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Specializing in flavor

Saratoga’s newest foodie destination is ‘tasting gallery’ for oil, vinegars


Contributing writer

It’s like a wine-tasting emporium or a microbrewery that allows customers to sample and savor before they buy.

But at Saratoga Olive Oil Co., the tastings are of extra-virgin olive oils, vinegars, salts and related products. The store, which opened its doors at 484 Broadway earlier this year, is owned by husband-and-wife team Clint and Barbara Braidwood and Clint’s brother, Chad.

The lounge-like store boasts more than 60 varieties of olive oil and many more choices of vinegars. It also offers artisanal Rock Hill Bakehouse breads for sale and as a vehicle for its tastings.

The concept of a retail store built almost entirely around olive oil is a new one locally, but similar stores have been cropping up in recent years in areas with discerning food-lovers, from Cape Cod to the Chicago suburbs and California.

The Braidwoods got the idea for their store after visiting a similar try-it-first olive oil shop in Maine.

Chad Braidwood predicts the concept will continue to grow in popularity, much like the microbrew explosion of the 1980s and ’90s.

“Customers love trying oils and vinegars before they buy,” he said. “And they’re really surprised by how well they like some of our more exotic flavors. It gives them more confidence in the kitchen to experiment with new flavors. ... It’s opened up their palate."

Some of the more unusual varieties offered include dark chocolate, honey ginger and black cherry balsamic vinegars, as well as smoked bacon Cajun, Tuscan herb, rosemary, chipotle and butter-flavored olive oils.

The olive oils also come in varietals such as Australian Coratina extra virgin, Argentina Nocellara and Chilean Leccino.

“Things really changed for us after we tried fresh olive oil,” Braidwood explained after helping a customer navigate through a sampling of pungent extra-virgin oils from Spain, Chile and Australia on a recent afternoon. “Olive oil has a shelf life. If it sits in the cupboard too long, it has a flat taste.”

After discovering the taste-before-you-buy retail store in Maine, the Braidwoods researched the Saratoga Springs region and discovered there was no business like it locally. The nearest similar stores are in Boston and metropolitan New York City.

“We decided Saratoga Springs would be a perfect fit,” Chad Braidwood said. “A customer will be able to come in, sample breads and pour their own olive oil from stainless-steel fustis.”

And with so many varieties of gourmet olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt from around the world -- coupled with ambient lighting, jazz playing on the stereo, and local art hung on the walls, it’s easy to see why the partners are calling their store a “tasting gallery.”

Braidwood said that the importer they use will ship them olive oils from around the world made from just-crushed olives, resulting in the freshest-tasting oils.

He also explained that the opposite approach is used with balsamic vinegars, which need to be aged for optimal flavor.

Most of his vinegar, Braidwood said, is prepared with the “solera” method, one that blends some aged vinegars with younger ones in barrels for aging. He said people who try aged balsamic vinegar can immediately tell the difference because of its thick, almost syrupy consistency.

“None of our balsamic vinegars have added sugar,” he said of the flavors that range from cranberry-pear and fig to raspberry and pomegranate.

“Aged balsamics are sweeter, whereas the type most people buy at the grocery store have watery consistency and a tart flavor,” he said.

Braidwood said the oils and vinegars sold at Saratoga Olive Oil Co. aren't just for salads.

“The balsamics are great poured over fresh fruit and as a marinade,” he said. “Our espresso balsamic is wonderful as a steak marinade. And the oils are great on fresh bread, pizza and bruschetta.”

Saratoga Olive Oil keeps balsamic vinegars in stock that have been aged up to 50 years. A bottle of these aged varieties can cost as much as $150, although most bottles in the store cost less than $20.

The store also has fresh bread delivered daily from Rock Hill.

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