Nectar of the gods

Nicole Capozziello

I came to appreciate olive oil probably as every child in my family has: as a distraction while eating out with my grandparents. Pouring olive oil onto a plate and dabbing crusty Italian bread was first and foremost just something to keep my sisters and me from running around or making controversial comments until dinner came out. Only years later did I realize how delicious -and how vast -the world of olive oil truly is.
My olive oil obsession truly began about three years ago, with the gift of a bottle of thyme olive oil. Since then, I’ve eaten bread and olive oil for at least three meals a week while also acquiring more bottles of olive oil than any 21-year-old needs.
Recently, two different friends brought me back a bottle of olive oil from their respective spring break trips – the first time I’ve received duplicate presents since the Christmas that three people got me “Little Women” on DVD. However, the great thing about the olive oil that I received – and this is no insult to the masterpiece that is “Little Women” – is that oils are not alike.
This became abundantly clear during my trip to Appleton’s very own olive oil store, The Olive Cellar. Upon being confronted with dozens of seemingly identical stainless steel olive oil vessels, I soon realized that blind passion and unnecessary references to olive oil as “the nectar of the gods” doth not a connoisseur make.
I spent over an hour with the store’s owner and manager Gordon Cole, hearing the story of how he came to open the area’s only olive oil store as well as sampling my own fair share of olive oil. Cole, a native of Pennsylvania, worked in Appleton’s printing industry for decades before opening The Olive Cellar. Gordon and his wife Cathy, co-owners of the store, had long been passionate about olive oil, and when Gordon found himself at career crossroads, he had the opportunity to open a store of his own.
“Just don’t lose my house,” was Cole’s wife’s only request when he told her about his idea. The store, which opened in December of 2007, is constantly evolving – most recently seen adding wine – but has always intended to carry “products you can’t get everywhere.”
In addition to The Olive Cellar’s selection of olive oil – hailing from Greece, Chile, California, Spain, Italy and Australia – it also carries artisan pastas, pesto sauce, jams and local artwork, among other things.
During my time at The Olive Cellar, I was also able to learn a lot about olive oil, when I was not too distracted by the opportunity for free samples. And so, here are eight things I picked up along the way. Some of these facts may lower your cholesterol, others may inspire you to drive to The Olive Cellar, located at 277 W. Northland Ave., next to Sai Ram, while still others may not be facts at all – or may just be too personal.
1. We will start with the simplest information: Olive oil is better for you than butter. Oddly, The Olive Cellar has to dedicate time to educating people about the health benefits of olive oil over butter. While I believe butter has its place in cookies, I was simply stunned at the need to make olive oil, the nectar of the gods, appealing. Counterintuitively, considering its tastiness, olive oil contains several natural benefits such as antioxidants, polyphenols and Vitamin E. In light of this, the Appleton Heart Institute often refers patients who need to lower their cholesterol to the store.
2. The rather intimidating steel containers which store the olive oil are called “fustis.” At The Olive Cellar, fustis hold the store’s selection of about 30 different olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Best of all, each fusti has a little spout from which to sample to olive oil. According to Cole, only two people have ever tried all of them on one visit.
3. While I most often enjoy the simple pleasures of olive oil with bread, most of the store’s patrons use olive oil either in vinaigrettes or for mere sauteing. Each week, Cole sends out a recipe utilizing one of those products to those on the store’s mailing list, which you can join at http://www.theolivecellar.com/.
4. All of The Olive Cellar’s olive oil is 100-percent extra virgin olive oil, also known by its pleasing acronym form, EVOO. “The lower the acidity, the better the oil,” said Cole, who strives to carry olive oils with an acidity of .08 percent or less.
5. Balsamic vinegar, particularly aged and thick balsamic vinegar, can be used as an ice cream topping.
6. This fact is just cool, albeit out of place on this list: 22,000 cars drive by The Olive Cellar a day, a statistic that Cole considered when deciding on the store’s location.
7. Flavored olive oil is made through the fusing process in which the source of flavor – garlic, thyme, tangerine, etc. – is pressed along with the olives. Balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, is infused with flavor.
8. This is perhaps the most depressing fact of all. In addition to being best when fresh, the average bottle of olive oil has a shelf life of two years, after which it can go rancid. Cole said that he personally recommends using your olive oil within a year and a half. All I know is that I have a lot of work to do.

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