A Taste of Olives opened last month at 8505 Germantown Ave. (Photo by Len Lear)

By Sally Hults 

A Taste of Olive opened in mid-October at 8505 Germantown Ave. in the former Bone Appetit space. Nancy Smith and her daughter, Kimber Schladweiler, also own stores in Ardmore, West Chester and Haddonfield. “We really wanted to be in Chestnut Hill, to be a part of the community,” Smith said last week.

After 28 years as an educator in Indiana, Smith, 67, retired and moved to the Philadelphia area to take a position at a Central Bucks County school for 10 years until she retired for the second time.

Why open a store showcasing 100% extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, which are available in so many groceries, gourmet shops and supermarket chains? “We loved the healthy aspect and the delicious food aspect of olive oil,” Smith replied. “You can make something very simple and up the flavor with an infused olive oil. It appeals to beginning cooks, gourmet cooks and vegetarian cooks.”

More than 70 types of extra virgin olive oil in the new store are stored in stainless steel containers (fusti) with taps. Every oil in the store can be sampled using small paper tasting cups. When you make your choice, you buy a glass bottle, fill it and cork it. “At first, customers were a little reluctant to taste the olive oil,” said Smith. “They are much more comfortable now. Education is part of our role.”

The olive tree is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. As early as 3,000 B.C., civilizations including Minoans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans began to cultivate olives. Olive oil was a religious, medical and nutritious symbol used to anoint kings, athletes and newborn babies, and as a hygiene and beauty product, infused with flowers and with grasses to produce both medicine and cosmetics.

When you buy olive oil from a supermarket chain store, “You don’t know when the olives were pressed, how long it has been sitting on the shelf. Heat degrades the oil, and unlike wine, age is not a good thing,” according to Smith.

“Different countries grow different varieties of olives. Climate is a major factor. Taste from the same field can change from year to year.” Pressing also contributes to taste. “An early pressing yields a stronger, grassier, greener taste. A mid-season pressing tastes what we consider ‘normal.’ A late pressing has a softer fruitier taste.”

The olive oils come from Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Tunisia, Chile, Australia and California. “We vet the growers, look at the certification, taste the oil and critique the quality. We have returned oil if we don’t like it,” Smith said. The oils come from olives grown and pressed by artisans and small farmers.

Some of the top selling oils include parmesan cheese and hot red pepper; Tuscan spice; citrus blood orange; Sorrento lemon and Persian lime. One of the stores newest arrivals, Monte Vibiano ($17.95 for 375 ml), comes from Umbria, where some of the olive trees are more than 1,000 years old. Another one, Rosemary olive oil ($16.95 for 375 ml), is produced using Arbequina olives from the base of the Andes in Argentina, and it is infused with oil distilled from fresh rosemary.

The store also sells 45 balsamic vinegars and 10 wine vinegars on tap. The flavors are as exotic as the oils: from cinnamon pear, pineapple, fig and strawberry to dark chocolate, espresso and lavender. Like the oils, every vinegar can be sampled. In addition, A Taste of Oil sells such items as pasta from Italy, organic peppercorns, jams, honey, jellies, mustards, flavored sea salts, stuffed olives, tapenades and glazes for meats, mustards, almonds, black and white truffle oil and pure almond oil.

“We like to buy from local producers,” Smith said. Locally made pasta bowls, maple syrup and honey are available. “We promote recycling. If you bring back a washed olive oil bottle, we give you $1 off when you refill it,”

Holiday hours are: Monday 10-6, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10-7, Wednesday 10-9, Saturday 9:30-7 and Sunday 10-6. For more information, call 215-242-4845 or visit www.atasteofolive.com. (As of last weekend, the new Chestnut Hill store is not mentioned on the website.)