Before I visited The Ancient Olive, I thought all olive oils and balsamic vinegars were pretty much the same.
Oh, I knew that extra virgin olive oil was the highest quality, and that some vinegars are better than others.
But I didn’t know that balsamic vinegar could be infused with a wide variety of creative fruit and flowery flavors. Like: tangerine, cinnamon pear, mango, ripe peach, raspberry, wild blueberry, lavender and violet.
I had no idea that olive oils could be infused with many equally creative flavors, such as: “Eureka Lemon,” “Blood Orange,” and “Persian Lime.”
And I certainly didn’t know they could taste so good. By themselves, or mixed together.
Shopping at The Ancient Olive in St. Augustine is an adventure in taste, and by the time you leave you’re a connoisseur. That’s because the shop features rows of shiny canisters filled with an amazing variety of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Tasting cups are provided at each labeled canister, and you are encouraged to wander around and taste flavors that strike your fancy.
You can experience as many as you want, and stay as long as you want.
“People usually spend 20 to 40 minutes tasting,” one of the owners, Jeffrey Schrader, told me. Three years ago, Schrader and co-owner Ryan Behling opened the gourmet food, fine art and gifts shop – which also offers locally produced products such as honeys and sauces. Experts on the world’s best olive oils and balsamic vinegars, they love to share their knowledge with customers.
The olive tree is one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. Native to Asia Minor, the olive spread throughout the entire Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago. Oil from olives has been used in many religions and cultures, and was used to anoint the early kings of the Greeks and Jews.
While sampling oils and vinegars, I learned that white and dark balsamics are made from white and dark grapes, and that when mixed with soda water, can make a healthy, low calorie drink. “Balsamic sodas are very popular in European countries,” Schrader said. Balsamic vinegars average 10 calories a tablespoon, and some flavors “are spectacular on vanilla ice cream.” Their balsamic vinegars are produced in Modena, Italy, where they are aged for up to 18 years.
The base of their flavored olive oils is pure 100 percent cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil that is infused with natural plant ingredients, fruits or chilies. Their unflavored ultra-premium extra virgin olive oils are made from olives that are cold-pressed within three hours.
After visiting the shop, I decided I’ll never use any old olive oil or vinegar on a salad again. Not when Black Cherry balsamic vinegar paired with Eureka Lemon olive oil is an option.
The Ancient Olive is located at 47 King Street St. Augustine. For more information visit theancientolive.com