Road Journals Blog—The dry heat of the Sonoran desert makes Queen Creek, Ariz., a town neighboring Phoenix, seem like an unlikely place to find a flourishing olive farm. My misconceptions were dashed after a leisurely afternoon at Queen Creek Olive Mill . That same heat helps the trees flourish by keeping away the pesky olive fly that wreaks havoc on so many Mediterranean crops. As owner Perry Rea explained, while we sampled bruschetta from de Piero, their on-site restaurant, it required more than blind faith in the repellent qualities of the climate to grow Queen Creek into one of the primary suppliers of olive oils in the area.
The idea for the mill first sprouted in 1995, when Rea sold the automotive parts manufacturing company he headed in hopes of transitioning to a simpler and healthier lifestyle. Both he and his wife Brenda built the business from the ground up, traveling to Southern Italy and California to study farming and production processes. They spent six months looking at Arizona locations before transforming an abandoned cotton farm into the agro-tourism destination that bustled with visitors the day I visited.
The only family-owned and operated working olive mill and farm in Arizona, Queen Creek combines state-of-the-art technology with eco-friendly practices. On a tour, I followed the olives as they moved from harvest to the cold-press process (pressed without the use of heat or solvents) and into the bottle. A hammer mill ground the fruit into a coarse paste, which is slowly blended in a large mixer, then introduced into a centrifuge before being transferred into oxygen-free stainless steel decanters to separate. The resulting extra virgin olive oil is blended and moved into tanks until the time comes for it to be bottled, which usually occurs every three weeks to ensure that each bottle, like the one I have sitting by my stove, is the freshest available.
I explored Queen Creek’s marketplace, which teemed with handpicked wines, bath products, cake mixes, and yes, olive oil. I attacked the sampling station, shooting back testers of flavors that included chocolate, blood orange, and a pungent bacon variation. The company also produces Spanish Fly, a bottle of olive juice that had me fantasizing about the dirtiest of gin martinis.
But the true revelation came during a sampling of cupcakes from Tuscan-inspired del Piero. Using a family recipe, the restaurant crafts unbelievably moist and flavorful cupcakes by utilizing Queen Creek’s oils, ranging from Mexican lime to vanilla bean. I bought a bottle of Mexican lime, determined to duplicate the recipe at home. It’ll be my little secret when my next batch of cupcakes garners rave reviews.
This blog post was first published in May 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.