The Sampler at
The Wild Olive
Wandering into The Wild Olive is like entering a sanctuary; a shrine to flavor.
Cari Ray and business partner Michelle Damrell opened the shop up in the Big Woods Village (formerly the F.C. Tucker building) at 44 North Van Buren Street in May as “a labor of love.” It’s not a franchise—they built it all from scratch, right down to creating the custom shelves.
“Our olive oils are all purchased in season, so they are purchased from all over the world,” said Ray. “Most of our oils, within the last year they were olives hanging on a tree somewhere. They are very fresh, which is one of the most important things both for flavor and for health benefits.”
The main thing about The Wild Olive is flavor; but, as it turns out, that path also leads to a healthier lifestyle. Learning about new flavors and how to use them in your everyday diet helps you get better flavor in your food without the use of typical cooking standbys like sugar, salt and high-saturate fats.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar are vital in the history of Western culture and cuisine, and are now being understood as essential keys to improving diets to combat modern health problems like diabetes and coronary disease.
Both are widely used to make everyday food items including sauces, condiments, salad dressings, antipasto, breads, relishes, marinades, vinaigrettes or a great finishing touch drizzled over a dish.
“If I’m having Asian food, I’ll use our smoked balsamic, or garlic/cilantro or chlli pepper in place of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce,” Ray said. “It gives a lot of flavor with a lot less salt, or sugar.”
“You can substitute balsamics, especially the flavored ones, for a lot of other condiments,” she said. “I use our “Sweet Heat” instead of malt vinegar or catsup on fries or fried fish or whatever. All things considered, balsamic is a pretty good option to get a lot of flavor.”
And even if you’re not looking to try anything new or different, you can use an olive oil that tastes good to you to make your cooking more nutritious, but still flavorsome.
“Most people are already cooking with some oil at home, they’re using olive oil or vegetable or canola oil,” Ray said. “Our olive oils are all good up to 406 degrees, so you can cook with them.
“So you get all that flavor by just substituting the oil that you’re using,” she said.
She said some people have gotten the idea from TV cooking shows that one shouldn’t cook with olive oil, but it is good for almost all uses.
However, the olive oil at your store may not be all one would hope or wish, and the “balsamic vinegar” served at your restaurant is too often merely a compilation of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar sweetened with sugar and colored with carmel coloring.
Surprise!; there’s a lot more flavor and nutrition in “the good stuff”.
“Olive oil is high in mono-unsaturated fat, which is good fat, and it’s also packed with naturally occurring antioxidants called polyphenols,” Ray said. “And those degrade really quickly over time.”
“Most of the olive oil you buy at the store or at your local big box outlet chain has very low or no polyphenols in it,” she said.
“All of our oils are really fresh.”
Polyphenols are considered a natural anti-inflammatory with a bouquet of other health benefits from healing sunburn to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of coronary disease. They have also been linked to slower aging and overall better health.
Balsamic vinegar has been used since ancient times, not only for zesty seasoning, but as a tonic to relieve fatigue, help digestion and aid in weight loss, along with other benefits, many helpful in the aging process.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made in a series of wooden casks over a period of at least 12 years. As it decreases in volume through evaporation over time, the maturing liquor is moved to smaller and smaller kegs, each made of aromatic woods like chestnut, cherry, ash, mulberry and juniper.
Wild Olive’s balsamics are made in Modeno, Italy, the birthplace of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
“Our balsamics are made in a traditional fashion but implement some modern technology which basically speeds up the aging process,” Ray said. “So it’s going to taste very reminiscent of a 25-year aged balsamic.”
“The family that makes our balsamic has been making it in that region for five generations,” she said. “It’s good stuff.”
“As a condiment, it’s a fairly healthy option,” she said. “Any condiment that you use to add flavor is usually going to also add something you don’t want.
The Wild Olive features over 40 flavors of oil, including many varietals, and tons of flavor-infused oils.
“That’s what people get excited about,” Ray said.