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Arizona Specialty Crops Blog

Wed, 06/15/2016
Contributed by: R. Davis, M. Conway

Over 6,000 years ago, early agriculturists of the Middle East (now Iran, Syria and Palestine) were cultivating the olive tree for it the oil of its fruit.

Mediterranean areas of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have an ideal climate for olive cultivation, with long, hot summers, relatively mild winters, arid climates and well-drained soil. Those key conditions are replicated in Arizona, where the olive tree has been adopted for landscaping with some commercial development.

The Queen Creek Olive Mill is Arizona’s largest commercial olive grower. Their main grove is at the site of their press, storefront and restaurant in Queen Creek, but they contract with olive growers in the Yuma area.

Though Queen Creek cultivates several varieties of olives, including Pendolino (Italian), Picholine (French), and Mission (domestic), all their trees have relatively low water needs and are resistant to indigenous insects, so they require no pesticides.

Olive Oil Flavor

A culinary staple to Mediterranean countries, olive oil has been enthusiastically adopted by international cooks. Olive oil has a surprising range of flavors, from buttery to almost bitter. Surprisingly, the time of harvest dictates the flavor profile of an olive oil far more than the variety of the olive.

Olives picked when they are green create an oil with a grassy, artichokey flavor that can be tasted at the back of the throat. This assertive oil makes a statement in salads or marinades.

Fully ripened, purple olives result in an oil that is smooth, fruity, and buttery when pressed. The mild flavor makes this type of oil a top choice for baking and is preferred by those with delicate palates. Most high quality commercial olive oils are comprised of a blend between barely ripe and fully ripened olives.

Queen Creek Olive Mill

Queen Creek Olive Mill offers three distinctive options in their selection of products. Their “Robust” oil is made from green olives in the first harvest, while their “Delicate” oil is pressed exclusively from the fully ripened, purple olives. Early and late harvest olives comprise their "Balanced" oil. All their olives are pressed within 24 hours of harvest, as is a requirement for any olive oil labeled as “extra virgin.” The mill also offers a line of flavored oils co-pressed with Meyer lemon, tangelo, or lime, or infused with flavors such as white truffle or garlic.

In addition to selling olive oil, stuffed olives, vinegar, pasta sauces, tapenades and other olive based products, the Queen Creek Olive Mill storefront partners with local artisans to showcase a host of local products, including honey (some of it produced from olive tree blossoms), fresh bread, and coffee roasted on site.

Olive Oil Festival

Every weekend in the month of October, Queen Creek Olive Mill holds its Olive Festival at the Queen Creek location. Their commercial storefront and restaurant is open year round (even offering daily tours), but in October the grounds are alive with live music, wine tasting, chefs celebrating the olive harvest, and art festivals with jewelers, painters, musicians, potters, and other crafters. The event draws people from throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada, where visitors can sit in the pleasant shade of olive trees, enjoy fresh food from their on-site restaurant, and even take a tour of the mill that is attached to the storefront. The festival truly offers the best of many local products during one of Arizona’s most beautiful seasons.

Sources: The Olive Oil Source

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Find facts about history, cultivation, uses, and even recipes for specialty crops featured on the U Pick Farm Map in our specialty crops blog.

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Funding for the U-Pick Farm Map and Arizona Wine Trails Map provided by the Arizona Department of Agriculture under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program: Farm Bill, number 10.170 Grant Award Agreement #SCBGP-FB13-01.