"It's begging for a tomato," said Catherine Pepe about Temecula Olive Oil Company's Fresh Basil oil. With the heady aroma of freshly cut basil filling our nostrils and the satiny feel of mission olive oil on our lips, my girlfriends and I sighed, smiled and swooned over the suggestion. Take this same oil and mix it with California Pomegranate Vinegar for a bright, tangy, peppery taste that does a cha cha in your mouth. Dress a salad of watermelon, feta cheese and basil with this oil and vinegar combo and you're transported to the Mediterranean.
The Temecula Olive Oil Company was one stop during last weekend's sojourn in Temecula, CA. The Gals and I, three pals since high school, sampled the flavors, sites and smells of this area kn
own to many as Southern California's Wine Region. We smelled and sipped wine, tasted olive oil, received foot scrubs, slathered ourselves with mud, brunched, lunched and dined–all while talking non-stop. Exercising ones jaw to near exhaustion is the happy by-product of a successful girlfriend's get-away. I'll be writing about this one for blogs to come.
But I mustn't digress from olive oil. The Temecula Olive Oil Company has been in business for
the past nine years. As you approach their retail store in Old Town you get a feeling for the
romance surrounding olive harvesting at Southern California missions of old. The store is one still life after another of everythin
g that is "olive-able." Soaps, olive wood accessories, tapanades, stuffed olives galore and creative farm to table foods.
Maneuvering toward the olive bar we were willing participants to owner Catherine's crash course in making and tasting olive oil. She passionately shared her life's work, harvesting enthusiastic oohs and awes from us. She talked of the company's olive acreage, managing other growers, a custom designed press, the cold press process and so much more. All the while we were tasting, in little tiny cups without bread, oils with names like; Citrus Reserve, Roasted Garlic, Jalapeno, Rotture di Oro and Mission. These were followed by a tasting of vinegars that just knocked my flip flops off!
Imagine, she says, this Vanilla & Fig Balsamic drizzled over vanilla ice-cream!
To paint an even more idilic vision of this family owned business, Catherine pointed out partner and grower, Thom Curry's picture. She referenced his olive credentials–certified by the International Olive Oil Council and Master Taster. Needless to say Thom became fodder for our romantic dreams of, "Hunky man of the harvest, elbow deep in olive making." (Sorry Nancy, be pleased, not peeved.)
Now, olive oil aficionados, we'll share a few oil does and don'ts:
• Skip big bottles of olive oil from the shelves of wholesale food stores.
• Don't believe extra virgin is a virgin. Know the pedigree of your olive oil and its maker.
• Stick with a tall thin bottle, minimizing the ratio of air to oil, keeping the oil fresher longer.
• Be creative with olive oil varieties–try them on everything from veggies to fish to Bloody Marys!
• Olive oil doesn't last forever. Store it in a cool dark place and use it, the sooner the better!
Photos, Brigitte Lehnert