Sam and Carol Braslow recently opened The Mighty Olive in the Laurelwood Collection in East Memphis.
When Sam Braslow’s family sold A. Schwab on Beale Street two years ago, he thought he was finished with retail. Then he and his wife Carol visited an olive oil and vinegar store in Pensacola. They were hooked.
“We couldn’t believe Pensacola had an oil and vinegar store, and there wasn’t one in Memphis,” Braslow said.
Six months later, the couple opened The Mighty Olive, a-taste-before-you-buy store offering dozens of artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars merchandized in stainless steel tanks called fustis. The oils and vinegars come in small, medium, or large-size bottles and in sampling and gift packs.
Here’s how shopping at The Mighty Olive works: A sign on each fusti describes the flavor of the oil or vinegar, along with suggested food pairings and crush dates. (That’s the date oils are made.) Customers sample whatever sounds appealing with small tasting cups and chunks of sourdough bread. The number of choices is remarkable: single variety olive oils, infused oils such as wild mushroom and sage, and balsamic vinegars such as aged red apple.
Along with the oil and vinegars, the store sells a charming selection of kitchen accessories, artisan chocolates including Frans (a favorite of both Oprah and President Obama), and private label pastas. A bar also stretches across the back of store, where the retailers will host tastings, cooking demonstrations, and private parties.
After spending a delightful 30 minutes in The Mightly Olive, I purchased orange/vanilla white balsamic vinegar (sprinkle it on fruit salad) and organic butter infused olive oil (try it on baked potatoes). When I got home, I was so enthused about my shopping that I sent Braslow a few extra questions about the finer points of shopping at the couple's new store.
Memphis Stew: You sell both fused olive oil and infused olive oil. What is the difference between the two?
Braslow: Fused olive oils are produced in the northern hemisphere which would include California, Tunisia, Italy, etc. It’s typically made at the tail end of the season in the winter with late harvest olives so that the flavors coming from the olives will not dominate the herb, fruit, or vegetable being crushed with them. By comparison, our naturally infused olive oils are infused with natural essential plant oils.
Memphis Stew: Some recipes call for white balsamic vinegar. How is white balsamic different from dark?
Braslow: White balsamic is made from the same white Trebbiano grape as the dark. White balsamic blends the white grape with white wine vinegar and is cooked at a low temperature to avoid any initial darkening and then is aged in non-charred barrels to avoid any further darkening. The difference is a matter of aesthetics and taste. You might use white pear vinegar in a potato salad to maintain the white color. It is a little less sweet and has a clean aftertaste.
Memphis Stew: How long does olive oil keep?
Braslow: Our extra virgin, ultra-premium olive oils have a shelf life of two years from crush. The freshness of the oil is affected by heat, light, and exposure to air. We suggest storing olive oil away from heat in a colored glass bottle. Purchase a size bottle that you will use in six months to avoid prolonged exposure to air.
Memphis Stew: What is your favorite olive oil and balsamic vinegar pairing? What about Carol?
Braslow: My favorite pairing today is blood orange olive oil paired with dark chocolate balsamic. It is great drizzled on cheese or tossed with strawberries. Carol's is cilantro and roasted onion olive oil paired with cranberry pear balsamic on salmon.
Memphis Stew: Tell me about the little tree growing in your store window.
Braslow: The tree was given to us by a close friend. It is a young Arbequina olive tree. We hope it will thrive and give us olives next year.
Memphis Stew: And finally, is there anything else you’d like to share about the products in your store?
Braslow: Our olive oils are kosher, gluten free, and delicious. Our balsamic vinegars are a traditional condiment, caramel color free, and aged up to 18 years.
The Mighty Olive, 4615 Poplar, Suite 18 (901-240-6226)