Steve Jenkins is known as a cheesemonger, olive oil retailer, and the master merchant for Fairway Market since the early 1980s, but he refers to himself as a “student of olive oil.” On Wednesday April 17th, a World Olive Oil Tour was held at the Broadway Fairway Market location, hosted by Jenkins who said, “I want you to learn something every single time you come into one of my stores.” The tasting was part of the program for the first New York International Olive Oil Competition.
With over a dozen locations to choose from, and an array of up to 40 extra virgin olive oils available to taste every day, Jenkins has created an opportunity for his customers to become students as well. His unfiltered barrel oils have been labeled with regional and varietal information by Jenkins himself who said, “We want you to have all the information you need, and on top of that taste the oils, so there’s no fooling around. Unless the consumer understands the geography, they’re not going to understand olive oil.”
Jenkins specializes in French Provençal extra virgin olive oils, which were on display at the tasting, alongside a variety of other European oils. Beginning with a mild and smooth Arbequina from Spain, Jenkins insisted that the oils be tasted along with a plate of kumato tomatoes, arugula, a French goat cheese known as Boucheron, rare slices of steak, and acorn fed Hamon Iberico. Each table had a dish of sea salt.
“We’re trying to pay respect to things that happened a long time ago,” said Jenkins, “and that’s the way we think about food and cooking. We like everything to be the old way at Fairway. We believe in tradition, in trying to preserve the ingredients that belong in our kitchens. We’re old timers. We know that olive oil hasn’t changed for centuries.”
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Other extra virgin olive oils at the tasting included a pungent Provençal oil called Moulin des Penitents, followed by the Huile d’Olive de Nyons made from the nutty and creamy Tanche varietal, and another mildly pungent and buttery Provençal oil called Moulin du Mas des Barres. The last two oils came from Fairway Market’s unfiltered barrel oil selection. The Gata-Hurdes from the northern-most sub-region of Extremadura has achieved a cult following with its unique and adaptive olive varietal known as the Manzanilla Cacerena. The final oil, Cabeco das Nogueiras from Central Portugal, was a crowd pleaser.
Jenkins stressed, above all, that consumers need to know how to spend their dollars wisely on fresh, quality extra virgin olive oil. “You need to understand what subregion appeals to you, and after you get the geography down then you can begin to think about which varietals thrill you the most. You have to be able to get that information before you can make those choices.”