While walking through Wayland Square in Providence, RI, I stumbled upon a store called, “The Olive Tap,” but it wasn’t there the last time I was in Wayland Square, so it surprised me at how fast it must have been set up. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted rows of shiny silver containers on counters. Like any big dumb animal, “Me like shiny,” so I stopped and looked inside. I read the name on the wall and immediately understood that this was an olive oil shop.
What I didn’t understand though was that not only was it a shop that sells olive oil, it also sells balsamic vinegar. If that wasn’t enough to get me excited, the store owner, Greg Holtkamp, informed me that the store policy is for the customers to try all of the products before deciding to make a purchase. He pointed towards the end of a counter at a bowl full of slices of crusty bread and that was all the invitation I needed to start tasting!
The first thing I did was start with the olive oils. Mr. Holtkamp informed me that the oils come from all over, but the vast majority of the flavor infusions are done domestically. On the website it also explains that some of the products are seasonal so they are not available all year round. After walking around and viewing the various olive oils, I picked a select few to try. My first selection was to class it up with the White Truffle Olive oil.
The flavor of the truffle was strong, but not overpowering. It might be a bit much to just dip and eat a lot of it with bread because a little goes a long way, but it was delicious. I thought that in addition to eating it as is, I could use an oil like this to make white truffle mashed potatoes or something that would really compliment the flavor. This was one of the pricier oils there, but a good investment because a small bottle would probably last a long time.
Next, I tried a Jalapeño Olive Oil that was really pretty fantastic. Normally, I don’t go for pepper infused items, but I thought that this would make a great gift for a friend that loves spicy food. What surprised me was that the flavor didn’t taste fake with a weird aftertaste that some pepper infused items have, but instead took on the best elements of a crisp jalapeño including the spice. Rather than go overboard though, the spice balance was just right. Not too hot, but not too mild. I ended up purchasing this oil for my friend and he told me recently that he loves it. He uses it with anything that he thinks needs a little kick.
As I stalked around the olive oil counter looking for the next olive oil to prey upon, the store owner suggested that I try their “flagship” oil. It is a Tuscan Herb infused oil. As I tasted it, I could understand why this oil would be their flagship. It tasted exactly like an oil that I might try to make at home by infusing plain olive oil with rosemary and other herbs. If you’re looking to entertain some friends or just have a nice, easy oil for dipping, this would be a good crowd-pleasing oil.
After trying a bunch of oil, I moved over to the balsamic vinegars. Even though I love balsamic vinegar, but I was a little skeptical about trying dabs of vinegar even with bread. Those fears were put to rest as I tried the first sample.
Just to get me started, Mr. Holtkamp recommended that I try a plain, but very high quality (4-leaf rating) balsamic. This tasted very full in flavor, but also light at the same time. It was just an all around good balsamic vinegar and a great place to start. I then tried another vinegar next to it called, “Aceto Balsamico di Modena.” This one sort of blew my mind because it was so thick and rich. This came out of the tap almost like a syrup and tasted amazing. I didn’t buy this vinegar, but if and when I go back, I will make sure to buy a bottle.
After that, I tried a sweet balsamic vinegar infusion that made me do a double take (literally). It was a 3-leaf Dark Chocolate balsamic. I couldn’t believe how much this tasted like both chocolate and vinegar with both flavors really complimenting one another. I was just really impressed by this flavor, so I bought a bottle for use with dessert at a dinner I was going to that night. It was bottled and sealed right there in front of me out of the same tap that I just tasted. That’s an interesting model because the customer knows that he is getting what he wants.
Observing how much I liked the Dutch Chocolate balsamic, the owner brought out a treat. They were olive oil cake and balsamic frosting mini-cupcakes that were used at an event pairing the day before. The cupcake was pretty good with a neutral flavor that could accompany almost anything and I could really see it working with other balsamic flavors.
The only disappointing flavor that I tried was a Cherry-infused balsamic, which tasted like artificial cherry flavor infused into balsamic vinegar. This was the only flavor I tried where it just tasted really fake and disjointed. Granted, I might be biased because I’m not a fan of most cherry-flavored things. Even though I love real cherries (even maraschino cherries), many cherry flavored items usually taste like liquid Tylenol to me. Nonetheless, everything else tasted so good that I didn’t mind trying one thing that wasn’t on the same level.
Staying on the sweet balsamic wagon, I lastly tried a Cinnamon-Pear Balsamic that was pretty incredible too. This tasted exactly like it was described. Cinnamon with fresh pears and balsamic. A really great favor combination that I would like to try with ice cream or pastries.
Overall Impression: Apparently the Olive Tap is a chain of about seven stores or so, but the service and planned event tastings (I think they have events planned by Johnson and Wales University) make it seem like a much more personalized experience. I had a great time just sampling the items, which you can do even if you don’t buy anything. I would highly recommend stopping in just to check it out to sample some of the different flavors, which are sure to surprise and inspire you.
Rating: The Carlton Dance when you think no one is watching.
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