Upscale Oils

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From flavor infused to Southern grown, add some interest to your next meal with these local recommendations

You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to create memorable food. With the right oils and other condiments, you can please any palate.

Humans have long devised ways to preserve food and add flavor at the same time. Salt, herbs, vinegar and oil are primary examples.

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar can also provide health benefits without saturated fats and excess sugar.

Many people mistakenly think oil and vinegar are just for making salad dressings, said Christina Long, co-owner of Favored Flavors at River Ridge Mall. Nothing could be further from the truth, she said, noting that you don’t even have to cook to enjoy them.

Olive oils and balsamic vinegars can be drizzled on everything from entrees to desserts.

“The gourmet is in the bottle,” her husband Jason Long chimed in.

With olive oils infused with different flavors such as Valencia orange, mushroom sage, kaffir lime ginger and black truffle, Favored Flavors offers combinations that marinate meat or spice up ice cream.

The Longs buy certified, pure olive oil imported from Tunisia and Spain. They have chosen to avoid Italian olive oil because of reported connections to the Mafia, Christina said.

They work with a distributor in Arizona who infuses the oil with essential oils of other plants. It takes about two weeks to receive their orders, making their oils among the freshest you can buy.

Their balsamic is 25 Star, from Modena, Italy, with no added sugar, an ideal topping for diabetics, Christina said.

“A proprietary blend makes ours thicker and sweeter than most on the market,” she said, noting that balsamic that runs to the bottom of the bowl has too much wine vinegar in it.

All their products are vegan friendly and allergen-free, Christina added.

“Our goal is to have healthy options here in the shop,” Jason said.

The shop offers tastings any time, but also has special samplings just in front of the store to get shoppers to try their wares.

They might offer macaroni and cheese with truffle oil, gelato with Persian lime olive oil or oatmeal with balsamic vinegar.

“When we do the tastings, we try to keep it simple so they can recreate it at home,” Jason said. “We’ve learned a lot about flavor combinations and healthier eating.”

The Longs decided to become entrepreneurs after Christina’s job at Nationwide disappeared when the company left Lynchburg. She had loved visiting a shop called Drizzles in Cape Charles and realized she could start her own shop.

Jason soon joined in full time and they currently have two part-time employees with plans for a third.

The store sells much more than oils and vinegars, including Himalayan salts, spices, skin and body products, gifts and locally crafted chocolates and teas. The store also offers a 10 percent discount with a same-day movie ticket or a 10 percent discount for Planet Fitness members to support nearby businesses in the mall.

The Longs first opened their business in downtown Lynchburg on Main Street and had a successful year in 2016, but when construction to repair aging water and sewer lines began, business fell off. They say the move to the mall was a good one.

“We’re more central here than downtown,” Jason said.

For folks who like to shop downtown, however, there is still an opportunity to buy olive oil at the Lynchburg Community Market.

Chef Stephanie Fees, owner of Scratch Pasta Co., made a surprising discovery as she searched for olive oil to go with her homemade pasta.

“I was trying to find, for the market, the most local products possible,” said Fees, who launched her business in July 2017.

While the vast majority of U.S. olives are grown in California, it turns out Georgia has a similar climate.

She heard that a well-known chef, Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, S.C., was using an olive oil produced in Georgia and tracked down Georgia Olive Farms online.

According to their website, in early 2009, five farmers in southeast Georgia got together with the dream of resurrecting olive oil production in the Southeast, which had existed in the 1800s.

In 2011, Georgia Olive Farms harvested the first commercial crop of olives grown east of the Mississippi in more than a century from their orchards near Lakeland, Ga. Their oil is an extra virgin olive oil, collected from only the first pressing of their fruit.

“I think it’s a good, all-purpose oil,” Fees said, adding it has a neutral flavor and thick consistency, which is good for pasta or salad.

She doesn’t buy flavored oil, but prefers to add her own flavors, usually garlic and chives or other herbs.

“It makes the best steak you’ll ever have,” she said.

Fees uses a lot of the olive oil at home.

“As much pasta as I cook and eat, I go through olive oil and salt by the gallon,” she said.

A graduate of Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Fees completed a nine-month certification from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City in 2010. She later returned to the Lynchburg area after her mother purchased West Manor and offered her the position of head chef. When her family sold the property in 2015, she decided to make her own pasta.

“People have loved it,” she said. “I get a lot of repeat customers who come every week.”

Alongside her pastas, many also are discovering the Georgia olive oil.

As many cooks know, starting with a good olive oil is key, and it’s very simple to make your own flavored oil.

At Isabella’s Italian Trattoria, for example, they offer customers bread with olive oil and balsamic with each meal.

“We infuse extra virgin olive oil with garlic and rosemary,” said executive chef Kevin Crews.

It’s a quick, easy process. They warm the oil in a pan with roasted garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary, a combination that’s hard to beat for an appetizer.

Whether you want to experiment with your own combinations or buy them already in a bottle, flavored oils can enhance almost anything you eat.

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