(Editor’s Note: Neither Steve Coomes nor Insider Louisville is compensated for this endorsement. All opinions that may endorse or even criticize a product are written solely from our bloggers’ personal perspectives and not influenced by outside providers.)
The beauty of a blog vs. true news reporting is you get to say what you darn well please.
And so I’m saying I’m darn glad that Oliva Bella artisanal olive oils and balsamic vinegar are now available in Louisville.
These are super products that, while pricey compared to the imposters, are worthy of the splurge. And if you’re at all like me, you may need some education on what makes great olive oil and true balsamic vinegar before you go plunging in wallet first and not understanding what you’re getting.
To wit: Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle Oliva Bella Olio Rustico, which I knew was a special gift, but frankly I didn’t know what to make of the flavor of the oil: brightly fragrant, grassy notes of lemon and cut clover—smells I wasn’t accustomed to in what I thought were quality extra-virgin versions. So, out of ignorance, I put it on my shelf and promptly forgot about it.
During a June dinner I met Oliva Bella owner Lea Ann Vessels, a brainy, charismatic charmer who didn’t bat an eye when, 30 seconds into our conversation, I said, “Is it supposed to smell so grassy?”
Without hesitation, Vessels said unexpected aromatic notes are part of what you’ll find in high-quality oils, that the good stuff doesn’t present a narrow profile to the proboscis.
Vessels, a Proctor & Gamble executive by day, who travels the world for work, got hooked on small-batch Southern Italian olive oils during stops there, knew there was precious little of it in Kentucky, and made it a goal to bring it to Lexington, her home base.
Starting with a booth at the Lexington Farmers Market, she’s since opened a shop in town (400 Old Vine Street #104) where she hosts tastings to introduce people to the virtues of artisan oil by, well, letting them taste it for themselves. Now it’s in Louisville, her first out-of-town expansion.
She talks up how the olives are hand harvested from centuries-old trees, pressed once and never hot pressed or pasteurized (which kills the oil’s flavor in pursuit of extending shelf life).
I and a handful of other press hacks heard the spiel during a luncheon at Lilly’s: a Kentucky Bistro yesterday (chef-owner Kathy Cary has been using Oliva Bella for a while now—hell of an endorsement there). The story is one Vessels delivers passionately, mixing descriptions of the Italian growers and the hard labor involved in making their oils.
Here’s why the story is important: It’s hard—for me at least—to be at home tasting a strikingly different oil and thinking, “Why does it taste like that?” But just as listening to someone describe the characteristics of fine wine helps you appreciate and understand it, the same happens when Vessels describes its nuances. It’s one of those, “Yeah, I taste that, and it’s good” experiences you get when learning about any new food.
(Of course, nothing helps more than having said oil and balsamic vinegar used in food like Cary’s. The dessert course used Oliva Bella’s Delicato oil in a fig cake and, get this, a sea salt gelato. Un. Freakin’. Real. An olive-oil poached salmon was unspeakably delicate, arguably perfect. Want your own taste? Lilly’s is hosting an Oliva Bella dinner on Oct. 29. Keep watch here for more details.)
Oliva Bella’s Balsamico de Modena—which is more rich, tangy syrup than watery, edgy vinegar—also bears mentioning. Made from reduced Trebbiano and Lambrusco grape juices, this is balsamic vinegar like most have never had it, something equally suited for salad greens, fresh fruit and even gelato. Amazing. So potent, the bottle doesn’t get a screw cap, it gets an eye-dropper.
So where can you get these goods in Louisville? Lotsa Pasta (3717 Lexington Rd.); Blue Dog Bakery & Café (2868 Frankfort Ave.); and Burger’s Market (1105 Ray Ave). What’s available in town now is what we tried yesterday: Olio Delicato, Olio Rustico, Olio Sardo (my favorite of the oils—or was it?) and the eight-year aged Balsamico.
Better yet, on every Saturday in October (1, 8, 15, 22 and 29), Oliva Bella will host tastings at all three Louisville outlets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s a great way to learn firsthand why such products are truly special.
If you want to visit Oliva Bella in Lexington, call 859-938-3567 or hit its website for more info.
Editor’s Note: Neither Steve Coomes nor Insider Louisville is compensated for this endorsement. All opinions that may endorse or even criticize a product are written solely from our bloggers’ personal perspectives and not influenced by outside providers.