Bryan and I have been bottling our own olive oil for over a year now. We obviously don't go as far as growing and harvesting our own olives – our 4x4' concrete slab of a patio isn't exactly a horticulture haven – but we have definitely jumped on the bottle-your-own-olive-oil bandwagon.
I'm happy to say that this previously niche trend is seemingly becoming mainstream. The best way to explain is to compare it to wine tasting. It's no secret that Bryan and I travel to Napa Valley as often as we can (especially when we're in the Bay area visiting his family), but instead of only visiting our favorite wineries, we've expanded our visits to local olive oil producers.
Making olive oil is very similar to making wine. Acres of olives groves blend into the wine-dominated Napa landscape, where specific strains of olives are harvested, pressed and (sometimes) filtered. They are stored in massive tanks prior to bottling, and here's where the new trend starts. Rather than simply bottling the olive oil and selling them to the public, olive oil producers have opened shops offering people the opportunity to taste, blend and bottle their preferred olive oils. In addition to being fun, olive oil tasting is an incredibly educational experience.
Now you may say to yourself: "Why would I ever want to taste OIL? That sounds gross!"
Here's the deal: Similar to wine, each olive oil is made from a specific type, or strain, of olive. As a result, the oils have very different tastes, e.g. grassy, spicy, earthy, sweet, etc. And what if you discover you hate spicy olive oil but prefer a grassy flavor? You'd never know had you not had the chance to taste them. And it's not like you're sipping oil out of a glass; there are bite-sized pieces of artisanal, locally-baked breads for you to dip in the oil. It's like a free appetizer plate, minus the cheese. :)
So while we're in Napa Valley, Bryan and I cruise straight to the town of St. Helena; home of our two favorite olive oil shops. We taste the latest "vintages" and once we find one we love, we grab an empty glass bottle, carefully lift the tank's lever and let the oil flow. We take the bottle to the counter where it is sealed, bagged and accompanied by a card describing the oils tastes and properties. Upon leaving the store, you feel proud and dare I say it, even a little protective of your purchase. You didn't just grab a bottle off the shelf; you were part of the process and found an oil you are now invested in. Perhaps even love. So treat it right (How? Details in an upcoming post).
St. Helena Olive Oil Company has a variety of extra virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils, Balsamic vinegar and Napa Valley wine vinegar. Not only is their olive oil fantastic, I absolutely adore the rustic packaging. I use their olive oils to make homemade vinaigrettes, drizzle over salads and soups, etc. Our favorite oil is the Buono Volunta variety, although it's not listed on their website. I don't cook with it as much, as the flavor is strong. Like I said, perfect as a drizzled finish or accompaniment to a meal.
Photo courtesy of SHOliveOil.com
Olivier Napa Valley has a wide variety of oils, vinegars and sauces – from the especially light to cough-inducing spicy – but their House Blend/California Extra Virgin Oil is our favorite. According to the description, "this special blend developed by Olivier is an accompaniment of Sevillano, Manzanillo and Arbequina olive varietals. We have created this blend for the perfect Mediterranean cuisine. Great for sauteing all types of vegetables as well as traditional country-style meat or poultry dishes."
While I don't know how many country-style meat or poultry dishes I make, I do know we use Olivier's House Blend for almost everything. It's the perfect oil for cooking and finishing our meals. The flavors are a well-balanced combination of some their more polarizing oil tastes – grassy, spicy, etc. – without overwhelming your palate. Best of all, the bottle is big enough that the oil lasts us for a few months. Bottom line: For us, it's the perfect all-around oil.
Photo courtesy of OlivierNapaValley.com
So next time you find yourself in need of olive oil, don't just run to the grocery store. Take a few extra minutes to research your city's gourmet shops. You may find an olive oil specialty shop where you, too, can taste and bottle your own oil. But let me warn you; once you start bottling, it's nearly impossible to go back to buying from grocery shelves. :)