At the base of Queen Creek’s San Tan Mountains, white flowers are forming on some of the trees. Tiny and not overly fragrant, they’re an unassuming indicator of potentially great — and tasty — things to come.
“If 5 percent of the flowers turn into olives, we’ll have a bumper crop,” says Rob Holmes, general manager at the Queen Creek Olive Mill.
The family owned olive farm welcomes the arrival of the flowers at its Olive Blossom Festival the next two weekends. Held at the farm’s retail shop and Tuscan inspired eatery, del Piero, the festival is a chance to get up close with the origins of olives.
“We have 100 trees in the grove here at the store, and they’re part of the groves that we harvest and make our olive oils from,” says Holmes. “The main production groves are to the north, but we put part of the grove right here so people could experience it without traipsing out in the dirt. Last year, out of about 60 of those trees, we got three and a half tons of olives.”
At the event, “Olive Oil 101” tours begin every hour. For $5, you’ll get a thorough look at the mill’s farming, harvesting and pressing processes and samples of its Maytag blue cheese, jalapeño and other stuffed olives. Complimentary samples of the family’s dipping oils, tapenades, vinegars and olive oils — including a chocolate oil that’s used for baking, sauteeing and drizzling on fruit or desserts — are available in the store.
The next two weekends will also feature live music and complimentary wine tastings with Hinnant Family Vineyards (April 23), VP Vino (April 30) and Arizona Stronghold Winery (May 1).
On May 1, the mill will host a “Grill in the Grove,” when chefs grill spicy and mild Italian sausages and sweet corn outdoors amid the olive trees. Sausages come with a lemony Mediterranean coleslaw and your choice of tapenade — caramelized red onion and fig, peach caponatina or sweet red pepper with green and black olives. A grilled chicken sandwich is also available. Sausage or sandwich meals are $7.99. Roasted corn, which comes with a variety of toppings, is sold a la carte for $1.99. Beer and wine are available.
The farm grows about 16 varieties of olive trees on 15 acres.
“One year the trees may have a lot of flowers, the next year maybe not so much. The main factor is the weather. If it’s very hot and dry, our flowers will burn up and we won’t get what’s called a good ‘set’ — a good crop of olives. This time of year is critical, but once the olives are on the trees, they’re usually fine until harvest,” says Holmes.
It’s too early to tell how this year’s crop will compare to last year’s, but that won’t cast a cloud over weekend festivities, says Holmes.
“We really don’t know what the ‘set’ will be until early May, but no matter what our crop is, it’s always been good. Each year, the trees are maturing; they just continue to grow.”
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