2017-07-20 / News

Longtime painter goes from art to oil

Vin Oliva selling specialty olive oils at East Ferry locale

Vin Oliva’s shelves are chock-full of olive oils from around the world, such as Chile, Australia, Tunisia, Greece and the United States, above, as well as some specialty food items, right. Vin Oliva’s shelves are chock-full of olive oils from around the world, such as Chile, Australia, Tunisia, Greece and the United States, above, as well as some specialty food items, right. For most of his life, Ernie Savastano has worked with a paintbrush in his hand. His new product, however, is better suited for a basting brush.

Savastano opened the doors of Vin Oliva at 47 Conanicus Ave. in May alongside The Purple Door. While the culinary shop offers olive oils from around the world, the impetus stemmed from Savastano’s trip to a specific location.

Vin Oliva is the first venture into retail for Savastano, a painter who is better known as co-founder of the Jamestown Alliance for Artist Sustainability and former president of the Conanicut Island Art Association. His love for art is blended with his newfound passion on the shop’s walls, which are painted with seascapes of northwestern Italy. That’s where Savastano traveled to capture the Liguria region with his paintbrush, but he returned stateside with a tastier proposition.

While taking a break from painting, Savastano visited a bar that sold olive oil on draft, just like pints of beer at an American bar. That’s when he saw an Italian man taste testing the oil. The man would not purchase the product until it passed his palette’s approval.

According to Savastano, the customer was sampling the olive oil through “‘strippagio,” a traditional Italian method of taste testing. The oil is held in the mouth and mixed with air, which allows the aroma to pass through the nasal passages before swallowing.

“It’s like taking air in and bubbling the oil in your mouth,” Savastano said. “It’s how they tell that the olive oil is actually from that region. All the oils from that region have a certain taste. It’s usually a little peppery or a little vanilla.”

Savastano was inspired by the intense Italian passion for olive oil, which led to a conversation with a friend he has in the business. They discussed the viability of an olive oil shop in town. The outcome of that conversation was positive, opening the doors to Vin Oliva.

Because the Italian trip was essential to its founding, Savastano reflected the shop’s roots in its name — Vin Oliva translates to “olive oil” in Italian. The store stocks extra virgin olive oils from Italy along with selections from Chile, Australia, Tunisia, Greece and California. According to Savastano, each has a unique taste.

“There’s a huge taste difference between the different regions, but it’s the variety that I like,” he said. “Like wine, when grapes are grown in a specific region, it pulls minerals from the earth. Olives are the same thing.”

Savastano said the taste comes from the climate, the soil and the trees that surround the olive plant. His favorite is the oil he sells from the Apulia region of Italy.

“It’s a peppery, grassy kind of taste,” he said.

Every drop of oil at Vin Oliva is sourced from an importer who has the oil chemically analyzed to confirm its source and quality. These tests are a reaction to a recent rash of so-called “olive oil fraud,” in which lower quality or diluted oil is sold as extra virgin stock.

There are four classifications of olive oil, Savastano said, with extra virgin being the highest quality. These oils, made from olives picked a few days before they reach maturity, are pressed within two days of their picking.

“That’s what the farmer assures the importers,” he said.

Along with extra virgin olive oil, the shop sells pasta, balsamic vinegar and white truffle oil, which is a variety of olive oil that has been mixed with a small amount of rare white truffles. It is typically used as a condiment on salads, rice or French fries, Savastano said.

Vin Oliva is one of several new businesses that have opened in town this year, including a handful of suites at the Bomes Theatre, a nail salon, an embroidery shop and company that sells yachting lines. Savastano is glad to be part of that influx.

“It’s great,” he said. “I love to see new business in town.”

Shoppers, he said, also are giving him the thumbs-up.

“People like it,” he said. “They’re pleasantly surprised to see a specialty store like this in town. ”

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