Premium Olive Oil Coming to Public Market
Oro di Oliva readies its third location
Freshness is key when buying olive oil. An olive is at its peak the moment it is picked from a tree, so every month that olive oil sits on a shelf, it breaks down, its flavor deteriorates and it loses some of its antioxidant qualities. That's why you can't usually find good olive oil at most grocery stores, explains Josh Saiia, owner of the Oro di Oliva oil and vinegar shops in Wauwatosa (7606 Harwood Ave.) and Whitefish Bay (338 E. Silver Spring Drive).
“Tests have found that most olive oil on the grocery store shelf is between 2 and 3 years old, so its flavor profile is heavy and putty-like,” Saiia says. “It tastes a bit like Play-Doh, and that's why so many people prefer butter. They've never had good olive oil.”
Like wine, no two olive oils taste the same, since each crop of olives picks up different nuances from its environment. Those unique flavor profiles come across most vividly when olive oil is fresh. To ensure Oro di Oliva's product is fresh, the stores buy directly from growers and source their inventory from both hemispheres to follow the harvests of each supplier. “Our policy is we never stock anything older than the current year's harvest,” Saiia says.
Fresh olive oil costs a bit more—most bottles are between $12 and $20—so the shops let customers sample before they buy. Saiia encourages customers to taste the fresh oils side by side with a mass-market olive oil. “A quality oil will be vibrant and aromatic, and it won't have any of the defective notes of a grocery-store olive oil,” he says. And Saiia says that despite what some Food Network chefs advise, quality olive oils aren't just for finishing or dressing a dish. Since their smoke point is about 425 degrees, well below sautéing temperature, they can be used for cooking.
This month Saiia will open a third Oro di Oliva location, in the Milwaukee Public Market (near the northern parking-lot entrance and between the Breadsmith and the space that will soon host a Groppi's). He's planning on a May 16 opening.
At just 450 square feet, the new shop will be smaller than the store's other locations, but it will stock the same selection of oils and vinegars, including an array of balsamics. The shop's dark balsamic offerings include dark cherry, tangerine, fig, chocolate and espresso, while the white balsamics play with flavors like apricot, mango and honey-ginger.
“It's really fun to pair the vinegars with different oils,” Saiia says. “The flavors of all of them come across intensely. When you take a sip of them in the shop, they all just explode with flavor.”