Despite what Rachael Ray may have told you, that slimy, vaguely urine-colored stuff on the shelf above your stove is not truly extra virgin olive oil. Most of the inexpensive versions in supermarkets are adulterated – blended with lesser olive oils or other plant oils, or chemically treated to mask inferiorities – because the real stuff is difficult, time-consuming and expensive to produce; but it’s also easy to doctor. The International Olive Council regulates production in its 23 member nations, establishing and monitoring rigorous standards of quality and authenticity. However, the United States is not one of those countries, and the results are evident: for example, a 2010 University of California-Davis study found that 69% of the imported EVOO tested failed to meet IOC standards.
So what does real, honest-to-goodness mextra virgin look, smell and taste like? If you want to find out, head over to the new Olive del Mondo in Hope Village, where husband and wife team Salvatore and Jennifer Fuccillo will be happy to give you a quick education and, more importantly, a taste. “The single most important lesson we teach our customers is that olive oil is seasonal fruit juice,” Jennifer explains, adding, “Fresher is always better.” At their little shop, housed in the old Garrison Confections store, each oil they sell proudly displays the date the olives were crushed, and they rotate between suppliers in the northern and southern hemispheres to make sure the product is always in season. “We carry the freshest, healthiest oils the world has to offer at any given time of year,” Jennifer says. These aren’t olive oils you just want to absent-mindedly throw in a pan to cook up some chicken – they’re bold and assertive ingredients for dressings and marinades, or condiments worth tasting on their own.
Olive del Mondo also specializes in another product that’s hugely popular, widely misunderstood and often misrepresented in the market: balsamic vinegar. The difference between Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (the mass-produced condiment that is likely sitting in your pantry right now) and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (the artisanal, aged grape juice reduction that has been crafted in a single area of Italy since the Middle Ages) is subtle but crucial. The former makes a halfway decent salad dressing, while the latter is damn near drinkable on its own. Again, the Fuccillos will happily illustrate the difference by giving you a taste. Their dark and white balsamic vinegars are PGI (protectedgeographical indication) certified (as regulated by the European Union) and come in an abundance of flavors like fig, espresso and blueberry (which I kind of wanted to just sip like brandy).
For serious home cooks or people just interested in expanding their palates, Olive del Mondo is a mini-wonderland of complex flavors and carefully sourced ingredients. Customers are encouraged to taste and ask questions, and every Saturday at 6pm the store hosts an Olive Oil 101 and Guided Tasting class for those who want to enhance their appreciation. Stop in and have a taste – you’ll never look at those bottles in your pantry the same way again. Olive del Mondo is open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm and Sunday, noon-5pm.