At the end of the rainbow you’ll find a pot of gold – or so the Irish legends go. Given the colorful nature of Montclair, it’s hard not to stretch the legend a bit to suggest the retail rainbow of Upper Montclair leads to a pool of liquid gold – in the form of olive oil at Olive That! And More.
The brain child of husband and wife team Steve Lehrhoff and Jennifer O’Sullivan, Olive That! And More is an emporium of Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegar, infused vinegars and oils, and exotic sea salt. It’s a place to discover and get reacquainted with simplest of culinary pleasures, some good bread, some good olive oil, and great conversation.
The idea of an olive oil boutique is not that unique, the Filling Station in Chelsea is fairly well known among Montclair residents. There’s also the Saratoga Oil Company in Burlington, Vermont, plus the boutiques in San Francisco and the DC metro area. Of course in the rest of the world, a shop that specializes in this golden elixir is as old as olive oil itself.
Having traveled the world as Elton John’s tour manager, the most profound thing to come from the conversations with Steve was that no matter where he went, it seemed olive oil and bread was what brought people together. So why not set up shop so Americans can recreate these same experiences right here? Olive Oil and bread is so much more enjoyable, and healthy, than, say, Fritos and Melted Velveeta.
To become experts in the area of olive oil and balsamic vinegar industry, Steve and Jennifer immersed themselves in the study, even going so far as to take a class at the Robert Mondavi Institute at UC Davis where they became friends with others in the industry.
The walls of the store are lined with large spouted stainless containers called fustis (foo-stee.) They contain more than 40 varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegar from which individual bottles and samples are poured. The sheer number of varietals is proof that this place is special.
“Okay, but there’s oil and vinegar and salt at the ShopRite so why would I go to Upper Montclair?” Really? That’s like comparing riding a late morning DeCamp bus to flying Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic. ‘Nuf said!
Thanks to Rachel Ray we’ve all come to know EVOO, but few of us know what that means. Olive oil, in all of its forms, is heart healthy, especially when compared to other fats in the diet. Flavor profiles change significantly when olive oil is processed. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or even First Press EVOO is just that, olive oil that has been pressed from olives. It’s green and yellow, and if you get the unfiltered variety it has those little floating bits of fruit that are packed with flavor. Once pressed, the olives still hold a lot of oil in their fruit, so heat is applied to release more of the oil. Heat diminishes flavor making this sort of oil a poor choice for dipping, but a great choice for cooking since all of the healthy properties are still there. The remaining fruit is then chemically treated to extract even more oil given us the generically labeled “olive oil” and grocery items that “contain real olive oil.”
The flavor profiles of olive oils vary by regions and country of origin. My favorite was, big surprise here, Tunisian Olive Oil. Like Moroccan olive oils, this North African oil has a very smooth flavor and texture profile, with grassy notes that connote spring and new growth. All of the olive wood spoons and serving pieces in the store also come from Tunisia. Steve and Jennifer deal directly with the olive wood producers in Africa. Greenpeace Africa recently released a report that stated solar power plants in North Africa (Tunisia) could conceivably power the entire EU. I have a strong suspicion that well all be hearing a great deal more about this Mediterranean nation but for now let’s just enjoy the olive oil.
In Italian olive oils there are a couple of real shockers. That “Italian” olive oil that your grandmother says she has been using since before she and Uncle Nunzio single-handedly drove the Fascists out of Palermo might not be Italian at all. Check the label, if it reads “Imported From Italy” it is just that, imported from Italy. That oil might be from Italy, but the subtleties of the English language mean there’s a good chance it is from Tunisia, Greece, Spain, or any combination of sources and simply bottled in Italy: the last place the oil sat before coming to America was Italy so it is “imported from Italy.” Just as the Boeing 787 has components made all over the world to have finally assembly completed in South Carolina and is labeled “Made In America,” the same nonsense happens in the world of olive oil. From a labeling and cultural perspective, this news might be devastating to some, but, on the upside it might mean that you’ve enjoyed other olive oils without knowing it. Olive That! And More is a tasting store, so instead of just grabbing an oil try it, compare it to others in the store, then sample some more.
The infused olive oils are an interesting lot. The big winner here is Citrus Habanero, with the brightness of citrus and a sparkle of heat I cannot wait to drizzle some over edamame. Its also great over fresh (not fried) spring rolls instead of that sweet chili sauce, which is mainly sugar. Replace the “vegetable oil” in Ghiradelli Boxed Brownies with Blood Orange Olive Oil for a treat so good everyone will think its from scratch. There is a wide range of infused oils, and they change with the seasons.
A tip about the flavor infused olive oils: they all start out as Extra Virgin Olive Oil but once the Lemon Oil, Roasted Garlic, or Fig is added it’s no longer Extra Virgin. Label laws in the US allow for flavored oils to be called Extra Virgin but Steve and Jennifer are real Olive Oil enthusiasts and will refer to them as “Olive Oil” (then explain how they start as EVOO.)
Flavors, fragrances and sources are great surprises, but the best surprise is the price. Most olive oils and vinegars are less than $24.00 for 375ml. A few of the specialty oils and truffle varieties are a bit more. In the world of varietals that is a bargain! Big bonus: customers get to taste everything before they buy it.
For such a small space there is so much to discover. So that’s all you’re getting from me today, you just have to experience Olive That! to really get it. The staff is very customer focused, probably because they are not selling olive oil, they are sharing their passion, and that makes all the difference. Olive That! And More is at 246 Bellevue Ave, two doors from the Bellevue Theatre and across from Chase Bank.
246 Bellevue Ave.
Montclair, NJ 07043
John Lee is Black Tie and Flip Flops’ Raconteur-In-Chief: the World of food is his playground ~ the whole world! Having a Navy Dad gave John the passion to discover the world. Whether in one of Mr. Boeing’s flying machines, as an armchair traveler with a great book, or a plate beaming with the exotic flavors and fragrances, his day is all about discovering the world and sharing the stories with everyone he meets.
John cut his teeth in commercial kitchens starting in high school and continued into his undergrad years, then the media bug bit. After University he spent time at the Washington Post Company before jumping on the first internet wave in the 1990’s at some of the major players of the era. John also established himself as a culinary instructor where his style of cooking was first called “Comfort Food Remixed.” Don’t get him started on Disney Dining, but yes, he tried “the grey stuff” and it is delicious. He is also the Chair of Taste of Montclair and Montclair Restaurant Week. John jokes that he’s staying in NJ because he didn’t have enough miles to trade in for a return ticket home to San Diego, but we think he likes it here.