Dana Shortt Gourmet

It’s funny – the longer I live in KW, the more I am grateful for services like Twitter.
After all, it was a wayward tweet that caused my feet to wander to Dana Shortt Gourmet, a catering/fine foods store just off of Erb in Waterloo. It hinted at a brand new “olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar” on the premises, and while I’ve enjoyed tasting bars at various Niagara wineries, this was something new.
Something new, and utterly fascinating. I made it past the rows of cupcakes and sample trays of shortbread cookies (though, I did try the brown sugar & chocolate shortbread cookies and left with a bag to share with friends) to turn the corner and find myself in the company of over thirty fusti of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, their contents clearly and cheerfully labeled.

I puttered about for a couple of moments, reading the descriptions posted on the front of each fusti and looking curiously towards the food pairings: pint-sized bocconcini salads and sample shot glasses of yogurt and granola, but wasn’t sure where to begin (short of taking a couple of pictures.)

When I asked about taking photos, it opened up an entirely new opportunity – visiting the tasting bar became a tour as food expert Jennifer encouraged me to try different oils and vinegars, showing me how to swirl the sample glass of oil on my palm to warm it up before giving it a try. Some of the pairings were more unusual than others – she matched the yogurt with a blood orange olive oil – but it was surprisingly delicious.

From touring through the five “straight-up” olive oils (my favorite, an almost-fiery Hojiblanca, resides beside my stove) to sprinkling white truffle oil over some fresh-popped popcorn and sharing it with me, she was patient and knowledgeable, sharing facts and anecdotes with an easy smile.

One of my favorite stories involved their supplier, Veronica Foods. It turned out that one of Veronica’s grand-daughters was not a fan of olive oil, so they worked to blend a mix of olive oil and herbs to create…

…and, yes, it does taste like butter.

I have an abiding love for all things citrus, and zoomed in on the lemon olive oil, which has a story all its own. This variant, as well as the lime and blood orange olive oils, were created through a process called “whole fruit infuse argumato” (which I did misspell; thank you to the folks @ Dana Shortt for catching it!) The concept behind it is that the citrus fruit which goes into the oil were grown in the same area as the olives, and the fruit and olives were pressed simultaneously, giving the oils a rich, bright flavour. I took a sample vial of this oil home, and have used it to great effect on spinach salads (matched with a lemon or cranberry-pear balsamic) and sole fillets since.

This process sets them apart from other variants, like garlic or chipotle, where the extra flavours are infused at a later point in the process.

One of the flavour options that I liked immediately was the wild mushroom & sage olive oil; rich, smooth, and almost smoky. On the other side of the bar was a dark chocolate balsamic, which, Jennifer assured me, could translate well to sweet or savoury dishes (ice cream or steak were the options suggested!)

One of the features that I liked best about Dana Shortt’s tasting bar was how user-friendly its setup is. From the tasting-notes on each fusti to the “cocktails” beside each spout with a mixture of an olive oil and a vinegar that make a classic (garlic & butter) or quirky (blackberry-ginger & Persian lime) combination, it was a lot of fun to tour around. I tried a lot, talked a lot, and left with a lot left to try.

Like this 18-year-old balsamic vinegar (see: the massive fusti on the bottom shelf.) One day!

That said, if your feet are in a wandering kind of mood and you find yourself in Uptown, might I recommend indulging your inner chemist and food enthusiast? The tasting bar is complimentary, and the experience itself is a lot of fun.

On a completely different note, here’s the best kind of PSA: butter tart competitions. Attendance is free, and the competitors are dynamite.

I suspect that the little heart shapes that have taken up residence in my eyes are bound to last for a while now.

Happy wandering! (And who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there!)

Corrections (July 23/11): when blissfully overwhelmed, it can be hard to get all of the details right. Thanks to the folks at Dana Shortt for catching my scribing slip-ups: Veronica’s grandchildren (not daughter) are the ones who inspired the butter olive oil; the citrus olive oils are whole-fruit infused; and the tasting bar has over twenty varieties and then some! The count is at 37 varieties of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegars, and other specialty gourmet oils – and (best of all) more varieties are due next week!

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