So I will admit, even as a food writer, my eyes had been opened recently to the world of high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar after attending the Fancy Food Show and seeing both being tasted like wine, with a plethora of flavors and nuances. Then I discovered Baker & Olive here in Encinitas and am now hooked on the good stuff.Baker & Olive is the brainchild of Paul and Marion Johnson. Both had been working in the corporate world, Paul as a CEO and Marion as a VP of marketing. Two years ago, they decided it was time to focus on their two wineries in Napa Valley, Fiftyrow Vineyards and Smokescreen Cellars, and to open the first Baker & Olive.
I spoke with Paul recently to learn more about the world of quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Lick the Plate:?How would you explain the benefits and versatility of the quality oils and balsamic you carry to someone not in the know?
Paul Johnson: By now we’ve all heard about the benefits of extra virgin olive oil and its use in the Mediterranean diet. From protecting against osteoporosis to reducing risk of high blood pressure and stroke, the benefits are seemingly endless. Because it is so rich in antioxidants, olive oil appears to dramatically reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thereby preventing heart disease. However, only fresh, unadulterated, high quality olive oil will be able to provide you with the acclaimed health benefits.
At Baker & Olive you can find out what a fresh, extra virgin olive oil should taste like; sometimes sweet and smooth, at other times sharp, grassy and peppery. In each case, the oil releases its bright, distinctive charms the moment it hits your tongue.
All of our balsamic vinegars come from Modena, Italy, and are the highest quality available. Our dark balsamic is cooked over an open wood fired and aged in old, seasoned wood casks which impart flavor and terroir from residual grape must that was previously aged in the same barrel for decades. This time honored attention to quality and detail results in an exceedingly smooth, dense, complex product.
LTP: What can a first-time visitor to your store expect?
PJ: Once inside either location, you are greeted by our knowledgeable staff who will happily give you the tasting tour of our oils and vinegars. With over two dozen of balsamic vinegars and two dozen extra virgin olive oils, there is definitely something for everyone.
You can read about great olive oils and their vast superiority over bad oils all you want, but until you try first-rate olive oil for yourself and compare that experience to the bad stuff you’ve eaten in the past — you won’t really get it.
LTP: OK, so know we know the benefits of quality balsamic and olive oils, let’s expand on that by giving our foodie audience some introductory suggestions for pairing balsamic and olive oil with food.
PJ: With the holidays around the corner let us give you some great pairings for a festive meal.
Red Apple Balsamic & Tarragon EVOO: Roasted salmon with Israeli couscous.
Marinade salmon in both oil and balsamic, roast in oven and halfway through roasting brush salmon with more balsamic. Prepare couscous as suggested and finish with a touch of tarragon evoo.
Cranberry Pear Balsamic & Blood Orange EVOO: Winter salad with 3 citrus (sweet ruby grapefruit, blood orange, oro blanca grapefruit). Add citrus fruit to micro greens and finish with candied pecans and Humboldt fog goat cheese.
Cinnamon Pear Balsamic & Herb de Provence EVOO: Bone-in Pork Prime Rib with roasted root vegetables. Rub pork with oil, pepper and salt and slow roast. Add balsamic to pan juices and reduce at very low heat. For the vegetables, roasts with olive oil and toss with balsamic five minutes before taking out of oven.
LTP: You carry some specialty foods and artisan bread as well, what do you have to offer and what determined that mix?
PJ: We try to carry hard to find items that foodies look for like duck fat, anchovy juice or preserved lemons. We like items that make a flavorful life easy — French jam, single varietal raw honeys — our own line of tapenade and salts. Our breads are handmade fresh every morning and most are organic.
LTP: Baker & Olive also sells to restaurants, where chefs integrate your balsamics and oils into their menus. What local restaurants use your products?
PJ: We sell to some of San Diego’s finest restaurants. Locally those include Third Corner, Bistro West and West Steakhouse, Blue Fire Grill, Blue Ribbon Pizza, Craftsman, Delicias, Q’ero and Sbicca.
Baker & Olive is located at 165 S. El Camino Real Encinitas and now in Carmel Valley at 12925 El Camino Real. Visit online at bakerandolive.com.