There’s a specific ritual to tasting olive oil, and Ross Driscoll is eager to show customers the proper method.
Driscoll, who owns Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room with his wife, Dana, starts by pouring a small amount of oil into a plastic cup. He then circles the palm of his hand over the cup’s brim to warm up the sample.
He takes the oil in with one shot and quickly slurps so it coats the back of his throat. Flavors are apparent almost instantly, but for someone uninitiated to the process, the acidic oil’s effect can be a bit overwhelming.
Still, this type of hands-on demonstration is an example of the key to their business, the Driscolls said. Drizzle Olive Oil sells product, but its owners also focus on sharing with customers the intricacies of olive oil cultivation, as well as its potential health benefits, if produced correctly.
“We just want people to be educated and have a good time,” Dana said.
Ross added: “And we want people to taste. I think that’s not only a fun experience, but an honest experience.”
Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room was named Business of the Year by Bellingham Business Journal readers in the 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards. The Driscolls opened the shop in 2011 at 1208 11th St., in Bellingham’s Fairhaven District.
Drizzle features a rotating selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. On a typical day, the shop usually has about 60 varieties available for tasting and purchase.
The Driscolls also stock sea salts, honey produced by Moon Valley Organics in Deming, and spices from A Pinch of Love Rubs and Blends, a product line created by Bob Currie of Bellingham.
After originally opening inside of a small back room, Drizzle completed an expansion in March 2013, taking over what was once the upper floor of the Colophon Cafe. The move gave the shop a storefront directly on 11th Street, and allowed the Driscolls to better handle their in-store sales, which Ross said have grown each year.
Dana, a registered nurse, said she has always been intrigued by olive oil’s role in promoting a healthy diet.
Used in moderation, monounsaturated fat, the main type found in many varieties of olive oil, can provide medicinal benefits, including lowering one’s risk of heart disease and level of cholesterol, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Extra virgin olive oils are generally said to be the best varieties when it comes to health benefits, in part due to their higher standards of production and lack of imperfections. Several agencies coordinate testing procedures to bestow the “extra virgin” designation upon particular products, including the the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an organization called the International Olive Oil Council.
The Driscolls, however, are among more than 140 merchants worldwide that sell extra virgin olive oil carrying an additional label, known as “ultra premium.”
Developed by California-based Veronica Foods, extra virgin olive oils also certified as ultra premium are held to stricter quality tests than those used to designate products as simply extra virgin, or as it is known to those in the industry, EVOO.
Ultra premium standards place greater emphasis on an olive oil’s shelf life and chemical purity.
Ross said the ultra premium designation at Drizzle has provided new opportunities to share information on their products with customers. It has also motivated him and Dana to expect better quality from their suppliers.
“It’s upped the expectation we have from the producers,” he said.
Dana said educating customers on the various intricacies of olive oil production and storage is a major part of Drizzle’s business. A lot of effort is placed toward training the shop’s eight-person staff, she added.
Employees at Drizzle are expected to field all sorts of questions from customers.
Among more common inquiries, Ross said a lot of people want to know where the olives in a particular batch of oil were grown. However, an oil’s production date and its manufacturing process are more important indicators of quality, he said.
Looking ahead, the Driscolls said they plan to continue building their online store. While wholesale distribution is a possibility down the road, Ross said it’s not an immediate goal.
Dana added that they will likely spend the next year building more connections in the community, and developing new ways to utilize their products.
Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business of the Year runners-up
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See all of the 2014 Readers’ Choice Award winners by clicking here.