January 15, 2007

The Olive Press & Wine Country Chocolates

Ready for the picking
Next up was another tasting adventure. But this time it wasn't sparkling whites or full-bodied reds that we would be swirling in our cups. This time it would be of liquid gold, olive oil! For centuries extra-virgin olive oil has been valued for it's curative properties and culinary virtues. Any foodie worth her weight in gold knows what the Mediterranean gourmand has known for centuries, that the magical flavor and aroma of olive oil is essential to healthy and pleasurable eating.

And I adore olives and olive oil. I seriously couldn't live without it. Especially olive oil. Fortunately, my friend M is as much a food enthusiast as I am. She prepared the day's itinerary for us but I might as well have drawn it up myself! It is inevitable that such like-minded individuals would have this much fun on a road trip together. Aside from the winery, she included visits to olive oil, cheese and chocolate tasting rooms. Ooh la la! Could that be any more delightful?!

the olive press outside The Olive Press

So after Viansa we proceeded to The Olive Press, a rustic old building with a state-of-the-art Pieralisi press located in the Jack London Village. Olive trees guard the entrance to the tasting room and Proven├žal-inspired gift shop. Inside is a plethora of all things olive. There are pretty baskets, olive-themed ceramics, assorted jars of tapenade, olive oil storage containers, table linens, kitchenware, cured olives, and various books about olives. On a shelf across the main entryway in neat rows of sleek dark bottles are the olive oils.

In the middle of the room, on offer are the various dipping oils infused with the freshest herbs and spices. Beside each variant is a dipping dish and chunks of crusty bread. I was in glorious oily heaven! I couldn't decide which one was my favorite but it was a close fight between the Basil Walnut and Roasted Garlic and Rosemary dipping oils. What I loved best were the tapenades which I sampled on baguette slices. They were delicious! At the rate I was going, I wasn't going to have any room for lunch!

Then there is the tasting bar where you can sample all the olive oils. Here is how to sample the oils: Pump some olive oil into a small plastic cup and warm it with your hands. Bring the cup to your nose and breathe in its bouquet of aromas. Place a drop of the oil on your bottom lip and taste the oil for its degree of sweetness. After which, sip the oil and using the sides of your tongue, taste for spiciness.

the tasting bar

Ha! Who am I kidding? I didn't do all that. After pumping, warming and sniffing I used the toothpicks provided to spear a bread cube and dip it into plastic cups which I then popped into my mouth. As I went down the line, I savored the delicate flavors, smoothness and richness. Some were fruity or buttery, others peppery. Some subtle, while most were intense. All pretty wonderful.

Beside the tasting bar is a window, through which you can watch the hammer-mill press if you are lucky enough to be there during milling season (Oct-Jan). For those who are not so fortunate, like us, there is a free video tour that demonstrates the entire process.

* * *

Just around the corner from The Olive Press is a small unpretentious store which would be easy to miss if it wasn't for the big sign on the sidewalk. Wine Country Chocolates is famous for their hand-dipped, flavored chocolate truffles. They specialize in exquisite creations filled with wine-infused ganache, made from quality wines in the region such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Port and Zinfandel.

In true wine-country style, they even had a tasting bar! I was literally a kid in a candy store! (Oh shush, I am still a kid at heart :) ) The very friendly lady behind the bar indulged our sweet tooth. We got a sweet lesson on the various compositions of chocolate, how the ratio between cacao solids to sugar and vanilla determines how sweet or bitter the chocolate is. I personally liked the 70% variety, which stayed true to its claim of having a "bold beginning and sweet finish".

Through the glass window, we watched a chocolatier at work. She made magic. She moulded and dipped more of those little pieces of heaven. I couldn't tell what flavor of truffle she was in the process of making, but it could have been any one of a wide variety of other flavors like Kahlua Irish Creme, Capuccino Tiramisu, Amaretto, Raspberry, or Champagne. I was fascinated with the molded designs they had on display, most of which were chocolate animals. They looked too good to eat. But we bought and ate them anyway. :)

The Olive Press
Jack London Village
14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, Sonoma County
Tel: 800-965-4839

Wine Country Chocolate
Jack London Village
14301 Arnold Drive, Suite 2
Glen Ellen, Sonoma County

Up Next: Downtown Sonoma & the cheese factories


Anonymous said...

Oooh..olive oil tasting! I brought up the idea to hubby for us to do something like that with some friends here. He's open to the idea but not sure if it would be something so exciting for his friends. Seems that olive-oil tasting is a thing that "americans" like to do! Oh well...

Anonymous said...

I am so loving your Sonoma posts! Wow! Kakainggit! :) Wish I was there...I would go nuts! :) Did you bring back any goodies? Or have they all been eaten up?

christine said...

Hi Rowena. It's a wonder that it's not more popular, it's a very pleasant experience and a great excuse to eat a lot of tapenade and cured olives! I love the idea of tasting rooms, it's so much easier to decide on what to buy when you can sample the actual products. It makes so much sense!

Jo, I wish you were there too! It would have made the trip more special. :) Are you kidding me, everything I bought there is all gone! The chocolates disappeared the fastest, they never even made it to SF. Well it is an hour's drive back you know! :)

Didi said...

Olive oil tasting? WOOOOOOOOOOOW!! Lucky lucky, LUCKY YOU!!

Anonymous said...

O man! I'm so jealous! What a culinary adventure that must have been! God! If only you could see me now...I'm SO green with envy! Hahaha!

Olive oil...I would love to see how it's processed, bottled and all. O well, maybe when I get back to the States, I'll do something like this...

christine said...

Candisshh, that's what I was telling myself too! I really felt so fortunate at having the chance to do all this and see so much beauty. :)

Hi Anonymous, I wish I could have seen how it was all done too! That would be so interesting. We had to settle for the video though. But all the tasting made up for that. :)