It’s easy to get in an olive oil rut once you find a blend you like. No one wants to commit to a $45 bottle only to discover it’s too grassy or too buttery or just doesn’t taste right drizzled on your daily loaf. “Taste Before You Buy” is the invaluable mantra of the self-serve olive oil shops that have emerged over the last few years. Some provide empty bottles. Others require you to bring your own and will reward your eco-friendliness with a rebate.
Here’s a look at three such shops that have settled in San Francisco. At each one, you'll find a staff that understands its inventory and will eagerly school you on the merits of every product.
It’s a little Wonkish at this Noe Valley favorite where rows of fusti (stainless steel canisters) hold vinegars flavored with mango, serrano chile honey, green apple and even balsamic marshmallow. Rainbow-colored pastas handcrafted by Pappardelle’s Pasta, based in Denver, include purplish Sweet Red Onion, Bell Pepper Trio (yellow, red, and green) and both a chocolate and chocolate raspberry, the latter of which is also available gluten-free. The store has become a locals’ hangout for its monthly BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread) happy hours where guests nibble on appetizers crafted around that month’s theme. This Thursday, 9/26 from 6 - 8 p.m., chocolate is on the menu with confections from Recchiuti. Co-owner Janell Pekkain will bake olive oil cakes and mini cheesecakes (recipes to be provided) to pair with Recchiuti’s sweets. “We are really good about pairing," she says. "We really want everybody to learn." Visit the facebook event page for more information.
The Marina branch of this California chain is a one-stop-shop for party-planning. In addition to selling exclusively extra-virgin California olive oils certified by the California Olive Oil Council and locally-produced vinegars (they do import one balsamic from Italy), We Olive features the gamut of jams, spreads, tapenades, sauces, chutneys, and even a few lip balms. Nearly every product is open for tasting. The store is currently looking for a new chef so that it can reinstate its popular cooking class series, which its hopes to relaunch in the next few months.
Stonehouse produces organic olive oils out of Napa Valley where it ensures freshness by crushing all olives within 48 hours of picking. For its infusions -- like bright Lisbon Lemon and summery Basil -- the olives are smashed along with actual fruits or herbs to extract maximum flavor whereas lesser manufacturers use essences. At its stall inside the Ferry Building, you'll find the majority of its oils available in bulk (as well as pre-bottled), except for dipping oils. The store does not provide empty bottles but will take $3 off your purchase if your bring your own. Acceptable sizes are 750 ml (house blend only), 500 ml, and 225 ml.
Ready to throw a tasting party? Learn how to store your oil and slurp like a pro.
Follow Alissa Merksamer on twitter @glamsnack.