Olive Oil Tasting Bars in the Hudson Valley
One slick business: First it was coffee houses, then it was wine bars. The latest hip culinary hangout? Olive oil tasting bars
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Olive experts: Pure Mountain partners Charlie Ruehr (left) and Zak Cassady-Dorion
Zak Cassady-Dorion thinks Rhinebeck is the perfect place for an olive oil tasting bar. “We looked at hundreds of towns,” he says, before opening Pure Mountain Olive Oils and Vinegars with his cousin, Charlie Ruehr, on Memorial Day weekend. “It had to have good foot traffic, it had to have a food scene, and it needed to be a weekend destination. We love Rhinebeck.” And apparently, the affection is returned in spades. Business is good, says Cassady-Dorion, who attributes the success to “a big movement in the U.S. toward better quality foods. People don’t want drugs in their food anymore, and they’re realizing that maybe having corn syrup in everything we eat is not the best thing for our health. Olive oil is just so good for you; everyone loves the product.”
Getting people up to speed on their olive oil knowledge is a big part of the business. “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t know anything about our product,” says Cassady-Dorion, adding that producers have just 18 months from the time the olive comes off the tree until the oil spoils. “If it’s been bottled for four or five years, it’s completely rancid. But people don’t realize that most of the olive oil they are using from the grocery store is completely rancid. They’ve never tasted fresh olive oil before; there’s a huge difference.”
It means the olives were pressed without any heat; this method tends to lead to the highest quality oil
Customers can try approximately 20 different olive oils, a similar number of balsamic vinegars, and 15 different sea salts. Recipe cards are situated right next to each product. These days, sampling olive oil is often compared to tasting wine, and there are similarities in the way you go about it. “You heat it with your hands, you smell the aroma, you slurp it so that it covers your entire mouth,“ says Cassady-Dorion. Aficionados point to the four S’s: swirl, sniff, sip, and swallow.
A fusti of Pure Mountain olive oil awaits tasters
“The basil olive oil and the lemon-white balsamic vinegar are our top two sellers,” says Cassady-Dorion. “I love to combine them, the aromas are beautiful. I put it on everything, white fish, chicken.” Another favorite combo is the scallion olive oil paired with the pineapple dark balsamic vinegar. “It’s a great marinade drizzled over grilled vegetables,” he says.
Almost all of the olive oils retail for $17.95 (for 375 ml) and can be poured into dark-green glass bottles. “The worst things for olive oil are air and light. Clear glass bottles are terrible,” says Cassady-Dorion. To ensure that the olive oils are truly “extra-virgin,” he sends them all to a lab to be tested. An industry scandal ensued in 2010 when a University of California study found that 69 percent of imported oils sampled failed to meet accepted standards for extra-virgin olive oil. Later that year, the USDA instituted new standards for grades of olive oil; it was the first change since 1948.
But at Pure Mountain, customers are delighting in the fresh finds. “People come in and love that they can touch, try, and taste everything,” says Cassady-Dorion. “They end up spending 30 or 40 minutes here; they’re talking to strangers, they’re pouring each other samples. It’s amazing.”
For more on olive oil, visit www.hvmag.com/recipes.