Just when I thought I had the market cornered on a unique Collingwood product - my aerial photograph books - along comes Alex Yuen to burst my bubble. Then, in a crushing combination of textures from olive oils and balsamics (read vinegars) Alex tantalized my taste buds and educated me in what is Collingwood's newest store.
Collingwood Olive Oil Co., opened today at 42 Ste. Marie St., and I pretty much only found out about it by chance because I am retired and outside the proverbial business-news loop these days. I stopped to pick up a Collingwood Connection, having just returned from England and wanting to catch up on some news. As I helped myself to a free copy from their newsbox, I saw a familiar face nearby.
It turned out to be Cheryl McMenemy, formerly publisher of The Enterprise-Bulletin and, more recently, the Owen Sound Sun-Times. She now works at the Collingwood Connection. As we chatted, I enquired about her significant other, Alex Yuen, who grew up in Collingwood and whose parents operated my favourite Chinese food restaurant (back in the day), The Bamboo Terrace. Alex grew up with one hand on schoolwork and one hand in the kitchen, so to speak. Later, he was active with the Downtown Collingwood Business Improvement Area board. Now, he is part of Downtown Collingwood once again.
"Alex is opening his business at 42 Ste. Marie St.," Cheryl told me and I promised her that it would be my next stop, never thinking for a minute that my drop-in visit there would be anything more than a handshake, a chat and a look-around at Collingwood's newest business.
It turns out that what Alex has is much more than a business it's a "Tasting Bar and Shop".
My wife Nancy, an expert on shopping, will tell you that I spend absolutely no more minutes than I have to when I go shopping. I like to get in, buy my goods and get out. She's the opposite. While she tries on this and checks out that, I'll gladly stand outside a store and watch the world go buy; or pull my fingernails out. Whatever comes first.
Alex burst my shopping-is-for-Nancy bubble too.
Soon after I arrived at Collingwood Olive Oil Co., Alex was explaining about the large - very large - variety of olive oils available. A potential avalanche of bottles smothered every available shelf space in his store.
But there was no danger there. All the bottles, artfully emblazoned with the company name, are safely spaced and adjacent to tanks of olive oil, or balsamic. The store is pretty and clean and as Alex talked I realized that there is a lot more to this olive oil and balsamics thing the average person knows.
Now, think wine-tasting bar. Only swap the wine for olive oil or balsamic.
Alex introduced me to tiny paper cup after tiny paper cup of olive oil. I didn't tell him, as he presented me with the first couple of cups holding liquid that I wasn't much for drinking oil straight. In a nightmare, I might find myself being waterboarded with 10W30, but as my taste buds discovered trying tiny drizzle-amounts of either olive oil, or balsamic, is not a nightmare. In fact, it was downright enjoyable.
I must stress, had I not gone to this tasting bar, I would never have said this about olive oil, or balsamic. With Alex's cooking background, he can definitely advise you about what's best for whatever it is that you are cooking. He assistant, Madison Harcourt, was as friendly as Alex and, I suspect she's just as well informed about their products and willing to pass on the information.
I won't list all of the varieties of olive oils, or balsamics here. Suffice it
to say that I tried only a handful of the 45 products which are billed as
gluten-free, all-natural, healthy and delicious. I can vouch for the delicious. In each taste-test, one has to sniff the product, much as one would do with
wine. Then, you drink it slowly and swish it around in your mouth before
letting it drizzle through your throat.
I would never have bet that I would enjoy this kind of tasting, but I did.
I learned today that the olive oil and balsamic industry is massive. It has firm roots in Europe and Alex's mission (Madison's too) is to educate people in North America - or, at least in the Georgian Triangle area - about the healthy benefits of a purer product.
I expect that as the word gets out about Collingwood Olive Oil Co., many people will feel as I did after listening to Alex and Madison and tasting their wares.
But there's more.
They have olive oil products such as soaps and - brace your taste buds - gourmet olives that are stuffed with blue cheese.
I was kind, I only ate half of what they had in samples, figuring that it was their opening day. But I did buy a jar of those cheesy olives and I did buy a bottle of olive oil (a robust Italian Coratina) and a bottle of white balsamic Sicilian lemon.
Frankly, the fruit flavours in these balsamics are going to make you want more than a drizzle. I'm big on fig, tangerine, lemon and that was just three that I tasted.
As I toured Alex's store, I wondered about a couple of hair-dryers that I noticed hanging from the side of a small table at one side of the store. Turns out that when you buy whichever product you choose, they bottle it for you right then and there. They use the hair-dryers to heat-treat the sealing caps. I learn something every day!
Prices at Collingwood Olive Oil Co., are affordable and you can get a nice
carrying bag and a free sample to take home.
Alex and his company are offering something that you can use at home, but also use as an interesting gift item; a souvenir for family, or friends.
I'm starting to enjoy shopping.
But don't tell Nancy.
She'll have me cooking next.
Article written by: George Czerny