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IN SEASON: OLIVES

Far from Spain, olives may have a home in Oregon soil
by: ©2006 DOREEN WYNJA, Red Ridge Farms has a producer in California bottling Arbequina olive oil under its label this year. Penny and Ken Durant hope to begin pressing their own from Oregon-grown olives in 2008.

The Mediterranean region cultivates the majority of the world's olives, but when it comes to domestic olives, California is the largest producer, cultivating roughly 10 percent of the world's table olives.

Oregon has been typically considered either too cold or too rainy for olive cultivation, but farmers are beginning to realize that the state's loamy clay soil and generally temperate climate are surprisingly hospitable to the gnarly, slow-growing trees.

Penny and Ken Durant of Red Ridge Farms in Dayton are so convinced that they've recently planted several groves of Spanish olive trees in hopes of pressing local, top-shelf olive oil by as early as 2008.

In the early 1970s the Durants were among the first Oregon oeno-pioneers to break ground, cultivating wine grapes in the red hills of Dundee. It makes sense that the Durants recently have transferred this pioneering spirit to the untilled territory of Oregon olives.

Last year the Durants planted 2,000 Arbequina (pronounced arbe-KEEN-a) olive trees that now stand hip high. Arbequina olive trees, widely grown throughout Spain, adapt well to dense planting, are self-pollinating, are cold hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and produce high yields of small olives with an intensely fresh and fruity flavor.

Can't grow olives in Oregon?

In Spain, Arbequina olives are pressed for olive oil and preserved as table olives when black and fully ripe. Both the olives and the oil are considered among the finest by connoisseurs worldwide.

According to Ken Durant, olives were the next logical step. 'I spent some years growing up in Lindsay, Calif. - the home of the Lindsay Olive Co. And then years later I went with Penny one day to pick up specialty plants for the nursery. Well, she starts picking up olive trees, and I say, 'You can't grow olives in Oregon.' And she says, 'Read this, please.' She hands me her research, and one thing just led to another.'

The Durants' densely planted olive trees look green and healthy now but won't produce a substantial crop for at least two years.

When asked if they plan to preserve any of the next crop as table olives, Penny Durant says, 'In the beginning we'll probably brine and preserve them because there just won't be that many.'

Her husband disagrees: 'We ought to just drop next year's crop and put the energy into the tree rather than into growing olives.'

This back-and-forth is half the excitement for the Durants, who have a history of juggling various agriculinary ventures on their 100 rolling acres in Oregon wine country.

In the 1970s the Durants started Red Ridge Farms, which now supplies 10 Oregon vineyards with wine grapes. In the 1980s they cultivated garlic and tended sheep for several years. In the early 1990s the Durants opened a specialty, mainly culinary, herb nursery with more than 100 varieties of lavender. Today the Durants continue to maintain their vineyard, nursery and country inn in addition to cultivating Spanish olives.

Save good stuff for dipping

In mid-June several members of the Portland Culinary Alliance made the hour trek south to Red Ridge Farms to check out the Durants' fledgling olive groves. The group sampled olive oils from around the world and discussed the future of olive oil in America and in Oregon.

The slightly peppery, fresh and floral Arbequina olive oil was by far a favorite as tasters swished oils around their mouths, making funny sounds while aspirating the oil in order to tease out the flavor.

For now, Red Ridge Farms is allowing an award-winning Arbequina olive oil producer in California to bottle under their label thereby introducing Arbequina olive oil to the Oregon market. So far, the response has been great.

Ken Durant says, 'Bluehour recently discovered it, and

I'm delivering another two cases there tomorrow. I think they're using it for toppings on pastas and salads. You probably wouldn't want to cook with Arbequina because it's a fairly expensive oil. You want to use a less-expensive olive oil for high-temperature cooking and use this more as a dressing or as an oil to dip bread or vegetables in.'

Most olive oil enthusiasts agree that olive oil appreciation in America is about where wine appreciation was 30 years ago. Considering that there are twice as many varieties of olives as grapes, if American interest in olive oil continues to grow at the rate at which wine appreciation has in recent years, the Durants and potentially many other Oregon olive cultivators may reap substantial benefits.

Gazpacho

• 2 large tomatoes, peeled (1 3/4 pounds)

• 1 medium onion

• 1 large cucumber, pared

• 1 pimento (can substitute red bell pepper or canned pimento)

• 1 medium green pepper

• 24 ounces tomato juice

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

• 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

• 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

• 3 cloves garlic, split

• 1/2 cup fresh bread cubes

• 1/4 cup chives, chopped

In a blender, combine one tomato, half of the cucumber, half of the onion, a fourth of the green pepper, one clove of garlic, pimiento and a half cup of tomato juice. Blend covered at high speed for 30 seconds or more to purée the vegetables.

In a large bowl, mix the puréed vegetables with the remaining tomato juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, vinegar, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate the mixture until well chilled, about two hours. Refrigerate six serving bowls.

Meanwhile, rub inside of skillet with remaining garlic; reserve garlic. Add rest of oil and heat. Sauté the bread cubes until they are browned.

Set aside.

Chop separately remaining tomato, cucumber, onion and pepper.

Place in separate bowls, along with separate bowls of croutons and chopped chives. Serve as accompaniments. Just before serving time, crush the reserved garlic, then add to the chilled soup, mixing well. Serve in chilled bowls. Makes six servings.

Courtesy of Penny Durant of Red Ridge Farms

Red Ridge Farms

5510 N.E. Breyman Orchards Road, Dayton,

503-864-8502,

www.redridgefarms.com

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You can find Red Ridge Farms Arbequina olive oil at these locations:

Stores

• Whole Foods

• In Good Taste

• Sheridan Fruit Co.

• Steve's Cheese

• Foster and Dobbs

• Beaumont Market

• Zupan's Markets

• New Seasons Markets

Restaurants

• The French Bear, McMinnville

• Red Hills Provincial Dining, Dundee

• Bluehour Restaurant

• Paley's Place

• Soup Savvy