All About Olives: Festivals and Recipe Ideas
Olives are so beloved in Sonoma County that there are not just one, but two festivals dedicated to the salty tart orbs. For nearly a decade each late summer, the annual VinOlivo has showcased an elaborate display of food, wine, and yes, many, many olives to go along with it all.
Then, Sonoma’s official olive season rolls out in January and February, with two full months of Olive Festival tastings and tours at professional presses like Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and The Olive Press, parties at olive tree estates and wineries, gala dinners, and even seminars on curing your own olives.
Olive trees, in fact, can be found at many winery estates across the County, because they grow so well in our Mediterranean climate. Olive harvest comes shortly after the grapes are brought in each fall, and some commercial presses even welcome home-picked olives, to be made into delectable oils.
During the holidays, an olive bar can be the highlight of any party, stocked with a wide variety of the local, briny fruits. You can match the fruit with pommes frites and sparkling wine pairings (as it turns out, French fries, olives and sparkling wine are a match made in heaven; there’s just something magical about the salty flavors and crisp, barely sweet bubbles).
You likely won’t be making olive oil in your own kitchen. But one of the simplest, yet most stunning ways to enjoy the silky oil is over ice cream. Even the most ordinary soft serve comes alive when drizzled with the rich stuff.
For a bit fancier dessert, the good folks at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma rely on their own handcrafted Olio Nuovo, a seasonal oil available only after November's harvest and through the early winter. The “new” oil is bottled immediately after picking, without filtration; its aromas of fresh grass and faint leek and flavors of raw cardoon and green olive accompany a long, distinctly peppery finish. It should be enjoyed young for best intensity.
Head Chef Gerald Gass has created a lovely recipe for peppered Olio Nuovo cookies that will make any holiday table extra special. The sweet and savory nibbles go especially well with McEvoys’ own red and Rosé wines.
Peppered Olio Nuovo Cookies
- 2 C. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 C. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 C. McEvoy Ranch Olio Nuovo
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. brandy
- 1-1/2 tsp. freshly ground course black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Sift together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the oil, vinegar and brandy. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture comes together in a uniform mass. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls, 3/5 to 1-inch in diameter, and place them on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them two inches apart.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until cooked through and very lightly browned, about 17 minutes.Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.