By Kathy Stephenson
The Salt Lake Tribune
At Mountain Town Olive Oil, customers journey through France, Greece and Spain. They linger in Italy, get a taste of Tunisia and then stop at Australia, all before reaching the cash register. About 40 different extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world are sold at the four-month old Park City specialty store. Those who venture into the tiny shop, inside the Park Hotel at 605 Main St., immediately notice the shiny, stainless steel containers called fustis, which look like milk cans with a spigot. Each one holds a different oil or vinegar and allows visitors to sample the offerings.
“I felt like it would be helpful to give people an opportunity to try before they bought it,” said owner Jessica McCleary, who moved to Utah two years ago to take a job in online merchandising and internet marketing. Some customers want to taste oils from a specific region, while others “can spend an hour tasting and figuring out what they want to buy.”
While living in California, McCleary owned her own business importing home decor from Mexico. When she moved to Utah, she wanted to start another small business with niche appeal. She modeled Mountain Town after a similar store in Sedona, Az., another resort town with a year-round population base.
“Olive oil speaks to a passion of mine: cooking,” said the 37-year-old, who enjoys experimenting with different olive oils. Some are good for sauteing vegetables, others are good for drizzling on salads or bread dipping, while still others can be used for baking.
“Just like wine, there’s one for every occasion,” she said.
Over the last decade, olive oil has moved from a luxury item to a regular cooking ingredient because of its health benefits. Studies have shown that olive oil — and other oils high in monounsaturated fat — may help lower the risk of heart disease, breast cancer and high cholesterol.
Savvy consumers also are drawn to extra virgin olive oil for its superior taste, which can range from fruity to peppery.
About 98 percent of the world’s olive oil comes from the Mediterranean region — mainly Italy, Greece, France and Spain — where the cultivation of olives date back more than 6,000 years, according to the North American Olive Oil Association. But other areas in South America, Australia and the United States — namely California — are breaking into the industry.
Around the world
Oils from just about every continent can be found at Mountain Town. The store generally carries about 20 different extra virgin olive oils — the highest grade available — and 20 balsamic vinegars, said McCleary. The majority cost around $15 for 375 ml bottle.
Besides traditional olive oils, Mountain Town carries several flavored oils, including chipotle, wild mushroom and sage, Meyer lemon, and Blood orange. The best seller is the Tuscan herb, infused with Italian basil and oregano. The black and white truffle oils are the most expensive at $31.95 and $34.95.
There are just as many flavors of balsamic vinegars: fig, black cherry, raspberry, currant, coconut, cinnamon pear, wild blueberry and even a dark chocolate that’s “good enough to drink for dessert,” said McCleary. The shop’s prize, however, is an 18-year-old aged balsamic vinegar.
Deciding on a favorite olive oil or vinegar is subjective, the owner says.
“Some people like an olive oil that is light and doesn’t have a grassy, peppery taste,” McCleary said. “Other people want as much flavor as they can get. There’s a broad spectrum from mild and clean to big and bold. It’s similar to wine: Everyone has a different palate.”