Patti Bess: Grooving with the olive |

Patti Bess: Grooving with the olive

Patti Bess

Christina West became the owner of the Olive Groove on Mill Street more than four years ago. She buys her olive oils hemispherically. Sound complicated? Well, it’s not but the word sounds great. It means she purchases the freshest extra virgin olive oils internationally; from South American countries when they are harvesting and from Spain, Italy and Greece when their oils are in season. Local California olives are pressed and made into oil in early winter. None of the oils in her store are more than six months old. Freshness is essential in all oils as rancidity is a taste that’s difficult for lay people to discern.

Freshness is only one of the criteria for labeling an oil extra virgin. It must pass chemical standards set by the California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) as well as several international organizations. But even if it passes that test, it must be sensually pleasing. It is tested both for flavor and scent.

For millennia, fresh olive oil has been one of life’s necessities ― not just as food but also as medicine, a beauty aid and a vital element of religious rituals. In his book, “Extravirginity,” (2005) Tom Mueller writes of the history of this treasured food, and the billion dollar olive oil swindles that are perpetrated around the world to deceive the public. At one time, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force.

At the Olive Groove Cristina has done her research and only provides the highest of quality oils. She grew up in Grass Valley and worked in her parents business for many years. She had always been interested in health and wellness issues. When the Olive Groove came up for sale, she decided to take it on.

Certified as a Second Level Sommelier, olive oil expert; Christina trained at the UC Davis Olive Center. She also took several classes at the Olive Times in San Francisco.

“I am concerned that there is a lot of misinformation out there suggesting that olive oil is not good to cook with. Nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific studies have proven over and over again, olive oil is great for our health.”

Besides being a dynamic flavor addition, it is rich in cancer fighting antioxidants. It’s primarily made up of monounsaturated fats which are proven to reduce heart disease. It is also an excellent source of vitamin E and other compounds such as omega-3 oils.

Olive oil has high levels of phenols which oxidize at higher temperatures causing the oil to smoke less when used for cooking. Many of the fad diets circulating today that debunk olive oil have some dangerous long term effects on one’s overall health.

As an effort to educate her customers, Christina offers tastings where participants learn the difference between “fake” or diluted oils and the nuances of flavor of truly extra virgin oils as well as balsamic vinegars. Private tasting parties can be arranged at the store or by contacting them by email.

The Olive Groove also sells organic salts, herbs and rubs for cooking as well as excellent variety of balsamic vinegars that contain no sugars or additives. Gift baskets are available all year and might be a healthful surprise for your favorite valentine.

The Olive Groove is located at 126 Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley, open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m, to 4 p.m. on Sundays. More information at 273-5336 or

Olive Tapenade

Twelve slices French baguette

Five green onions, chopped fine

Eight Kalamata olives

Three tablespoons extra virgin robust flavored olive oil such as Picaual, plus two to brush on bread

Two to four cloves garlic

Six cherry tomatoes or two Romas (about one quarter cup)

Two tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts

About five sprigs fresh parsley, stems removed

Cut twelve slices of a baguette. Brush each with olive oil and toast for two to four minutes at 350 degrees.

Place the remaining olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, olives, parsley, and green onions into a food processor. Whiz with bursting motion so as not to completely puree and spoon onto breads to serve.

The Olive Groove Special Pairing Spinach Salad

Five cups fresh washed spinach

One ripe pear of any variety cubed

One eighth cup dried cranberries

One eighth cup toasted or candied pecans or walnuts

One eighth cup fresh crumbled chèvre or blue cheese


One and a half tablespoons Cranberry Pear Balsamic Vinegar

Three tablespoons Blood Orange Olive Oil

Optional garnish

Savory Pepper & Cyprus Flake Sea Salt

To toast walnuts, place them whole into a small fry pan on very low flame for 3-5 minutes and chop. Stir occasionally so they do not burn on the bottom. Toss salad with dressing and serve. 4 servings

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author. She has written for more than 25 magazines and lives in Grass Valley.

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