Texas truly has a bit of Provence… and Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Greece… Those are the varieties of olives that do well on the gentle hills of the Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard twenty minutes south of San Antonio in Elmendorf. Sandy, the mastermind of all things olive, took us on a tour from one shady spot to another. She learned to propagate from cuttings while in Egypt, and has clearly studied olive production all across the Mediterranean. The orchard recycles the water that comes out of the olive press and uses it to water the young trees in the nursery. They also feed the pumice– what is left of the fruit and pits after the oil and water are pressed out of the olives– to the cows, which makes them very happy cows.

Did you know olives are in the same species family as jasmine, and lilacs? Did you know a mature tree of at least five years old will produce about 35 lbs of olives a year, but it takes 80-100 lbs to produce one gallon of oil? Did you know the flavor has little to do with where it is grown but the variety of the tree, and whether the olives are picked green, rose, or black? To get extra virgin, you need to press it within a certain number of hours from when it is picked, before it ferments and grows acidic. Orchards will develop special combinations of olives picked green, rose, and black, for example, to make a particular flavor and color. That is why the olive oil section of the grocery story– especially a good grocery– will be almost as overwhelming with variety as the wine section.

After a tour of the orchard we enjoyed a mezze lunch on the patio of house made breads, babagannosh, white bean spread, chicken kofta, and tuna tapenade ($10). And olives, of course! We washed it down with a very refreshing blackberry ginger sparkling lemonade, also made from scratch.

The babagannosh was light and fluffy, and MG swears it had comino in it. I wasnt sure, since eggplant has such a smoky complex flavor it was hard for me to single it out. The white beans had nice fresh thyme and other herbs. The tuna tapendade had pecans in it (they also grow pecans at Sandy Oaks). Everything was made with their olive oil, but we found ourselves wanting the straight stuff to dip the bread in– after so much talk of pressing, blending, etc., we needed a sample. Our wait person brought some samples upon request, and it was delicious. I assume there are all kinds of ways of describing olive oil the way you would wine, but being unschooled, we called it “grassy” and “crisp” as it had a delicate flavor that didn’t dominate the food or make you gag. I recently gagged on some olive oil sampled at central market.

The tour was not too long, and geared toward the practical matters one might be concerned with if you were planning to start your own orchard. It definitely made us dream about it. They are a nursery as well as an orchard, and you can get a nice size baby olive tree for $18. Sandy clearly wants to propagate more than her own grove– a Texas Olive Revolution from Old Spain perhaps. We can win our independence drinking dirty martinis and slathering everything we eat in the delicious oil.

To see the gallery of the trip, click here.

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