The Dish: 10 Things to Know About Olive Oil from Nectar de la Vida
The Warren shop sells high-quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars, plus paninis, salads, entrees and baked goods that are made with them.
Nectar de la Vida owner Maureen Botelho first learned about the beneficial properties of olive oil in the 1970s through her Portuguese husband and his family. “The first time I went over to his house for dinner, I didn’t know what olive oil was,” she says. “My mom was a very basic cook and we were a corn oil family. And he said, ‘That’s olive oil. Haven’t you ever had it?’ ” That’s when Botelho got her first taste of the heart-healthy oil that she now uses on just about everything she cooks.
After visiting an olive oil shop in the Napa Valley, her real love affair with the liquid gold began. Now she owns her own shop in downtown Warren, Nectar de la Vida, where visitors can taste high-quality, index-tested extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from around the world that are vetted for authenticity and distributed through Veronica Foods in California. The olive oils have also been checked out by Dr. Mary Flynn, a Miriam Hospital nutritionist and Brown University associate professor, who developed the Healing Foods Project, a plant-based, extra virgin olive oil diet (Read a q-and-a with her about olive oil here).
Botelho wants to make the products more approachable and affordable for her customers. “It shouldn’t be something that’s so expensive that the bottle looks like a trophy on your counter, and you want to use it but can’t because you spent so much money on it,” Botelho says. “Pour it on and have it in your recipes. Don’t be afraid to use it.”
Botelho and the Nectar de la Vida chefs also create salads, paninis, baked goods and heat-and-serve items incorporating the olive oils and vinegars as ingredients in the recipes so people can get ideas on how to use them in their own kitchens.
“We decided to do food, so people could imagine how it tastes in a dressing or in a dessert. I make olive oil muffins and we make our salad dressings,” she says. “We roast our onions in our eighteen-year balsamic and our mushrooms in our mushroom olive oil. We started cooking everything with the products and putting it all together.”
Some of the most popular items are the kale salad with raw Brussels sprouts, dried cranberries, pecans, parmesan cheese, sliced pears and a lemon olive oil dressing, and the Sicilian lemon chicken dish topped with a wine reduction stock made with balsamic and fresh lemon. Even desserts incorporate the olive oils and vinegars. Whoopie pies feature balsamic-marinated roasted strawberries combined with mascarpone cheese and stuffed between two cakes made with olive oil.
In addition to the tanks and tall bottles of olive oils and vinegars available for tasting and purchase, the shop also stocks a line of face and body products, including soaps, shampoos, lotions and cleansing oils, some of which contain olive oil. Local artisanal products from neighbor Hope and Main, including Backyard Food Company tomato jam, pickles and salsas, Fox Point Pickles, Lost Art Cultured Foods vegan spreads and Rogue Island sauces, and Aquidneck Honey are also available for purchase there. Stock up on fresh dried pastas, olives produced by a third-generation family in Spain and sauce packets for easy dinners at home. “We’re bringing a little bit of Europe and the Napa Valley to Rhode Island,” Botelho says.
Here are 10 things to know about extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar:
- Olive oil is not meant to be an aged product. As soon as the olives come off the trees, they start to age and die, so Veronica Foods gets them off the tree and to the press within four hours.
- It’s a myth that you can’t cook with a good olive oil. You can use it at high-heat temperatures as in stir fries and roasting.
- In Europe, they have oil and vinegar on the table for salad dressings. It’s a very simple way to use it. That’s all you need.
- Fluorescent lighting destroys olive oil and many of the top shelf olive oils in grocery stores are the closest ones to the fluorescent lighting.
- Make sure olive oil is stored in a dark bottle and away from the light.
- Olive oil shouldn’t have a “best by” date on it, it should have a crush date on it. Then you know when it got crushed and bottled and you can do the math. It is good for fourteen months from the crush date.
- Try a refreshing new beverage: Take a blueberry or blackberry balsamic vinegar and pour it in seltzer water with ice and add a mint leaf or raspberries. It’s a delicious treat that’s low in sugar, high in polyphenols, it’s anti-inflammatory, it has a probiotic and it’s very tasty.
- Use olive oil on fish or chicken. Massage it into your food. It helps it receive flavor better.
- When tasting olive oil, hold the tasting cup in your hand and warm it up. Then slurp it through your teeth and it will spread around the polyphenols so you get that robust flavor.
- Replace butter on a sweet potato or any vegetable with good olive oil. It’s more beneficial, because the fats in the olive oil help absorb the nutrients in the veggies.
460 Main St., Warren, 401-694-0776, nectardelavida.com