Located 2,000 miles from the olive groves of Northern California, St. Louis, Missouri seems an unlikely destination for those looking for high-quality, in-demand olive oils. However, this presumption would be incorrect, thanks in large part to St. Louis’ own olive oil doyenne Marianne Prey and her retail shop An Olive Ovation, a local destination-store for aficionados of the chartreuse elixir.
An Olive Ovation opened in 2007, after Prey decided to leave her 24-year career as a pathologist to pursue a second career as a retailer. Inspired by the small olive oil shops she liked to visit when traveling to major metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country, Prey wanted to bring this type of experience to a city that had not yet been bitten by the olive oil bug. “An Olive Ovation was the first olive oil market in St. Louis. The whole concept of olive oil tasting hadn’t even hit this area. It was really before the huge influx of olive oil stores across the country,” said Prey. “I got my inspiration from a little tiny olive oil ship in Chicago that specialized in Turkish oils … I was just kind of fascinated with the whole idea of olive oil tasting, so I tucked that idea away.”
It took her two years to plan out and build the store, but once An Olive Ovation finally opened, the store grew quickly. Last year, Prey actually moved the store from its original 1,200-square-foot home to a new, larger 1,600-square-foot retail space in Ladue, just outside St. Louis, to accommodate its expanding product selection.
The centerpiece of An Olive Ovation is the tasting bar. At the bar, customers can sample at least 100 different products, including extra-virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils, balsamics, wine vinegars, fruit vinegars and more. The tasting bar is a good place to begin one’s shopping experience at the store, before one sets out to browse through 50+ vinegars, 30-35 extra-virgin olive oils, as well as an extensive selection of specialty foods, including cheeses, olives, tapenades, crackers, breads and wines. The store also offers products for the home and kitchen, such as olive wood kitchen utensils and serving pieces, Mediterranean-themed cookbooks, French table linens and more.
When it comes to the store’s signature product, the selection of olive oils at An Olive Ovation is always in flux, partly out of Prey’s desire to always offer her customers something new, but also partly out of necessity. Because Prey stocks unique hard-to-find oils produced by small family farms and family cooperatives, she is often at the whim of the producer (and in fact, the weather) when it comes to what olive oils she can get and how many bottles of each. She cites one particular olive oil, the December’s New Oil from California-based Katz & Co. as an example of a seasonal product that is particularly in demand among her customers, but which lasts on her store shelves only a short while.
“Customers know that we get four cases in early December, and if they aren’t there to get it they miss out until the next year,” said Prey. “I would like to get more, but usually Albert [Katz] allots us four cases.”
Asked what are the best olive oils currently on the shelves at An Olive Ovation, Prey, ever the scientist, scoffs at the question. “We’ve had a couple of instances when a customer comes in and they say, ‘Pick for me,’ and it’s like, how?” Nevertheless, Prey utilizes her skills as a pathologist to ask pointed questions and guide her customers to the product that is going to be the best fit for their unique palate.
Of course, shoppers come to An Olive Ovation in search of much more than just olive oil. Prey’s shop serves as a destination for anyone who loves food, more generally. And the shop’s wide selection of hard-to-find specialty food products from around the world brings in customers searching for something truly unique to serve at their next dinner party, whether it be the Tunisian sun-dried garlic from Les Moulins Mahjoub or the Spanish spicy catch-all condiment Mojo Picón, from Ferrer.
The concept of pairing is a particularly important one for Prey, and she works to provide her customers with apt suggestions for bringing together olive oil, wine and food. With each of the wines offered at An Olive Ovation, Prey offers an olive oil pairing suggestion. And similarly, with each of the oils sampled at the tasting bar, Prey provides a comparable wine pairing.
“When you taste a dish, you taste the olive oil before it goes into the finished product. I want people to really focus on the taste and how it can vary when you pair one ingredient with another ingredient – how you can change the mouthfeel and the sensation,” said Prey. “An olive oil paired with one ingredient might just explode in your mouth and transform the salad or the steak and make it completely different.”
Prey’s commitment to educating her customers about how best to pair and enjoy her store’s products extends even further, as An Olive Ovation offers monthly classes on a number of related themes. Prey teaches the classes herself, providing lessons on how best to incorporate the store’s olive oils into various cuisines, from pastas to salads. A recent class taught attendees about using olive oils to prepare end-of-summer harvest delicacies from the garden. In addition, An Olive Ovation also offers more in-depth tasting classes, training customers about the intricacies of how to sample and enjoy high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
With the holiday season fast approaching, An Olive Ovation is an ideal stop for those looking to offer unique hostess gifts that are sure to stand out among the plates of cookies and bottles of wine. The store offers a wide selection of items from $5 to $500 that make great gifts on their own, or Prey is happy to put them into custom gift baskets. “A bottle of olive oil lasts much longer than a bottle of wine and a bottle of balsamic even longer,” said Prey. “A bottle of wine, they don’t even remember where it came from. It’s gone before the evening is over. [Olive oil and balsamic are] thoughtful nice gifts.”
The success of a store that specializes in a single commodity without a doubt hinges on the passion and expertise of its proprietor, and An Olive Ovation is an expression of the dedication its owner has for the world’s small-batch, estate-grown extra-virgin olive oils. “It’s the taste. Every sip is just a new experience. It’s wholesome, and it’s satisfying. It just makes everything that you put it on taste good,” said Prey.
Award-winning La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil, distributed in the United States by Mintie Wine & Spirits, is a renowned Italian single estate olive oil, combining a blend of leccino, moraiolo and coreggiolo olives. The olives are harvested at the peak of freshness and pressed by hand on the Olivi family’s Tuscan estate. Preserving the essence of the Italian countryside, the olives are pressed within 24 hours of being harvested.
La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil has been certified by the Consortium for the protection of PDO Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Terre di Siena. In addition, the product was recently awarded a Mention of Merit from the national Sirena d’Oro di Sorrento competition.
Already used in some of the finest restaurants in Europe, La Sovana extra-virgin olive oil is now being introduced to the American market. The oil is now available online at www.zingermans.com, as well as at The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills, California and in a growing number of specialty food stores.
For more information, visit the company online at www.lasovana.com/en/olio.
MarDona Specialty Foods and Wild Forest Products are all about great taste, great prices, convenience and consistency. Together, the brands import the finest olive oil and truffle essence from Italy to create their highly regarded and sought after truffle products. Their Pure Olive Oil blended with truffle essence from Italy creates their signature Black and White Truffle Olive Oils.
Wild Forest and MarDona brands are best known for their truffle infused olive oils. These oils are available to the retail trade in 8-ounce doric bottles, packaged six per case. MarDona has also become famous for the inventive presentation of its 4-ounce Truffle Oil Spray, available in black and white varieties. The sprays were designed to dispense a predetermined amount of olive oil at a low 2.5 calories per spray.
For the foodservice sector, Wild Forest and MarDona provide 1-gallon jugs and 5-gallon food service pails. Many restaurants from the neighborhood burger shop to the gourmet fine dining establishment are using the brands’ truffle olive oils to create great dishes such as truffle fries, truffle burgers, pastas and so much more.
MarDona and Wild Forest believe in making a quality product with quality ingredients. Their mission is to bring to the American people the best in quality truffle oil at the most reasonable prices possible. You can find MarDona and Wild Forest products in some of the finest gourmet shops in the United States, as well as at Whole Foods Markets and online at www.truffleoilsandmore.com.
If you peruse the aisles of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or sit down to dinner at many a gourmet restaurant, that delicious extra-virgin olive oil you are either buying, dipping into or enjoying on flakes of halibut quite likely came from Italy or Spain. With the countries combining to ship more than two thirds of all U.S. EVOO imports, gourmet chefs and home cooks have plenty of high-quality and healthful oils to choose from when calling on these traditional powerhouses.
Look closely though, and among the elegant bottles of various sizes filling the olive oil section at your local grocery store, you will spot a 33.8-ounce can from another Mediterranean country that has got a few interesting oils of its own: Tunisia. Tunisia and nearby Morocco now both track in the top 10 producing countries for U.S.-sold EVOO.
“Our customers just love the taste of the Moroccan,” said Darya Suddreth President of Carolinas-based The Olive Shoppe stores, commenting on the growing popularity of olive oils from this often neglected Mediterranean locale. At The Olive Shoppe, the Moroccan EVOO ($16.95 for 375 milliliters) sells most briskly, better even than the company’s popular blend from Italy’s renowned EVOO-producing Umbria region. The Moroccan green olive oil, sold under private label like all of the company’s oils, contains mild notes of green fruit that partner with smooth and buttery notes of ripe olive, finishing with hints of creaminess and a slight peppering at the back of the throat.
You do not need to hug the Mediterranean, however, to find high-quality EVOO offerings. Six thousand miles and an equator line away, Chile has been steadily building a reputation with its award-winning mild and fruity oils. No less than 13 of the country’s EVOO producers earned outstanding scores in the prestigious Flos Olei olive oil guide for 2012. Chile (the eighth leading U.S. supplier) has a couple olive oil-producing neighbors of its own, with Argentina (fifth) and newly minted International Olive Council member Uruguay also turning out flavorful award-winning oils.
While Italy and Spain continue to dominate the U.S. market, accounting for a combined 67 percent share of 2013 U.S. olive oil sales, this actually marked a 9-point drop from the previous four-year average. Meanwhile, “second tier” producers from South America and the Mediterranean, including previously mentioned Tunisia and Morocco, but also Turkey, Lebanon and others, have been gradually bottling their way into the picture.
Whether it’s the mild and fruity Chilean oils, the bold and robust Australian products or the sought after gourmet oils from Turkey or Argentina, American consumers are expanding their olive oil palates and finding it increasingly easy to do so, simply by stopping at their favorite local gourmet shop.
“What’s happening in the food world in general is that, with the Food Network and all of those things that have grown within the last decade, people are cooking more at home, and they’re returning to whole natural food and high-quality ingredients,” said Eryn Balch, Executive Vice President of the North American Olive Oil Association. “And with extra-virgin olive oil in particular, people are starting to understand that it’s really very much like wine. You can have different extra-virgin olive oil from different regions, from different types of olives, or different types of olives blended together, just like wine, where you get this huge range of flavors and huge range of options – everything from the store brand stuff up to small-estate, high-quality, high-priced options.”
While second-tier producers in the Southern Hemisphere face challenges breaking into a U.S. market long dominated by Italy and Spain, these relatively young suppliers have some advantages as well, the biggest of which is, quite simply, the sun. With their opposing season harvest time, Southern Hemisphere countries like Chile, Argentina, South African and Australia offer fresh product while heavy producers like Spain and Italy are off-season.
“We’ve got amazing Mediterranean growing conditions here, and we’re producing our oils six months after the equivalent oils in the Northern Hemisphere,” said Tim Smith, Sales and Marketing Director of Cobram Estate, an award-winning Australian producer that this year debuted its premium oils to U.S. consumers. From early July through December, consumers seeking the absolute freshest olive oil can look to Southern Hemisphere producers, and companies like Cobram are making it easy to do so. Cobram has been a top performer two years running at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition, winning five gold medals, including two Best in Class oils in this year’s competition. The company plans to offer U.S. consumers even fresher oil when it begins growing olives and producing oil in a new California operation that is in its early stages. Cobram Estate’s selection of premium oils have U.S. suggested retail prices of $9 to $50, with its 2014 Best in Class Première Extra Virgin Olive Oil selling for $12 for 375 milliliters and its Best in Class Reserve Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil selling for $20 to $25 for 500 milliliters.
For some of the more successful second tier producing countries, the key to finding that success has been in building awareness and education among U.S. consumers. Tunisian olive oil, for instance, has been served on American tables virtually since European oil imports began, although not too many consumers knew it, since oils from Tunisia, the world’s second largest net exporter, were branded under Italian and other countries’ labels. One northern Tunisian company has single-handedly changed that over the last two and a half years, however. CHO gave the country its first branded olive oils and has quickly become a factor in the U.S. market, with the company’s gourmet EVOO and organic EVOO appearing in about 4,000 U.S. retailers, a figure that is growing at 100 percent annually.
“We started in a market where consumers did not know much about Tunisian olive oil,” said Wajih Rekik, CEO of CHO America, whose Terra Delyssa EVOO and organic EVOO brand boasts gold medal recognition from Israel’s prestigious international Terraolivo competition and Best in Show accolades from Biofach Germany, the world’s largest organic food and agriculture show. “But the smooth, fresh flavor of our oils are perfect for everyday use,” Rekik continued. “They don’t overpower any other ingredients when cooking, and they can be used in salads and for dipping.” Operating with a completely in-house business model that accounts for its products from tree to retail shelf (CHO even maintains its own importing offices in the United States and other countries), the company has gone from 0 to 4,000 stores in quick fashion. CHO olive oils retail in the United States from $2.99 for 8.5 ounces to $24.99 for 101 ounces.
With small and large global producers continuing to churn out award-winning oils and making their way onto U.S. gourmet market shelves, the outlook is for future growth of such imports as Americans gain both knowledge of and desire for the highest-quality and healthiest extra-virgin olive oil.
Super-premium French olive oil producer Chateau d’Estoublon has signed with leading specialty food importer and distributor, New Jersey-based Epicure Foods, which will distribute the fine extra virgin olive oil through its new “Chef’s Mandala” division, which is dedicated to importing only a few exceptional, super-premium European products each year. Chef’s Mandala only selects one fine product per regional category, and Chateau d’Estoublon is the brand that made the cut for French premium olive oil.
“We’ve looked for a long time for a French olive oil with a flavor profile that is consistently high quality over a period of several harvests, which is extremely difficult to do with mono-varietals,” notes Epicure principal, Stephen Drezga. “We’ve finally found it with Chateau d’Estoublon, whose exceptional oils are also available in single varietals, which we don’t find from France,” he adds.
Epicure, which has built a reputation as one of the most respected gatekeepers of specialty food since 1971, will be rolling out Estoublon to specialty food as well as premium restaurants nation-wide. “We’ve been hearing overwhelmingly positive feedback on the products, whose exceptionally beautiful packaging and presentation offer retailers great opportunities for eye-catching merchandising, as well as positioning as both food and gift items,” adds Drezga.
Adding to its repertoire of much loved gourmet oils, La Tourangelle is debuting its Spray Oils set on July 15.
Finding a gap in the market for a healthy, propellant-free, all-natural spray oil product, CEO of La Tourangelle Matthieu Kohlmeyer decided it was time for the brand to introduce its wildly successful oils in a new design. Kohlmeyer notes, “We have loved spray oils for many years, but we had a problem with the propellant loaded traditional sprays available on shelves. We really did not feel like selling our artisan oils blended with 11 percent petroleum product in an aerosol spray can.”
La Tourangelle’s idea is simple: keep the oil, lose the chemicals. The spray oils series will feature the brand’s favorite nut oils in a can that uses compressed air to propel 100 percent oil, enabling users to uniformly spray the product on all of their favorite dishes. While existing cooking oil sprays are renowned for using harmful chemicals as propellant (such as petroleum, propane and isobutene), La Tourangelle’s mission to offer an alternative to at-home cooks who value great-tasting food and don’t want to see “propane” listed in their ingredients is now a reality. Soon to hit shelves will be the Spray Oil Series in the following La Tourangelle flavors: Roasted Walnut, 100% Organic Extra Virgin Olive, Grapeseed, Organic Canola, Thai Wok, and Roasted Pistachio. Suggested retail prices range from $6.99 to $9.99.
B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Co., a pioneer in modern-day California extra virgin olive oil and other locally-made food products, is taking a page from the fine wine business with the introduction of its new limited-release Sonoma Syrah Vinegar. Small-lot production and aging in French oak casks characterize this new vinegar, which makes its debut at the Fancy Food Show, June 29, in New York City.
With the release of the Sonoma Syrah Vinegar ($19.99/200ml), B.R. Cohn is the first specialty food company in California to introduce the concept of limited-release vinegars to the U.S. Made from 100 percent Syrah grapes from Sonoma County using the Orleans vinegar process, the Sonoma Syrah Vinegar ages for three years in French oak casks, which provide the ideal environment for cultured vinegar bacteria. B.R. Cohn’s Sonoma Syrah Vinegar contains no additives or preservatives. Total production is 170 cases.
“For our vinegars we use a time-consuming production process that dates back to the Middle Ages,” noted CEO Dan Cohn. “Our hand-crafted Sonoma Syrah Vinegar starts with the finest Syrah grapes and, like fine wine, it develops exceptional complexity and nuance of flavor with the aging process. We cut no corners and limit production so we can make a truly distinctive vinegar of the finest quality.”
The B.R. Cohn Sonoma Syrah Vinegar shows notes of berry, lavender and sweet plum and has six percent acidity. Cohn notes that in addition to its myriad uses with meat and vegetable dishes, the Sonoma Syrah Vinegar is an ideal ingredient for cocktails. One of the hottest trends among mixologists is using vinegar in specialty cocktails as part of a ‘shrub’ base (fresh fruit, sugar, water) to blend with spirits.
B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Co. is one of the top award winning producers of fine oils and vinegars, and B.R. Cohn olive oils and vinegars have captured more than 120 awards, including frequent Best of Show, Double Gold and Gold medals at leading competitions. Additional information is available at www.brcohn.com/oliveoilcompany or by calling 877-933-9675, extension 141.
B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Co. will be at the New York Fancy Food Show June 29 – July 1 at the Jacob Javits Center, booth #2166.
B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Company has appointed Diane Schwartz as Director of Sales and Marketing for the Sonoma Valley gourmet food products company. Schwartz brings more than 22 years of experience in restaurant and specialty foods marketing, branding, strategic planning, product launches and public relations to the position overseeing and expanding B.R. Cohn’s olive oil, vinegar, and gourmet dessert sauce product lines.
Schwartz graduated with a degree in Foodservice and Hospitality Management from Cornell University and began her career as Assistant Director of Marketing with Mrs. Field’s Chocolate Chips, where she was instrumental in building the newly established cookie retailer into a major national brand. A self-proclaimed “born and bred foodie,” she has worked with world renown restaurateurs such as Joachim Splichal, Bradley Ogden, and Alice Waters and also owned and operated four gourmet food shops throughout her career. Prior to joining B.R. Cohn, Schwartz was Director of Marketing and Product Development at Quake Town Brands.
“Diane’s vast and varied experience working in specialty foods and hospitality will bring a valuable perspective to our sales and marketing programs,” noted Dan Cohn, CEO of B.R. Cohn. “We look forward to having her help further our goals at the B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Co.”
B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company is located at 15000 Sonoma Highway 12 in Glen Ellen, and its wines and food products are nationally distributed. The Sonoma Valley tasting room is open daily from 10am – 5pm. Additional information is available at www.brcohn.com.
Olive oil quality is in the spotlight, and everyone who buys olive oil these days needs to know the good from the bad. Now is your chance to learn all about olive oil quality assurance in a unique online certificate course from the International Olive Oil School. Experts from the University of California at Davis Olive Center and Boundary Bend will demystify olive oil and help buyers protect themselves from olive oil fraud. Participants will taste more than 20 samples, learning how to identify good oils along with the characteristic defects that can arise along the supply chain. The tasting samples, together with a set of six hand-made cobalt tasting glasses, will be delivered to participants in advance of the online sessions. The five, 90-minute lessons will stream live online June 16-20 and space is limited. Participants can ask questions from the instructors using an onscreen chat and access the recorded program for 30 days after the live lessons. Those who complete the series will receive an Advanced Course Certificate of Completion from the International Olive Oil School. Don’t miss this great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of olive oil quality assurance directly from world-renowned experts. Register today.
Boyajian Inc.has been awarded a gold medal for its Scallion Infused Olive Oil and a silver medal for its Chipotle Infused Olive Oil at the recent 2014 Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. This year the competition celebrated its 14th anniversary. Oils are tasted by an impressive team of judges, and the competition brings in the finest domestic and international olive oils from across the globe.
Boyajian oils are sold and distributed to a number of retail locations throughout the country.They can be found at the following locations, as well as countless other locations across the United States and beyond:
Northern California’s Bay Area:
Berkeley Bowl – locations in the East Bay Area
Lunardi’s – several locations in the Bay Area
Zanotto’s Family Markets – locations in the South Bay Area
Russo’s Market – Watertown, Mass.
Epicure Market – Miami Beach
Bill the Spice Guy – Bonita Springs, Fla.
For a location near you, contact Alex Boyajian at ABoyajian@boyajianinc.com.