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Eugene Weekly : Food Coma : 11.17.11

A Taste of Flavor

Popeye would ditch spinach for this olive oil

Go ahead and pour yourself a little drizzle of olive oil from your kitchen. Ok, now taste it — by itself. Disgusting? Then throw that crap away and head down to Olive Grand, where owners Tamara Oldenburg-Sires and Mike Sires sell a variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars that are delicious enough to drink.

An olive oil tasting at Olive Grand is a lot like a wine tasting. It has all the complexities, all the excitement and about a million times more flavor. If you’re interested in food, Oldenberg-Sires can tell fascinating stories about the history of olive oil, the revival of U.S. olive growing and why finding good olive oil in grocery stores is difficult. 

The first thing to understand about sampling the great variety in extra-virgin olive oils is the difference between the finishes: there are delicate, medium and robust oils. The medium and robust snap with a little bite, the most robust with an almost peppery finish, while the delicate oils are more smooth and come from a late harvest of the same olives.

Olive Grand stocks a selection of finishes, nine total on our visit, and each one brings a vastly different experience to the taste buds, from fresh and tart to buttery and downright hearty. We loved the fresh, buttery olio novelo and the powerful pepper of the Tuscan blend. Add a balsamic to the Tuscan and the flavor profile is a brand-new experience.

Once you have sampled the straight extra-virgin olive oils, it is imperative to move on to the flavored selection. There were, again, many to choose from, ranging from citrus (lemon, lime, mandarin, blood orange) to savory (basil, rosemary, garlic) to spicy (chili, jalapeño). Couple these with any of the flavored balsamic vinegars they stock (among them red apple, fig and wild cherry), and you can create some of the most intense tastes you’ve ever experienced. 

For example, a spot of the chili olive oil combined with a peach balsamic travels the spectrum from immediately fresh and sweet to savory and smoky then finishes with a spicy kick. Oldenberg-Sires says that the garlic oil was the most difficult to select; we loved it with the traditional balsamic and want to try pairing with different breads.

With each taste combination, the mind races through myriad possibilities for culinary applications. But the impulse might remain to just keep sipping, shot style, from the tasting cups. If you can tear yourself away and choose which to bring home, the knowledgeable people serving up the olive oil have bucketfuls of suggestions for how to serve and use each one, plus recipes on the web. They can even help steer you in the right direction for the best flavor combinations.

Olive Grand will host a special tasting for women at “Ladies Night” 5-7pm Thursday, Nov. 17, with wine and chocolate.



have you heard...

Too tired for cooking? Know some new parents who need the gift of time? Check out Ivy’s Kitchen, which just completed a massive kitchen remodel. Ivy’s delivers oven-ready vegetarian food straight to the home; see her menu at www.ivyscookin.com

June opened the sophisticated lounge “Kate’s in June” last week; the next event we’ve heard about so far is a wine pouring by Portland urban winery Hip Chicks do Wine 9 pm-2 am Dec. 9.

Speaking of openings and wine, Marché’s new addition, Le Bar at Fifth Street Market, will serve the first wine of the 2011 vintage at its Beaujolais Nouveau Celebration Nov. 17.

UO’s EMU has gone bottled water-free!

Café Yumm on Franklin launched solar energy and electric vehicle charging stations in October. We’re excited to see them in use!

Hop Valley Brewing has started canning beer, complete with a water-based lining for taste preservation and a six-pack handle from recycled plastic.