Who: Paul Durant of Oregon Olive Mill
What: Olive Oil
Where: Dayton, Oregon
in 2005, Paul and his family started to grow olives on their land in Dayton, Oregon, a feat many told them was impossible. After years of challenges (and laughter!) they've successfully harvested heritage varieties of olives and pressed them into olive oil. Take a tour with me of this unique olive oil maker!
Oregon's Willamette valley does not have a Mediterranean climate, yet Paul Durant and his family are still finding a way to produce delicious, fruity, cold-pressed olive oil. It's a bit of a miracle and the product of a lot of experimentation, but Oregon Olive Mill is harvesting olives right here in the Pacific Northwest and doing so with ingenuity and super results. They have 17 acres and work with about 13,000 olive trees.
Like growing any crop, each year is different depending on weather and temperature, and each year's yield has echoed nature's condition. Paul has found that the Arbequina, Koroneiki, Leccino, Mission, Pendolino and Tuscan varietals grow the best and survive the occasional freezes Dayton experiences in the winter. Many of the olive oils Oregon Olive Mill creates are supplemented with olives from Napa California.
The Test Kitchen
The olive pressing machines were made in Italy and Paul and his family were trained on how to use them by an Italian technician who stayed for months demonstrating proper techniques and care. The space is full of light and fresh air, with a garage door rolling open to take in the incredible views and peaceful nature of the land. This extra space comes in handy for their annual "olio nuovo festa" in which they invite guests to help them press the oil during their November harvest season.
The Secret Sauce
Perhaps Oregon Olive Mill's biggest asset is the farm's leader, Paul Durant. He grew up on this land, which his parents raised grapes on for local wine makers. He loves this place, respects it and departed from it (to study engineering) only to circle back and use his experimental/problem-solving background to tackle the olive oil business. Paul has an enthusiasm and passion for his family business and the opportunity to reinvent the farm in this new way.
The Business Plan
Every year the Oregon Olive Oil Mill makes progress in its partnerships with local chefs and acclaimed restaurants. It is the omnipresent emphasis on the freshest, finest, most local ingredients that make these olive oils highly praised and sought after. If it tastes just as good as cold pressed from Italy, why not support the locally-made version? It's chefs' attitudes and support that has largely put Oregon Olive Mill oils on the map.
The farm offer tours and overnight visits year round. There's also a plant nursery and olive oil tasting room where guests can educate themselves on the oils while gazing out onto the rows of olive trees. It's a pretty special place at which to enjoy the Oregon countryside. It's also a refreshing point of interest in the Willamette Valley if you tire of visiting yet another winery.
7 Quick Questions for Paul Durant
1. Favorite online resources for your kitchen?
Sounds corny, but Facebook. I follow a lot of culinary folks and they are always throwing out awesome ideas. Also the Olive Oil Times is great source of what is happening in the industry.
2. The one thing you can't live without?
Iphone (bet a lot of folks say this) and my wine key.
3. If you could spend a day with anyone, who would it be and why?
Living: Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity. He gets it and articulates so well why small producers like us struggle to survive.
Deceased: Galileo, Italian physicist and philosopher. Goes back to my engineering days. He's my inspiration for science and history.
4. What's in your Google reader?
5. If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Tough one. I could be serious or glib here. For me, I would put resources towards the agronomy of finding the techniques and varietals that can thrive, not just survive, in cold climates like Oregon. I would fund education for consumers and enforcement of labeling laws to stop fraudulent olive oil from entering the market. On the other side of the coin: I really want to go to the south of France with my family. About 5 years ago we were there for two days. I still reminisce...
6. What's your dream meal to use your olive oil on/in?
I make this once a week in fall/winter, just ask my family: A hearty risotto, cooked and finished with Tuscan Olive Oil. Baked chicken with a balsamic reduction, Arbequina, and oranges. Drippings with from the chicken combine with more Arbequina and makes a delicious gravy. I strip the chicken from the bone, chop and toss with the gravy. Serve the chicken over the risotto. Broccoli and a hearty sourdough bread on the side with some Pinot Noir and you are good to go.
7. How can one best taste olive oil?
At the source. Visit a mill, ask how it is made, when it was made, can you talk to the miller. I always welcome folks who ask good questions about sourcing and our technique. I tell visitors that we are an "open book" and readily share what works and what hasn't. We are still honing our craft and don' t pretend to have all the answers.
Related: Ben Jacobsen of Jacobsen Salt
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)