Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Oliana - Olive Oil & Vinegar Tasting Bar!

Acidity. Varietals. Blends. Intensity. Words I never really associated with olive oil before - in fact, I never really took the time to learn much about it at all.  I knew of course, like every other food product, that there are different grades - and that certain brands taste better to me than others. (Most grocery store brands are pretty much flavorless, and too...oily. Of the ones I'd tried Lucini was the only brand that actually tasted good to me, and I always keep a bottle in stock to make pasta with, or Caprese. That was about the extent of my vocabulary and knowledge of olive oil.)

This past weekend was an eye-opening one for me at Oliana in West Hollywood.  The recently opened space in the Pavilions shopping center on Santa Monica Blvd is not just a retail store, it's like a hands-on learning center, offering free tastings of over 45 fresh extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars. There is a central island lined with tanks of premium oils, arranged from the lightest to the fuller body and more pungent, from classic blends to specialty oils infusions like Herbs de Provence, and a wall of balsamic vinegar infused with interesting flavors from coconut to dark chocolate.

Owners Randy and Dax are incredibly knowledgeable about olive oil, from branch to bottle, and are eager to share what they know.  I learned so much from just 10 minutes with Dax, about smoke points, polyphenols, regions, the benefits of fresh pressed oils and what to look for when tasting oils.  The guys treat olive oil and vinegar with a reverence normally seen in the wine world - but without all the snobbery.  It's clear that they have true passion for the subject and really just want to make enjoyment of premium oils and vinegars accessible to everyone. 

The airy, sunny space is inviting and a fun place to browse through on your own (with Dax as tour guide) or to experience with a friend - and all without high pressure sales tactics!
It was great really being able to try the various blends - as many as I wanted - and to taste the differences between them to find the ones I like (I ended up getting a bottle of the Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil - which is a "Spanish Varietal" from Australia, tastes buttery and rich with intoxicatingly intense olive flavor with a peppery finish, and is apparently the current Gold Medal award winner in the International Olive Oil Competition in LA! And a small bottle of the black truffle olive oil which was intoxicatingly fragrant and smooth).  I also loved the vinegar - everything from traditional 18 year aged balsamics to white balsamics and inventive fruit and spice infused flavors.
As if there were not already enough to love about the tasting bar - they also have a creative olive oil & vinegar pairing station where you can sample custom blends that were great for sparking ideas for how all these can be combined to present new flavor profiles and can translate into dressing or dips etc. at home with all these gourmet options! 

Some cool sounding and tasty concoctions were Blackberry Ginger Basil, Fig and Garlic, and Basil Coconut.  I could especially see the Basil Coconut blend being used in a Thai-inspired salad!  I love that  Oliana offers recipes with ideas for how to use the oils/ vinegars on their site.

Most of the oils and vinegars are bottled to order and come in wine-like bottles with a great gold seal - presentation counts for a lot in my book, and I definitely made a mental note to add this to my list of great gift ideas. 

As for pricing?  Oliana makes it simple with a 'prix fixe' system - you can get almost any oil / vinegar in the store for one price by volume:

200ml $14.95*
375ml $19.95
750ml $29.95

*The exception is truffle oils, which start at 200ml $34.95

Aside from oil and vinegar, Oliana also offers a wide selection of artisan tapenades, pestos, olives and more, in case you want to pull together a gourmet package to make a nice gift basket. There are also other cool food-related finds like gorgeous Himalayan salt plates.

I couldn't bring myself to spend $35 on a larger bottle of truffle oil, so I was glad when Randy/Dax pointed out sampler sized bottles for $12.95 by the cash register - afterall, with truffle oil you don't need a lot to get the flavor in.

All in all, a fun way to spend a bit of my afternoon (and I got to pop over to Beauty Collection, conveniently just a few doors down, to stock up on makeup that day).  Olive oil devotees can even sign up for Oliana's Olive Oil Club, to receive four mailings a year of curated, paired olive oil 375ml + vinegar 375ml plus a bonus 200ml surprise bottle of seasonal oil or vinegar. You also get product info, recipes and 10% discount off purchases in-store and online (15% for orders bundled with the club shipment) - plus invites to special events, all for $39.95 per shipment. 

Glad to have made this WeHo discovery, and to be able to access fresh, quality oils from a company that takes a personal, passionate approach to their products - all for the same or just a few dollars more than grocery store prices - I am so not going back to grocery store brand oils / vinegars again!

1MB Deal Tip: Before you leave, be sure to sign up for Oliana's mailing list and get a free 200ml bottle of olive oil on your birthday!

And check their Facebook for info about their Grand Opening event coming soon: August 11th 6pm-8:30pm!


Oliana Premium Olive Oils and Vinegars
8951 Santa Monica Blvd Suite J, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Ph: 310.888.1874



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