You could get a Sedona t-shirt or a hat from the Grand Canyon to remember your time in Arizona. And why not – you’ve got to wear clothes, right? Well, since you also have to eat, don’t overlook Arizona’s award-winning wines, its boutique olive mill, mouth-watering fudge and sweet and meaty pecans.
Cottage industries that redefine “souvenirs” have sprung up from Sonoita to Strawberry. So why merely remember your time here when you can taste it as well? Here are a few Arizona-made edibles you can find around the state and online.
Arizona wineries are almost as busy racking up accolades as they are growing grapes and making wines. Page Springs Vineyards & Cellars, located between Sedona and Cottonwood, has been turning out Rhone-inspired wines for years. But 2006 marked the first vintage that the winery made using grapes grown from its own vines. Before its own hillside vineyards yielded fruit, Page Springs Cellars used grapes grown around Willcox, as well as grapes from California.
Granite Creek Vineyards in Chino Valley has a produce and tasting stand (think pumpkins and peppers) open most of the summer and fall. Also, the state’s largest wine region is the Sonoita-Elgin-Patagonia area south of Tucson. Callaghan Vineyards and Sonoita Vineyards are two of that area’s top producers. All of the above-mentioned wineries are open for tours and tastings.
Local Olive Oil
With Americans today consuming twice as much olive oil as they did a decade ago, it’s no wonder Arizona has its own olive farm and mill. Queen Creek Olive Mill, east of Gilbert, was the state’s first working olive farm and mill. It started with 1,000 olive trees in 1997 and today produces about 1,500 gallons of extra virgin olive oil. The oil – a blend of the classic Tuscan olive varieties Pendelino, Lucca, Frantoio and Mission – is known for its peppery finish and grassy smell.
Fudge from Strawberry
At the Fossil Creek Creamery (not Strawberry Fudge Factory), located at the Fossil Creek Llama Ranch in Strawberry, llamas are used to guard the dairy goats. So the goats have little to worry about besides producing the best possible milk, which in turn is made into some of the best cheese and – better yet – fudge, around.
While the fudge is sold online and in retail outlets throughout the state, if you visit the ranch in the early morning and early evening, you get to help milk and feed the goats. Afternoons, say noon until 4 p.m., you can help make, and taste, both goat cheese and fudge.
Other states may produce more pecans than Arizona, but locals believe theirs are sweeter and meatier, thanks to low humidity and cool nights. Located 15 miles south of Tucson, the Green Valley Pecan Company has been producing nuts since 1970. Only recently, however, have they been available for sale on the Internet.
The family-owned company – in operation since 1948 – grew rubber and cotton before switching to pecans. More than 5,000 acres are now planted with 400,000 pecan trees – Western Schley and Wichita varieties.
Learn from the Pros
At several Arizona restaurants, you can see how professional chefs use the state’s edible souvenirs. Here are two of our favorites:
At Quiessence, located at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix, you can dine under decades-old pecan trees and taste how chef Gregory LaPrad uses Queen Creek olive oil. You can also learn which Fort Bowie wine – yet another Arizona winery, this one located east of Tucson – would pair best with your meal.
Quiessence’s philosophy is to use local, seasonal and consciously grown ingredients. Relationships with fruit, vegetable, lamb and beef producers throughout the area allow for entrees such as roasted Arizona grazed lamb loin with field greens and onions.
L’Auberge, a restaurant tucked into the banks of Oak Creek in Sedona, is so adamant about using local products that they wouldn’t serve me a mojito, a sugared rum drink made with crushed mint leaves.
(Updated by the Arizona Office of Tourism - 2009)