City Bites

OPENING! Introducing Emulsify, the west-end olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar

Jesseka Blom, a registered nurse, brings the olive oil tasting bar concept to the west end

While we’ve been inundated with news about the health benefits of olive oil, the process of shopping for a bottle at the supermarket or Italian food shops is less well-defined. In fact, it can be downright confusing, if not daunting. The prices range wildly, and even those of us who don’t mind spending a bit more money on good quality pantry staples wonder how much is too much to spend on salad dressing basics.

How can we choose between the $17 bottle and one that’s $37? How do we know when we’re paying for fancy marketing or worse — how do we know the bottle contains what it claims it does: 100% pure extra-virgin olive oil (adulterated and even fake oil is apparently widespread according to Tom Mueller in his book “Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” — a great book, by the way).

Two independently-owned olive oil boutiques have launched in Ottawa in recent weeks, offering a new way to shop for oils and vinegars. It’s part of the wave of tasting bars that have supposedly become a retail craze across North America and Europe.

I visited Emulsify, the olive oil bar on Wellington St. W. but I understand the shopping experience is similar at The Unrefined Olive (151A Second Ave.) in the Glebe. Both shops are dedicated to extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, but rather than choosing by price, the name of the game appears to be flavour — dozens of them.