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Find simple, spontaneous pleasures at the Olive Press

A young traveler prepares his mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

Simple pleasures are the best, in travel as in life, and while wandering the aisles of Napa's Oxbow Market the other day we happened onto a simple, spontaneous pleasure that was tasty fun. And it didn’t cost us a thing, an added benefit.

This moment of pleasure—and it really was just a moment—occurred at the Olive Press, which sells its own company-made olive oil and other things. What caught our eye was a row of shiny silver canisters lined up on a tasting bar at the front of the shop in the indoor market. There were more than 25 of these canisters, roughly half containing balsamic vinegar and the other half extra virgin olive oil. Each canister bore a colorful tag indicating its flavor or type—such as black cherry balsamic vinegar or “master blend” olive oil.

On the left was the vinegar, on the right was the olive oil, and in between were toothpicks, plastic cups and a small bin of bread cubes. The next moves were up to us. Each of us grabbed a toothpick, stabbed a cube of bread and went to work. Well, in fact nothing about this resembled work; it was just a piece of passing whimsy on our way to finding a place to have lunch.

An Olive Press sign near the jar of toothpicks recommended that we sip the oil straight from the cup for “an optimal tasting experience.” One young traveler in our party chose to follow a perhaps less optimal path, squirting fig balsamic vinegar and jalapeno olive oil into his cup and then dipping his bread. He liked the fig but not together with the hot-blooded jalapeno. A more successful mix for him was strawberry balsamic with clementine olive oil.

Another young traveler became even more ambitious, creating a vinegar and olive oil cocktail on the model of “a suicide,” which is when kids mix all the drinks of a soda machine—Coke, Sprite, root beer, lemonade, what have you—into a single cup. But the experiment delivered an uncertain result. “It was a bunch of flavors coming at me all at once,” he said after tasting his concoction. “It was hard to tell if I liked it or not.”

You may or may not like the simple, spontaneous pleasures we found at the Olive Press. If not, find your own! Life, and traveling, is full of them.

The Olive Press has two locations—at the Oxbow and at its home site of Sonoma. Its olive mill in Sonoma was the first ever built in the county. You can tour the Sonoma building and see how olives are turned into olive oil. Tours must be booked in advance. Call (707) 939-8900 for more information.

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