know already, “the crush” in the olive oil world refers to the extraction or milling of olives to make olive oil.)