Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in Maine
If, like me, you love the fruity, peppery taste of fresh extra-virgin olive oil but doubt you can find such quality in Maine, have I got a place for you.
Eventide Specialties in Boothbay Harbor is a large, colorful, well-stocked gourmet food shop that specializes in selling award-winning, certifiably fresh, extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from the world’s vineyards and olive estates. It is possible for customers here to taste about a dozen different extra-virgin olive oils, and dozens of balsamic vinegars.
Eventide Specialties’ co-owner, Kim Martin, “grew up knowing good olive oil,” leading her to approach selling olive oils and vinegars with an artisan's sensibility in the way she chooses, cares for, and educates the public about her products. Martin lived in Cleveland, Ohio, in a Lebanese household where good olive oil was a staple. More recently, when a long-time friend introduced her to amazing oil, she recognized it as the taste of her childhood.
“It was not at all like the stuff you get today in grocery stores,” Martin says.
With that renewed taste memory, inspiration struck. Martin contacted the importer of that “amazing oil,” Veronica Foods in California, and Eventide Specialties was born.
Veronica Foods is the oldest importer of extra-virgin olive oil in the United States. In his 2012 expose, Extra Virginity, about widespread fakery and fraud in the olive oil business, journalist and author Tom Mueller lists Veronica Foods as one of the good guys, a distributor of extra-virgin olive oil of the highest quality. The company supplies olive oil from both large and small estates around the world to thousands of independent retail shops in the United States and Canada. Eventide is one of them.
When it first opened, in 2012, the shop’s main products were olive oil and balsamic vinegars. But soon Martin and co-owner Denise Demeter expanded to include more than 150 types of cheeses, gourmet foods, and food-related gifts, and a bakery. Martin is the baker, rising at 3am each and every morning to bake. She is a woman of remarkable skill and wide-ranging experienceone of those people who thrives on very little sleep. Three hours a day is all she needs, she says.
Demeter was at one time an accountant, a paramedic, and for many years, a company manager. She has a background in chemistry; trained as a chef at the prestigious CIA (The Culinary Institute of America); attended intensive cheese master classes in New York City; and after moving to Maine in 1998, worked as a guest chef at a friend’s inn. But Demeter decided she wanted to do something that would be good for the community and would change the way people look at food.
Eventide’s olive oil arrives in Boothbay Harbor in 10-liter cube-shaped containers. Martin and her employees transfer the oil to about 35 fusti—custom made, Italian stainless-steel drums with spigots so customers can help themselves to samples of the oils. Each fusto carries a label listing the variety of olive, the crush date (which according to Martin is within two hours of harvest), the country of origin, and a description of the flavor of the oil. In addition, each label displays the chemical composition of the olive, important to note because it is the olive’s chemistry that allows it to lay claim to its proven health benefits, such as the polyphenol and oleic acid levels, and other chemical components.
Polyphenols occur naturally in olives. They contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Oleic acid, the primary monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, has been associated with some of the major health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This is why, like many other fruits and vegetables, getting it fresh and as unadulterated or unprocessed as possible will ensure the highest level of nutrition, and the best taste.
Author Mueller writes that one of the best ways to ensure that the olive oil you buy is actually fresh, nutritious, and genuine is to find a store where you can taste the oil before you buy it and where the staff is knowledgeable (“check” and “check” for Eventide Specialties). Genuine extra-virgin olive oils, oil from the first pressing of the olives, will taste fruity and have some level of pepperiness. A particularly good indication of freshness is the harvest date, information that most bottles don’t list. Some list a “sell buy” date, which is better than nothing, however this date is usually two years after bottling. If you can find a bottle with a harvest date, look for ones that are from this year’s harvest. And keep in mind that light, heat, and air are enemies of olive oil, so find only dark-colored bottles that are well sealed, and have not been sitting in the sun in a storefront (another “check” for Eventide Specialties).
No matter where in the world olives are being crushed (in the Northern Hemisphere olives are harvested and crushed from October to December; in the Southern Hemisphere from April to June), “we always follow the pressing,” says Martin, so that the oils they get are as fresh as possible.
Eventide Specialties has a fitting motto: “where oil and water mix.” And sure enough, entering the striking space, your eye is drawn to the line of oil-filled fusti along the wall, perched at varying heights, creating an undulation that leads your eye down the row to a large picture window and out to the sea.
Rosie DeQuattro is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Edible Maine and, formerly, to Edible Boston. She loves to tell the stories of the dedicated and passionate men and women of Maine who produce our food, and about what it takes to get it to our plates.