Looking for something fun, different, and cultural to do over a weekend in Dripping Springs? The heat of the summer and the feeling of curiosity led us to a tour of the Texas Hill Country Olive Co. This family owned and run olive orchard is the perfect place to learn a thing or two about the history of Texas olive oil, how it’s made, and what the difference is between the various types of extra-virgin olive oil.
At First Glance
We were treated to the views of the orchard over the hills. The building has a welcoming atmosphere, helped only by a warm handshake from John Gambini, the owner. The same Southern hospitality is present throughout with friendly and welcoming staff. The atmosphere is alive and vibrant, with visitors milling in the well-stocked gift shop and cafe.
Round your walking tour off with a stop at their olive oil-centric cafe for lunch. You can choose between two tours that are pre-scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays that round up with either an EVOO or balsamic vinegar tasting. Alternatively, for parties, they offer private tours of the orchard and the facility. Overall the first impressions are of warmth and family-run hospitality.
Growth: Texas Olive Oil From the Roots up
We got started on a tour of the orchard. Walking through the rows of olive trees, the tour guide offers you endless information on the types of olives growing and the conditions they need to thrive. The tour is complete with the history of olive oil production and why the rolling hills of Texas make the perfect place to plant their roots.
Harvest: Picking and Producing
Producing Texas olive oil is a labor of love and skill. Our tour guide, Cara Gambini, highlighted that the most influential part of the production process is the harvest. Each olive is gently picked at the perfect time to ensure optimum flavor, health benefits, and taste. Once selected, the olives undergo a gentle pressure washing to remove any residue and are escorted to the mill within 72 hours.
With modern technology and a deep-rooted sense of tradition, the orchard managers stressed their extra effort to keep the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories alive during the processing. The EVOO begins as the fresh olives are cold-pressed in a 65-85 degree Fahrenheit mill to ensure that each drop is packed full of goodness and flavor without compromise. The tour concludes at the bottling plant, where each choice in the material and color of the bottles are carefully selected to maintain the freshness and quality of each oil.
Taste: The Flavor of High-End Texas Olive Oil
For me, the part of the tour I looked forward to most was the Texas olive oil tasting. As a foodie, getting down to the taste testing was one of the most exciting parts of the day. Our guide helped us understand what to look out for and how to get an authentic feel for each Texas olive oil.
The range of available EVOOs includes plain and traditional as well as lively infusions that are packed with flavor. I took a few tasting notes on the oils that we sampled.
From the EVOO range:
- Sola Stella: This delicate and delicious EVOO is smooth; it has hints of a floral aroma. Taste-wise, it is delicate, with a light mouthfeel and flavor of cream. Its delicate nature is carried through in its light color.
- The Spaniard: True to its name, it is full of life and the exotic warmth of the Spanish aisles. With floral hints of jasmine, rose, and cranberry in its aroma, its deep green color gives it mild robustness. Its taste is refreshing, with a lactose-like sweetness coupled perfectly with a floral, peppery finish.
- Terra Verde: As a blend of three olives, this EVOO is mild and unassuming. Its aroma is the perfect blend of jasmine and citrus, with a delicious undertone of vanilla latte, nutmeg, and white pepper. I can see myself indulging and using this Texas olive oil as part of my everyday kitchen use.
- Millers Blend: If strong and robust flavors are what you want in a meal, this is the perfect blend. With aromatic notes of eucalyptus and limoncello, this EVOO is robust and has earthy tones that are perfectly creamy and rich. It has a grassy finish of rice wine and slate.
- Super Greek: Another robust oil with a little difference. We’re told that this EVOO is made in the traditional Greek style. It differs from the Millers’ blend in that it is a little fruity with a hint of pepper. Its initial aromatics have notes of magnolia and yuzu, with a delicate nutty hint of cashew.
We moved on to try three of the most exciting infusions – these were a real treat to sample. They were an absolute delight, and the quality of each oil was evident, select, and uncompromising on quality.
- Blood Orange Infused: This infusion has a straight-up orange soda-like aroma from the first smell. Its taste is exciting. It has a delicious creamy orange note that lingers on the palette. It is not like a traditional sweet orange – it harnesses all of the orange’s fruity and succulent qualities without being overly sweet. It harnesses the best memories of summer vacations at a water park. By far one of my favorites, I made a note to pick up a bottle before leaving – I can see myself using it for some of my favorite summer salads.
- Harissa Infused: We moved on to an exotic infusion from the Middle East. It is full-bodied, with hints of apple, pear, cucumber, and a light habanero taste. It is bold and sophisticated, with a warming aroma of apple cider vinegar and fresh vegetables.
- Jalapeno Infused: Ending the tasting tour on a spicy kick, this infusion is rich and harnesses the taste of fresh jalapenos. The infusion has a spicy jalapeno seed aroma with coconut, almond, cayenne, and paprika lingering on the mouth.
Overall my experience at the Texas Hill Country Olive Co. was warm, inviting, and homely. The hospitality and the presented flavors leave a lasting impression – from the quality in every drop of oil to the traditional family-centric passion that translates through each step of the process. I’ll be back to take the balsamic tour and for another meal at their bistro!