In a red brick building on the corner of Queen and Dorchester Streets in Olde Charlottetown, PEI, you will find a very unique shop called “Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive”. Opened now on the Island for a year (they opened one year ago today on July 4, 2011), this is one of three Liquid Gold shops in the Maritimes (the other two are in Halifax, NS, and in Saint John, NB).
I recently sat down with the Charlottetown store manager, Amy Ingram, to find out just what Liquid Gold Olive Oils is all about. That is when I found out it’s a foodie’s paradise that sells fresh, pure extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars. Patrons can taste any of the oils and vinegars onsite that they want. This tasting bar experience allows shoppers to explore flavours before making a purchase choice.
I asked Amy what prompted the idea for a store that sells exclusive olive oils and vinegars. Amy tells me her Mom, Myrna, lived in Arizona for awhile where they had an olive oil tasting bar. When she returned to Nova Scotia, she found a supplier that imported quality extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from around the world and she opened her first store.
So, what will you find when you walk into a Liquid Gold store? You will find rows of pristine stainless steel fustis filled with a large, extensive variety of extra virgin olive oils and both dark and light balsamic vinegars. Fustis are small kegs with spigots that provide tight, dark conditions in which to store the oils and vinegars.
Beneath the rows of fusti, you’ll find dark-tinted bottles in two sizes and these get filled to your request by any of the staff of four. Dark bottles are essential because the darkness helps to protect the oil from oxidation that will occur if the oil is exposed to light. The store also carries gourmet oils like truffle and sesame along with mustards, salsas, and pastas, and olive-oil based body products.
I asked Amy who their typical customers are. She tells me they range from everyday at-home cooks to chefs-in-training from the Culinary Institute of Canada a few blocks away to professional chefs – all looking for high quality products with health benefits. On the day I visited, the store was a beehive of activity. Two chefs-in-training were getting a supply of oils (yes, by a box full of bottles!), a passenger from the ms Maasdam in port for the day was picking up bottles filled with product and having them gift-wrapped as take-home souvenirs of her visit to Charlottetown, a local at-home budding cook was making a return visit and deliberating on his next choices of oils and vinegars, and a number of other visitors were obviously fascinated by the tasting bar experience.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is made from crushing and pressing olives. The oils in Liquid Gold stores are imported from small estate farms and olive groves in many different countries that include Italy, France, Greece, and Argentina, to mention just a few. I remember having dinner in Tivoli, Italy, some years ago, high on a hill overlooking groves of gnarled olive trees for as far as the eye could see. I suspect these would be the kind of olive grove estate farms that would, no doubt, produce and export quality olive oils, such as those found at Liquid Gold.
Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Amy says the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are many – they are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins K and E, and aid in digestion. Some research also suggests olive oil may reduce cancer risk, have properties to reduce risk of heart disease, and improve cognitive function. Of all olive oils, extra-virgin olive oil is said to have the most health benefits along with the most delicate and true flavour.
What to Look for When Tasting and Purchasing Olive Oil
Amy advises, when choosing a quality olive oil, to consider what use you are purchasing the oil for and look for a nice, rich flavour that “makes all your taste buds happy”. Look for subtle flavours of grass, fruit, or pepper that give a degree of spiciness to the taste buds. By contrast, old or poor quality oils will have a flat, musty, waxy crayon taste and a rancid smell.
According to my own research, I learned there are, generally speaking, three categories of olive oil – delicate, medium, and robust. Delicate oils are considered suitable for foods like seafood. Medium oils go well with salads and poultry. Robust oils blend well with red meats and dishes with a tomato base.
Storing Olive Oil
Store oils in cool, dark spaces, away from any direct or indirect heat sources as this can cause rancidity.
Balsamic vinegars are made from crushed grapes that are boiled down to reduce most of the water in the grapes, producing a concentrate or “must”. This is then fermented in barrels made of various woods where the vinegar undergoes a slow aging process that can take many years. The wooden barrels contribute to the flavour of the balsamic vinegar. Some vinegars are aged 3-5 years, others 6-12 years, and still others much longer. Younger-aged vinegars are lighter in taste and are typically used on salads. Middle-aged vinegars are good in sauces and pasta dishes. Older-aged vinegars compliment meat and poultry dishes well and are especially good drizzled on fresh fruit and ice creams – who knew a good balsamic vinegar would taste great on fruit and ice cream…..but it does!
Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegars
The health benefits of balsamic vinegars are significant. From my research, I found they are reported to be a source of iron, calcium, manganese, and potassium, are low in salt and saturated fat and are cholesterol-free. The vinegar’s antioxidant properties are said to help prevent heart disease and cancer. Balsamic vinegar may also aid in digestion and be good for the circulatory system. Additionally, its properties may aid in healing cuts and open wounds.
What to Look for when Tasting and Purchasing Balsamic Vinegars
Good quality balsamic vinegars, according to Amy, should exhibit a sweet and tart blend along with a thick and rich taste. The vinegars should have sweetness to them and a wood flavour (from the barrels in which they were aged) should be evident. If you only get a bitter taste, then it is poor quality balsamic vinegar. A good quality balsamic vinegar should have a somewhat syrupy texture to it.
Storing Balsamic Vinegars
Store bottles of balsamic vinegar in a cool dark place. There is no need to refrigerate them.
I questioned Amy on why customers should buy their olive oils and vinegars at Liquid Gold as opposed to at the local supermarket. She cited four reasons: First, Liquid Gold’s oils are fresh, real extra-virgin olive oils that carry all the health benefits. Second, because the oils and vinegars are produced on smaller estate farms and groves around the world as opposed to mass manufactured by large corporations, buyers are helping to support small local farmers around the world. Third, the customers can come into the store and consult with knowledgeable staff who will educate them on oils and vinegars and their health benefits and help them select a product specifically for a purpose – for example, I was looking for a balsamic vinegar I could drizzle over ice cream and Liquid Gold sales staff were able to guide me to an appropriate selection and explain to me how I could heat and reduce the vinegar to make an even more tasty ice cream drizzle. Fourth, a particular emphasis is placed on providing assistance to customers to find oils and vinegars that compliment the many flavours of local PEI foods.
We’ve all seen supermarket sales on huge bottles of olive oils but are we really getting “a deal” and is the quality there? Amy tells me I really can’t compare Liquid Gold’s prices with supermarket prices because it is quality of product that is the true comparison factor, not price point. Bearing in mind it takes 5 pounds of olives to produce 375ml of olive oil, don’t look for quality oils to be cheap. The labour-intensive and lengthy aging periods for good quality balsamic vinegars also means their prices will not be cheap either. Liquid Gold (at time of writing in July 2012) sell their oils and vinegars for $18.00 for a 375ml bottle and $11.00 for a 200ml bottle. As a foodie and at-home chef, I can honestly say there is a definite difference between good quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars and that difference is evident in the final food product you create with the oils and vinegars.
I decided I would put their olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the test to see if I could detect a genuine difference between their products and what I would normally purchase at a supermarket. For me, a true test of an oil and balsamic vinegar is best determined by using it uncooked so I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette dressing for a green garden salad. I don’t like heavy salad dressings because I find they smother the salad ingredients and mask their flavour. So, I purchased a bottle of Liquid Gold’s cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar and a bottle of Arbosana extra-virgin olive oil. I added a bit of garlic, Dijon mustard, shallots, a few herbs from the garden and a dash of salt and sprinkle of pepper. I have never had such an extraordinary salad – the vinaigrette was so flavourful and pure and did not detract from the salad’s ingredients – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it brought out the flavours of the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber more true, pure, and intense.
This store is a real treasure trove for foodies. It offers a fantastic selection of quality fresh extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, knowledgeable staff, and a good location in Charlottetown. But, no worries if you don’t live near a Liquid Gold Store – they offer online shopping through their website and ship in Canada and the United States.
Whether you are an Islander or a visitor to our fair city of Charlottetown, be sure to include a stop at Liquid Gold if for no other reason than to marvel at the varieties of olive oils and balsamic vinegars available on the market and to learn more about the products and their health benefits. Taste them, though, and if you are a foodie like me who likes high quality food products, I am guessing you may very well find it hard to come away without purchasing some of the products.
Now that I have discovered Liquid Gold, I might have to build extra cupboards to store the varieties I’ll no doubt be investing in! Indeed, I have already made a repeat visit to purchase a chocolate balsamic vinegar which I reduced and drizzled over my homemade strawberry ice cream and fresh berries – divine perfection!
Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive is located at 72 Queen Street in Charlottetown, PEI, and may be reached at (902)370-8809.
Happy 1st Anniversary, Liquid Gold, of operating your store in Charlottetown, PEI!