When friend and fellow food writer Peggy Fallon invited me to a press event for Australian olive oil, I immediately jumped at the chance to sample one of my favorite ingredients. The event was held at CAV Wine Bar and Kitchen in San Francisco. After making our way into the City on a cold and rainy evening, we were warmly greeted at this dimly lit cavern-like establishment. CAV’s hipper-than-me ambiance spilled out the door as we ducked inside, and we were happy to be out of the elements. We quickly dried off and were ready to sample Cobram Estate olive oil along with CAV’s selection of accompanying small bites and wine. Chef John Maher prepared several different tapas utilizing the different blends of olive oil from Cobram Estate. Delicious offerings included olive oil poached salmon, braised fennel, and sea salt using Cobram’s Fresh and Fruity blend; pan-seared duck breast with caramelized Cara Cara oranges using Cobram’s Rich and Robust blend; and an olive oil cake with toasted coconut and chocolate ganache using Cobram’s Lemon Twist infused olive oil. CAV’s owner Pamela Busch hand-picked wines from Australia’s Victoria wine region including some older vintages such as a delicious 2001 Yeringberg Pinot Noir and an equally delicious 2001 Yarra Yering ‘Underhill’ Shiraz. Australian food expert Sally James led us on a crash course of Victoria’s Murray River olive growing region and introduced each course and corresponding olive oil.
It’s fair to say that Cobram Estate has a pretty good market position. It was recently named Australia’s “best” olive oil while also being named Australia’s largest olive oil producer. They definitely don’t need little old me spreading the word. And I will be honest and say that I didn’t find their olive oil necessarily complex or delicious. Definitely usable and enjoyable and a suitable everyday oil to have on hand, but not the specialty oil that you covet and only use for special guests or recipes. But I do appreciate their marketing approach. They have several blends of olive oil and devised an easy-to-understand classification for many who find olive oil and its nuances confusing. Cobram separates their oils into two retail categories: premium and everyday. We sampled the everyday blends: light and delicate, fresh and fruity, and rich and robust. As the names (and color) suggest, the lighter the oil the lighter the flavor. I found the rich and robust the only one I would seek out since it’s closest to the Cretan olive oil that I use on a daily basis. Their infused oils (Garlic Crush, Lemon Twist, Chili Blast) are great and I would purchase them.
It is unfortunate that we didn’t get to sample their premium line since those blends would be more in line with what we food writers and food bloggers are more in tune with and probably more enthusiastic to report on. It’s the difference between sampling Bertoli and Lerida. But their positioning for America’s mass market should serve them well. The everyday blends are or will soon be available at many national supermarket chains including Railey’s and Nob Hill Foods, Lucky’s, and Save Mart and retail around $10 for a 750 ml size.
As far as CAV, I would definitely return. Maybe it was the rain, but CAV and Absinthe Brasserie & Bar where we later dined definitely have the moody atmosphere down, filled with 20- and 30-somethings that had me feeling enough out of place to head back home to the comforts of the Peninsula.