COVER STORY: Olives on tap in North Van
Sampling balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil is as complex as tasting wine.
There’s grapefruit, cinnamon pear, tangerine and espresso vinegar; garlic, butter, wild mushroom and Tuscan herb oil.
The list goes on and on at this shop in North Vancouver that deals exclusively with specialty balsamic vinegars and olive oils.
How about a bottle of strawberry dark balsamic coupled with basil oil?
This is what Andrew Cameron, owner of Olives On Tap, recommends as he walks through his showroom.
He pours a sample of each into a small plastic cup and mixes them together. It’s the perfect pairing for chicken, fish or in a salad, he says.
In round metal jugs with spouts, all 45 oil and vinegars are ready to be tasted before purchase.
This is the only way that customers truly know what they’re buying, says Cameron.
“One of the most popular over Christmas has been grapefruit balsamic with blood orange olive oil,” he says, pouring another sample onto a small spoon.
The blood orange oil, which is pressed with ripe Tunisian olives, is exceedingly versatile, pairing well with seafood, chicken and fruit.
And the flavours aren’t subtle. Ripe strawberry, for example, can’t be missed in the strawberry dark balsamic vinegar.
Cameron has already opened his second store since November, moving into his newest location at 928 West 16 St. near A&W on Marine Drive, while keeping his pop-up shop at Lonsdale Quay.
The young entrepreneur was first introduced to the idea of a store exclusively for oil and vinegar when he saw an “oil bar” on a trip back home to Nova Scotia. After heading out West and earning a masters degree from UBC in forestry, Cameron decided it was time to move to North Van and set up shop.
“Just like wine, you can start to pick up mild or robust flavours,” he explains. An expert will be able to tell which olive oils go well with different vinegars, so as to not overpower the taste.
Opened less than a month ago, Olives on Tap on Marine Drive still has bare walls. Driving between his two stores, Cameron plans to buy artwork once the busy Christmas season is over.
The rest of the store, however, is set up with vinegar along one wall and olive oil on varnished wooden tables Cameron built himself.
Although his extra virgin olive oil must go through strict testing, it can still be tasted as early as three weeks from the farm.
Shipped often from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece — whichever areas are in season — these oils are chemically tested in California. They must be free of defects while having appropriate fruity, bitter and pungent (peppery) flavours.
Not all extra-virgin olive oil is as it seems, however. Around 30 to 50 per cent on U.S. shelves doesn’t meet the criteria for authentic extra-virgin olive oil, says Cameron, because the government doesn’t test to ensure quality.
“There’s nothing wrong with seed or canola oils but olive oil has such great health benefits,” says Cameron. It’s an antioxidant, for example, and is high in omega-9 fatty acid, which prevents heart disease and lowers cholesterol.
Unlike some wine that gets better with age, olive oil starts to lose its flavour and health benefits over time, adds Cameron, so it’s best to use a bottle one year from its crush date, even if it’s never opened.
“There’s nothing like this in North Van,” says Cameron, referring to his new business. “I’m a big foodie and a big chef at home, so this all came naturally.”
Olives on Tap is located at 928 W. 16 Street and in Lonsdale Quay. Small size bottles are $12, medium $20 and large $32. For a list of olive oils and balsamic vinegars available, visit olivesontap.com.