An almost-forgotten Christmas gift was the inspiration behind Olive’s Oil, a new specialty food store in northeast Cedar Rapids.
A couple of Christmases ago, Christine Crosby received a bottle of Tuscan herb olive oil from her daughter-in-law, purchased from an aunt’s olive oil tasting room in Ohio.
“The bottle sat in my cupboard for two months before I opened it,” Crosby admitted. “But as soon as I opened it, I saw what the big deal was. Before that, I had no idea what good olive oil tasted like.”
Crosby talked with her daughter-in-law’s aunt, who told her the key to good olive oil is its freshness.
“It’s made from fruit, like orange juice,” Crosby explained. “Fruit juice starts to deteriorate as soon as it is crushed.”
People consume olive oil for two reasons: because it is heart-healthy and because it adds flavor to food, Crosby explained. The fresher the oil, the greater the flavor and the neutraceutical value.
In researching further, Crosby was surprised to learn that nearly 70 percent of all olive oil labeled as “extra virgin” on grocery store shelves did not meet the minimum standards to be called extra virgin olive oil, according to a University of California – Davis study.
“Extra virgin olive oil shouldn’t have an ingredient list,” she said.
Crosby saw there were two potential markets for high quality olive oil in Cedar Rapids: food aficionados and those seeking the health benefits.
She brought the idea to her friends, Laurie Wahlert and Dawn Heller. Together, they decided to open Olive’s Oil.
The store, located in the new Fountains retail development off Edgewood Road NE, features a tasting room where customers can sample more than 20 different kinds of single varietal, infused and fused olive oils and other specialty oils. Each oil is labeled with its crush date and chemistry.
Customers also can pair the oils with nearly 20 white and dark balsamic vinegars to find a favorite combination for making salad dressings, marinades, or pasta dishes.
Some of the owners’ favorites include roasted French walnut oil with raspberry balsamic for spinach salad, organic Persian lime olive oil with honey ginger balsamic for marinating scallops, and cilantro and roasted olive oil with Sicilian lemon balsamic for drizzling over fresh tomatoes.
All oils and vinegars are available for sale in 200 ml or 375 ml bottles. The store also sells gourmet food items like pasta, seasoning salts and jams and food-related gift items. Gift baskets are available on request.
Wahlert, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs and always wanted a business of her own, did not need convincing that Cedar Rapids was ready for an olive oil tasting room.
“It’s neat to bring something new and different to Cedar Rapids,” she said. “It seems like this was a missing link in the community.”
Heller, who thought olive oil was just something you picked up at the grocery store to cook with, signed on because the venture sounded like fun. But her eyes, too, have been opened.
“I didn’t know there was so much to learn about olive oil.”
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