You might be thinking, “Has Angela lost it? Has all of the stress of Christmas shopping driven her to drink? Has she thrown all of her healthy eating habits out the window in favour of growing a beer belly bigger than Santa’s?”
The answer is no. Don’t worry friends. I’m not talking about a bar stocked with alcohol, kegs and shot glasses. I’m talking about this kind:
You’re looking at one of three olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars in Canada, and the only in Ontario, that showcases over 40 flavours of olive oil and balsamic vinegar from around the world. Where is it?
I first came across Dana Shortt Gourmet about 4 years ago. At the time, I was a co-op student working at an insurance company. We’d ordered thank-you gifts for a reception from this shop and one day my boss asked me to pick them up on my way in. I’ve visited the shop a few times since that day, and am always amazed by the gorgeous gift baskets, baked goods, ready-made meals and other goodies that she stocks her shelves with.
When Dana emailed me last week to ask if I wanted to come in to sample specialty extra virgin olive oils and vinegars in her shop, I was super excited. After all, I marinade and roast the majority of my vegetables in these 2 ingredients, and balsamic vinaigrette is my favourite way to dress a salad. The day I discovered fig infused white balsamic vinegar was as life-changing to me as the squeeze bottle was to ketchup lovers. Vinegar and oil might sound like 2 very simple kitchen staples, but there is so much to be learned about them!
First, some balsamic basics:
Balsamic vinegar is originally from Italy, and unlike other vinegars, balsamic is rich and sweet. The vinegars in Dana’s shop are from Modena, Italy, and are aged up to 18 years. (Like wine, older is better for balsamic vinegar!) They are completely natural and although they come in delicious flavours, which I’ll talk more about in a minute, they contain nothing artificial.
Why consume balsamic vinegar? There are tons of reasons! It contains important nutrients like iron, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties also help to decelerate the aging process, strengthen the immune system and prevent cancer.
And about extra virgin olive oil…
These also contain anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. They contain more monounsaturated fatty acids (the good kind) than other olive oils, as well as more polyphenols, which benefit the heart. Like Dana’s balsamic vinegars, they contain nothing artificial. In order to ensure freshness (because age is NOT a good thing for extra virgin olive oil), the olives are cold-pressed and sourced from 2 hemispheres. The crush date is even featured on the label of each oil so you can be extra sure that it’s extra virgin that you’re buying.
You may think that extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar are just for dressings, but there is SO much more you can do with them. I was amazed by all of the different flavours on Dana’s tasting bar. For the oils, there was basil, garlic, chipotle, wild mushroom & sage, Tuscan herb blend, Persian lime, blood orange, lemon, and the most amazing one of all in my opinion, butter!
Trust me on this one when I say this oil tastes just like butter! The method used for infusing is a secret, but it is guaranteed to be totally dairy free. Even cooler is that if you freeze it, it becomes spreadable so you can use it just like you would butter or margarine – minus the unhealthy fats.
When it comes to balsamics, there are two main types – white and dark. The darks included a traditional balsamic which had been aged up to 18 years (ahhhmazing and unlike any balsamic you’ve ever purchased in a grocery store)….
…as well as others that have been either fused or infused with vanilla, raspberry, dark chocolate, figs, black cherry, and blackberry. The whites tended to be lighter flavours, like cinnamon pear, Sicilian lemon, coconut, honey ginger, and peach.
Now for the fun part: Tasting!
Would you ever dream of drinking straight-up balsamic vinegar or olive oil? Nope, I didn’t think I would either. But that’s exactly what we did! There are small sample cups and bottles set up on the tasting bar, and visitors are welcome to sample as many flavours as they desire. I had some bread dipped in the Persian lime olive oil first, and totally could not believe how strong the lime taste was. Not sour, just delicious!
At only 10 calories per tablespoon, there is so much that can be done with the balsamics. I know you probably wouldn’t think to put vinegar on sweet snacks, but you know those artificially sweetened flavoured syrups that are meant to be put on ice cream? Balsamic vinegar totally eliminates the need! These vinegars are naturally sweet, and actually good for you! Dana gave me a sample of yogurt and granola topped with one of them (I think it might have been the raspberry balsamic) and it totally blew me away. This might have also been due to the delicious granola she makes – if you stop by, don’t forget to pick up a bag of it while you’re at it!
The oil and vinegar combinations are endless, as are the applications. For example, Dana recommends using them as…
- Bread dippers (2:1 oil to vinegar ratio)
- Salad dressings (2:1 or 1:1 oil to vinegar ratio)
- Marinades, glazes, and sauces for meat and seafood
- An addition to your favourite barbeque sauce or ketchup
- A drizzle for roasted or grilled veggies, fruit, ice cream, yogurt, and popcorn
- A flavouring for sparkling water (so much more nutritious than pop, and having tried flavours like peach, black cherry, and grapefruit, I’m a total believer and huge fan of this one!!)
Although I was utterly blown away by the versatility and taste of all of these oils and vinegars, there was one that stood out to me as soon as I laid eyes on it.
That’s the maple dark balsamic. Upon first swig of this, I thought of 2 things. The first was pancakes (and when swirled together with the butter-flavoured olive oil, that’s exactly what it tasted like), and the second was salmon. Because Dana is so incredibly generous, she gave me a few bottles to take home and try. Salmon was at the top of my grocery list on Friday and a mandatory dinner for the weekend.
After leaving a fillet in a Ziploc bag with 2 tbsp of the maple balsamic vinegar, I emptied all the contents into a foil envelope, sprinkled the fish with a bit of black pepper, and popped it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350F. And when it came out…
Folks, this is the stuff my dreams are made of! I honestly have no words – delicious, fantastic and foodgasmic don’t even begin to describe how good this was!
This leaves me with my other samples to try, a head full of flavour combinations and recipe ideas (including Dana’s Cashew and Coconut Crusted Tilapia with Persian lime olive oil and coconut white balsamic vinegar drizzle – a mouthful to say, but likely an even better mouthful to taste!! I’ve got another trial planned tomorrow as part of Try Something New Tuesday, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, if you’re in the area, run (don’t walk!) to Dana Shortt Gourmet and try some of this for yourself!
Questions for today:
- Have you ever tried infusing your own vinegars or olive oils?
- Have you experienced a tasting bar like this before? The other 2 in Canada are on the East Coast, but I believe there are more in the US that use the same high-quality, certified products.