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. Read more
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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Just 15 miles from Indiana’s second largest city, traffic slows to a horse and buggy pace, stepping into stores is like stepping into yesteryear, and Friday night entertainment is a cappella singing and yodeling. Grabill, Indiana, unlike other Amish towns, isn’t filled with overpriced specialty shops. Instead you’ll find simple shops with old-fashioned appeal. On my short visit, I browsed through a general store, an antique mall and flea market, and a coffee shop, all housed in buildings that have stood for more than a century.
Since the Souder family purchased what is now the H. Souder & Sons General Store in 1907 to start a harness shop, the building has been home to 24 different kinds of business, including a jail, a bank and a gas station.You’ll be taken back to your childhood—or maybe your parents’ childhood—in the store where nostalgic signs advertise candy that you may not have seen, let alone tasted, in years, like Zagnut candy bars or Chuckles sugar-coated jelly candies. Goods are displayed in the crowded shop on wooden crates, in bushel baskets and in barrels. Young and old are invited to sit and play a friendly game of checkers.
On hot summer days enjoy a refreshing cold bottle of soda.
The Country Shops combines 100 vendors in an antique mall, indoor flea market, and art gallery. Browse all the nooks and crannies of the two floors of for unique items.
The Coffee Cabin, housed in a log cabin built in 1791, offers an assortment of coffees and teas, treats like cherry pie cookies and banana bread, and soups and sandwiches.
Other businesses in Grabill include restaurants like Nolt’s Amish Restaurant (reservations required) with family style, buffet or menu dining. On Friday evenings, listen to Amish a cappella singing and an Amish yodeler. Visit the Amish Brass Shop for Amish made decorative items, a country store where you can purchase bulk dry foods, and a farm market that sells produce and Amish cheese and butter.
You can fill at least a half day in Grabill, or if you slow down to a horse and buggy pace, you can stretch it into a full day.
Grabill is located 15 miles northeast of Fort Wayne, about a half hour drive. Note that many of the shops are closed Sundays.
Disclosure: My visit to Grabill was hosted by Visit Fort Wayne, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.
Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.