Let your taste buds be the judge

Photograph by Julie Oliver

In a roundabout way, Elizabeth Kilvert has Stephen Harper to thank for her new business. When the career biologist learned her job at the Department of Environment was being eliminated this past summer, she decided to throw caution to the wind and open a business that married her passion for food and travel.

On Thursday, the plucky scientist opened the doors to The Unrefined Olive, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar located on Second Avenue in the Glebe.

“I worked at Environment for 10 years, dividing my time between here and Montreal working at Biosphere — our museum of environment. When the government decided to forgo education as a component within our department, I decided I had to go. I couldn’t abide by the change in direction and started to weigh my options.”

Kilvert was offered various work options: accept a package, take a job elsewhere in the department or take a two-year education leave. She opted for the latter. Her last day of work was Sept. 26.

“It was a good time in my life to take a new direction,” says the 42-year-old, who will also begin a master’s degree in gastronomic tourism at Le Cordon Bleu.

Kilvert signed a lease on Sept. 1 taking over a space which had been a pet store for 20 years on Second Avenue in the Glebe.

The Unrefined Olive opened its doors on Thursday with more than 250 people, including business people and local politicians, people who live in the neighbourhood, friends and family, stopping by to sample some of the 50 balsamic vinegars and olive oils from large stainless-steel fustis or vats that sit atop long ash tables.

Knowledgeable staff offered detailed explanations of the different tastes and varieties of the oils and vinegars.

There’s balsamic vinegars called peach white, blackberry ginger, dark espresso, dark fig and pomegranate balsamic, cranberry and pear white balsamic. There’s garlic olive oil, blood orange olive oil and single-estate olive oils.

There are three sizes: 200 mL for $12, 375 mL for $19 and 750 mL at $32. Production dates are clearly labelled so you know how old it is.

“The beauty of this store is that you take home exactly what you tasted. There are tremendous health benefits from fresh oils, which is why the Mediterranean diet is so good for you.”

Kilvert got the idea for a tasting bar after trips home to visit her folks in Halifax where she stumbled across Liquid Gold, a store based on the same premise with the same supplier.

“I use a single-source supplier for my oils and vinegars. They are the oldest olive oil importer in North America and have been doing this for three generations. They source from seven different countries and go directly to the estates and mills to supervise the harvests and crushing to ensure the standards of freshness and quality.”

The oils and vinegars are selected from countries in the northern and southern hemisphere, including Tunisia, Australia, Chile, Spain and Italy, to benefit from two harvests.

Kilvert attended last weekend’s Ottawa Wine and Food Festival and was buoyed by the response. One bride-to-be ordered 250 bottles to give as gifts while several restaurant owners approached her with a desire to incorporate her oils into their menus. She will also offer tasting classes and demonstrations and interested parties can reserve the space.

“Balsamic vinegars and olive oils isn’t just for chefs. Pair them for bread dipping, on salads and marinades. Try an oil on bruschetta for an intense flavour or add the mushroom sage to risotto or mashed potatoes. The dark espresso balsamic is perfect in chili to bring up the flavour, Kilvert says.

Connect with Janet Wilson |Google+|@JanetDWilson|jwilson@ottawacitizen.com