Everything you ever wanted to know about your favorite condiments.
At the end of Main Street in Gloucester sits an unassuming shop that might change the way you cook, eat, and ... live. The Cape Ann Olive Oil Company opened its doors five years ago and hasn’t looked back. Among their many regular customers is the mayor of Gloucester, Sefatia Romeo-Theken. More on her later.
Many think that Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. is a franchise, since stores very much like it have popped up all over the country. Some of those can be found in Boston on Newbury Street, in Newburyport, and in Newport, Rhode Island.
It is not a franchise, although there is an agreement in place to buy the extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from Veronica Foods in Oakland, California. The company was founded in New York City in 1924, but moved to Oakland in the late 1930s, where it is still based. In lieu of franchising, Veronica assists the owner with the opening of an olive oil store, in exchange for being the stores exclusive supplier, including the oil, vinegar, bottles, corks, gift packs, and shippers.
The store was originally opened by Eric and Laura Negron (Eric did all the carpentry work in the store), but was bought from them in early summer by Patty and Rick Gates. The Gates may be familiar faces to a lot of people as they are the owners of the popular Premier Imprints, directly across the street from Cape Ann Olive Oil.
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The first thing you notice when entering Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. is the large, shiny stainless steel tanks called fusti. The fusti help preserve the integrity of the olive oils and vinegars as it fights their two biggest enemies: light and heat. The next thing you notice is that you can try just about everything in the store. For the brave ones — and this is important — try the oils and vinegars before you inhibit your taste buds with the fiery hot sauces they sell.
Extra virgin olive oil is cold pressed and is the result of the first pressing of the olives. It tends to be lower in acidity than other varieties of olive oil. It’s considered the finest and fruitiest. Its color can range from light gold to bright green. A general rule of thumb is the deeper the color, the bolder the olive flavor. To help you figure all this out each fusti of olive oil has a sign on it with all the pertinent facts of whats inside, such as its country of origin, crush date, tasting notes and suggested uses. Much like wine, each single origin olive oil has a unique and distinctive flavor profile.
Some general flavor profiles to keep in mind:
— Spanish olive oils are usually lighter in color and have fruity and nutty flavors.
— Italian olive oils are quite often dark green with with herbal aromas and grassy flavors.
— Greek olive oil has a strong flavor and aroma and is most likely green in color.
— California olive oils tend to be light in color and flavor and somewhat fruity.
— Contrary to what most people think, Spain is the largest producer of olive oil with Italy in second place.
All of the flavored olive oils at Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. are flavored naturally. They are either infused or fused.
What does all that mean?
Infused extra virgin olive oils are flavored with all natural ingredients like herbs, herb blends, citrus, peppers, and garlic. The garlic and the Tuscan Herb are two of the more popular infused olive oils.
Fused extra virgin olive oils on the other hand, also called agrumato oils is when the olives are crushed with fresh fruit, herbs, peppers, and other natural flavoring agents at the mill. Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. features Blood Orange and Lemon infused olive oils.
Lindsay, an extremely knowledgable part of the Cape Ann Oil Co. team loves the Blood Orange Olive Oil. She likes to start her Sunday morning by making pancakes, but not any ordinary pancakes.
She oils her griddle with the Blood Orange olive oil, not only before she pours the batter on the griddle but also when she flips them so that the oil imparts its citrusy flavor on both sides of the pancake. Dab some butter on the pancakes and you may not even need maple syrup. Perhaps a drizzle of olive oil is in order.
My favorite way to use the Blood Orange olive oil is to pour a big “glug” of it over a bowl of arugula and then toss. Season it with a sprinkling of sea salt and your salad is done. No need for a fancy salad dressing or even vinegar (but don’t tell Cape Ann Olive Oil I said that!). It’s so simple and yet so tasty.
I made Lindsay promise to try my salad and I am going to be making her blood orange pancakes immediately.
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Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. balsamic vinegar is certified to come from Modena, Italy, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar. Each fusti of balsamic also has its own sign with pertinent information such as the age, tasting notes, and suggested uses.
The balsamic vinegar is made using the Solera aging method which has not changed much over the years. The balsamic vinegar is first cooked over an open wood fire and then aged up to 18 years in seasoned wooden casks most commonly made of oak, but also could be from ash, juniper, cherry, or chestnut. While the balsamic vinegar is aged it picks up some of the flavor of the barrels. During the process some evaporates and younger balsamic is added to the barrel to keep it full. This attention to detail results in a very smooth, dense, and flavor-complex product. And it’s all done naturally. No added sugar, thickeners or artificial flavorings and colorings are added ever.
The best-selling balsamic vinegar is the all natural aged Fig Balsamic Condimento, which I am not surprised to hear, as it is a favorite of mine as well. There is nothing better than some fresh tomatoes right out of the garden, sliced and thickly drizzled with some basil olive oil, the fig balsamic, and a pinch of sea salt sprinkled over them. If summer had a taste this would be it! You can even use it for dessert. Just drizzle it over fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream and topped with some freshly-ground black pepper.
There are so many oils and vinegars to taste at the Gloucester store that a person could not possibly try them all in one visit. Each time I visit the store I try something new — and the lineup is always changing.
On my most recent visit I stumbled upon Butter Olive Oil. I was perplexed by this. If you want the flavor of butter, use butter, but I was told that it sells quite well. A lot of their customers find it a good substitute for butter when watching their saturated fat intake. I won’t bore you with the butter-versus-olive oil debate. Its about personal preference, although Lindsay says the butter olive oil is quite good on popcorn.
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Cape Ann Olive Oil has a big poster hanging on the wall over the register touting its health benefits. The poster claims that by using olive oil in place of butter, the risk of stroke is reduced by 41% — hence the popularity of butter-flavored olive oil. It also says that olive oil helps to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by almost 50% and that by eating more olive oil and less bad fat you can reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 35%.
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But back to Mayor Romeo-Theken.
The mayor loves buying one of Cape Ann Olive Oil’s single-origin, unflavored oils and flavoring them herself.
She admits that this is not something everyone wants to do — or has the time for — and that there is nothing wrong with buying an already-flavored oil, as long as you are buying a high quality naturally flavored one from a reputable seller, like Cape Ann Olive Oil.
To quote Romeo-Theken: “There is never a recipe that can go bad as long as you have good ingredients. And that means a good rich oil. Nothing imitation.”
She says the secret to good cooking is good ingredients, starting with the base: olive oil. The mayor also suggests that the next time you cook a fried egg, try using a plain olive oil from Cape Ann Olive Oil Co. And a local egg of course.
After all she is the mayor of a food-centric community.
Cape Ann Olive Oil Co., 57 Main St, Gloucester, MA, (978) 281 1061.
Brian Knowles is a freelance writer in Salem. Shawn Henry is a Gloucester-based editorial photographer.