`Olive Tree's Cool-Weather Offshoot

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Olive Tree's Cool-Weather Offshoot

Mar. 13, 2015
By Erick Mertz

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Feb­ru­ary was one of the warmest on record in Ore­gon, appro­pri­ate for the end of an unsea­son­ably dry, balmy win­ter. Every­where the Willamette Val­ley farm crops have started to bud out, ready in the next cou­ple of weeks to burst forth in the full regalia of spring.

Those gath­ered at the 2015 Pacific North­west Cool Cli­mate Extra Vir­gin Olive Oil Con­fer­ence rep­re­sented a new branch of a bur­geon­ing indus­try. Sci­en­tists rubbed elbows with hob­by­ists, renowned food writ­ers and local restau­ra­teurs.

Among the group was an entre­pre­neur­ial cou­ple from South Florida inter­ested in open­ing a com­mer­cial mill. They’re part of a grow­ing cul­ture of enthu­si­asts will­ing to think out­side the box about where olive oil comes from and where it’s even­tu­ally going.

Host Ore­gon Olive Mill split their con­fer­ence over two days. The Sat­ur­day focus was on tech­ni­cal and agri­cul­tural top­ics while Sunday’s talks took a look at con­sumer and trade aspects of the busi­ness.

Con­fer­ence host, Paul Durant, teamed with Tom Vail of Calamity Hill (based in nearby Amity, Ore­gon) to lead a dis­cus­sion cen­tered on the con­di­tion of their olive trees after the much colder win­ter of 2013 – 14 and the oil pro­duc­tion that came as a result.

Con­trast­ing that view on the per­ils of work­ing with new olive trees, writer and food expert, Nancy Har­mon Jenk­ins (author of the book, Vir­gin Ter­ri­tory: Explor­ing the World Of Olive Oil) deliv­ered a dis­qui­et­ing pre­sen­ta­tion, titled Falling Giants, which looked at the dis­eases killing off mil­len­nial trees in Puglia, and the prospects for other ven­er­a­ble groves in Italy, Spain, Greece, Por­tu­gal and France.

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Taken in tan­dem, the pre­sen­ta­tions served as a reminder that regard­less of cli­mate and legacy, olive groves, and extra vir­gin olive oil are still the prod­ucts of a del­i­cate agri­cul­tural bal­ance.

Still, in spite of those dif­fi­cul­ties, Michael Pierce, founder of the Sat­urna Olive Con­sor­tium, fol­lowed up lunch with an inspir­ing look at his pio­neer­ing efforts to push the lim­its of the olive tree even fur­ther north than the forty-fifth par­al­lel to the rain soaked gulf islands of south­ern British Colum­bia.

Dis­cus­sions cen­tered on con­sumer aware­ness, attempt­ing to answer the very dif­fi­cult ques­tion of how to fos­ter an under­stand­ing of olive oil cul­ture. Port­land doc­tor Miles Has­sell MD, co-author of Good Food, Great Med­i­cine, a guide to bet­ter liv­ing through diet, spoke on where he (and sci­ence, in gen­eral) believes olive oil fit into the spec­trum of opti­mal health and our col­lec­tive goal of longevity.

From trans­parency and label­ing to the elu­sive goal of prod­uct authen­tic­ity, it was clear that the assem­bled par­tic­i­pants stand at the fore­front of what­ever that next great leap in cool cli­mate olive oil might take in this new, more prod­uct con­scious gen­er­a­tion.

As Libby Clow, Ore­gon Olive Mill pro­gram ambas­sador, led a group tast­ing of a few excep­tional and rare Ital­ian vari­etals (many not even avail­able for pur­chase in the United States), the con­sen­sus among the tan­ta­lized palates seemed abun­dantly clear. The cru­cial jump­ing off point for the next evo­lu­tion would be the same as that which inspired the notion of plant­ing new olive groves in uncon­ven­tional loca­tions: pas­sion fused with tire­less, pio­neer­ing enthu­si­asm.

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