By Caroline J. Beck
What’s the latest trend in the food business? Hint: It’s also one of the oldest and healthiest ingredients on the planet. It’s extra virgin olive oil. And the best way to learn about it and have some fun is to seek out an olive oil tasting bar on your next day trip.
Tasting bars popping up across the nation are introducing a wide variety of super fresh olive oils — and Rockford, Mich. is one of the best places to check out the newest “corner bar.”
Old World Olive Press owners Cory DeLong and Shasta Fase left behind corporate jobs and opened their first olive oil tasting bar outside of Grand Rapids in 2009. Now, they’ve added three more stores in the state and find that the best part of the business is exposing customers to a whole new way of thinking about this veritable liquid gold.
How did you first get into the olive oil tasting bar business? Both of us have corporate backgrounds, but felt it was time to really make a difference and give back to our community. Since we both love to travel and enjoy good food, opening a store which offered healthy products with great flavor from around the world seemed like the obvious choice.
Why has there been such explosive interest in extra virgin olive oil? It’s due to the push to make healthier food choices, the popularity of TV cooking shows, and a heightened awareness of purchasing fresh products.
What is your favorite place on earth? Italy!
What are the three most important things to know about olive oil? Olive oil is a fruit juice and should be consumed quickly in order to reap the maximum nutritional benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is packed with antioxidants (polyphenols), so it’s super healthy. Make sure you buy a “harvest-dated” olive oil that’s been properly handled to retain its freshness.
What was your most memorable meal? In a very small, quaint restaurant in Northern Italy, we ordered fresh salads, pastas, and sampled olive oil from the restaurant’s own grove. Although the owner spoke with very broken English, he made our experience one of the most memorable in all our travels.
Any recommendations for food and olive oil pairings? Experiment! As you try more flavors, you can fine-tune your palate and learn more about your preferences.
What do you most enjoy about the olive oil business? Educating consumers about olive oil’s many nutritional benefits, and watching their faces during tastings as they realize its vast flavor differences.
Do you have any special entertaining ideas that work with olive oil? Wine and olive oil dinners are natural pairings, along with private tasting parties where you can work in a more intimate setting with customers.
What quality do you most admire in a person? A willingness to transcend traditional ideas and open the door to new possibilities.
What is your most satisfying achievement? Our four stores and, hands down, our loyal customers.
What’s next on your horizon? We’re in the planning stages to widen the scope of products we offer for tasting, so that customers can experience all types of new entertaining ideas. We hope it takes our tasting bars to a whole different level! ≈
To learn more, visit oldworldolivepress.com. Freelance writer Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich.
Grilled Pineapple and Mango Salsa
Yields: 4-6 servings
1/2 red pepper
1/2 red onion
Small bunch of cilantro
Thumb-sized knob of ginger
3 tablespoons Old World Olive
Press Persian Lime EVOO
1 tablespoon Old World
Olive Press Jalapeno
Peel, core and slice pineapple into ½-inch thick pieces; grill until charred and slightly black. Dice mango, red pepper and onion. Peel and finely dice the ginger. Chop cilantro and toss all ingredients with salt and pepper.
Old World Creamy Vinaigrette
Yields: 6-8 servings
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (Arbequina works great!)
3 tablespoons or more good white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sour cream, yogurt or mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot cut into chunks
Freshly-ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients except shallot in a blender and turn on machine; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time until balance tastes right to you. Add shallot and turn machine on and off a few times until shallot is minced within dressing.