Every wonder what jalapeño olive oil or chocolate vinegar tastes like? Galt resident L. Jasmine Harris is introducing fresh, flavor-infused olive oils and vinegars at her new store in Downtown Lodi.
On Monday, Olive Heaven opened on School Street, offering a new tasting experience for Lodi residents and tourists alike. Foodies can grab trays and bread and swirl together new creations of flavor-infused olive oil and vinegars.
Harris opened her first olive oil store in May in Jackson, and had such positive feedback and success she wanted to expand to Lodi. The Stockton native made the decision when her husband visited Downtown Lodi and noticed the number of tasting rooms and wineries.
"Wine and olives go together, and Downtown Lodi is a food mecca with cheese, spices and salt. It just seemed to fit," she said. "Many towns roll up the sidewalks at 5, but here things are just getting started at 5."
While tasting, Harris encourages people to envision what they are creating in different dishes. She loves using the chipotle basil olive oil to pan-sear tilapia. Italian herb oil has graced her four-cheese tortellini as the only sauce.
Her favorite combination is garlic cilantro balsamic vinegar and garlic olive oil, while her husband likes the toasted sesame olive oil and honey ginger balsamic vinegar for Asian chicken salad. Customers also speak highly of using truffle oil to drizzle over pasta.
The brightly lit shop has large oil paintings that Harris bought mostly at auctions, and tables for tasting. Her products line one wall, so people can try a couple combinations and then go back for more.
In her store, there are 47 different items people can taste, including olive oil, vinegar, grapeseed oil, white and black truffle oil, and even 12-star and 18-star olive oil that has been aged for up to 25 years. All of her products come from California.
On one shelf are jalapeño-stuffed olives, garlic-stuffed olives and kalamata olives, as well as a space where she plans to sell local olive oil from San Joaquin or Stanislaus counties.
Adding olive oil to wine and other local products available in Downtown will help attract a niche tourism crowd to Lodi, said Nancy Beckman, president and CEO of the Visit Lodi! Conference and Visitors Bureau.
"Obviously, it's going to be a great fit for our Downtown," Beckman said. "I love to see the agritourism developing in our area, and I think there is a real movement in foodie tourism."
The tastings are free and unlimited, and with so many possible combinations, she said people frequently return to her store.
"After five things you taste, everything starts to taste the same," she said.
At her Jackson store, she has had culinary classes and groups who have tried almost all the different oils and vinegars.
For Harris, her passion for olive oil is recent, but she put her time and resources into experiencing and learning about the culinary staple. She opened her first store in Jackson in May.
Her interest in olive oil started when she went with her husband, John Laurie, to the Bay Area, where they went wine tasting.
"I just loved it to death. My husband and I walked out with $90 of olive oil," she said.
When she went on that trip, she said it was a revelation. After buying olive oil from the store for years, she knew she had to make a change.
"I've always bought olive oil in the store, which is OK, but I had no idea how good olive oil could be until I went tasting," she said.
She realized there was no similar store in Jackson, where she frequently goes with her family. So she assembled her husband and her 17-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Harris Martin, in their kitchen in Galt to let the tasting of products she might carry begin.
"I said, 'Here's some bread and a fruit tray. This is what we are doing tonight,'" she said.
It was important to Harris to make sure to hand-pick each item, so that when she makes a recommendation, she personally knows the quality of the product. She has tasted more than 400 olive oils and vinegars this year alone.
"There were five different fig vinegars that we tried, so that is the one we unanimously agreed upon as the best," she said, pointing to a shelf of vinegars. "I can't afford to (just) get on the phone and call a distributor and say, 'Send me honey ginger,' because it could taste really bad."
One of the things Harris prides herself on is responding to customer requests. She was receiving a lot of inquiries about butter olive oil for drizzling on popcorn, so she started stocking that. In Jackson, people asked about olive oil from Amador County, so she dedicated part of her store to local products.
If people have not tried olive oil outside of the grocery store, she recommends they come and sample different flavors.
"Olive oil in-store might not be quite as fresh, and it's more processed. It can sit on the shelf, and you will not find flavor-infused olive oil."
She also often hears people do not want to cook with olive oil, because they feel it is only for dipping.
"I wanted a pricing structure, so you can cook with them," she said.
Beckman frequently cooks with olive oil because of the health benefits.
"For years, people have been moving away from vegetable oils to olive oils because they are healthier for you. I think people are interested in different brands, different presses and different flavors," she said.
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.