Not that long ago, the only choice most consumers made about olive oil was between extra virgin or a lesser grade. And on occasion, while standing in the grocery store aisle, some would ponder over the definition of cold-pressed and wonder about the vast differences in price.
Today, things are changing fast. But instead of adding on layers of confusion, specialty olive oil retailers are aiming to educate and excite with new, artisanal extra virgin oils—and they’re succeeding.
One such retailer is California-based We Olive. Walking into one of their eight California shops is like entering a hip little winery. There are bulk casks to fill up your own bottles and a larger center bar where shoppers can saddle up and taste a variety of oils. In the San Francisco shop on Chestnut Street, the most popular brands include the Pasolivo from California’s Central Coast in Paso Robles or the olive oil from Bozzano Olive Ranch.
Both small companies have unique stories about how they got started, detailing a family history and a fervent passion for growing and producing an outstanding product. In fact, all of the oils We Olive carries are certified by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), whose main goal is to support the highest in olive oil standards, allowing consumers to be certain the product they’re buying is 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.
A trip to We Olive, San Francisco store manager Stephanie LoDuca says, “is such a nice alternative to wine tasting. Families come in and are literally passing around samples. Everyone’s getting into it.” And that is precisely what they’re aiming for: We Olive wants to share their passion by literally creating an experience for each customer every time they walk into the shop. They’re laid back about it—not at all pushy. But their knowledge and enthusiasm are contagious.
It worked for me. While I visited the store intending to solely gather information, I left with a new found passion for the Mandarin Orange and the Lemon olive oils sold in bulk, and made by Lucero in Corning, California. The Mandarin would be great for baking scones, muffins, and granola (and We Olive will give you a handy butter- to-olive oil conversion chart) and the Lemon would be fabulous with seafood or drizzled over seasonal salads.
The bulk oils are a reasonable $1.00/ounce or $1.25/oz for the organic or promotional varieties. You can buy a We Olive bottle or bring in your own—they’ve seen it all, from Nalgene water bottles to empty Patron bottles. This is certainly a testament to their broad reach and appeal. After all, everyone likes a good olive oil.