Pascarosa is Outstanding in the Field
Our time in Portland now feels like a jumbled blur of olive oil tastings, joyful reunions with friends, storage unit triage and not nearly enough time with our daughters. Visiting is not at all like living day-to-day among the people you love, a point not lost on us during these last few weeks. With heavy hearts and not a few tears, we said goodbye to this city and these people with a firm resolve to figure out how to stay deeply connected while living so very far away.
After locking the door to our storage unit and loading up our car with more olive oil, we left Portland for points south, stopping in Ashland, Oregon, to visit the fulfillment services company where Pascarosa olive oil is stored and shipped to customers. More significantly, we met Jan, the owner of the company, and spent the most delightful evening ever. If you are anywhere near this part of the world, it would be a tragedy to pass Ashland by.
Ashland is a dream of a town nestled in the southern end of the Rogue Valley just over the Oregon border from northern California. Now known for its almost year-long Shakespeare Festival, Ashland is home to Southern Oregon University, lithium-laced mineral springs and lots of latter day hippies. We toured its pastoral back roads lined with pear orchards, vineyards and livestock, ending up in the iconic town square just as the sun set late in the day. After the best breakfast in recent memory (Thanks, Jan!), we spent another seven hours on the road, pulling into former hometown Santa Cruz in time for margaritas with Brian’s amazing parents, Jim and Paula Faris.
We dived right into Pascarosa tasting here, too. On Sunday, June 16th, Brian, Stephen and I joined about 150 other happy sustainable farming enthusiasts at Everett Family Farm in Soquel, a little community just south of Santa Cruz, for a summer al fresco dinner with the iconic Outstanding in the Field team. It was moving and memorable, full of nostalgia for the past and the pleasurable acquisition of new friendships based on shared passions.
Years and years ago, I met Outstanding in the Field’s founder Jim Denevan when I hired him fresh from his fling with Milan Fashion Week. A skim boarding, Santa Cruz native who followed his model girlfriend to Italy, Jim ended up on the catwalk himself. Pulled more by the Italian food scene rather than the fashion world, he returned to the U.S. to forge a future in the kitchen. We worked side-by-side in my Capitola restaurant, Trattoria Primizia, but Jim went on to found Outstanding in the Field as I left for a career in higher education.
With a mission to “ . . . reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it,“ Outstanding in the Field hosts more than 80 farm dinners across the country every year, pairing farmers, chefs, winemakers and other artisanal food producers to share their bounty with their guests. We were invited to present Pascarosa at the Everett Family Farm dinner on June 16th, an ideal audience for our organic extra virgin olive oil since the evening’s chef was Santos Majano of Soif Wine Bar, a local phenomenon that creates some of the most innovative and deeply satisfying food in the area.
We began by gathering at the farm stand, sipping Alfaro Vineyard’s Grüner Veltliner and devouring an array of hors d’oeuvres the alfresco kitchen sent our way. When all of the 150 guests arrived and were properly oriented, we set off in groups of three for an abbreviated tour of the 45-acre farm led by Everett farmers. The meandering trail traversed fields, orchards and mobile chicken coops, delivering all of us to the impossibly long, elegant table set and ready for our dinner.
To say that we were completely bowled over to see Pascarosa olive oil glowing in sweet little saucers in the late afternoon sun would be an understatement. All of the endless back-and-forth about olive cultivars, blends, crush methods, label design, shipping and website development faded away when we watched our fellow diners taste our oil and love it. Outstanding in the Field staff returned to our table again and again to ask if we would talk to guests at their tables about the oil. Tablemates asked for more. We even sold oil that evening, running out of the extra tins we’d brought just in case. And through it all, we met some amazing new people bound together by their commitment to sustainable farming and their delight in genuine food prepared with great care.
The sun set slowly behind a stand of trees that sheltered the farm, the air balmy late into the evening. As we reluctantly licked the last bite of panna cotta from our spoons, we reflected on how much the day felt like the long, lovely Sundays we have come to embrace in Italy. Time seemed to stand still, at least for an afternoon, consumed by the warmth of the sun on our skin and in our hearts. We won’t soon forget it.