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Nov 8, 201209:22 AMLV Food & Dining

Reviews, recipes and a few foodie tidbits

On The Map In Bethlehem – Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom

Nov 8, 2012 - 09:22 AM
On The Map In Bethlehem – Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom

Photography by Jadrian Klinger

Located on bustling Main Street in downtown Bethlehem, Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom is the only store of its’ kind in the greater Lehigh Valley that features the freshest and highest quality extra virgin olive oils and premium balsamic vinegars. Step inside the light and airy store, and you’ll immediately be greeted by Seasons’ most knowledgeable and friendly staff.

Owners Tim and Soraya Balshi are literally experts in the field – Soraya’s family owns and operates large olive groves in Jaen, a province just north of Granada in Spain. Their family’s early harvest, premium extra virgin olive oil, called Escribano, is one of the most popular oils at the store.

I’ll admit, until now, olive oil is not something to which I gave much thought. A few times a year, I would purchase a large bottle from the supermarket with the best price. After speaking with Tim, who is easily a connoisseur of olive oils and vinegars, my future purchases will only come from Seasons. Tim says, “The average consumer knows very little about olive oils because there are massive amounts of fake and rancid oils being sold at major stores in this country.”

“The average consumer knows very little about olive oils because there are massive amounts of fake and rancid oils being sold at major stores in this country.” ~ owner Tim Balshi

Tim explains that the standards are unbelievably low – olives are crushed over-ripe, (think rotten apples) and sit for six months. Then the oil is actually de-odorized, a bit of extra virgin oil is added, and it’s bottled and sold.

Tim continues, “In our store, we do the opposite, selling only the freshest oils at an ultra-premium standard. It’s here for six months, and then it’s gone. In most retail stores, the oil sitting on the shelves can easily be between two and three years old.”

At Seasons, every customer is welcome and encouraged to sample each product, noting taste and flavor differences between each variety of olive. Similar to tasting wine, smelling the sample is essential.

Depending on what hemisphere is “in season” determines what types of oils you will find being sold at Seasons. They import oils from producers throughout the world, including some from California. Tim explains that farmers will harvest the olives just before they are ripe because they are healthier and contain more anti-oxidants.

When the new oils arrive at Seasons, they are stored in stainless-steel Italian “fustis” in order to stay fresh and cool. The oils are then bottled in the store, and the consumer immediately has fresh product for his or her kitchen.

You’ll find extra virgin varieties, like Empeltre from Chile; Arbequina from California; Hojiblanca from Australia; and several other countries, depending on what is freshest at that particular time. The citrus fruit-fused agrumato olive oils include lemon, lime and blood orange and are perfect on seafood and fruit salads. Finally, the organic herb-infused oils are great for dipping bread and finishing your favorite foods. Popular varieties include the Tuscan herb and the chipotle from California.

You’ll find extra virgin varieties, like Empeltre from Chile; Arbequina from California; Hojiblanca from Australia; and several other countries, depending on what is freshest at that particular time.

Balsamic vinegars, also sold at Seasons, are just as varied as the oils. Tim explains that the vinegars are made by traditional production methods. Trebbiano grapes are cooked down in copper caldrons, then placed in various types of wooden casks and aged 12 to 18 years. He says, “In most retail stores, you’ll find vinegar that is watered down or thickened with corn syrup or additives to make it appear thick.”

Season’s dark balsamic vinegars and premium white balsamic vinegars are both imported from Modena, Italy. Soraya says, “Balsamics are a wonderful complement to many different types of food like marinating meats, pouring over berries and ice cream as well as pancakes.”

Black cherry, red apple and dark chocolate are just some of the dark balsamic vinegars you’ll find. The white balsamic oil is used on lighter foods. Varieties include honey ginger, champagne and coconut (for shrimp and salads) as well as many others.

The Balshi’s have been operating their Bethlehem store for the past three years with additional stores in Lancaster, Pa. and Annapolis, Md. They have been listed as one of the best olive oil and vinegar stores in the country by olive-oil expert and best-selling author Tom Mueller, who’s latest book Extra Virginity highlights the reality of the olive-oil business.

Besides olive oils and vinegars, Seasons also sells fine sea salts, smoked salts, roasted garlic, rosemary and ghost pepper. A favorite of their 6-year-old daughter, Anna, is the truffle salt, which she highly recommends sprinkled over popcorn. You’ll also find fresh products from Italy like authentic pastas from Sicily (air-dried pasta made using old-world methods) and caramelized garlic.

Helpful recipes, including one for an easy and delicious Caesar dressing are located throughout the store as well as online.

Shopping for a gift? The staff will assist you in creating a gift basket and all products can be shipped or ordered online. Tim says, “Fresh, ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil not only tastes better, it also has medicinal qualities, containing antioxidants that have been proven helpful in preventing cancer, keeping your cardiovascular system clean and healthy and alleviating arthritis.”

Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom is located at 504 Main Street in Bethlehem. Prices range from $12 to $17 per bottle. For additional information, visit seasonstaproom.com. LVM

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