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First there were specialty coffee bars. Then, boutique wine bars. Now, you can tickle your tongue with a taste of the Mediterranean at these olive oil and vinegar tasting bars and retailers around BC

It's a well-known fact that Homer described olive oil as "liquid gold" and for centuries it has been a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. From its health benefits to its wide taste appeal, there are many reasons olive oil is so well loved. But picking a fresh and authentic olive oil has just gotten a lot easier in BC, with the establishment of olive oil tasting shops and merchants specializing in the exotic oil.

These experts will help you pair your oils with balsamics, suggest recipes, and tell you what those labels really mean when it comes to the type of olive used and the production process.

Most akin to wine tasting, there are criteria to consider with olive oil: what olive the oil was made with, its country of origin, its crush date, the chemical breakdown, and its flavour characteristics, all significant to the final product.

If you're confused about fused and infused oils, or how to determine their freshness (watch for a peppery finish) and the level of polyphenols (antioxidants) that make them good for you — these places around the province have the answers.

Olive the Senses, Victoria

Steve and Emily Lycopolus come by their passion for fresh extra-virgin olive oil honestly. Steve's family owns an olive grove in Fano, Italy, which is where they fell in love with the heart-healthy Mediterranean staple.

Housed in the historic Hudson's Bay building, Olive the Senses is a family-owned and operated tasting bar, where fresh EVOO (extra virgin olive oil hand-bottled on-site) comes together in perfect harmony with aged balsamic vinegar. A full chemistry and sensory analysis is completed on each EVOO to ensure its authenticity. "Every year we are privileged to provide a pressing of oil from each hemisphere, giving us the freshest possible olive oil," says Emily. "Our balsamic vinegars are aged up to 18 years, from one of the largest consortium in Modena, Italy."

Customers can taste, appreciate, and enjoy products before purchasing.

Must Try: Two new EVOOs from the 2013 Southern Harvest (some of the freshest in Canada) pressed in late March in Peru: the Picual (savoury and herbaceous with notes of parsley), and the Barnea (spicy, exceptionally green and fresh, and full of antioxidants), ideal for roasting new potatoes, sautéing greens, or scrambling eggs.

Vinegar Pairings: Lavender Dark Balsamic with Eureka Lemon Fused Olive Oil; Dark Chocolate Dark Balsamic with Blood Orange Fused Olive Oil; endless pairings with the newest white balsamics: mango, pineapple, grapefruit and peach.

Location: 9-1701 Douglas St., Victoria; 250-882-4210; Mon-Sat: 10am-6pm

Olivia's Oils & Vinegars, Kelowna

Proprietors Lorne and Sherry Newman believe extra-virgin olive oil is like fruit juice: healthier and more flavourful when consumed fresh. Olivia's Oils & Vinegars sources its oils from both hemispheres to assure the freshest and highest quality products all year long, and is fanatical when it comes to the chemistry of its olive oils; look for the harvest date and chemistry on every bottle of EVOO.

Visit the tasting bar and you'll sample an extensive selection of balsamics and olive oils from around the world (which are bottled and sealed on-site). Don't miss the stuffed, unstuffed and exotic olives imported from a small California producer laying claim to some of the best if not the best around.

Must Try: Some of the top picks include: Wild Mushroom & Sage Infused Olive Oil (think drizzled over cream of mushroom soup or atop risotto); Persian Lime Organic Infused Olive Oil (complements spicy dishes like Thai and Mexican).

Vinegar Pairings: Olivia's Yellow Grapefruit Fused Olive Oil with Olivia's Pomegranate & Quince Aged White Balsamic: light, slightly tart, refreshing combination makes a perfect dressing for summer salads, the start of a marinade for BBQ shrimp or chicken, or over fresh fruit with a dollop of ice cream.

Location: Orchard Park Shopping Centre, 644-2271 Harvey Ave., Kelowna; 778-484-7255; M-T: 10 am-6pm, W-F: 10am-9pm, Sat: 9am-6pm, Sun: 10am-6pm

All of Oils, Wholesome Oils & Vinegars, South Surrey

All of Oils began out of the love for a bottle of Blood Orange Olive Oil that Glenn Pineau and Kimm Brickman-Pineau received as a wedding gift. Before they knew it they opened the retail store/tasting room with over 50 premium olive and flavoured oils, balsamic vinegars and related products (many certified organic).

Customers can experience all the flavoured oils, vinegars, and the freshest EVOO available in the Fraser Valley, dispensed from 15L stainless steel fustis. "Since light oxidizes olive oil in a bottle 30,000 times faster than air, we only put it in your bottle after you decide which one you like," says Glenn.

All of Oils imports EVOOs twice a year through Veronica Foods & the Delizia Olive Oil Company, once from each hemisphere from select high-quality growers all over the world. Glenn reveals, "We get a fresh batch every six months because olive oil is all about freshness; the fresher the better. The shelf life is 18 months."

Must Try: Organic Mission EVOO, flavourful and bold with notes of green tomato, layers of herbaceous flavours, spicy pepper finish; Blood Orange Olive Oil (pressed with Tunisian olives) marries flawlessly with seafood and chicken.

Vinegar Pairings: Lemon Olive Oil with Coconut White Balsamic; Persian Lime Olive Oil with Violet Dark Balsamic.

Location: 160-2940 King George Blvd., Surrey; 604-385-1500; M-S: 10am-6pm, Sun: 12pm-5pm

Olives on Tap, North Vancouver

Andrew Cameron, foodie, prolific home cook and owner of Olives on Tap says he wants to help maximize your food experience. Odds are — with more than 44 seasonal varieties of olive oils, specialty oils, vinegars and balsamic vinegars (many award-winning) available at his tasting bar — he's got the goods to make it happen.

Olives on Tap imports the finest high quality, ultra premium extra-virgin olive oils from both hemispheres in order to guarantee the freshest oils available in North America. From traditional to savoury, all the balsamic vinegars are made in Modena, Italy, and aged up to 18 years.

Must Try: Tea steeped White Truffle Oil (a little goes a long way). Nice finishing oil for many Mediterranean dishes; drizzle on popcorn, add to mashed potatoes or soup. Chipotle Olive Oil, superb on sandwiches, BBQs, spicy sauces, and more.

Vinegar Pairings: Red Apple Dark Balsamic with French Roasted Walnut Oil (mix equally and shake for a knock-out vinaigrette), elevates pork, chicken or fish; Strawberry Dark Balsamic with Basil Oil; Maple Dark Balsamic with Organic Butter Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, or California Toasted Almond Oil, perfectly matched with pancakes, waffles, glazing bacon, pork chops and ice cream.

Location: 928 West 16th St., North Vancouver; 778-232-5421; T-F: 10am-6pm, Sat: 10am-5pm, Sun: 12pm-5pm

Vancouver Olive Oil Company, Vancouver

Michaelanne Buckley, owner of Vancouver Olive Oil Company (VOOC), was hooked on olive oil and vinegar from the very first taste — an experience with Blueberry Balsamic in Halifax, her Nova Scotia homeland. She knew instantly a career change was in her future and VOOC tasting room/retail space was born in Kitsilano.

The vision is simple. Acquire a "really fantastic, chemically robust olive oil" for their customers, create a fun atmosphere, and continue the fun, through the passion and integrity of stellar fresh products. The goal? Change the way consumers understand and consume extra-virgin olive oil through accurate information and first-hand experience (taste-test to find your favourite) while practicing a "fresh is best" philosophy.

Must Try: Chipotle Olive Oil; Milanese Gremolata Olive Oil.

Vinegar Pairings: Blueberry Balsamic with Lemon EVOO; Cara Cara Orange Vanilla Balsamic with Persian Lime Olive Oil (or tangerine juice as in the Slow Roasted Golden Beet & Tangerine Salad recipe) in the VOOC blog.

Location: 2571 Broadway W, Vancouver; 604-737-7171; T-F: 11am-5:30pm, Sat: 11am-5pm

The Olive Oil Merchant, Kelowna

Having lived in Italy for 11 years, The Olive Oil Merchant's Teresa Kuhn knew that in returning to Canada she'd miss Italy's great olive oil the most. During that time she established relationships with artisan farmers throughout the country and studied to be an Olive Oil Master (the equivalent of a sommelier). 

As a web retailer, The Olive Oil Merchant (family-owned and operated) imports, distributes, and sells fresh and superior quality EVOOs, balsamics, and other delicacies from small artisan producers throughout Italy to consumers, stores and restaurants.

"We are most definitely the only retailer in BC (and likely even in Canada) that participates in the olive harvest with our partner farms in Italy to ensure that the product we bring in is of the highest quality," says Teresa. "We control the entire supply chain — between the farmer and us — there is no one."

Find their product in these BC shops — Vancouver: Zara's Deli on Granville Island; Finest at the Sea on Arbutus. Kelowna: Codfather Seafood; Okanagan Grocery; Mission Hill Winery; Little Church Organics; Nature's Fare, and Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver.

Also check out The Olive Oil Merchant's Truth about Olive Oil for the low-down on how to choose a quality EVOO.

Must Try: Franci Le Trebbiane, medium bodied later harvest oil from Tuscany, and the most celebrated and awarded olive oil producer in Italy. Fresh and clean with ample and harmonious flavour. Extremely complex with rich spicy finish. Best as dressing oil in soups, on vegetables, legumes, bruschetta, green salads, medium-flavoured fish or roasted meats.

Location: Shipping via Canada Post: regular, expedited, XPresspost and priority courier from Kelowna to anywhere within North America.