Oregon's Olive Oil Barons

Portland expats send home southern Italy's liquid gold.

By Hannah Wallace November 1, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Seventeen years ago, on a whim, Brian and Catherine Faris bought a farmhouse in a tiny, stone-walled town in the Italian region of Puglia. “I thought they left a zero off, it was that cheap,” recalls Catherine, a former restaurant owner who spent a year abroad with her family and fell for the food, people, and landscape of southern Italy. The trullo—a hut with a conical roof—also came with an unappraised gem: an olive grove. The first taste of its oil was a revelation. “All others paled in comparison,” Catherine says. 

In May, the Farises’ first batch of commercial extra-virgin debuted in Portland under the family’s new Pascarosa brand.  The oil, packaged in blue or cream half-liter tins, comes from centuries-old trees that produce an unreplicable flavor: a medium fruttato (fruity aroma) with a medium pizzica (a tickle at the back of your throat that signifies high polyphenol content).

The Farises spent almost two decades learning the secrets of their oil-producing Pugliese neighbors. One taught Brian how to prune olive trees correctly. A septuagenarian demonstrated the art of grafting to produce new flavors. Last year, the Farises quit their Portland jobs—Brian was a construction firm’s project manager and Catherine was associate vice president of development at Portland State—and moved to Puglia full-time.

Already, Pascarosa is winning fans. Luce owner John Taboada uses it exclusively for the restaurant’s salads. “Some olive oils are so peppery that they burn a little bit. There are different nuances to this one,” he says. “You get a little bit of grass and a little pepper, and a richness to it.” Pascarosa’s organic oil also retails at Luce, Pastaworks, Taste Unique, and elsewhere. (It’s available at a few shops in California, too, as well as online and via an “olive oil club” of four shipments per year.)

This month the Farises, like other Italian olive farmers, are burning the midnight oil. “In November, you meet at dawn to pick and you work until the sun is low in the sky,” Catherine says, noting that the nearby mill is sometimes open 24 hours during harvest season. “The goal is to not have any olives sit once you pick them.” 

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