When I visited Italy more than a decade ago, I fell in love with limoncello and after doing some research, realized I could make it at home. Shortly after buying my first home six years ago, my parents gave me a Meyer lemon tree and this may be the season I finally attempt making the Italian lemon liqueur. When Dede and Cambren Davis visited Italy about a decade ago, they were inspired to plant an organic olive orchard today, they own The Olive Grove in Brooksville.
Italy Inspires an Olive Grove in Florida
Rolling into The Olive Grove on a Sunday morning, the green, slender leaves of the olive trees glistened in the sun. Driving by the gift shop, rows of olive trees, and big oak tree on my way to a covered pavilion, I felt a chill, relaxed vibe. I was attending an olive oil infusion workshop led by one of the groves’ owners, Ms. Davis.
The olive tree and its branches have been a timeless symbol of peace. Historical findings suggest olives were first harvested about 7,000 years ago in Mediterranean regions. Some historians believe the Spanish introduced olive trees to Central Florida in the 1700s.
Italy’s olive trees made an impression on the couple. The environment and weather in Italy is like that in Brooksville and the couple determined they could successfully grow olives. About seven years ago, they began planting the first of more than 300 olive trees on a former gunnery range. Seven varieties grow, Arbequina, Arbosana, Manzanillo, Frontoio, Coratina, Koroneiki, and Chiquitita which is a cross between Arbequina and Pictual trees.
Soon after planting the initial trees, the University of California Davis Olive Center reached out. Established in 2008, the center works with farmers and institutions around the world to advance olive farming through research and scientific knowledge, which means a better product for the consumer, including olive oil. UC Davis has been working with The Olive Grove since their early beginnings.
Harvest & More at The Olive Grove in Brooksville
Over a course of three days in August, 15 workers hand-picked 1,300 pounds of olives and The Olive Grove pressed 11 gallons of olive oil. An olive tree can yield anywhere from 36 to 50 pounds of fruit to produce a gallon of olive oil. They also press olives from a nearby farm. This was the “first good year,” Ms. Davis said of the 2018 harvest, “the trees are older so next year will be better.”
The olive oil infusion workshop is one of many offered during their season. Each workshop varies and this one included a sampling of different olive oils, like a wine tasting except the oil was tasted with bread. While sipping olive leaf iced tea, I learned about the benefits of olive trees and how every part of the olive can be used. For centuries, olive leaves have been used for medicinal purposes; olive wood has been made for furniture and tools; the pulp, or “pomace” can be given to livestock as feed; and olives are cured in a brine.
Concerts and More in an Olive Orchard
Workshops are offered September through early March on Sundays and vary by topic including creating mosaic garden stones to sculpting bonsai olive trees. Tours of the grove are available for groups with a minimum of five people and the property can be used for special events. Olive oil, olives, soap, olive trees, and other items are sold in the gift shop.
Additional upcoming events include battle of the bands, a performance by the Red Elvises, and a dinner and comedy show called the “Rat Pack Experience.” Before becoming an olive farmer, Ms. Davis was an entertainment booker and maintains connections with the industry. A trailer converts into a stage and there is plenty of room for people to enjoy the music while soaking up the olive grove’s atmosphere.
Stay in an Olive Grove
Brooksville is about an hour’s drive north of Tampa and an ideal daytrip or weekend getaway. Located on property is the A-Frame in the Grove, an adorable 1970s retro A-frame cabin built in 1972 and the first to be built in Hernando County. The cabin is available for rent and sleeps up to six people. It is decorated with furniture and knickknacks popular from that decade.
Florida continues to surprise me and The Olive Grove is one of the Sunshine State’s treasures. I expected to learn how to infuse olive oil and be done with my day. Instead, I enriched my experience by learning the value of olive trees and olives and seeing family’s inspiration and passion in the shape of this magical orchard. Their story continues to evolve making The Olive Grove worth a visit.
Nuts & Bolts About Visiting The Olive Grove
The Olive Grove
15016 Rester Dr.
Brooksville, Fla. 34613
Open Sept. – March, closed April – August.
Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Where to Eat
Rising Sun Bistro
10 South Main St.
Brooksville, Fla. 34601
Tel: (352) 345-4802
Open daily and times vary.