In tandem with the cupcake craze that has finally swept Santa Fe, artisanal olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar shop Oleaceae has brought upscale oil and vinegar tasting to town. How exactly these fads take hold is beyond me—I'm still struggling to understand the success of PajamaGram—but there's nothing wrong with spending a gluttonous half-hour swilling vinegar from stainless steel containers in the small, charming shop.

Oleaceae is not a franchise; it’s an independent store owned by Samantha Bailey-Smith and Diane Romley. However, if you’ve been to one of these increasingly popular shops in large urban environments where out-gourmeting your friends, enemies and neighbors is important, you’ll recognize the look and feel immediately. The primary feature is an impressive central array of fusti, the stainless, flavor-neutral casks from which you may sample all of the store’s offerings. The walls are lined with handsome bottles for purchase and tempting assortments of specialty salts and spices.

I asked the employee why every one of these stores has coupled oil and vinegar with a special emphasis on giant pink slabs of Himalayan salt, since it seems to be a very focused marketing strategy for a bunch of independent operations.
She didn't know.

The answer lies in a common affiliation with Veronica Foods, a distributor of oils and vinegars that helps people create new stores, including purchasing their goods. So it's not a franchise, exactly—but an operation heavily dependent on a single supplier. And a geopolitically interesting one: Many of the oils are processed in Tunisia, and the Himalayan salt tends to be Pakistani in origin.

The question that matters, however, is may one become deliriously, blissfully drunk on tastes of fine vinegars and alluring oils, and snorts of various salts during a trip to Oleaceae? The answer is most definitely.

The flavor infusions are numerous and, for the most part, delightful. I took home a pomegranate vinegar I thought would be perfect for a light, easy salad dressing. It was good, although it's sweet enough to demand a good helping of salt and citrus to cut its candy. I also purchased a "butter-infused" olive oil, which actually contains no butter or animal products at all, thus promising the glory of butter for vegans and the dairy-intolerant. I tried it when making the croutons for my salad and, I have to say, I'll stick with butter and/or plain old olive oil.

But Oleaceae is not built solely on tricky infusions and gimmicky oils. The store peddles delightful and affordable aged balsamic vinegars and straightforward and sensible infusions of olive oil (which are also easy to make at home).

I am primarily a sucker for the salts. Some people are attracted to guys who wear gold chains or women with a lot of make-up—I get all hot and bothered by big, chunky salt that comes in a wooden box. Although infusing salts with flavors is only a little more challenging than infusing oils, denying the well-crafted and ingenious flavored salts offered by Oleaceae is hard—and Oleaceae's blends are a great way to experiment with concoctions you might want to try for yourself down the road.

Oleaceae is primarily a kind of inspired flavor palace. A capable and confident use of vinegar can take your home cooking to a whole new level, and Oleaceae is a great place from which to launch new cooking voyages.

And if you really whet your appetite for fine vinegars by loitering too long at the tasting bar, I suggest trying the organic Aceto Balsamico made in Monticello, NM. Sure, it's $150 for 4.5 ounces, but it's a genuine balsamic made in state that's also certified organic.

PS: It tastes like heaven with a cork.

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La Fonda
100-H E San Francisco St.

The Darland Company Aceto Balsamico of Monticello