This Merrifield shop takes olive oil as seriously as a wine store takes its bottle collection.
Luanne O’Loughlin flips through a heavy softcover on the table in the center of the small show room. It nears 1,000 pages not only because it’s a sourcebook of the top 500 olive oils in the world, but because every entry in Flos Olei 2017: A Guide to the World of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is translated into Italian and English.
Not that O’Loughlin, the manager and co-owner of Olio2go, really needs a reference. She visits Italy once a year, befriending olive oil producers, touring olive groves and checking production facilities. She’s met more than half of the producers (and their children) whose oils line the shelves of the small shop in Merrifield dedicated to Italian imports.
Olio2go started more than 15 years ago as an online-only operation. In 2012, husband and wife Jeff Chandler and Donna Morea opened the current storefront with a warehouse in the back. The space is only three walls of shelving, displaying oils and other edible high-end goods —Cattani White Balsamic Vinegar, Mieli Thun Italian Chestnut Honey, Librandi Clementine Marmalade—by region, rounding the room from the north down to Sicily. There’s dried pasta in shapes resembling childhood doodling, squiggles and circles and curvy edges, plus farro, couscous, saffron risotto and packages of dried beans designed for wintry soups.
But the real reason to come here is the premium, small-batch olive oil. This oil lends itself to finishing a dish, to pooling in the middle of a plate ready for a swipe of bread.
This is where olive cultivar and terrior come into play—how olives grown in Tuscany, like the frantoio variety, reveal a spicy finish (see: Fattoria Ramerino Guadagnolo Primus Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil); and those oils from the Lazio region around Rome, made with the itrana olive, tend to be more herbaceous and don’t have that same pungency (see: Quattrociocchi Olivastro Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil) says O’Loughlin; and then there’s the softer oils from Sicily, with grassier notes and a kick at the end revealing “pepper, but not spice, if you know what I mean,” says O’Loughlin (see: Frantoi Cutrera Primo DOP) .
But these aren’t all so precious—even though some are spoken about like wine and easily surpass $30 for a 500 milliliter bottle—as to not use for cooking. There are three-liter tins, says O’Loughlin, “priced to use generously.” Italian olive makers use these same oils, says O’Loughlin with the adage: “last year’s to cook with, this year’s to finish.”
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