I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants and stores I visit with family and friends.
You need not be an award-winning, five-star chef to desire the wide array of premium extra virgin olive oils or rich aged balsamic vinegars that are available in this premier boutique shop in the Houston Heights. Whether you think of yourself as a simple home cook or a dedicated foodie, you will find something of interest in this specialty store—especially once you discover that you get to sample each of the shop's fine offerings. Finding the perfect gift for those who like to cook will never again be a problem.
My husband and I both like to cook, and my husband excels at doing so. We already had a supply of olive oils as well as balsamic vinegars in our pantry, but we were curious as to what this store had to offer.
A surprise awaited us, and a new journey of discovery as well as a culinary education was launched on the day of our first visit to this store which used to be located in CityCentre. They have recently relocated to the Houston Heights.
Most people now know that the abbreviation of EVOO stands for "extra virgin olive oil." The celebrity chef Rachel Ray has popularized this term by using it often on her televised cooking shows.
My husband and I normally keep extra light olive oil and extra virgin olive oil in our home and use it almost exclusively for our cooking needs. We do some sauteing of foods but no deep fat frying, which would be a problem in using olive oils because if heated above 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius ), the oil starts to deteriorate in taste and the health benefits are decreased.
From experience, we knew that oils cannot be kept indefinitely as they deteriorate over time and can actually become rancid if left on a shelf too long. This happens for all oils, not just olive oils. Thus freshness of the product makes a big difference.
Extra Virgin Olive Oils
The husband and wife team, Susan and Wayde Burt, who are the owners of Olive & Vine, not only encourage the sampling of all of their products, but are there to explain the different flavor profiles which are also featured on the front of each metal canister containing the oils or vinegars on the opposite side of the room.
With respect to the freshness of the extra virgin olive oils sold in their store, every six months they purchase the just pressed oils from either the northern or southern hemispheres of the world depending upon normal harvest times. They then blend the flavors for consistency (if it is a flavor-infused oil) just like winemakers do with each vintage.
They offer single varietals that range from softer and milder flavors to those with more assertive profiles and are there to explain or give suggestions as to how best to start the sampling of these fine olive oils.
Little plastic disposable cups are furnished along with toothpicks to spear little squares of bread which can be dipped into the oils (and vinegars) if wishing to taste them that way. We have visited the store several times and have yet to taste all of the offerings.
According to Wayde, one couple came in prior to Christmas and proceeded to taste each and every oil and vinegar in the entire store and purchased all of their gifts that year tailoring the different flavors to what they thought their gift recipients would best appreciate.
This took them several hours of time and much evaluation but when they left the store with the beautiful hand-make paper gift bags, their shopping was complete. This made for one-stop shopping for all the gourmets in their circle of family and friends!
When decisions have been made as to which oils or vinegars one wishes to take home for personal use or to give as gifts, each bottle is filled on the spot, corked and the capsule is shrink-wrapped with the use of heat.
There are two sizes of bottles offered for sale. We have thus far chosen the smaller sized ones that hold 200 milliliters especially in the case of the EVOO choices to assure their peak of flavor as well as health benefits staying at a premium level. This sized bottle also fits on our pantry shelves better.
Health Benefits of EVOO
Most people are aware of the many health benefits of consuming olive oil. It is no wonder that the people who live in Greece as well as Italy and Spain and who regularly consume more of the famed Mediterranean diet which includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, whole grains, olive oil and smaller amounts of meat and dairy products have less heart disease. They also typically enjoy some daily exercise and have a few glasses of red wine with their family meals.
Those of us living in the United States and even northern Europe consume a small fraction of the olive oil in our daily diets as compared to those living around the Mediterranean part of the world.
Extra virgin olive oils contain even more of the beneficial fatty acids than regular olive oils or most other types of oil, and compared to butter ... those of us using the latter should really consider replacing it for most uses with the healthier EVOO.
Knowing that saturated fats are not good for one and that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best kind, just look at the accompanying comparison chart above to be convinced that incorporating EVOO is the healthier alternative to the use of butter.
Butter vs. EVOO Comparison
(Good for you) monounsaturated fat: 21 g
(Good for you) monounsaturated fat: 73 g
(Good for you) polyunsaturated fat: 3 g
(Good for you) polyunsaturated fat: 11 g
(Bad for you) saturated fat: 81 g
(Bad for you) saturated fat: 14 g
Additional Information About EVOO
There are antioxidants found in olive oil not contained in most other types of oil. The polyphenols in olive oil make the arteries more elastic thus reducing the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. Oleic acid found in olive oil lowers the LDL which is the bad cholesterol and raises the HLD or good kind of cholesterol in our bodies and can have an effect on lowering high blood pressure.
The extra virgin olive oil has the highest ratios of these beneficial effects. Some studies have even shown that the hydroxytyrosol (a main antioxidant found in olives) can even help protect against certain types of cancers.
I am not a doctor, but reading all of this anecdotal evidence, it makes perfect sense to me to start incorporating a tablespoon or two of EVOO into our diets on a daily basis. This is easy to do when consuming it as a salad dressing or using it in other ways of cooking.
Herbes de Provence, Bok Choy, Shrimp and Scallops
In addition to using the Herbes de Provence extra virgin olive oil for salads, I hauled out our gas stovetop grill pan one evening and used it to flavor grilled baby bok choy, shrimp and scallops. It made for a delicious dinner that night for the two of us with a sprinkling of fresh lemon, salt and freshly ground pepper.
My husband made a delicious chestnut porcini soup for one of our dinner parties and we used the Savory Sage & Mushroom organic extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top to rave reviews from our guests. It added just another layer of sensory delight to an already outstanding soup recipe and, of course, added those health benefits as well as additional flavor.
Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Are you aware that most of the balsamic vinegars available in grocery stores and elsewhere are not made using the time-proven traditional methods? Many of them use artificial additives, coloring and even thickeners to try to replicate the taste of the true aged balsamic vinegars which take time to get to that state of perfection much like a fine wine develops with the aging process.
There are only two regions in Italy where standards are kept to exacting measurements by the representing consortium's overseeing the process of handling the grapes from the beginning stages of pressing them to the final product which takes a minimum of 12 years of aging and even up to 25 years or longer.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
When one gets to sample those made in the traditional manner and compare them to the mass-produced balsamic vinegars, it is easy to determine that rushing the process with shortcuts simply does not produce the silky and complex flavor profiles that can be found in the selections of those found at Olive & Vine.
All of their varieties of balsamic vinegars come from Modena, Italy and in addition to the traditional balsamic they offer a wide selection of infused flavors which include some of our favorites such as Raspberry Fusion and Italian Espresso. Most of their selections are aged an average of 18 years. The best way to determine what one really likes is to taste it.
When purchasing balsamic vinegars, one need not worry about the shelf life as much as when acquiring the more volatile olive oils. Thus it is tempting to build a wide selection of the aromatic and tasty balsamic vinegars for home use. I am sure that we will be building up our inventory over time. There are just so many good ones from which to choose!
An Elegant Dessert Idea
At several of our dinner parties we offered a very simple dessert of some tiny scoops of premium vanilla ice cream topped with fresh sliced strawberries. We actually put the bottle of the espresso balsamic vinegar on the table with the pour spout that we also purchased at Olive & Vine and allowed our guests to pour as much or as little of the balsamic vinegar over the strawberries as they desired.
Every one of our guests were impressed and stated that they would be visiting Olive & Vine to acquire some of these premium oils and vinegars for themselves after tasting them in the different dinner courses.
The raspberry fusion balsamic vinegar is wonderful used in a salad. It is so fragrant and pleasing to the palate that a friend of mine said that she could envision just drinking small amounts of it all by itself. It is amazingly delicious!
Since that time my husband and I have even used some of it over our fruit and yogurt in the mornings and are enjoying it that way. We have yet to use it to marinate meats or use with baked fish but intend to try that sometime soon. The possibilities are endless!
The Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
There are health benefits to consuming balsamic vinegar similar to extra virgin olive oils. In addition to the antioxidants that help the immune system and cardiovascular help, balsamic vinegar can help in weight loss by slowing the process of emptying the stomach thereby making one feel full longer.
It also aids in the regulation of blood sugar helping diabetics to keep their disease under better control. Studies have shown these good results and more.
A Standalone Treat
The sweet flavors in aged balsamic vinegars are enough to encourage people's use of these products even without the enticement of better health. But knowing that one can have it all (sweet flavors and better health). I know that I am going to ramp up my use of these wonderful balsamic vinegars, and I know where I will be headed to purchase more.
Olive & Vine
From 10 AM to 6 PM Monday to Saturday and from 11 AM to 5 PM on Sundays, you can meet Susan and/or Wayde Burt, do some tasting and learn more about these wonderful and aromatic products that this knowledgeable husband and wife team are pleased to show and sell.
We are so happy that we stumbled upon this inviting store in Houston's CityCentre one day. Anyone who likes to cook at home and use premium ingredients that do not cost an arm and a leg and like to sample products before purchasing them should head on over to Olive & Vine.
One thing is certain. We will be returning for not only replacements of what we currently have, but will be trying more of their huge assortment of extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars. Olive & Vine is a unique boutique store and great addition to what Houston has to offer gourmands or wannabe cooks or chefs of any level of expertise. For those of you who do not live in our area, orders can be placed online.
Video Filmed at Their Prior Location in CityCentre
Support Local Businesses
Sadly, after eight years of owning the first dedicated oil and vinegar shop in Houston, the owners have announced the closing of Olive & Vine. Their online store will remain open for a limited time, and any orders over $75 will have free shipping.
It is hard for mom and pop shops to compete with larger businesses. Those of us who became educated about the value of choosing good balsamic vinegar and olive oils will now have to shop elsewhere.
© 2012 Peggy Woods