As I’m swishing my sample of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil around, I’m told that sampling olive oil is similar to wine. The owners of Kingston Olive Oil Company, Shaun and Julia Finucane, have brought fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars to the Limestone City. The store is located near the corner of King and Brock Streets.
Shaun instructs me to place my hand over the oil and move the cup to swish the oil around, in order to heat up the aromas and spices. You then take a large portion of the olive oil in your mouth, letting the liquid rest in your mouth. I’m told that the more oxygen and air you’ve inhaled, the more aromas will be released. Let the oils linger in your mouth – so you can experience the aromatic flavours on your tongue.
You won’t find another place like this anywhere else in Kingston. He added in Ontario there are less than a dozen of these types of tasting bar experiences to be had. While they import from places as far as Tunisia, North Africa and Spain, they also partner a lot with local restaurant owners.
The store also stocks pastas and gourmet sea salts, organic seasoning rubs from Vancouver Island, that wouldn’t be found anywhere else in the city.
Two months from now marks one year since Kingston Olive Oil Company first opened its doors. The tasting bar has stainless steel fustis, filled with different oils and balsamic vinegars, lining the walls on either side. From the street, the space is intriguing, combining the artisanal side of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a classy ambient feel.
I decided to sit down with Shaun to find out how the olive oil business has been thriving since its opening last May:
Q: Why did you choose to open an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store?
A: The short story is I’m a horse veterinarian. I do that Monday to Friday every week. My wife and I about a year and a half ago went on a trip to Saratoga, New York to a horse race, and we stumbled upon a similar type of store … and just had all kinds of fun. We like food, we like travel, we like good food and it just seemed like a really interactive and fun place to be. And on the way home we thought it would be a probably nice fit for Kingston so we researched it and found the right location and went from there.
Q: How would you say the Kingston Olive Oil Company fits a niche in the city?
A: I think that there’s a growing trend for people wanting to look for quality food. There’s a trend of people looking at their health [and] their well being, and extra-virgin olive oil has recently been in the headlines as being a big component of the Mediterranean diet. The New England Journal of Medicine just released a study – a overwhelming study – a year ago that supports that [idea] good extra-virgin olive oil helps reduce cardiac disease and other detrimental health diseases.
Q: How do customers typically hear about your store?
A: A lot of it is word of mouth. We’re on social media… [Our products are] in restaurants throughout Kingston … That has been a supportive thing for us as well and we’re in a couple of cafes and bakeries in the surrounding area.
Q: Do you find you get a mix of customers that come into the store?
A: I would say the composition would be 40 per cent tourist, 60 per cent locals. We offer a few programs here … for locals. We have a recycle [and] reuse program … They can bring their bottles back… and refill with whatever flavour they want, and they get a 10 per cent discount.
Q: What makes these olive oils different from the store-bought variety?
A: [We] put the harvest date on it [and] follow the harvest … We have switched back to obtaining oils from the northern hemisphere so they just finished their harvest from November to January of this year. Olive oils, like freshly squeezed orange juice, its health benefits start to decline. Every six months we switch from northern and southern hemispheres.
Q: Do you work with any other local businesses?
A: We have recently partnered with a local bakery, Bread and Butter Bakery… We offer some of their baked goods that actually have olive oil in them. There’s also a local sausage maker named Seed to Sausage [that we stock].
Q: Are there any future additions or expansions we can expect?
A: We have a seasonal store opening up mid May within the walls of Fort Henry. They’re setting up what is called Fort Henry Trade Square, where they have allowed some local vendors to be within there, so we’re going to be there from May until September.
Q: Do members of your family assist you with the store?
A: My wife is a partner with me on this venture… she does behind-the-scene [work]… My parents help especially during the Christmas season; we get quite busy through December.
While Kingston Olive Oil Company may be relatively new, they definitely cater to the growing trend of people seeking healthier options as well as quality products.
Speaking to Shaun, my perspective has changed about olive oil, as more than just a mere cooking necessity stocked on grocery shelves. A fresh and flavourful olive oil is best appreciated by savouring the nuanced taste and balance of rich aromas.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Kingston Olive Oil Company hosts chef demonstrations periodically.
For more information on Kingston Olive Oil Company please visit: http://www.kingstonoliveoil.com
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