I was in Paso Robles recently on a wine trip and had a chance to visit a very eclectic olive oil producer, Kiler Ridge. Owned by an engineer who fell in love with olives on a bike tour with his wife in Tuscany. The two planted their 800+ Tuscan variety olive oil trees in 2005 in the hills of Paso Robles, benefiting from the region’s Mediterranean climate (coastal breezes, cool nights and very hot days), getting their first crop of special olives in 2010. They take their olive oil very serious here…if ever passion was the key to a project it is at Kiler Ridge where the most efficient and high tech gadgets are used to make their Late Harvest or Cooks Choice Olive oil.
We had a chance to do a tasting of their products, first simply trying them along side commercial olive oil, often marked “Italian” to see what the real difference between what they are doing and what we normally use to cook with is. Though the mechanics were a little high tech…the basic fact that we need to remember is that Italians make around 500K liters of olive oil a year (total for both export and their own use.) Yet, Italians consume 500K liters of Italian olive oil a year….yep, the math doesn’t add up, so much of the olive oil we see on shelves marked as “Extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil” just simply isn’t, it may still be from Italy, but it isn’t the cleanest oil from the olive, often a by product of multiple pressings. Kiler Ridge is incredibly fresh, honest to goodness oil from their estate. And it was delicious, fresh, very spicy – more so than many olive oils that I have tasted in Spain or other parts of the world, herbaceous and green.
After walking us through the tasting, learning the proper technique for identifying fruitiness (through the nose, bitterness (on the tongue and pungency (at the back of the tongue) we had a special treat – olive oil with vanilla ice cream. Yep, I was a skeptic, but when in Rome. I chose their Late Harvest, which on its own has an incredible peppery finish, yet when added to vanilla ice cream with a sprinkle of flake sea salt tastes like salted buttery caramel or butterscotch. Incredible. As soon as I got home I began experimenting, using both a bottle of their delicious Late Harvest I bought, as well as a few of the flavored olive oils I have found over the years, many from one of our favorite producers in Napa, St. Helena Olive Oil company. We also tried it with different flavored salts, some we just found while in Vancouver visiting Granville Island when Gary was filming in the city – Maison Cote is a sea salt producer, harvesting ocean water and letting it evaporate to gather the salt and then flavoring it with different herbs and spices to enhance the natural sea flavor. We had picked up some of their Rosemary and Raspberry Sea Salt, and Cabernet Merlot Sea Salt. The picture above is with the Late Harvest drizzled on French vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with just a touch of the Cabernet Merlot salt. Last night we also tried it with Orange Infused St. Helena Olive Oil and the Rosemary and Raspberry salt. Completely incredible….completely unique. We also tried some of the Spanish Arbequina from Catalonia, my favorite olive oil from Spain with a bit of plain sea salt and a drizzle of aged balsamic creating a flavor a bit like dark chocolate and cherry. You don’t need a lot of either the salt or the oil, just enough to coat the palate.