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Friday, December 19, 2014

Spontaneous Olive Oil Tasting

One of the plus sides of hanging around Columbia for a few days after finals are over is having some time to get a little holiday shopping done. 

This gorgeous little shop is nestled right next to my favorite Mexican restaurant in Columbia, Cantina76. I've walked and driven past it frequently, and always tell myself "oh, I'll swing by there this weekend and check it out!" Which of course, if you know me at all, never happens.

So, finally with the excuse of holiday shopping for Mom, I took a break from cleaning and packing and popped over to The Crescent Olive - a specialty shop for premium olive oils and vinegars. 

I'm very unknowledgeable about olive oils beyond the fact that I'm a big fan, so I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I stepped into the shop to be greeted with rows of different barrels of oils. 

There were plenty of other holiday shoppers perusing the oils, vinegars, and other little things for sale (cheese boards, pastas, all kinds of delicious kitchen-y things!), but I was promptly greeted by one of the girls working there as soon as she was done gift wrapping for another customer. I told her that I had no idea what I was looking for and that I really don't know much about olive oils, to which she responded by giving me a bowl of bread and telling me that I could sample as many as I wanted, since everyone has a different preference for oils. 

They even sell EVOO skin and hair care products- what?!

Bread and over 25 types of olive oil? I thought I may have died and gone to heaven. I just needed a glass of wine and I'd be set.

At The Crescent Olive, they only sell Ultra Premium (UP) Oils, which means that they are the held to the highest standard for olive oils. Each oil must meet various chemical and freshness requirements, and be passed through various boards of individuals before gaining the UP label. Who knew? Another thing that I love is that these regulations aim to improve free trade- which is fantastic.

There were 2 different "themes" of oils, if you will. There were ones infused with flavors from garlic and onion to lemon, and everything in-between, along with pure oils imported from around the world. After about 20 minutes of circling around the rows, I narrowed it down to either the Picual, a gold medal winner and robust little guy from Peru with tomato leaf notes, or the Cilantro & Roasted Onion infused oil- which was delicious with bread. 

I eventually settled on one, which I'm not going to share with you just incase Mom's reading this. I can't completely ruin the surprise! Once I was reserved to my choice, I told the gal behind the counter, who then bottled up the oil for me. You can choose from 3 different sized bottles, or you can also do a sampler of 6 or so different oils. So many choices!

Of course, once I thought I was all set, she asked if I had ever tried dark balsamic vinegars. To which I responded that I use it as salad dressing, but that's about it. Apparently there's a billion different infused flavors of dark and light balsamics, and they have nearly 30 flavors in the back room to sample. And the best part is- because of their heavy flavor, you sample most of them over vanilla ice cream. Whaa?

So how could I pass up an offer to sample all of those?

After she dished me up my very own bowl of ice cream, I was let loose in the back room with balsamic vinegar flavors ranging from strawberry to champagne, to espresso. At this point, I didn't even need the wine. 

It was quite the art, balancing the spoon full of ice cream while turning on the spout to get just enough, but by the end I'd say I was quite the pro.

I ended up having two favorites. One fruity, and one sweet. I was surprised at how gorgeously the oil paired with the ice cream. Not going to lie, I was pretty weirded out at first when I was given my ice cream, but it was a very pleasant surprise.

Raspberry won 'Best in Show' for the fruity flavors

Cinnamon Pear won for the sweet, hands down

You can also use this type of vinaigrette for salads and marinates. I think I'd stick to keeping the sweet flavors like dark chocolate and cinnamon pear on ice cream, but the raspberry and strawberry would be absolutely incredible over a summer salad, for sure.

After polishing off my ice-cream, I headed back to the counter where they wrapped my olive oil up in a pretty little sac for me, and I was on my way.

Overall, I was completely impressed with The Crescent Olive. I knew it would be an interesting store before I went in, but the spontaneous olive oil tasting and everything that they had to offer blew me out of the water. I will definitely be taking my mom back when she comes to visit, and will probably drag some friends along to do some more tasting when I'm back in town.

If you're in the Columbia or Mount Pleasant areas and are rushing around for some last minute gift ideas for any foodie, I'd definitely recommend checking this fantastic little shop out. Or, if you're not in the area but still want to snag some of their awesome oils, you can order online too! 

I hope you like your gift, mom!

Anyone have any favorite recipes with olive oil they'd like to recommend? I'm sure we'll be using up a lot of it over the next few weeks so suggestions are always welcome!

Do y'all have all of your holiday shopping done?

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