There is a lot of information available about how to pair different types of wines and beers with food, but the newest kid on the block may be the trend to pair extra virgin olive oils with balsamic vinegars.
At Golden Isles Olive Oil in Redfern Village on St. Simons Island, fustinos (metal olive oil dispensers) line the aisles, and seemingly infinite varieties of balsamic vinegars are nearby. Olive oil stock is switched out regularly, and the store’s owner makes purchases from olive oil producing countries in both the Northern Hemisphere — Spain, Portugal, Italy — and the Southern Hemisphere — Australia and Chile. Spain, however, is the leading exporter of olive oil in the world.
Just ask owner Donna McPherson about her favorite way to make popcorn these days, and she’ll tell you she air pops it and then mists it with wild mushroom-sage olive oil before sprinkling it with some cracked black pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
As for balsamics, they provide a flavorful punch to even the most modest dishes — think slicing a cucumber and dipping it in a favorite vinegar — and at 10 calories a tablespoon, it’s a healthy alternative to other snack accompaniments. A variety of recipes are available on the store website at goldenislesoliveoil.com.
McPherson, an olive oil sommelier who received that certification several months ago in Italy, doesn’t spend all her time at her store, though. For several months, she’s been hosting Ladies Who Lunch, which gives attendees an opportunity to try new recipes and enjoy the offerings of local chefs.
The luncheons are like a culinary tour of the Golden Isles.
That was certainly the case Wednesday when about two dozen women descended on A Moveable Feast, a restaurant on Chapel Crossing Road in Brunswick, to take part in the July luncheon. The menu, which was built around honey ginger balsamic vinegar and roasted sesame extra virgin olive oil, definitely influenced Chef Tanya Sergey to move the menu in an easterly direction. The Asian-themed luncheon included coconut lemongrass soup with chicken; Asian salad with baby greens, mandarin oranges, red onions and crushed peanuts dressed with a honey ginger and roasted sesame vinaigrette; Asian pickles; a summer roll with shrimp and sweet Thai chili sauce and for dessert, a deconstructed petite crystallized ginger snap ice cream sandwich with mixed citrus zest ice cream.
If the “oohs” and “ahs” were any indication, everything was completely on point.
McPherson said when people visit the store, the sheer variety of selection can be overwhelming.
“That is the evolution of the Ladies Who Lunch,” she explained. “I challenge chefs to come up with menus based on pairings which we come up with in the store.”
That process, she said, helps consumers begin to narrow down the flavors they like and sets them on a path to be creative with their own recipes at home.
The other objective is to promote healthy eating and more flavor options.
“We use extra virgin olive oil for baking, on ice cream,” she said. “It’s not just used for meat marinades and roasting vegetables, but for desserts too.
“We’re kind of taking it to a new level.”
A believer in the Mediterranean Diet, which promotes the use of extra virgin olive oil, McPherson said the more “EVOO” in one’s diet, the better.
“It is full of healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants,” she said. In fact, polyphenols (the primary antioxidant in EVOO) not only have health benefits, but contribute primarily to the pepperiness of the oil. The more pepper taste, the higher in polyphenols, she said.
McPherson said the only type of olive oil people should consider purchasing is extra virgin olive oil, because of its health benefits and great flavor.
“It’s the finest,” she said. “Those who receive other grades, were judged not pure enough to be called EVOO.
“Olive oil is judged by a panel, and if there is any rancidity, mustiness or a ‘winey’ aroma, it cannot be EVOO. It gets downgraded if it has any negative attributes.”