Saleta and Linda Cameron are originally from Alabama but have lived in Annapolis for
many years. Saleta’s soft and lilting accent occasionally peaks through her speech, revealing that her Southern roots still run deep. Together, the sisters own Cleo’s
Fine Oils and Vinegars.Located in Annapolis Towne Center at Parole, the shop is sophisticated, airy and bright. The staff is gracious and welcoming. The products are amazing. Visit the shop with an appetite for sweet, savory, salty, creamy and crunchy. Olive oils range from soft and buttery to grassy, peppery and pungent. A variety of balsamic vinegars feature flavors like coffee, pomegranite, fig and dark chocolate.
Cleo’s is a showcase for high quality oils and vinegars.
While similar shops may be contracted to purchase from specific distributors, brands or vendors, Cleo’s remains independent. “Our customers need to know that they can expect superior quality from Cleo’s every time they fill a bottle. So we taste our way through hundreds of choices from Europe and California until we find the best. Then we send it to a lab for testing” Saleta says. “We search for producers who can meet our standards and business expectations. Then we insist on buying relatively small batches to ensure consistent quality”. Cleo’s isn’t traveling the world specifically foraging for small, artisan producers who are crafting and marketing with terroir in mind. Instead, they use close relationships with importers, vendors and specialty distributors to source really good oils.
Olive oil has become popular in America in the past twenty years (although it has been a staple in other diets for millennia) largely for it’s great taste and scientifically verified nutritional benefits.
But there are so many types of olive oils on supermarket shelves today, and so many brands, that being a savvy shopper can be difficult. It is important to read the label on the bottle and to note the ingredients list.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest quality and consequently the most expensive type of olive oil. It is the essence of an olive: clean, pure, flavorful juice manufactured with strict specifications.
- The oil must be extracted from olives picked at the peak of ripeness from the tree (not from the ground).
- The olives must be mechanically crushed, specifically, under exact thermal conditions in order to preserve the juice’s integrity.
- No solvents or additives are allowed in extraction and the juice must come from the olive itself (as opposed to the pit or peel).
- Finally, the oil must pass chemical tests in a laboratory to establish that it is absolutely free of defects yet retains a consistent, pleasant flavor.
At this time, there is no federal standard to guarantee that oil labeled as “extra virgin” is the Real Deal. The International Olive Oil Council and the California Olive Oil Council, on the other hand, do mandate standards for labeling. Look for their seals on the bottle to ensure you are getting a quality product.
Lesser oils are often labeled simply “Pure Olive Oil”. These oils may still be pure, but probably were made with olives from many countries or producers and could be a blend of imperfect extra virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. Regardless, they must be made strictly with olives and produced without solvents. Organic Olive Oil refers only to manufacture with organically grown olives, and can be ordinary oil or extra virgin.
Olive oil needs to be carefully stored in order to maintain quality. “Olive oil is delicate: it hates heat, light and air,” Saleta says. “Many people keep their oil on the countertop near the stove—this is the fastest way to cause it to spoil.” Instead, keep it in a cool dark cabinet. Cleo’s sells a particular type of pour spout that has a flip lid, ensuring that no air can get into the oil while pouring or storing. “Water is the arch nemesis of oil,” Saleta notes, “because it creates rancidity.” At Cleo’s you can bring in a clean and dry bottle for refill. If that bottle has any water or residue though, you may need to find a new one.
Because pure olive oil is adverse to air and moisture, Saleta doesn’t recommend purchasing types with bits of herbs, peppers or other flavor enhancers in the bottle. Cleo’s sells “fused” oils. This process eliminates the possibility of botulism and other bacteria by melding the herbs, spices or citrus with the oil during crushing, then filtering any particles out of the oil before bottling.
Olive oil is a rapidly expanding market rife with as many great marketing schemes as there are producers. Visit Cleo’s for a tasting of several different types of true, pure olive oil to determine just what your palate prefers.
Saleta and Linda can help you understand the many nutritional benefits of olive oil, and you can attend a class to learn more about how to taste and appreciate the many factors that determine a fine oil. Then go back to your kitchen and find creative ways to implement healthy olive oil into your culinary creations. Here are three recipes to get you started. You can visit www.cleosfineoils.com to find more.
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