Photography By Jim Graham

Feature

Oil Things Bright & Beautiful

Artisan olive oil comes to West Chester

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Foodies who flock to West Chester’s abundant restaurants and gourmet shops now have another reason to celebrate. A Taste of Olive, located on High Street between Éclat Chocolate and Scooped Ice Cream, offers high-quality yet affordable olive oils and balsamic vinegars in a friendly, Tuscan-style shop.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Supermarket olive oil is good enough for me,” think again. Using a ho-hum oil of uncertain freshness instead of an extra virgin, cold pressed product is like pouring dinner guests Ripple instead of chardonnay.

But don’t take my word for it: taste for yourself. Co-owners Nancy Smith and her daughter, Kimber Schladweiler, have set up A Taste of Olive so customers can sample before making a purchase. Sip a little of what Homer called “liquid gold” and you’ll understand why top-notch olive oils are making such a big splash in cooking and on dinner tables.

“Our mission is to bring our customers the freshest and highest-quality extra virgin olive oils from around the world,” Smith says. To that end, the cheerful retail space is populated with gleaming stainless steel drums known as fusti. A label on each container identifies the oil’s content and origin. Dispense a few drops into a tiny paper cup, then smell the aroma and take a small sip. Let the liquid roll over your tongue as you savor its complexity. By the time you swallow, you’ll have entered a whole new flavor world.

“It’s amazing how excited people are, and how quickly their palates become educated,” Smith says. “When we first opened in 2008, most people were hesitant to try exotic oils. Now we can hardly sell mild olive oil.

“Our staff does a wonderful job explaining our products to our customers,” she adds, “and frequently the customers also share their impressions with each other. You’ll hear someone say, ‘You have to try this!’ to another shopper. It’s a lot of fun.”

Smith’s background and people skills have helped the store attract new customers and generate repeat business. “I worked in public education, doing staff development for early literacy,” she explains, “although my degree is in advertising and marketing.” After she retired from Central Bucks School District, she and her daughter visited family in Illinois and were inspired by The Olive Tap tasting emporium. “We really liked it there,” Smith says. “so we kept going back. There aren’t many of these kinds of stores around. My daughter and her husband are attorneys and had been looking for a retail opportunity. The owner of the Olive Tap encouraged us to think about opening a shop like his in Pennsylvania. When my son-in-law heard that this space in West Chester was available, we took it.”

The shop owners carefully selected their preferred suppliers. “We source extra virgin olive oil from artisans and farmers in Italy, Greece, Spain, Chile, Australia, Morocco, and Tunisia,” says Smith, “as well as California.” All of the products meet the stringent standards of the International Olive Oil Commission and the California Olive Oil Commission for classification as 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

And what, exactly, defines “extra virgin?” No, it’s not that prissy girl you went to high school with. The oil must be pressed from fresh olives, which have been harvested using traditional methods, within 48 hours of harvest; no heat, steam, or chemicals can be used; acidity level must be 0.8% or less; and the oil has to be approved by a panel of experts who evaluate its aroma and flavor.

To expand your olive oil horizons, try some of the delicious oil fusions. (“Fused” and “infused” got you confused? Fused oils are made by crushing olives with other ingredients and putting them through the mill together; infused oils are enhanced with natural flavors later in the process.) Oils range in color from yellow to jade green, and can be sweet, spicy, or savory depending on what they are fused with. The Herbes de Provence Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fusion, for example, evokes Thanksgiving with notes of savory, thyme, and bay leaf. Others taste of lemon, basil, tarragon, or Moroccan peppers.

Freshness is essential for olive oil. The best balsamic vinegars, on the other hand, are aged for years in wooden barrels, distilling down to smaller volumes as time passes. A Taste of Olive has several dozen balsamics from Modena, Italy. Savor the light, refreshing peach balsamic … or the surprising pear cinnamon …or a specialty vinegar made from merlot, sherry, or champagne … or fig, lavender, or intense dark chocolate. Staffers can suggest oil-vinegar pairings and point you to recipes.

Once you decide what to purchase, a sales associate will decant it into a 375 ml or 750 ml bottle and cork and seal it for you. The smaller bottles cost between $14.95 and $16.95, with the larger ones generally selling for slightly less than twice that. For a special occasion, consider getting custom labels for your bottles. (And if you need to create a special occasion, make arrangements with A Taste of Olive for a private tasting party.)

Oil and vinegar are the mainstays at A Taste of Olive, but the shop also sells bruschetta toppings, truffle oil, balsamic vinegar glazes, salts, mustards, and chutneys. Cutting boards and other serving accessories round out the product line. Smith and Schladweiler chose warm wooden tables and gleaming white shelves to create a relaxed, Old World atmosphere that also feels clean and tidy. Glass-front cabinets provide the perfect display space for colorful spice jars. The shelves and tables are uncluttered, and there’s plenty of room to walk around. Staff members are very helpful at putting together gift packages. A sampler from A Taste of Olive is sure to be appreciated by your hosts.

If you need any additional motivation to visit, consider your health. Science has confirmed what the ancients believed, namely that olive oil is good for you. Monounsaturated and high in antioxidants, olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean-style diet endorsed by the medical community.

“We want our customers to incorporate flavorful and nutritious cooking into their lifestyle,” says Smith. A Taste of Olive is your entrée into guilt-free gourmet.

A Taste of Olive
40 South High Street
West Chester, PA 19382
610.429.0292; www.atasteofolive.com

The Hunt Spring 2011  Issue

This article was published in Feature from the Spring 2011 issue.
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