In three days exploring Fort Wayne, Indiana, my husband and I visited a top-rated children’s zoo, a science museum, a conservatory, an art museum, one of the largest genealogy centers in the country, a candy factory and a festival. The amazing thing is that we never traveled more than 20 minutes from one Fort Wayne attraction to another. Several in the downtown area are even within walking distance of one another.
Call me a Johnny-come-lately. Or maybe I’m not the foodie I thought I was. Apparently olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars have become popular in the U.S. over the past several years, but I only recently discovered them.
Last year, wandering through the Galena River Wine & Cheese shop in Galena, Illinois, tasting cheese, crackers and preserves, I stumbled upon urns of flavored oils and vinegars with small cups alongside urging you to taste them. I thought it odd at the time, sipping olive oil and vinegar straight up. A few months later, at the Silver Moon Winery in Lanark, Illinois, I bought my first bottle of specialty vinegar—dark chocolate. (Are you surprised?) Winery co-owner Kathi Enzenbacher stocks several flavors of olive oils and balsamic vinegars, all available to taste, although as I recall, she had bread or other food items available to dip in them. Kathi provided recipes for each of the oils and vinegars, too.
Within the past two months I’ve been in two shops that don’t have an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar, they are olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars, with over fifty urns of gourmet, flavored oils and vinegars, all available for tasting. The shops also offer ultra-premium olive oil, the most nutritious and flavorful, in various varieties, some mild and some robust.
The Olive Twist
The Olive Twist, in Fort Wayne, Indiana opened in October 2010, and has an additional shop in Auburn, Indiana. Co-owner Lori Berndt explained that olive oil has a shelf life of about a year from the time the fruit is crushed. The best olive oil is marked “extra virgin first cold pressed,” which means the oil wasn’t heated over a certain temperature, so it retains more nutrients and the fruit was crushed only one time. Once a flavor is added to the oil, it is no longer considered extra virgin.
Balsamic vinegar comes from Medena, Italy. Grapes are cooked down to a caramelized state and aged many years. The vinegar sold at The Olive Twist is typically aged 18 years. When flavor infused, the balsamic vinegar is mixed with fine red wine vinegar.
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The Olive Twist offers classes to the public or can provide private classes. Class rates range from $35 to $100, depending on the dishes.
Traverse City was the first location of Fustini’s, who now has four other Michigan stores and one on Maui. I happened to be in Traverse City on the day they were celebrating their sixth anniversary. Besides regular oil and vinegar tastings, Chef Andy Stewart had prepared several appetizers and desserts using Fustini’s oils and vinegars. Fustini’s, owned by Jim Milligan, offers classes, too, from a demo class with four or five examples, to hands-on classes priced up to $59, but a $10 credit on a purchase.
Because olive oil has a relatively short shelf life, both The Olive Twist and Fustini’s clear product from their shelves regularly, so that when customers purchase oil, they have the maximum amount of time to use it. To keep olive oil from going rancid quickly, keep it in a cool, dry place, out of sunlight and corked or capped to minimize contact with oxygen. Both companies donate the oil they clear from their shelves to local food pantries, who because they use it in volume, will consume it before the end of its shelf life.
Once you purchase these deliciously flavored olive oils and vinegars, what do you do with them? Although they, of course, make great salad dressings, the possibilities don’t end there. They can be worked into dishes from appetizers to desserts and work well as marinades. Both companies’ web sites include many recipes. Experimenting is always fun, and to help you, pairing suggestions are listed on the urns. I purchased coconut balsamic vinegar and paired it with lime olive oil with the thought that it would make a great marinade for grilled shrimp. The dark chocolate balsamic that I bought I’m using for dessert with strawberries.
I no longer find it odd to taste the oils and vinegars straight up. In fact, I like it. Now that I’ve discovered these tasting bars, I’ve added another must-do to my list for whenever I’m visiting a new town—new town, new flavors.
Disclosure: My visits to the areas mentioned in this post were sponsored by the respective area tourism bureaus, but any opinions expressed are strictly mine.
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It isn’t often that you can walk from attraction to attraction in a city, but that’s exactly what I did in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Our group of travel writers explored the arts campus, a botanical conservatory, the nation’s top-rated minor league ballpark, and the nation’s largest public genealogy center all by foot in downtown Fort Wayne.
1. See the art.
The contemporary Fort Wayne Museum of Art features exhibits from their own collection, as well as temporary exhibitions. Following a $7 million expansion a few years ago, adding 10,000 square feet, the museum can now showcase up to nine exhibits at a time. Our guide, Amanda, pointed out that her “favorite visitor is the person who thinks they don’t like or can’t benefit from art.” These are the people who change their tune after exploring the museum.
Across the street, the Auer Center for Arts & Culture is home to Artlink, where local artists showcase their work in two galleries, the local ballet has taken up residence, and a black box theater venue is available for community performing arts groups.
Also on the arts campus, the Arts United Center is venue to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Fort Wayne Ballet and other performing arts groups.
2. See a show in a magnificent historic theater.
Bob Hope’s first emcee job was at the Emboyd Theatre. Built in 1928 to host Vaudeville shows and silent movies, the theater was saved from the wrecking ball in the mid-1970s within three day of razing, restored to its former magnificence, and renamed the Embassy Theatre.
The restored Grande Page Pipe Organ on the stage, used as the sound track for silent movies, is one of only four in the world.
Today the Embassy Theatre features plays from Broadway and big-name concerts, as well as community events like the Festival of Trees. Around Halloween you can take a haunted tour and learn about Bud Berger, the resident ghost.
3. Enjoy the tropics year-round.
A talking tree greets you in the family-friendly Foelinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, where kids can explore exhibits created especially for them.
As for adults, the rush of a waterfall and green ferns and palm trees make you feel like you are in a Caribbean island paradise as you stroll through the Tropical Garden.
The cacti in the Desert Garden take you to the greens and browns of the southwest, while the colorful flowers in the Showcase Garden, which changes seasonally, puts you in the mood for whatever the season may be.
4. Take me out to the ballgame.
Parkview Field, home to San Diego Padres minor league affiliate TinCaps, was rated the top minor league ballpark experience in the country two years in a row by Stadium Journey magazine. Unfortunately, the TinCaps (named for Johnny Appleseed who wore a tin pot on his head and is buried in Fort Wayne) weren’t playing while I was in town, so I didn’t get to experience a game or the delicious food they are said to serve. Since the ballpark is city owned and considered a park, it’s open every day, whether there is a game scheduled or not, so you can at least stop to see and walk around the park. I definitely want to make a return trip to see a ballgame.
5. Find your ancestors.
The 42,000 square foot Genealogy Center in the Allen County Public Library, second in size only to Salt Lake City, and with the largest hands-on research area, contains over a million items in the library, including 70,000 compiled family histories, 73,000 city directories, and 10,000 rolls of microfilmed records from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. If you are interested in tracing your family tree, this is the place to come. You can access free databases on the genealogy center’s web site, but for databases that you normally have to pay for, you must visit the genealogy center to gain free access. If you visit, you also can seek the assistance of the staff, whose combined research experience equals 210 years, and you can download information directly to your computer, tablet, or thumb drive.
Trivia fact: The #1 piece of family lore is that an ancestor was an Cherokee princess.
Plan to spend at least an hour if you have surnames and geography. To do extensive history, plan to stay a full day.
There is plenty more to do downtown that we didn’t have time to visit, like the Firefighters Museum and the Cathedral Museum, as well as a plethora of restaurants and nightlife spots. The places that we did visit, we just touched since our time was limited. You can plan an entire day or even a full weekend in downtown Fort Wayne.
If you stay downtown, you won’t even have to move your car until it’s time to leave. We stayed at the Hilton Fort Wayne at the Grand Wayne Center, and as with all of my Hilton experiences, had a great stay.
For more information on Fort Wayne, go to the Visit Fort Wayne web site.
Disclosure: My visit to Fort Wayne was hosted by the Visit Fort Wayne and, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author.
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