Joco Diversions

The olive in all its oily powers

When you walk out of one small shop in downtown Overland Park, you’ll likely have a bottle in hand. What’s inside these bottles comes from fruit crushed in countries all around the world.

And visitors are encouraged to sample several varieties before they settle on one — or more — they like best.

But you won’t be filling your glass at home with a Shiraz or a sauvignon blanc. What you’ll do with the content of that bottle is cook or bake with it, or combine it with a few herbs to create dressings, dips, or marinades.

Jeanne Mackay opened The Tasteful Olive four years ago after an inspirational visit to a similar store in Illinois.

“After being involved in leadership roles in churches, and self-employed in other businesses, I’ve found this to be one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “I knew I was a multitasker, but I didn’t realize I could handle everything that comes with running a business.”

And the most rewarding part of her work, she says, is that she’s selling products she believes in.

Her passion for the business reveals itself when she discusses the health benefits of the olive oils and balsamic vinegars stored in stainless steel tanks called fustis around the store.

A few of the benefits of olive oil and true balsamic vinegar (most of what you find in the store is wine vinegar with additives, she says): They help prevent cardiovascular disease, can lower blood pressure, help the digestion process, are filled with antioxidants and are even beneficial when used on the skin or hair.

Store manager Chad Sebby greets visitors to the store on a windy April afternoon. Tiny tasting cups are stacked next to each fusti. The Tuscan herb olive oil has hints of garlic, basil, oregano and rosemary and is popular for bread dipping.

Sebby explains the different flavors and how they may change with seasons or even weather patterns.

“We’ll get customers in who say something like, ‘I want the Picual’ and we ask, ‘When were you here last?,’ because it might not be the same taste.”

The balsamic vinegars sold here in some of the 60-plus fustis are aged in wooden or stainless steel barrels for up to 18 years.

The oils, Sebby says, are at an even higher standard than extra virgin olive oils you find on store shelves.

“Extra virgin oil means there are no defects in the olive, and they are crushed within seven to 12 hours from when they are picked,” he says. “The olives in here have been crushed within three to four hours of being picked. It makes a huge difference.”

Mackay’s determination to educate customers is evident in recipe cards and other sheets that offer suggestions on moving from the less healthful vegetable oils and butter to various olive oils.

The butter olive oil — which contains no dairy, but does have a slight buttery taste — is the star of a recipe called “Best Cookies Ever.” Most of the ingredients needed to create recipes, such as pasta and cooking tools, are also available at the store, as are skin-care products.

The Tasteful Olive sponsors sporadic classes and meetings, for those hoping to learn more about cooking with the mighty oil.

“When I started this business, I had no knowledge of what balsamic vinegar really was, nor did I know about fresh olive oil,” Mackay says. “What this is all about is really learning to live a healthy life. I love to share that knowledge with people.”