Thursday, November 30, 2006

The cast of characters at Willow Creek

These are the people who live and/or work at Willow Creek Olive Ranch, whose pictures and names may be interspersed throughout this part of the blog.

- the woman who invited me to Pasolivo for the last weekend of the harvest. She and her husband and mother-in-law own Willow Creek Olive Ranch. I used to think they ran it, but then I was introduced to

- the ranch foreman, who has worked for the family for twenty years and whose extended family make up nearly a third of the pickers. He knows the age of each tree and quite possibly every blade of grass. Where his eyes land, the ranch perks up to attention. I assume he started his tenure at the ranch working for

- the matriarch of this land. She is President of the California Olive Oil Council and probably responsible for the care and attention being shown overall to U.S. olive oils. I would love an hour of her time, but I'd have to put a lot of thought into preparing for that hour of conversation, more thought than I can properly give to it without experiencing the harvest this weekend. She lives in the empty house I referred to in a previous post, and her son is

- Joeli's husband, a man who became so used to and amused by my questions and enthusiasm that he would come to me carrying things he thought I would get a food geek kick out of (like olive fly eaten olives or chunks of dried pomace). During the harvest, he eats, sleeps, and spends most every other moment in the mill with

- the other half of my breathing reference book on crushing the gold out of an olive. An electrician when not milling olives, he or Josh would be awake in the wee, wee hours making certain that every olive picked that day went through. What struck me most about both of these guys was the casual grace shown to every person walking through a tour of the mill from the tasting room. And this is their second job.

The building which houses the mill also has a retail shop attached, the tasting room (when your neighbors are wineries, you better have a tasting room). That half includes the principal sales people:

- Joeli's right hand, who also owns a business creating beautiful stationery

- A student studying environmental planning whose smile alone could sell a bottle of oil

- Semi-retired, with an appreciation of great foods, knowledge of the county and its residents, and a well-honed grace

- A food science student whom I could picture living on the sales floor at Zingerman's and loving every minute