PASO ROBLES — There is no better reminder of Paso Robles’ affinity to Tuscany than the annual Olive Festival, taking place at the Downtown City Park every year at the beginning of the summer. This being the 14th year, the festival shows no signs of “getting old.” Sponsored by both Pasolivo and Derby Wine Estates, there were more participants — both guests and vendors — this year than ever before and the styles and endless options of how to enjoy this multi-talented fruit was abounding in every booth.
The three day event kicked off with a pre-festival social mixer at Allegretto Vineyard and Resort Friday evening then followed on Saturday with an afternoon filled with free olive oil, olive product sampling from producers from all over California, wine tasting and an open Olive Dish Cooking Contest.
With so much going on it was difficult to stand out from the crowd but there were two vendors worthy of a special highlight, one with a focus on health and beauty products and the other a pure epicurean delight.
Heather’s Handmade Soaps had a dessert stand of stunning hot pink soap cupcakes that stopped you dead in your tracks. The wash of colors, the delicious fragrances wafting in the air and the myriad of soaps that were true decoys of pastries and loaf cakes were stunning. Even though this was owner/soapmaker Heather McIntire’s first year participating in the festival, she has been making soaps and body products for the past ten years and her experience was overwhelmingly evident.
“I try to only use local olive oils,” McIntire said. “I get them from the groves on 41. The most popular product I have is the lemon verbena soap, I sold my last bar just a few minutes ago.”
McIntire laughed as she noticed the disappointment on this reporter’s face as the event was only an hour in, “they take about 6 weeks to cure,” she said. “I have more but they just aren’t ready yet.”
As for the epicurean side of the festival, some booths went way beyond the traditional crusts of bread to sample. Besides the ever popular olive oil ice cream that is dished out every year by Pasolivo, a stand out booth was Bocca Bella Farms, located in San Miguel, where one could find a myriad of gourmet treats that would turn your olive perspective on its head and there is a good reason why. John Jantz is not only co-owner of Bocca Bella Farms, but is also a renown chef, so to stopping by his booth you were sure to find some new and creative way to enjoy olives; such as the tapenade and chocolate or the green olive and black olive tapenade with grissini — from La Migliore, basically the most amazing breadstick you will ever put in your mouth — or even their olive oil version of nutella with dark chocolate and hazelnut butter.
“We like to do little bites just as we do at the farm for tastings,” Jantz said. “It’s a way to showcase the olive oil in practical use as well as provide a tasty treat for people who may be a little overwhelmed by tasting all that olive oil. We do different "bites" every year at the fest which people really enjoy, but they love the ice cold refreshing watermelon and olive oil "mocktail". While I encourage a straight tasting of our extra virgin olive oil, it’s nice to provide something other than the same old bread chunks you'll often find for dipping.”
As for the final results of the festival on a competitive level, McClintocks restaurant won the “Taste of the Olive” contest headed up by Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin with the assistance of Councilman Fred Strong. Three local restaurants competed against one another with their “olive inspired” appetizers and the winner was chosen by the first 50 members of the public that voted by ballot.
Adolfa’s Tamales took first place in the public cooking contest judged by Paso Robles Police Chief Robert Burton and two assisting officers.
And while there were Gold and Silver awarded in five different categories, Molefina’s Koroneiki varietal took home Best in Show.
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]