A few years ago my husband and I enjoyed an olive oil tasting in California where tucked among the many vineyards, olive groves set out tiny cups of their premium product for tasters to enjoy, savor and learn the delectable differences among the local varieties.
There is no longer any need to travel 3,000 miles to enjoy that delightful experience. Thanks to Darya and her husband John, owners of The Olive Oil Shoppe in Barefoot Landing, locals and visitors right here on the Grand Strand can emulate the fun of the tasting experience and purchase premium olive oils, plain and infused with herbs and other flavors from California and Spain and around the world, as well as wonderful aged balsamic vinegars, both plain and infused.
The Olive Shoppe is the venture of Darya and John Suddreth, who live in Murrells Inlet. Darya was raised in Surfside Beach, met John, and they moved to Charlotte, N.C., where their older two children were born, Sydney and Savannah (their third girl, Salym, was born here). From the time of their marriage, the pair looked for a way to return to the Myrtle Beach area. Their oldest child, Sydney provided the idea, ironically through an illness.
“At 28 months of age, Sydney was diagnosed with diabetes. We immediately started to research and practice healthy eating. As the children grew it became harder to get them to eat vegetables. We ran across some herb-infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars and liked the flavors.”
Darya Suddreth found that when she started cooking with those oils and vinegars the children seemed to enjoy the vegetables. Not only was she cooking with healthy olive oil, but the infused nature of the product she had, made it easy for her to vary flavors.
“These infused oils and balsamic vinegars are a good way to introduce healthy eating and gourmet cooking to people so they can eat better,” she said.
They can marinate, steam and sauté with these oils and vinegars, making food that has the appeal of a high level restaurant, is easy to make and much less expensive than going out.
In 2011, they followed their passion for healthy eating and cooking to the founding of The Olive Oil Shoppe in Barefoot Landing and the following year, a second shop in the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington, N.C.
A visit to the shop is a fun way to spend a few hours with visitors. The experience is great. The infused oils are Spanish or Californian. Her gourmet olives and dirty martini mix are from a farm in California.
“We order the oils and vinegars already bottle to be sure they are extra sanitary. Our turnover is such that our supply is always under three months old (premium olive oil should be under six months old). Sometimes, in the summer, we run out, but usually we have some of everything in stock,” said Darya Suddreth.
The tasting supplies are shipped in separate, large containers.
“Customers come in, and we invite them to sit at our tasting bar,” she said. “Oils of their choice (from our menu) are poured into 1-ounce cups and served with cubes of white bread or angel food cake. The balsamic are best on the cake. They can taste as many oils and vinegars as they wish.”
Suddreth enjoys urging customers who stop by to come in and try the tasting experience.
“Many people come by and ask if we are a wine shop. Most we see have never tried olive oil tasting. We are happy to show them the experience.”
Suddreth added that one of her favorite “tastes” is to pair the chocolate balsamic and orange olive oil on a piece of tasting cake.
While $17.95 for a 376 ml bottle of oil may seem expensive, she stresses that this will last a long time and can be used in many ways. For $16.95 a bottle, customers can try bottled oils (no tasting available for these) from olive groves all over the world, including such far flung regions as Morocco, various regions of Italy, Spain and sometimes even Australia. The oils make great gifts and if you want to send your favorite to a friend but can’t get into the shop, you can order online.
I have a bottle of the lemon-infused under my sink (olive oil should be stored in a cool dark place, far from heat and light) and use it on special salads and to sauté fish.
Next on my list to try is the orange-infused which Suddreth says is great in a cake mix. As the local fresh vegetable season gears up, I look forward to applying various flavored oils to the local produce.
The Olive Oil Shoppe in Barefoot Landing tries to be a good neighbor as well as a great store. Suddreth and her family are active in several local charities, including those run by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Locals (those living in Georgetown County, Brunswick County, N.C., and Horry County) receive a 10 percent discount on all purchases.