About a year ago, Elizabeth and I were in San Diego for a wedding.  We flew out on Friday for a Saturday ceremony, and we gave ourselves the luxury of two additional days.  On one of those days, we drove about an hour north of San Diego to the Temecula Valley, a wine-producing region that is coming into its own in terms of quality, reputation and approach.  We spent a beautiful day tasting our way along a stretch of road that boasts more than a dozen wineries in close proximity to one another.

At some point in the course of our tastings, we saw an ad for something called the Temecula Olive Oil Company.  Intrigued by the prospect of artisanally produced olive oil, we resolved to check it out at the end of our tasting tour.  So we drove back along Rancho California Road and crossed Route 15 (our way back to San Diego), at which point we found ourselves on a picturesque street in Old Town Temecula.  There, among shops like The Country Porch, Olde Town Mercantile and the House of Jerky, we arrived at the Temecula Olive Oil Company.

What we found there – and why we’re writing about it on a DC-based food blog – after the jump.

Stepping inside the shop in the late afternoon, we were worried that we would be met by a staff that was eager to close (their advertisement indicated that they were open “til 5ish”).  Instead, we found ourselves welcomed with a big smile by a woman who invited us to take a look around.  We wandered through the front room of the shop and into the rear, where we were greeted with foodie overload: Spice blends, mustards and spreads stood open, encouraging us to try them.  A variety of salts stood on the shelves in a rainbow of colors, including an alderwood-smoked salt called Salish that has become one of our favorite go-to flavors since we brought it back with us.  And then we turned around to find what looked like another wine tasting bar.

Turns out these folks take their olive oil seriously, and if you’re so inclined they’ll walk you through a tasting of all the different varieties, infusions, and pressings they sell.  It really is like a wine tasting bar, with an attentive and knowledgable staffer behind the counter who poured small tastes of nine different oils for us, making sure to point out what made the Caprice di Nature different from the Rotture di Oro and assuring us that the basil, lime, and pepper that were infused into other offerings were locally grown and worked in by hand.

Frankly, I was stunned.  We started buying olive oils from Trader Joe’s a few years ago, recognizing the deeper, richer flavor that it offered than most of the stuff that was on the shelves at Harris Teeter and Safeway.  But these oils blew all of them away.  They were round and lush and green, with flavors that made it very clear they came from an actual fruit.  Clearly this was olive oil the way it was meant to be.

We were sold – the combination of the great taste and the attentive service won us over and we decided to ship some oil home so we could enjoy it later.  And that was when they really got smart.  After hooking us with the free samples, they told us about their Temecula Olive Oil Club (TOOC).  Club members receive four shipments of oil a year, one per quarter, and each shipment contains two bottles of oil and one added bonus – sometimes it’s an oil varietal that they don’t put out for general sale, other times it’s a food item like onion-stuffed olives that are just begging to be drowned in martinis.  They ask you to commit to receiving two shipments and, if they’ve run their tasting right, you respond as though they’re asking you to take their money.  Needless to say, we signed up.

After three shipments, we can say that this was definitely a good purchase.  In addition to the amazing oils we’ve received (including a white truffle-infused oil, a first-pressing that was beautifully sweet and light, and more of that wonderful basil oil that goes so well over caprese), we get 10% off any additional purchases we make.  And we’re putting the oil to good use, making sure to use it in recipes and situations where we know the quality and flavor will show through.

If you’re ever in the San Diego area, you should do yourself a favor and seek out a tasting – they’ve even opened a new tasting room in the Old Town section of San Diego itself, which means you don’t even have to venture into wine country to find them (but we still recommend you do).  But don’t blame us if you wind up hooked – the first taste is always free!