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OOJ Blog

Steven’s thoughts on olive oil, vinegars, food and travel.

NEW YORK CITY FOOD SHOP HISTORY AND MY AMBIVALENCE TOWARDS ASTRONOMICALLY PRICED OLIVE OILS

Here’s a little New York City food history.

Almost forty years ago, I was the very first in the US, not just New York, to offer at retail the very first Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. I was employed by the great Henry Lambert of Pasta & Cheese fame. In those days the fresh pasta biz was a hobby for Henry. His day job was president of local mogul Saul Steinberg’s real estate arm Continental Cities.

Stocking Henry’s shops with stuff I loved meant, of course, that that oil was the very first Tuscan olive oil to come to North America. I bought it from a customer of mine, a well-known wine biz person named Leo Shaw. He was a mainstay at Frederick Wildman, the prominent wine importer. Leo imported a certain estate’s Chianti, and on a whim, the estate’s olive oil, too, from a Tuscan man named Piero Stucchi Prenetti whose wife was Lorenza de Medici, and, man, did they play off of that. I am firm in my belief that it was their Badia A Coltibuono wine and olive oil that had a great deal to do with the smug, pseudo-superiority and snobbery that was exuded then and now by most Tuscans, aided and abetted by the powerful and glorious career of restaurateur Pino Luongo, Mr. Tuscany, of New York and Chicago.

For a long time that ridiculously over-priced olive oil was only sold at Henry’s Pasta & Cheese Manhattan pasta shops.

When I left Pasta & Cheese for the Upper Westside’s Fairway Market in 1980 I soon stocked more than half a dozen Tuscan olive oils.
But, Tuscany.

If I was from Tuscany I’d probably be pretty smug about it, too. I mean, we’re talking Florence, Pisa,  Siena. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, look at the place.

Tuscany  Tuscany  Tuscany

Toscana is a sprawling region, huge. There is no shortage of available arable land suited for olive groves. Yet comparatively little of it is dedicated to olives,  as is the case for the South of France, whereas, for instance, Greece, fully 60% of the country’s farmland is given over to olives. Yet the fact is undeniable that the market for Tuscan olive oil is strong, and demand exceeds supply. Therefore the price for it has long been, and remains, high — higher than any other olive oil in the Mediterranean basin and for that matter everywhere else in the world.

The Larnianone estate’s groves produce olive oil so fine you will weep. Though goodness gracious, is it expensive.  But compare for yourself. It’s not nearly so expensive as all those other Tuscan oils. And you want beautiful Tuscany?  Here you go. This is where our oil comes from.

On the other hand, Olive Oil Jones is thrilled to have witnessed and abetted the dramatic rise in quality of so many fine regional Spanish olive oils. All heroically superior and delicious.

Try this:  Unscrew the cap of a liter bottle of Olive Oil Jones olive oil. Any one of them. Raise the bottle top to one of your ears. I only have one ear, but that is another story.

As you can hear the ocean when you heft a conch shell to your ear, our olive oil sings, not music, but the alternating SHHHH and SSSS of rising and falling Mediterranean breezes passing through the leaves of olive trees.  Use your imagination.

Now smell the oil. Can you define it? Try. And never forget:  You smell before you taste; it’s automatic. Your nose will ‘see’ it before your tongue does.

Listening to an Olive Oil Jones olive oil, and then smelling it and tasting it, is a pleasure you may not experience with olive oils purchased at retail or at on-line websites. Those oils are not alive, they’re likely hardly even breathing. Our olive oils are rolling, billowing expressions of exuberance, and you can expect to become spoiled by them. You will find it hard to ever be without them again.

Dark bottles for olive oil are made for commercial olive oils that will have been sitting on bright-light shelves for far too long. That light robs olive oil of vitamins, color, freshness, and contributes mightily toward oxidation, which means ‘stale’ and lifeless. Olive Oil Jones bottles are clear for several reasons:  We want to be able to see our olive oil. And we know your OOJ olive oil will be kept in a dark pantry for most of its contribution to your life. Further, our label is so large it does the job a dark bottle is meant to do. Most important though is our practice, our insistence, that your oil was not put in our bottle until we began to pack your box. That is a very cool fact.
 

Steven Jenkins