When I was a little kid growing up in a small town, our grocery stores were about half the size they are now, because there were far fewer choices. Coffee was Folgers or Hills Brothers, and the choice was whether you bought it in a one- or three-pound can. Cereals took up half of one side of an aisle, and that included the hot cereals. Whole categories of foods like granola bars didn’t even exist. And if you were lucky, there might be two kinds of olive oil on the shelf.
I remember there being a small bottle of olive oil in the refrigerator when I was a kid. I think it was the same bottle of oil for pretty much my entire childhood, mostly because it was a bitter and unpleasant substance that my mom had purchased for a recipe and disliked. But she didn’t know any better, because there simply wasn’t any choice about these things in our little town at that time.
So I grew up thinking that olive oil was hideous, and not understanding why anyone liked or used it for cooking. I took that attitude into my adult years, I’m ashamed to admit, and only overcame it when Ferrett introduced me to the pleasures of quality olive oil. I cook with it all the time now, rarely using other oils.
Nevertheless, when a store called The Olive Scene opened in our neighborhood, I was kind of perplexed. A whole store, devoted to olive oil? I kept meaning to drop in, but always seemed to be in a hurry when I was in the area, until yesterday.
As of today, I will be making excuses to drop in as often as possible. Because this place is a treasure.
As you walk through the door, you’re greeted by a scene that seems more alchemy than cooking: both walls of the shop are lined with squat, stainless steel firkins, each with a spigot at the front and a small catch bowl beneath. To your right are the olive oils. To your left are the balsamic vinegars. In the center, another half dozen of these small silver, holding the most precious of these marvelous fluids.
The olive oils in the front part of the store are identified by region and olive, much like fine wine. Infused oils make up the back half of these oils. The balsamics are flavored with everything from avocado to vanilla.
And you are welcome to taste everything. Small plastic cups are stacked liberally throughout the store, and the women who helped me was generous in her introduction to the process, enthusiastic about sharing her favorite oil and vinegar combos–and then gracious about leaving me alone to wander about, tasting to my heart’s content. In the end, I bought a standard bottle of a medium-bodied oil for cooking, a mini bottle of blood orange infused oil, and a small bottle of vanilla infused balsamic. And limited myself to only these so that I’d have an excuse to bring Ferrett back as soon as possible.
I would love to see the store expand to organized tastings, maybe in partnership with Tartine Bistro, an excellent little restaurant three doors down. Nevertheless, I will be spending more time and money in that little section of Rocky River. And my cooking will benefit.
Yours can, too. They have a thriving online business, and two of the lovely ladies working there were packaging up oils and vinegars as we talked. Honestly, I’m contriving a reason to go back today.