An I-5 olive oasis

From muffaletta spread to a blood orange olive oil milkshake, Corning's Olive Pit's got it all

Driving up I-5 painfully early on a recent weekday morning, I wondered if it was too soon to taste olive oils. I'd checked ahead—the Olive Pit opened at 7 a.m.—but I'd forgotten to ask when they started offering samples. I settled on hoping for the best and resumed singing along to Zeppelin while passing semis going a piddly 70 mph.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see this was clearly an oft-visited stop for I-5 travelers, with separate driveways for cars and RVs. Then I walked inside and saw what all the excitement is about. The interior is separated into two sections; to the left is the vast gift shop, and to the right is a cafe, with counter ordering and a comfy seating area. Spread out directly in front of me, bridging the two sections, was a vast array of samples.

I admit, a bit sheepishly, that I'm not a huge fan of the green olive. Don't get me wrong, though, I do enjoy olive-based foods like oils and tapenades. So at the tasting bar I went first to the spreadables. The muffaletta spread and the pumpkin butter were both awesome, and the artichoke olive tapenade was my favorite—I had to buy a jar of it for $6.19.

On to the oils and vinegars … There were some delightful flavors, from garlic-infused olive oil to a Tuscan dipping oil. The balsamic vinegars were even more exotic and included pomegranate, peach and espresso varieties.

In chatting with an employee, I learned that the Olive Pit, established in 1967 in “the Olive City,” sources all of its olives in Corning. Browsing the gift shop aisles, there are more olive choices than one could ever dream of, from those stuffed with jalapenos or almonds to pickled olives to those perfect for martinis. Pretty cool. In addition, the shop stocks its shelves with lots of other local fare, making it a great destination for locally made foodstuffs.

Over in the cafe, I ordered a mocha for the drive back to Chico. Then I noticed the impressive specialty shake list. I almost gave in and got one of those, too (you know, for research), but the friendly cashier offered to make me a sample. I chose the house favorite flavor, blood orange olive oil, and was pleasantly surprised when it tasted just like an Orange Creamsicle.

The only part of the shop I didn't fully explore was the wine-tasting bar. I decided it was, sadly, too early for that. Next time …

In other olive-related news: Lucero Olive Oil, also based in Corning, recently took home several prestigious awards from the Terra Olivo extra virgin olive oil international competition in Jerusalem. Its Robust Woodson Blend was named Best USA and also won the Gran Prestige Gold award—the highest of honors. Several other varieties took home Prestige Gold and Gold awards. Congrats!