In preparation for the upcoming Paso Robles Olive Festival, my decision to learn the art of olive oil tasting led me to charming downtown Paso Robles, to the quaint, busy storefront of We Olive. This franchise specializes in retailing California extra virgin olive oil (the highest grade) and the Paso location offers the opportunity to taste almost 40 oils at the bar. Tasters may try as many as they like (at no charge!); I sipped and savored a total of seven.
One of We Olive's well-trained staff members led me through the diverse flavors of some of their SLO County oil selections, explaining that like wine, the hue, aroma, and taste of olive oil differs depending on such factors as the olive varietal and time of season when the olives are picked. The yellow-green hues varied as I progressed through my tasting adventure, and the flavors I experienced ranged from light and buttery; bright and grassy; peppery and spicy; bold and robust; and finally, to the smooth citrus-infused oils bursting with the fresh flavors of lemon and lime.
As with wine, our tastes are subjective, and for the light summer meal I had planned for the evening (to counteract the SLO summer heat), I chose Pasolivo’s lemon olive oil ($18, 200 ml.) to add an extra, interesting citrus layer to my recipes. Pasolivo’s family-owned ranch, located in Paso Robles, grows nearly a dozen varietals of olives, predominantly Tuscan. Their popular lemon oil, made from blending their unfiltered extra virgin olive oil with distilled Meyer lemon peels, results in a flavorful oil with endless possibilities in the kitchen, starting with a few below.
SLO Summer Soup
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes (variety of red, orange & yellow will give your soup a vibrant summer color)
1 good-sized cucumber (I bought organic and left the skin on)
1/3 cup Italian parsley (or cilantro)
1 small shallot (or 2 cloves garlic)
1 small lime (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
2 tablespoons Pasolivo lemon olive oil
1 avocado for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste
Dice tomatoes and cucumber and throw in glass mixing bowl. Add finely chopped parsley and shallot and stir. Squeeze juice of lime over veggies and add salt & pepper to taste. Stir and transfer half of ingredients to blender. Add olive oil and puree in blender. Pour pureed soup back into bowl with remaining veggies and stir to blend. Serve chilled and garnish with chopped tomatoes, a sprinkle of parsley, and sliced avocado.
Marinated Green Beans with Lemon Vinaigrette
1 ½ pounds fresh green beans
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I used a local favorite: Mill Road produced by Monahan Family Farm in Paso Robles)
3 tablespoons Pasolivo lemon olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmigiano cheese for garnish (or your favorite specialty cheese)
Trim green beans to bite-sized pieces and lightly steam, covered, over boiling water for about 5–6 minutes. Beans should not be soft, but still slightly firm when pierced with fork.
Meanwhile, whisk remaining ingredients for dressing. When beans finish steaming, transfer to glass bowl, immediately saturate hot beans with dressing, and chill for 2–4 hours before serving. When ready to eat, serve topped with shaved cheese.
Although on hot days I'm not typically in the mood to eat meat for dinner, this meal would be nicely completed by grilling some chicken or your favorite fish, accompanied by toasted whole-grain bread, rubbed with a fresh garlic clove, and drizzled with Pasolivo lemon olive oil. This complete meal will comfortably serve 4.
Note: Salt is personal. With the exception of baked goods, I don't typically give guidelines for salt in my recipes other than "to taste." I prefer to start out by under salting any dressing or dish—perform a taste taste—and then work my way up. You can always add more salt, but you can't take it out.
The same for salad dressings—I rarely make one the same way twice. Sometimes I use lemon juice, other times lime. For some meals I enjoy emphasizing the tartness of vinegar and other times, as in this meal, prefer to allow the flavored oil to showcase its bright, fresh, lemony flavor.
SLO County Wine Discovery
On the way home from olive oil tasting, I stopped off at Monterey Street Wine Company located on the outskirts of downtown San Luis Obispo City. With an impressive selection of artisan cheeses and carefully selected vintages from SLO County and from around the world (as well as a tasting bar where you can sample wines from their daily tasting list), this shop continues to be one of my favorites. I picked up a good-sized sliver of imported Parmigiano to use as a protein base in my salad, and after sharing my evening menu idea, a knowledgeable staff member suggested Vina Robles 2008 Verdelho ($22) as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.
This Portuguese varietal, grown in a cooler block of Vina Robles’ Huerhuero Vineyard in North County, proved the perfect choice. As I poured a glass with dinner and noticed the light, almost clear hue, the sweet, bright fragrance emanating from my glass caught me by surprise and enticed me. My first taste revealed this wine’s slightly effervescent quality, crisp acidity, and lingering hints of sweet pear and bitter grapefruit. The wine cut through the vinegar base of the green bean salad, and left a sweet, but slightly bitter finish. Paired with the tangy soup, I noticed a hint of citrus and pear and enjoyed the smooth buttery flavor and feel of this Verdelho. The wine brought out the lemon quality of the oil in both dishes; this meal and wine proved superb together.
My flavorful, heart-healthy, nutrient-packed dinner left me feeling refreshed, completely full, and looking forward to leftovers tomorrow—as well as to the Paso Robles Olive Festival next weekend!
All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.