I’m not a connoisseur of olive oils or balsamic vinegars, but when we received a comment from Tom Alfonso on our blog to visit his store for a tasting tour, we said yes. Of course I cook with olive oil, and I love a good balsamic dressing, but what do I really know? Not much, as it turns out. (Before I continue, let me assure you that we did not receive anything in exchange for this entry, and samples are available to all store visitors.)
Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oils & Balsamics recently opened in St. Philips Plaza, the first of its kind in Tucson. The store, owned by Tom Alfonso and his wife specializes in olive oils and balsamic vinegars. They were inspired by a similar store in Northern Arizona. Alfonso is simply decorated with tones of purple and green on the walls and dark wood shelving as well as a couple wood display tables. Silver tanks of olive oils stretch along the main wall across from the cash register. In a spacious corner are the tanks of balsamic vinegars, both dark balsamic and white balsamic.
Olive oil tanks line one wall of Alfonso in St. Philips Plaza
Tom starts Krissy and me off with three olive oil tastings. If you didn’t already know, olive oils vary in intensity. The intensity level is correlated with the level of polyphenols in the oil, Tom explains to us. He starts us with the store’s lightest extra virgin olive oil, the Hojiblanca with a polyphenol level of 120. Plastic tasting cups are available throughout the store for your convenience, and cubes of bread are available, but Tom has us drink a straight sip of the oil. The oil is indeed light, with a hint of a fruity note. We move on to a more mid-range olive oil, the Manzanillo from Chile, and it’s delicious. It’s obvious that the flavor is a little fuller than the previous one. Finally we try the FS17, the most robust olive oil the store carries. Tom warns us that the oil has a stronger, more peppery note than the previous oils we tried, and I’m amazed to discover that I can actually taste the variances between the oils. At the time of our tasting, Alfonso was carrying oils from the Southern Hemisphere, and was preparing to transition to Northern Hemisphere olive oils. They do this in order to stay with the crush season and maintain freshness.
FS17 extra virgin olive oil
Alfonso also offers a wide array of specialty olive oils and infused oils. Krissy and I try a few of the specialty oils, and are again impressed the scent and flavors of the oils. Here’s just a sampling of the flavored oils available at Alfonso: harissa, blood orange, Persian lime, Tuscan herb, walnut, and truffle. Just a tiny sample of any of these olive oils, and immediately you start trying to imagine the various ways you can use it in your cooking. I started to imagine tossing angelhair pasta in the Tuscan herb olive oil, using the walnut olive oil in a vinaigrette for salad, or tossing a little truffle oil over some fresh popcorn. And, we haven’t even tried the balsamic vinegars yet.
Tom offers us a taste of the traditional aged balsamic vinegar, and the sweetness surprises me. I’m used to balsamic that is more tart than sweet. It’s by far the most delicious balsamic vinegar I’ve ever had. Here again, Alfonso carries a variety of infused vinegars, and Krissy and I each taste a different one. She opts for for the dark chocolate while I choose a light Alfoos mango white balsamic. The difference between a dark and a white balsamic vinegar, Tom explains, is that the grapes are caramelized, creating the dark color. White balsamics are not caramelized. All of the store’s balsamic vinegars are imported from Italy, and the grapes are caramelized using the Solera method. I’m still dreaming about the Alfoos mango, by the way.
Once you’ve selected an oil or vinegar to purchase (and trust me, you will), the store will fill one of the empty bottles lining the walls directly from the tanks. The store carries a variety of sizes, and prices start at $10 and go up depending on size and if it’s a specialty or infused flavor. I would recommend a bottle or a gift set as your next hostess gift or as a surprise for the favorite chef in your life. The store’s hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Empty bottles wait to be filled