Pairing Olives with Grapes – Essex Olive Oil Company
By Gina King / Photos by Stephanie Sittnick
Olive Oil. It does a body good. Through the years, information, news, and research have all reinforced the health benefits of olive oil. Scientific research has documented that consuming extra virgin olive oil helps to prevent strokes, fights osteoporosis, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, and may even prevent malignant melanoma. And if that isn’t enough to make you want to spread it all over salads, breads, and use it in every cooking recipe, than surely the taste of fresh olive oil should make anyone a believer in its attraction. And that is exactly what motivated and inspired Heather Olson to open her first retail store: Essex Olive Oil Company, located on Main Street in the historic village of Essex.
In her travels with her husband a few years ago, they discovered a store similar to what is now her now one year old store and thought, “this is phenomenal.” She then contacted a distributor in California as it became clear to her that opening up her own store selling artisan oils and balsamic vinegars was in her future.“When we got turned on to all the flavors, we were out of our mind,” says Heather. “It is addicting; once you start cooking with it ,you notice a huge difference.”
Coming from a 15 year banking industry background, retail has its similarities for Heather and doesn’t fall too far from the olive tree. She manages finances every day as it relates to running the store and understands the importance of excellent customer service.
“People can come in here and sample as much as they want,” says Heather. “We help them pair with things, and it’s very interactive.” And customers love their rewards program: if you buy 10 bottles, you get the 11th bottle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar for free.
Stepping off the Essex Main Street sidewalk into the Olive Oil Company door, many stainless steel canisters or fustis line the sage green colored walls. These containers house the precious extra virgin olive oils, keeping out the light and oxygen which is essential for maintaining fresh flavor and retaining nutrients by storing it in a cool dark place. The olive oil is poured from the fustis into the bottles, and then a fresh vat of oil is put back in. Big white labels educate the buyer on not only the name of the specific olive oil, but also its ingredients and the polyphenol count. Polyphenols are one type of numerous protective antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil. The higher the number of polyphenols, the more antioxidants are found in the oils, promising healthier benefits that fight against diseases, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and certain types of cancer.
What sets the Essex Olive Oil Company apart from others lies in the fresh taste of the oils. A couple of times a year Heather brings in different oils from Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The magic of fresh taste is determined by the olives and when they are picked and crushed; if they are overripe or not ripe enough, the taste will not be fresh. The date on all her oils is a year or less; if the oil is any older than that, it loses its taste and heath benefits. And for taste there is something in here for every palate from the Hojiblanca which comes from Spain and includes herbs and a nutty flavor, to the infused oils like Chipotle, Blood Orange, and Butter, and even specialty oils like Black Truffle and Roasted Almond. Heather features recipes on her website that list the ingredients and which olive oils to use for meat, fish, chicken, soup, and salad dishes. Bread just doesn’t taste the same without being dipped into a fresh oil with subtle hints of spice.
Loyal customer, Carmela D’Esopo can attest to lots of cooking and bread dipping with her favorite coconut white balsamic and vanilla vinegars. “I am so impressed and love to try the different oils and vinegars,” says Carmela. “And the girls in the store are very helpful and friendly.”
Heather credits the wonderful help of her sales girls that assist customers with any questions, gift ideas, and pairing advice on what oils and vinegars go well with certain things. “It has been a family effort to get it up and running and keep it going,” says Heather.
Looking for that unique balsamic vinegar to pair with the extra virgin olive oil? Come in and taste as much as you want! Samples and bread dipping are encouraged. The store features a diverse array of white balsamics (made with white grapes) from Modena, Italy, like Gravenstein Apple and Cranberry Pear and dark balsamics (darker grapes), such as Blackberry Ginger and Lavender. “Our fig balsamic is really popular,” explains Heather. “You can put it over ice cream or salads. And the chocolate balsamic is great with ice cream or as a mole sauce over chicken.”
They also carry Italian imports featuring risottos like black truffle and pastas imported from Italy, even offering gluten free as well. If you’re throwing a party, the shelves are stocked with nuts, snacks, gourmet salts and spices, preserves, salsas, coffee, and tea. Looking for a unique gift? The olive oil soap and body wash is very soothing…or why not consider one of the artistic dipping dishes by local artist Jill Butler.
The one-year anniversary for Essex Olive Oil Company is coming up! July 1st everything in the store will be 25% off, and customers can mingle while sampling food and drink.
“We are content here in Essex; it’s always been my favorite place to go,” says Heather. I love that it’s unique and small, the merchants are great and work together, and the residents are fabulous.” I love this and wouldn’t change what I’m doing here at the Essex Olive Oil Company.”
Essex Olive Oil Company
Owner: Heather Olson
19A Main Street, Essex, Connecticut 06426 | 860 581 8725
Thursday – Saturday 11:30-5, Sunday 12-4