ROWS of Olive trees snake up hillsides, dotting distant horizons as far as the eye can see. The trees cling to the steep slopes, covering nearly every inch of ground for miles with their sharp shadows against the brown land. This is southern Spain’s olive country—home to more olive trees than any place on the planet. Its sun-drenched soil may seem the polar opposite of our rain-soaked Willamette Valley, but as it turns out, some of these beloved Spanish varieties can thrive in cool climates, too.
Seven years ago, that revelation inspired the Durant family to plant 2,000 olive trees at their Red Ridge Farms in the Dundee Hills, surrounded by primo pinot producers like Archery Summit and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. The family has since added 11,000 more trees. With an on-site olive-oil press and a burgeoning fan base of local chefs, Red Ridge Farms olive oil is available online (oregonolivemill.com) and served at some of the Portland area’s best restaurants, including Park Kitchen, Thistle, and Simpatica, where resident Spain-ophile Scott Ketterman is a believer. Ketterman, who hopes to one day open a Basque restaurant in town, worked at some of Spain’s most polished, Michelin-rated restaurants, but it was the raw and rustic tapas bars and countryside cooking that left a deeper impression. In this fare, olive oil plays the starring role.
“Spanish cooking is all about showcasing individual ingredients, and olive oil is a pure ingredient that allows the others to shine through,” says Ketterman. Indeed, olive oil has countless uses in Spain—from the foundation of thick, garlicky aioli to the preferred fat for sautéing and frying just about anything. But most often, a quality olive oil is used to finish a simple sauté of seasonal ingredients—like this fall porcini mushroom salteado.