Greg and I are foodies. Regular readers are probably thinking, “No kidding! LOL” It should come as no surprise that we love to find really great ingredients to cook with. Olive oil is a regular staple in our kitchen and I’ve been on the lookout for a really great local source. Done!
The Queen Creek Olive Mill in not only makes its own oils, it grows its own olives … and it’s just across the valley from home.
I went there recently to take the tour and was thrilled! They have acres and acres of olive trees that apparently thrive in the hot Arizona sun. In fact, David, my instructor for “Olive Oil 101”, pointed out the olive tree only has one natural pest and that pest can’t survive in the heat of the desert summers here.
Our 11:30 tour group met up with David just outside the store/restaurant and he started the class with a few fun facts about olives and olive trees.
When he mentioned that, unlike most fruit trees, olive trees are known to grow and bear fruit for thousands of years, it reminded me of a small historic grove we’d seen when we visited Lima, Peru several years ago. Their ancient, gnarled trunks thick with knots still support the broad branches that shade a park and still drop olives onto the ground each fall.
At Queen Creek, a park planted in the traditional 20 feet across method offers shade to diners. The trees there are mostly for tours, but they also cover the ground with olives and give visitors a chance to see these beautiful trees up close.
As David shared his wisdom, he explained the seasons of the tree and how, in the spring, each tree blooms with half a million flowers. I made a note to come back in April before the blossoms fall to blanket the ground of the groves. Only two to four percent of the blooms become olives, which grow throughout the summer and are harvested in October.
Once the harvest is complete, Queen Creek begins the process of creating extra virgin olive oil … a three step process that starts with pressing. Modern machines do most of the work, but a traditional stone mill sat nearby and had me wondering how long and laborious the process used to be.
David poured samples of olive oil into little cups and passed them around, sharing the best method for tasting the oil. The scent of the fresh EVOO transported me back to Italy as I inhaled it before sipping the golden-colored liquid.
We learned about the different ways Queen Creek creates their dozens of flavored oils as David offers a taste of the featured flavor combination of the month … dark chocolate olive oil with strawberry balsamic reduction. The flavors burst on my tongue and I began imagining the ways to use these ingredients in different dishes.
Olive oil is a great natural moisturizer and David offered samples of soap and body oil made at the mill as he wrapped up the class. I lingered for a few extra samples before heading into the shop to fill my basket with tasty goodies and grab lunch.
The store is packed with oils, vinegars and sauces made at Queen Creek.
The scent of lotions, soaps and oils filled a corner of the shop featuring skin products and gifts.
… and then there’s the food section! You can buy everything from cupcakes made with olive oil
… to sandwiches to brochette (skewers of fresh cheese and vegetables drizzled with oils) to full meals.
Pizza and wine, Italian sodas, salads, soups … the menu burst with options. I grabbed a pic of the sign with Queen Creek’s weekend dinner times to schedule a future date night. The toughest part of the day was knowing I had to get back in my car and head home.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you have to plan to return and explore the same place again and again.
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