By Cristabelle Tumola
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from New York
Even commuters who pass through Grand Central every weekday may not notice the culinary treasures that are scattered throughout the historic train station. If you happen to enter the station from one of its Lexington Avenue entrances, you pass through a long, narrow corridor of food merchants, placed one after another in an open marketplace. As the sights and smells of the food products distract you, you forget the main purpose of the building.
Leaving the market, you are reminded that you are in Grand Central Terminal, the busiest rail station in the United States, but before you fully emerge into the bustle of the station, you are given another chance to escape into a world of food. To be exact, a world of olive oil in the store Oliviers & Co. (O&CO.), a self-described “Mediterranean Food Merchant” that sells fine olive oils, vinegars and more products from the olive tree dotted lands of the Mediterranean.
The company’s origins date back ten years far away from the atmosphere and location of Grand Central in the village of Mane in southern France where the concept was ioneered by Albert Baussan and Éric Verdier. Today Baussan owns the company in Mane and is also an olive oil producer. Verdier’s role is to ensure the high quality of the products and heads O&CO.’s tasting committee, which makes the final decision on which items the company will carry.
Before the oils can even be tasted, the olive oil producers, which come mostly from Italy, France and Spain as well as other countries such as Portugal, Turkey and Greece, must adhere to O&CO.’s strict guidelines, which maintain overall quality control of the entire process from the harvest to the bottling. This excellence is extended to the company’s 75 retail boutiques throughout the world, including ten in the U.S.
The store’s Grand Central location is the only one in the city and also effectively captures O&CO.’s philosophy. From the number of products that are available on the company’s website, the store’s small size is at first a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks product offerings. The size actually gives the store its boutique feel. The dark wood shelves, baskets and tabletops used to display the products add to this feeling and provide a pleasant distraction from the chaos of the station. There’s even a sign on display that politely asks customers not to talk on their cell phones in the store.
There is a section in the store dedicated to beauty products—organic hand, face and body items made from olive oil and olive leaf extract. But the main star of the store is the olive oil. While one might expect the oils to be housed in glass bottles, much of the olive oil is in cans. Although some once considered this packaging as a sign of a lower-end olive oil, the attractive design of the cans and the quality of the oil is give the opposite impression. Further ensuring customers of each olive oil’s high quality, the product labels state the exact origin, producer, olive varieties used and harvest date.
The busy shop offers vinegars, spreads, tapenades, olives, sauces, pastas, crackers, truffle products, seasonings and sweets. The spreads and sauces are specially created by world-renowned chefs, and other products are all made with, or imported from, one of the olive oil producing countries. Flavored olive oil, vinegar and truffle oil top the list of its best- selling products, including premium balsamic vinegars of Modena, basil olive oil, white truffle oil made from Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and white Alba truffles, and lemon specialty olive oil.
Unlike some other gourmet stores, O&CO.’s product selection is in limited quantities and can change from season to season. Although this can be frustrating to a customer who has become attached to a product, this is again a sign of the company’s high standards. But with the store’s daily tastings and the opportunity to sample anytime, it’s hard not to find a new product to love.
O&CO. doesn’t just offer a chance to taste and examine an amazing selection of olive oils and other Mediterranean food products, but it’s Grand Central location also offers an opportunity to escape from the hectic New York City commute, even when several train track entrances are right across from the store.
412 Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY, 10017