It's been barely three weeks since the ribbon-cutting at The True Olive Connection, and on a sunny Sunday, curious gourmets were sampling liquids from tiny plastic cups.
Shelves line the walls bearing stainless steel barrels of more than 40 flavors of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Adjacent to each is a bottle from which tastes are poured. Mike Pappas, who opened the store with his wife Susan, suggested I first warm the cup with my hands to release aromas from the oils.
After I selected my favorites, Pappas filled bottles of oil or vinegar from the barrels. Each of them was corked and their shrink-wrap tops heated to ensure freshness.
The Pappas' distributor comes from a long line of Italian olive people. Her olives are cold-pressed at an unusually low temperature, which reduces the yield but results in a more flavorful product. Pappas is convinced that he has the freshest oil around.
Most oils cost $10-$12 for a 200 ml bottle. Vinegars are also $10, except for the 18-year old traditional balsamic ($12). It doesn't take much, however, to add incredible flavor to salads and marinades.
You can create innumerable combinations at home to match the theme of your meal. Combine harissa oil and golden pineapple vinegar for a chili-citrus vinaigrette. For Asian-themed salads, the ginger-honey balsamic is perfect. Pappas recommends pomegranate vinegar and citrus oil for an amazing marinade. Chocolate balsamic is delicious drizzled over pears, and also makes killer brownies. A favorite combination is Tuscan herb oil and peach vinegar. For diabetics, add a berry-flavored balsamic to a bottle of Perrier for a natural diet soda.
Custom baskets are also available for family or corporate gifts.
The True Olive Connection, 106 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz, 458-6457. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Visit trueoliveconnection.com.
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