Most of us observe a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to our food these days. We open our vacuum-packed containers — knowing countless preservatives and middlemen have already come and gone — and we dig in, preferring not to know the specifics.
The Queen Creek Olive Mill is a pleasant departure from that. A stone’s throw from Schnepf Farms, the pistachio-colored structure looks factory-esque from afar. But come closer and you’ll notice the tidy demonstration grove, the fountain courtyard for cool-weather dining; and you’ll meet people who are passionate about the artistry of olives.
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“We’re a boutique manufacturer,” mill owner and master blender Perry Rea explains. “We don’t work on a huge scale, so we get to be more creative with the varieties of olive oil we produce.”
Olives, it turns out, make an expressive culinary canvas. Harvested between October and December, they are blended with other types of olives and an almost infinite combination of fruits, herbs and spices to produce the bottled oils that line the mill’s gift shop walls. “Freshness is important to the character of the oil,” general manager Rob Holmes explains, “so, we only pick what we will press the next day, and we start pressing within 24 hours.”
The process can be seen in a half-hour that follows the olives from the branches of the demonstration grove, through the warren of stainless steel pressing equipment, out to del Piero, the Mill’s restaurant, where a bar full of boutique oils, stuffed olives and tapenades await inspection. “We’re just starting the tours up again now,” says Holmes. “They tend to get crowded in October and November, when we’re pressing and all the machines are running.”
But, as every distillery knows, the best part of any tour is the end, where one can sample the establishment’s wares. Del Piero’s generous sampling bar is one part of a dining area that serves a variety of tasty omelet sandwiches, salads and fresh, homegrown fare. The restaurant and gift shop also showcase the foods of neighboring growers and food producers — like the Pork Shop, Dechio Pasta and Tempe-based Cartel Coffee. Holmes says it’s a testament to the virtues of buying local. “When you do that, the return to the community is much higher. You’re supporting local businesses, keeping money in the community, using less energy to ship merchandise around. And, of course, you’re getting a fresher product.”
Well said, but perhaps nothing makes the case for local food better than the tangy crush of a Parmesan-stuffed olive inside your mouth. Definitely not run-of-the-mill.
The Queen Creek Olive Mill is at 25062 S. Meridian Road (that’s about three miles east of Ellsworth Road on Rittenhouse Road. Internet maps, for whatever reason, will send you to Germany). It’s open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tours are $5. For more information, call (480) 888-9290 or visit online at www.queencreekolivemill.com.