With exceptional vineyards in southern Arizona, it's easy to overlook other crops that grow well here, such as the olive. But unlike wine, olive oil is perishable and is best consumed fresh.
Olives from Greece, Italy, and Spain typically take three months to reach the U.S., so Tucson is fortunate to have Arizona's only working olive farm, olive mill, and commercial producer of extra-virgin olive oil within driving distance. In fact, the olives used in Queen Creek Olive Mill's Bell'Olio Nuovo oil ("beautiful new oil") aren't only new — they're grown and pressed just 87 miles away at the family-owned mill in Queen Creek.
Founders Brenda and Perry Rea moved from Detroit to Arizona and planted 1,000 olive trees in 2001.
While eating local is a plus, the quality of Queen Creek's olive oil is actually exceptional. Arizona has various factors that make it ideal for producing olive oil. The arid environment stimulates rapid olive growth. Olives grown for oil require less water. Lastly, usual olive pests such as the olive fruit fly don't live in Arizona, so pesticides aren't even needed.
The mill also offers oils in addition to their locally grown and pressed variety, evident by the bottle's label. The "Estate-grown" oil is made only with olives grown a few feet away at the onsite olive grove that's home to over 700 trees. Other labels include olives purchased from farmers in Arizona or extra-virgin olive oil from partners in California and the Imperial Valley as well as Chile, South America.
Foodies looking for a tasty day trip will find it well worth the 90-minute drive to the mill in Queen Creek. Although harvesting season has ended, the Queen Creek location also features a marketplace, eatery, and coffee shop in a hip and spacious yet cozy vibe.
The Queen Creek Marketplace, like the one in Scottsdale, features all of Queen Creek Olive Mill's varieties of extra-virgin olive oils along with balsamic vinegars, dips, tapenades, stuffed olives, boutique wines, olive oil-based beauty products, and much more.
Although olive oil doesn't sound like something to binge on in one session, it’s easy to get carried away trying samples since each oil has its own distinct flavor. Even the balsamic vinegars are balanced enough to sample through enjoyably.
Queen Creek Olive Mill's infused olive oils manage to highlight the infused ingredient without hiding the quality of the EVOO. The vanilla bean olive oil drizzled over fresh burrata is like a sophisticated vanilla ice cream, while the popular roasted garlic and bacon olive oils shine with everyday foods such as scrambled eggs and popcorn.
When you make the trip to Queen Creek, the mill's Olive Oil 101 Tour provides the knowledge and skills you need to thoroughly appreciate quality EVOO.
You'll learn to swirl the cup in the warmth of your hand and savor the oil in your mouth for pungency and flavors like green apple or fresh-cut grass.
You'll also learn fun facts about the company, such as how the leftover pomace from the oil pressing process ends up going full circle by being used as fertilizer for the olive trees.
The Queen Creek location's Eatery was featured on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate with their Kalamata Sandwich.
Though farm-to-table is obvious with the olives, other ingredients such as garlic and kale are also grown in their small gardens just a few feet away. While obvious items such as pizza or house-made pasta wonderfully show off the EVOO, the Eatery also uses it for their assorted pastries.
Those who don't want to make the drive to Queen Creek - though it's highly worth it to be able to sample the goods - can order online or find a limited selection of Queen Creek Olive Mill oils and vinegars at Sprouts Farmers Markets, AJ's Fine Foods, Whole Foods, and select Fry's Marketplaces.
Chefs are also beginning to recognize the quality of local EVOO, so restaurants are catching on as well. There are also a variety of establishments around Tucson that feature Queen Creek Olive Mill extra-virgin olive oil in dishes on the menu.
And if you're a true olive oil fanatic, you'll want to get to the mill soon after a harvest (early in the year) for a taste of the pressed, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil from their olives.
Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek can be reached at (480) 888-9290. For more information, visit queencreekolivemill.com. Keep up with Queen Creek Olive Mill on Facebook.
[This article was originally written on February 1, 2017, and most recently updated on March 4, 2019]
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...