Without question, the best olive oil is extra virgin. It is actually juice pressed from tree-ripened olives, with no additives. The elementary procedure for making olive oil has remained the same for thousands of years: harvest the olives at precisely the right time, crush them into paste, separate the solids from the liquid, and further separate the vegetable water from oil. The method of extraction has a distinct effect on the flavour and ultimate quality of olive oil.
Authentic balsamicos are rich, glossy, and deep brown in colour, and they possess a complex flavour profile that combines the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grapes. There are also hints of flavour from the wood of a battery of successive barrels of smaller sizes. I have tasted the sweet traditional elixir balsamico on trips to the attics of Modena. Traditional balsamico is aged a minimum of 25 years.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars are a relatively new phenomenon in North America, and a growing trend for discriminating foodies. Unlike typical shops where you purchase a bottle of olive oil from the shelf, olive oil tasting bars offer a more personalized and inter-active experience. Customers at tasting bars get a complimentary taste test of their product first, and can even blend different flavours to create customized flavour-infused oils and artisan-made balsamic vinegars.
Typically, the tasting room is lined with dozens of 25-litre fustis — special stainless-steel jars with spigots to store olive oil and balsamics — with stacks of tasting cups beside each tank. Learning how to taste olive oil will deepen your appreciation for great olive oils. The concept is basically the same as wine tasting. While holding the cup in one hand, you use your other hand to cover the cup while swirling the oil to release its aroma and warm it up, then you stick your nose in the cup and breathe in, to smell the oil.
The goal of a tasting bar is to educate clients on oils and vinegars and help cultivate their palate. Tasting bars offer olive oils and balsamic vinegars in dozens of flavours, from Meyer lemon, bacon, and white truffle to wild mushroom-sage. Once you’ve made your decision, the bottles are filled from the fusti, corked and sealed.
London now has two olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars and Stratford one.
Olive-Me & Co.
Olive Me & Co. is independently owned and operated by Missy Haggarty, who left a career in human resources to open her tasting bar. The attractive shop is located in a small plaza at the corner of Hyde Park and Gainsborough roads. At night the large flashing olive sign has become a welcoming beacon. Haggarty loves the village feel of Hyde Park. She loves London because it has an interesting food culture, and she talks about the local entrepreneurial spirit of people like Deb Mackey from Pepper Tree Spice and Paul Spence from Lo Maximo Meats.
Haggarty, who lived in Europe from age 15 to 25, then moved to London from Bancroft six years ago, is a lifelong aficionado of the olive. Before opening her shop, she spent two years travelling and doing intensive market research and product development. Her business plan includes sourcing her products privately from small-batch producers in Italy and Greece, as well as from other European countries and the United States.
Instrumental to the project, Haggarty had an Italian-Canadian master craftsmen design and handcraft special racks to make the tasting bar as authentic as possible.
Haggarty offers unique extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, spices, and beauty products derived from extra virgin olive oils from around the world. A salad lover, she is excited by the wide array of flavours in the oils and vinegars designed to splash up your cooking and baking.
570 Hyde Park Road, London • 519-471-OLIV • www.olivemeco.com
Pristine Olive Tasting Bar
Pristine Olive Tasting Bar is located at the corner of Cheapside and Maitland streets, in the premises that once housed Sullivan’s Meat Market. There’s plenty of room for two olive oil bars in town, says owner Jamie Griffiths, who enjoys walking first-timers through a thorough tasting process.
Pristine’s supplier, Veronica Foods, is credited with opening the first stand-alone olive oil and balsamic tasting bar of its kind in North America in 2006. Now supplying over 300 stores, fifteen located in Canada, their fresh extra virgin olive oils, fused and infused olive oils, traditional balsamic vinegars, and naturally flavoured balsamic vinegars are all certified for their ultra-premium quality. Griffiths’ beautifully appointed shop offers more than 40 different olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Griffiths is also selling salts, spices, rubs and jams.
The goal at The Pristine Olive is to help educate each customer by allowing them to experience what high-quality olive oil should taste like. The Pristine Olive Tasting Bar specializes in real, fresh, certified, ultra-premium extra virgin olive oils. You will always find the unique chemistry and harvest/crush date posted on each of their extra virgin olive oils.
462 Cheapside Street, London • 519 433 4444 • www.thepristineolive.com
Olive Your Favourites
New to Stratford, Michelle Hern’s Olive Your Favourites is a speciality shop offering unique and exceptional quality extra virgin olive oils from around the world. Here you will also find balsamic vinegars from Modena, Italy. There’s even mango, dark espresso and dark chocolate, and like London’s Pristine Olive, Veronica Foods is the sole supplier. Sample and taste the many varieties they offer, and make a note of your favourites, then bottle and seal your choices on-site.
21 York Street, Stratford • 519-508-1757 • www.oliveyourfavourites.com
Bryan Lavery is eatdrink magazine’s Writer at Large and Contributing Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org