Olive oil, perhaps the most misunderstood of oils, has achieved a level of nobility in Montreal due to one woman’s passion. Olives et Olives is the definitive fruit of Claudia Pherand’s labours, and sets her olive oils in an echelon well above the rest. Perhaps fuelled by a passion most do not share for an oil, her obsession is not, however, unhealthy.
Founded by Claudia, who traded in a career in advertising, and friend Daniele Beauchamp, Olives et Olives indulges its products as would a wine aficionado. Sampling involves an elaborate process of setting the ambience, absorbing the aromas, and tasting at a critical 28 degrees temperature. The store is an experience, from the critically acclaimed design, which somehow transforms into an asset the lack of light (necessary to prevent oxidization), to the vast knowledge contained in every aspect of flavour and decor. (Claudia chose the store to resemble Las Ramblas in Barcelona, with a lit-up tree in the middle of the store garnished with tiny beads of light.) Impressively, the ambience lends itself to serenity and comfort and encourages ample time to browse, taste and choose. Spanish oil lines most of her shelves though there are varieties from Portugal, Argentina, Italy of course, Greece and Australia.
Oil connoisseurs trump extra virgin olive oil for its anti-oxidant properties and depth of flavours ranging from pink grapefruit to green apples and pepper. Degrees of virginity correspond to the acidity of the oil, depending on the ripeness of the olive before it’s pressed. Tasting the varieties as Claudia watched wide-eyed and proud, my favourite invoked a subtle hint of fresh cut grass. I must admit the prospect of having to endure sips of oil was not overly appealing, and Claudia asked me whether I had a strong stomach, which I don’t.
Surprisingly, the oil was gracious and gentle on my palate and her affinity for Spain’s liquid gold was infectious as she went into great detail about the nuances that create a good quality of oil.
Choosing a flavour that balances fruitiness, astringency and spiciness is the key. Black olives are actually ripe green olives, and this factor influences the aroma and taste, creating balance. Most generic supermarket oils offer only bulk oil without the quality and taste of olive oil made with just one olive type. Varietal oil is especially rare. Oil becomes an adventure that expands with the understanding of its healing advantages and taste enhancing qualities. The misconception that only Italy produces great oils is widespread, but disproved by tasting at Claudia’s.
I left with a sense of enlightenment and a full bottle of oil that turned my otherwise ordinary next meal into an extravaganza. Speaking with Claudia offered a gold mine of knowledge. Despite the rising popularity of healthy eating across Canada, Quebec is the largest consumer of olive oil thus far. Her impassioned belief in an oil more precious than premium or unleaded is endearing and perhaps even prophetic.
Photo by Jessie Kotler.