A staple of Mediterranean culture and cuisine thrives in the Arizona desert.EXPAND
A staple of Mediterranean culture and cuisine thrives in the Arizona desert.
Tom Carlson

A Taste of Mediterranean Liquid Gold in Queen Creek

Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill

For most people, visiting a working olive mill usually involves traveling to Spain, Italy, Greece, or maybe California. But for local connoisseurs of olive oil, tasting freshly pressed liquid gold (as ancient Greek poet Homer once called it) only requires a field trip to the far southeast Valley.

Olive oil production in the United States is mostly concentrated in California, Texas, Georgia – and Arizona, thanks, to Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill. The mill is owned and operated by the Rea family, Michigan natives who envisioned orchards of olive trees where others saw not much more than bare desert farmland.

The first trees were planted in the scorching heat of summer, back in the late 1990s. Today, the first planting of about 1,000 trees has grown into an operation of somewhere around 7,000 trees (including groves in Yuma). The lonely farm shed that started it all has evolved into the Queen Creek Olive Mill, a somewhat sleek operation that has become a regular pit stop on the Arizona agritourism circuit. The mill offers daily tours, private group tastings, a cafe, and a store, and regularly hosts festivals, events and weddings.

Co-owner Perry Rea, whose title is master blender and olive oil sommelier, has devised dozens of wild blends over the years, including chocolate-infused olive oil, olive oil with the faintest traces of bacon, and olive oil that tastes of Meyer lemon and Mexican limes. If you can dream it, so too, probably, have Rea and company.

There are much worse ways to spend an afternoon than sampling the olive oils at the Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill,  tasting the various blends like fine wine, or simply dunking hunks of crusty white bread into small plastic cups filled with the season's latest offerings. It's crowded on the weekends, sure, and depending on where you live, getting there may involve a 40-minute drive. But it's still much easier than flying to Tuscany.

You could spend a whole afternoon sampling the olive oils and other locally made food products at the Queen Creek Olive Mill store.EXPAND
You could spend a whole afternoon sampling the olive oils and other locally made food products at the Queen Creek Olive Mill store.
Tom Carlson

The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42:
Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.

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