Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oliviers & Co.

This summer, I’ve been a bit obsessed with all of Peter Mayle’s books. You may know Peter Mayle as the author of A Year in Provence. I was reading the third book in the series and came across a chapter about olive oil. It seems our author traveled to a well-known olive oil producer in Provence and got le grand tour. The way he describes the olive oil tasting was so taste-bud provoking that I had to show Bryan. Bryan astutely noticed that the company he went to go tour in Provence has a store here, in Boston, on Newbury Street! And so, on Saturday, we headed over to Oliviers & Co. to see what all the hype was about.

My run-ins with olive oil have always been casual at best. Some oil for cooking here, some oil for bread dipping there but, to be honest, although the taste always seemed okay to me, it was nothing ever to write home about (I hid this fact due to the almost religious sanctity that cooks speak of the substance) and therefore, I was a bit skeptical that the oil I would be buying/tasting would live up to Mayle’s descriptions. Boy, was I wrong.

Oliviers & Co. take their oil seriously. The employees know the product well and are happy to share their knowledge with you. We were helped by a young friendly woman who offered to take us through a petit voyage of the different types of oil the company offered. She handed us two small plastic spoons and off we went. The first, and most subtle of their flavors was an olive oil from Sicily called Pollichino. Pollichino is made from olives planted at an altitude of 2,132 ft. which benefit from the “purity of the air and mild Mediterranean climate”. She poured a dollop on our spoons and I swooshed it around my mouth and pretended like I knew what I was doing. Now, my idea of a good eats is usually not to spoon down pure olive oil with nothing to accompany it but with this oil, I didn’t much mind. The taste was pure, light, and, well, amazing. This is what olive oil is supposed to taste like (what the hell were they serving me at Bertucci’s all these years!). The Sicilians do it right! The next oil we tasted (again from Italy) was a bit stronger with a saltier taste. Our third, from France, was a bit stronger then the previous one and an even saltier aftertaste. Our last dollop was an oil from Provence called Moulin Des Penitents. It was rich and smooth going down. It had such an intense floral taste to it that almost made me taste the bees still buzzing in the lavender. The website is a bit more elegant in describing the smell and taste: a young, green oil, full of sap, which blends together the sweet flavors of exotic fruit and baked apple…elegant and distinguished. These first four oils we had are called “finishing oils” and are typically for bread dipping, etc. but not everyday cooking. The prices run about $42 for 16.8 fl oz.

After our small tasting, we were like two kids in a candy store, picking up everything in sight and longing to taste what was inside the clear glass bottles. We did get to try two other oils that were under the “specialty oil” category. Specialty oils are infused with other herbs at the same time as the olive pressing so the oil picks up on their flavor. We were lucky enough to try the mint and basil infused oils. The mint oil was delicious. I had an upset stomach that day (see previous posting) and just a small drop of that oil helped sooth my stomach for a few hours. The basil oil would be perfect on sliced mozzarella...there would be no need to use basil leaves when serving the classic dish since the oil replicated the taste of the leaves perfectly.

After spending about 30 minutes in the store, we picked out a few choice oils (including white truffle oil!) and headed home, satisfied and dying to go back soon.

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