Olive oils and balsamic vinegars are a culinary dynamic duo of sorts as they dress salads, vegetables and meats.
Bob Coffey and Jacquie Sullivan, owners of The Bleu Olive, 139 N. Hale St., Wheaton, embrace this old-world culinary custom as they sell olive oils and balsamic vinegars that pack a flavorful punch to meals.
Opened December 2009 on Front Street, the store offers 30 olive oils where half are single varietal fresh extra virgin oils and the rest are infused with other ingredients. It also stocks 30 balsamic vinegars from Italy comprising of 20 dark and 10 white versions. Other items on the store's shelves include specialty oils, olive oil soaps and spice rubs for meat and fish.
The store moved to its newer location in November 2010 to offer customers a bigger, brighter space to sample the oils and vinegars on fresh baked bread pieces and hold twice monthly tastings in the evening. Prices range from $11.95 for its 8-ounce bottles of oils and vinegars to $15.95 for its 13-ounce bottles.
Before selling these flavorful liquids, Coffey, a Glen Ellyn resident, worked in the high-tech field of computers. A customer lead him to investigate the world of olive oils.
“We both like to cook and I had been asked by a customer in my other business to help him source out an olive oil supplier,” Coffey said. “He had a store in another state where he wanted to do a business like this. After doing the research on it, I thought it would be an interesting business to get into.”
That research opened the door to a whole new career. In 2009, Coffey and Sullivan put out their business shingle.
The olive oil process involves many players. Coffey explained that he sells imported oils from both the northern and southern hemispheres via smaller growers. The timing determines the peak of freshness in each area. In November and December, the northern hemisphere oils from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, France and Tunisia are the freshest and then imported in January and February. In June, the southern hemisphere oils from Chile and Argentina hit their freshness level and then imported in July, August and September.
“The picked olives are prepared to be oil within six to eight hours of picking,” Coffey explained. “So they’re not exported from Spain to Italy to be pressed next week. They’re picked, pressed, bottled and then shipped to us. [For example,] we received a Sicilian oil that was pressed in late November. We got it in early February so it was like a month and a half in transit. It wasn’t sitting in a warehouse for a week.”
He added that his oils “are all very fresh. Freshness is the key. Olive oil is a fruit juice so it spoils and goes rancid after 12 months. Depending on the conditions, if you keep it in a cool, dark place it will last longer than if you keep it in a bright, warm place.”
Every region has different olive varieties which yield a range of tastes.
“In Italy, there’s over 400 varieties of olives,” he said. “The same variety from Italy will taste different than the variety from Spain. We try to get a representative sample of varieties and then it’s up to the customer to come in and taste those. We can point them to more robust oils which have a heavier and more peppery flavor or mild flavors.”
Customers who want more diverse flavors can try the store’s infused extra virgin oils. Coffey explained that his oil supplier, an olive grower who owns an olive mill in Tunisia, does all the infusions using ingredients such as oranges, lemons and herbs de Provence. They can dress roasted vegetables or fish. Using low heat, customers can saute mushrooms or vegetables.
Balsamic vinegars, Coffey said, come from Modena, Italy and there are two types: light and dark. The light kinds are cooked in pressured cookers and stored in stainless steel containers. Darker versions are cooked over a higher heat for hours until it caramelizes and then stored in oak barrels for many years.
These vinegars accent marinades, salads and even desserts. He explained that some of the vinegars, like the oils, are infused. Some dark sweet balsamic flavors include, dark chocolate, espresso, dark cherry, raspberry and tangerine.
“They’re all great with salads mixed with certain olive oils or by themselves,” he said. “They’re also great when reduced, thickened by heat on ice cream, grilled fruit and fish. There’s just no end to how people use this. There’s only 10 calories per tablespoon. Balsamic is also a very good digestive. It’s a lot of flavor packed in 10 calories.”
Noel Wiedman, manager of the Downtown Wheaton Association, is happy that shoppers are supporting the store.
“We are proud that The Bleu Olive, the first of its kind here, chose downtown Wheaton to open their business,” she said. “They are truly a success story in downtown Wheaton, and responses from residents have been nothing but positive. Their monthly cooking demonstrations fill up within hours.”
Coffey and The Bleu Olive were generous to provide us with recipes for Patch readers to try at home.
Raspberry Dark Balsamic & Roasted Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
6 or 7 fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon Bleu Olive Raspberry Dark Balsamic
1/3 teaspoon finely chopped shallots
4 tablespoons Bleu Olive Roasted Walnut Oil
Freshly ground pepper and sea salt
Wash and dry the raspberries, then place them in the mixing bowl. Using a whisk, mash the raspberries into a pasty consistency. Add balsamic and shallots and whisk together. Let rest for an hour or so, allowing the flavors to combine.
Whisk in the walnut oil one tablespoon at a time, until all is combined. Taste and adjust oil or balsamic to taste. Add pepper and sea salt to taste. Cover and let rest or use right away. If resting more than an hour or so, refrigerate. As with most homemade vinaigrettes, this one should be used the same day it’s made. It will stand up for an extra day if refrigerated, but allow to reach room temperature and whisk before use if refrigerated to re-emulsify.
½ cup Bleu Olive Chipotle Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, approximately two small limes
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
In a bowl, whisk ingredients together and pour into a sealed bag. Add meat, chicken and/or vegetables and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. Grill or bake meat. Discard marinade.