Olive oil is a necessity in many homes around the world. Used for frying, sautéing, as an ingredient or simply sprinkled over bread, its possibilities are endless. Cynthia Tupman, who earned her bachelor's degree in food science, is an aficionado of the oil's versatility and health benefits. Along with her husband David, the Tupmans recently opened Isabella's Fine Olive Oils and Vinegars in the Lake Norman area. The specialty shop sells more than 42 types of fresh olive oils and vinegars, held in large canisters and available for tasting. Fused olive oils — meaning the olives are crushed with the flavors they're being fused with, rather than added later — come in blood orange and lemon, while a diverse selection of infused oils come in lime, chipotle, butter and other flavors. And don't forget about the almond, sesame seed, walnut and white truffle gourmet oils, as well as a plentiful bank of balsamics. The oddity, a dark chocolate balsamic, is reportedly tasty drizzled over ice cream.
Creative Loafing: Where are most of the olive oils and vinegars in your store produced?
Cynthia Tupman: During the end of November and beginning of December, they come from the northern hemisphere, meaning they were harvested in Italy, Greece, northern Africa (like Tunisia), Turkey and California. That lasts until early April, and at the beginning of May, they start harvesting in the southern hemisphere, which is Argentina, Chile and Australia. There are misconceptions that the origins of olive oil matter more than how fresh it is. For seven months, the southern hemisphere is the freshest in the world per se.
Let's talk a little bit about freshness. How are your products a better alternative?
It's healthier because it's fresher. The sooner you consume a product, the richer it is in its nutrients. Most of the time, olive producers all over the world want the olives to be really ripe because when they're riper, they're juicier. However, when it ripens, the chemistry totally changes. It starts decaying within itself before the juice is even out. So the nutrients aren't as profound and fresh because the fruit has ripened longer. Producers want that because then they have more oil. If the olives are cut and crushed early, then it's got a very strong oleic acid. What they do is, they save that and they wait for the rest of the olives to ripen. Then they mix the first with very rich oleic acid and the less rich to pass the chemical standard. It doesn't matter where it comes from; it has to be fresh. This is the closest you're going to get to having a fresh product, unlike what you buy in the grocery store.
What's your own personal favorite olive oil?
Nocellara. It comes from Argentina and it's sweet and fruity.