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April 13, 2012

Grazing: The Disneyland of Olive Oil

Olive_oilThe first time I saw a specialty olive-oil store — on Long Island — I thought it was kind of gimmicky. I'm not much for infused oils (unless I do it myself), and the concept seemed to take "artisanal" to a nutty level. Yet I formed this judgment without ever stepping through the door, and held fast to it even after I was given an olive-oil-store gift basket for Christmas and became hooked on chocolate balsamic vinegar. It was tasty, but would I ever buy some for myself? Nah.

So when I walked out of the Saratoga Olive Oil Co. store this week with three bottles under my arm, including an olive oil pressed with blood-orange peel, I had to admit I'd been turned. Seduced? I'm not sure. It probably doesn't matter, but like a favorite shoe store, I need to pace my visits.

The shop opened about a month ago at 86 Church Street, the second branch in what might be a slowly growing empire owned and run by the Braidwood family of Saratoga. The interior is spare, and both sides lined by stainless-steel urns filled with single-varietal and infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. In their midst is a table filled with jars of specialty salts in tricked-out flavors such as Hawaiian Black Lava and French Garden.

Along each counter are tiny plastic cups, as well as cookie jars filled with cubes of Red Hen Bread for dipping. I was reluctant to pick up one, but district manager Pete Fazio egged me on. "Try anything you like." For real? Twenty minutes later, I was still sipping grassy Australian Hojiblanca oil and balsamic vinegars made with maple syrup, figs, espresso and chili when I realized I should put up or shut up, and admit defeat.

When I swooned over a rich California Arbosano extra-virgin olive oil, Fazio confessed his own growing addiction to the liquid pleasures in the store. That fused blood-orange oil? Marinate lamb chops with it, he suggested, then grill them — along with a wild blueberry balsamic vinegar that is among the most delicious vinegars I've ever tasted. 

I didn't have any lamb on hand last night, but when I drizzled some over a baby kale salad, it coated each leaf in what tasted like earthy, berrylike silk. Gimmick or not, I'm a sated girl.

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