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Markets & Stores

Amphora olive oils and vinegars

trueblu | Jul 20, 202101:50 PM     2

We live close to this store (on Domingo) in the East bay. We had often walked past it last few months: it was open for pick-up only so one couldn't enter to browse. It finally opened for browsing/tasting etc recently, so my daughter and I decided to pop in, since we were running low on EVOO.

First off: it's an extremely attractive store: shelves lined with dark bottles of oil, lots of 'urns' (for wont of a better word) with the different oils for tasting. There are three types of offering: a) extra virgin olive oils: about a dozen (? more) varieties from mild to extremely robust, all available to taste. The price is the same for all of the straight-up oils: $14 for 375mL (and smaller/larger bottle sizes too); b) flavoured olive oils: lemon, truffle etc etc. and c) "balsamic" vinegars (more on that shortly).

We were served by a very pleasant person. She immediately offered us tasting of 'medium' oils, which is what we asked for. The first one she offered and seemed to heavily promote was an Italian oil, can't remember the varietal: it was grassy and pungent and peppery, tasty. However, I noticed the bottling date was November 2019. I asked what the shelf life was (I had always been 'told' 18-24 months for EVOOs, but I am no olive oil expert at all): she got a bit defensive at this point, saying that bottling date is not relevant, when I pressed her on the issue, she said "I don't know, you need to ask my manager about that". Anyway, we tasted a few more oils and settled on a Spanish Picual bottled in November 2020 (they don't seem to have too many californian oils, but I didn't look at the entire stock). Honestly, I'm happy with the oil: it fits the bill, reasonablish price.

We didn't look at the (many) flavoured oils -- not my thing. But we glanced at the vinegars. I was rather surprised to find that despite ALL of the vinegars being labelled as "balsamic", they represented a wide variety of fruit vinegars, e.g. apple, fig, etc. I asked the same server why they are called balasamic: is it because they are fermented from juice instead of an alcohol (as true balsamic is -- i.e. from grape must instead of wine) and the response surprised me: "they are balsamic because they come from Modena"!!! She didn't seem to know about the production process [I suspect they are just bottled in Modena to allow the moniker, and produced all over], and frankly, I didn't press her, since her answer was so absurd it caught me off-guard.

This shop seems to have a cult-like following looking at yelp. It certainly stocks reasonable quality oils. but it has the 'look and feel' of being an artisan shop, but I have a suspicion it is anything but. The large line of flavoured oils, the balsamic fiasco and the pressure-sell of an oil clearly on its last legs before turning rancid [to be fair, wasn't rancid yet] left a bitter (to excuse the pun) taste in my mouth. I would have no problems if I had been told of the 2019 vintage oil: this is an excellent oil that fits your bill, but you should use it up in the next three months or so, or preferably, selling at a discount to get it off the shelves.

A quick google search didn't really tell me much more about the company.

Do other CHers have experience to share: did I just have an off server? Is it really an purveyor of artisan oils and I've just got it wrong? Any other shops that, preferably in East bay, that offer olive oil tastings, ideally californian oils?

tb

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