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Sonoma Valley Olive Season

Jan. 25, 2011
Sophia Markoulakis

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By Sophia Markoulakis
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from San Francisco

The fall months that coin­cide with Sonoma Valley’s wine har­vest bring tourists and wine lovers from all over the world to visit the area. But after the flood of tourists have retreated to their rou­tines and the oenophiles have returned to their wine cel­lars, a rel­a­tively new type of vis­i­tor is mak­ing a trip to the area dur­ing the win­ter and explor­ing its bur­geon­ing olive oil industry.

Sonoma County has more olive oil pro­duc­ers than any other county in the state of California; and this off-sea­son” har­vest cre­ates the per­fect oppor­tu­nity to gen­er­ate pub­lic inter­est and stim­u­late busi­ness in the Sonoma Valley dur­ing this
tra­di­tion­ally sleepy time of year. The Sonoma Valley Olive Season brings together olive oil pro­duc­ers, restau­rants, and local olive and olive oil author­i­ties to host spe­cial events, tast­ings, and lec­tures for locals and vis­i­tors dur­ing the win­ter months from December through February every year.

Wendy Peterson, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, says, Our goal was to develop a win­ter pro­mo­tion that was authen­tic. Olives are very much a part of Sonoma Valley.” Peterson says grow­ing olives in Sonoma Valley is pos­si­ble for home­own­ers and non-food and wine busi­nesses. Even an antique busi­ness such as Sonoma County Antiques has a small olive grove in front of their store and hope for their first offi­cial har­vest next year,” says Peterson. With The Olive Press lit­er­ally down the road, grow­ing and press­ing one’s own olive oil is not only pos­si­ble but also convenient.

Several Sonoma Valley winer­ies are des­ig­nat­ing por­tions of their prop­er­ties to grow­ing olives for olive oil. As nat­ural com­pan­ion plants, grape vines and olive trees have oppo­site sea­sons. Some winer­ies such as Benziger Family Winery planted olive trees through­out their vine­yard to offer bio­di­ver­sity to their land.

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Utilizing facil­i­ties, in-house labor and tast­ing room staff dur­ing the off-sea­son make eco­nomic sense to winer­ies that keep their busi­ness and tast­ing rooms oper­a­tional year-round. Wineries such as B.R. Cohn and Benziger might incor­po­rate the cost of pro­duc­ing olive oil as part of their busi­ness model, but don’t nec­es­sar­ily expect a profit from olive oil. In my opin­ion, the moti­va­tion for most winer­ies is that it’s an added expan­sion of their agri­cul­tural exper­tise,” says Peterson.

Besides olive oil tast­ing at sev­eral par­tic­i­pat­ing winer­ies includ­ing B.R. Cohn and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, which shares its facil­i­ties with The Olive Press, and olive cur­ing work­shops, there’s a grand multi-course feast that takes place at Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center. The Feast of the Olive Dinner brings together olive and olive oil lovers with local chefs and olive oil pro­duc­ers. This year’s line up includes chefs from Estate, El Dorado Kitchen, and The Lodge.

The fol­low­ing recipe is from a past Feast of the Olive Dinner, cour­tesy of Mary Karlin, staff chef-instruc­tor at Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma.

To view upcom­ing Sonoma Olive Festival events, visit Sonoma County Olive Festival.

Green Olive Tuna and Artichoke Mousse on Chevre Crostini
Makes about 4 cups

8 ounces green olives (in brine), rinsed, pit­ted and minced
1- 6 oz can of imported Italian tuna, packed in olive oil, chunked
8 ounces non-sea­soned arti­choke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 table­spoon salted capers, rinsed and dried
4 cloves roasted gar­lic, minced
2 table­spoons Italian pars­ley leaves, minced
1/2 cup or so fruity olive oil
2 table­spoons lemon zest
juice of one-half lemon
kosher salt to taste
finely ground white pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped chives for garnish

In a small bowl, toss together the olives, chunks of tuna and the oil, arti­choke, capers and gar­lic. Add pars­ley, 1/4 of the olive oil, the lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix together. Place mix­ture in a the bowl of a food proces­sor and pulse to com­bine. Then process until smooth to cre­ate the desired mousse con­sis­tency. Add remain­der of olive oil (if needed) and kosher salt and white pep­per to taste. Set aside for at least 30 min­utes for the fla­vors to come together.

Dollop or pipe on Fench baguette cros­tini spread with chevre. Sprinkle with chopped chives as gar­nish. Mousse may be stored in a refrig­er­a­tor for up to a week.

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