Oil Change – Ah Love Oil and Vinegar

First-time visitors to the specialty boutique Ah Love Oil & Vinegar often find that there is much to consider...

First-time visitors to the specialty boutique Ah Love Oil & Vinegar often find that there is much to consider when it comes to the key components of a salad dressing. Extra virgin? Fruity? Peppery? Buttery? Grassy? It’s best to take the encounter one taste at a time. Nibbles of cubed bread are available for dipping throughout the store.

“With all the stainless steel tanks and bottles, people are mystified as to what they are looking at,” says owner Cary Kelly, who opened her flagship store two years ago in the Village at Shirlington and added a second location last fall in the Mosaic District in Merrifield. In stock are more than 40 estate-bottled and infused olive oils, as well as 20 vinegars—from a deep and rich sherry from the Cadiz region of southwestern Spain, to thick and sweet balsamics from Modena, Italy. “We walk [customers] through the experience, tell them how closely we work with producers and guarantee that what we’re selling is fresh oil.”

Supermarket olive oils, by comparison, can be adulterated or past their prime. (A 2011 study by the University of California Davis reported that most of the top-selling olive oil brands “regularly failed to meet international standards for extra virgin olive oil.”) So for Kelly, knowing the source of the oil and the harvest date of the olive crop is crucial. For the best flavor and nutritional value, she says, the optimal window is two years from harvest to consumption.

The most popular oils at Ah Love are the citrus-infused trio of lemon, lime and orange olive oils ($19.25 for 12 ounces), made by adding fresh fruit rind to the olives during the milling process. But after a lengthy sampling, I chose a spicy, earthy extra virgin made by Quebrada de los Olivos in Rocha, Uruguay ($20.95 for 17 ounces). For a perfect vinaigrette, I whisked in a little of Kelly’s house-bottled 25-star white Aceto di Balsamico, aged 18 to 20 years ($25 for 12 ounces). This extraordinary duo works beautifully atop a platter of assorted sliced heirloom tomatoes.

But don’t stop with salads, Kelly advises. “Add balsamic to cocktails. Or drizzle some over summer fruits, like white peaches.”

Ah Love Oil & Vinegar, 4017-B Campbell Ave., Village at Shirlington, Arlington, 703-820-2210; 2910 District Ave., Merrifield (Mosaic District), 703-992-7000, www.ahloveoilandvinegar.com