If you’ve got a bottle labeled “extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)” sitting in your pantry, chances are pretty high it’s not exactly what it claims to be. Troy Johnson, one of the owners of Fresh Harvest Tasting Room, says the vast majority of EVOO in the marketplace is adulterated to some degree if not outright fraudulent.
That’s why he and his business partner started Fresh Harvest Tasting Room: They dreamed of bringing “the freshest olive oil on the planet and the highest quality balsamic to Northwest Arkansas.”
The cream of the crop
Fresh Harvest offers Ultra Premium (UP) olive oil – a title that distinguishes the highest quality of olive oil in the world. The requirements to earn a UP designation are more stringent than USDA organic and the highest chemical testing standard found anywhere.
“Not only do we test for pesticides, but we do things that other providers don’t,” explains Troy.
Rather than using machine harvesting, which bruises the fruit (because yes, olives are a fruit!), Fresh Harvest’s olives are hand-harvested at the farms. They go directly to the mills—also on the farms—to be crushed within six hours of harvest. “We preserve the integrity of the fruits that way. Olive oil, if done properly, is rich in antioxidants. It has some of the highest levels of any food.”
The result: ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil.
By the way, in case you—like me—didn’t know, “extra virgin” is what comes from that first cold press. Troy explained that often times, other suppliers will crank up the pressure + heat to crush the olives over and over and produce more oils. That’s where light, extra light, and pure olive oils come from.
While these terms sound like healthier types of olive oil (extra light = less calories, right??), Troy says they are heavily processed with heat and chemical extractions and lacking in nutritional value. In fact, in Italy, the pure grade olive oil is called “Lampante” or “lamp oil.” Mm, tasty.
Ultra premium, ultra flavorful
So UP EVOO is held to higher standards—does it really make THAT much of a difference?
Troy says yes. “Real EVOO tastes totally different than what you get in the stores. It’s actually really delicious. Because olives are a fruit, real EVOO is creamy and buttery. People are always shocked to find out that olive oil isn’t oily. Canola oil is oily, and that’s what they cut a lot of olive oil with.”
Another fun fact about olives: they come in different varietals. Just like a granny smith apple tastes different than a red delicious, or a chardonnay than a pinot noir, the picual olive oil tastes different than the biancolilla.
“Olive oil can be floral or fruity, some of them can be grassy, some are creamy. The flavor profiles are pretty wide,” says Troy.
Not only can you find five different varietals of EVOO at Fresh Harvest, but they’ve also got bunches of fused and infused oils.
Fused oils are made when olives are crushed together with its flavoring: So whole blood oranges or fresh wild rosemary are crushed with whole olives to create a single aromatic and tremendously flavorful product.
The infused oils begin as plain EVOO which is then infused with whatever the flavor is (garlic, diced Persion limes in a tea bag method, etc.) under vacuum pressure.
In both processes, there are no additives, chemicals, or colorings added. “There’s nothing in our food at Fresh Harvest except the wholesome, all-natural ingredients.”
One of the most interesting (and best selling) oils is their butter olive oil. Troy says there are a lot of imitators in the market, but no one else can get it quite right. They infuse EVOO with five non-allergenic herbs. That particular combination makes the oil chemically react with food like butter.
“If you have popcorn drizzled with our butter oil, it’s like the best popcorn in the world. Or scrambled eggs. Or omelettes. Except you’re not getting the saturated fat of butter. Plus, it’s vegan and dairy-free.”
I’ll go ahead and take fifty bottles, please and thank you!
A Taste as old as time
The other major product you’ll find at Fresh Harvest is balsamic vinegar. Balsamic has been around for thousands of years; the Romans are credited with its invention. When Troy told me they initially made it to drink, my immediate reaction was, “Ew!”
“Well, if you tasted ours, you would say yes, I could drink this!” he tells me. And having since tasted theirs, I can confirm that yes, I could drink it. It honestly is that good.
Fresh Harvest sources their balsamic from the oldest consortium in Modena, Italy. In other words, these folks know their trade and they do it dang well.
Here’s the lowdown on how it works: They cook down grapes into a must in big pots over open wood flames. The must is then barrel-aged, rotated every few years through different wood barrels–chestnut, oak, mulberry and ash–in what’s known as the Soltera method. This method isn’t used much anymore because, “it is a little more labor intensive, takes a lot longer [18 years to be exact], so it costs a little more. But boy howdy, the products are amazing!”
Troy says their balsamic almost tastes like a port wine: “sweet, rich, and thick with little acidic notes.” And like their oils, Fresh Harvest offers flavor infusions where the vinegar is blended with the pure organic essence of different plant-based flavorings. Their Vermont Maple balsamic has real Vermont maple syrup blended into it. And the espresso balsamic? You guessed it—that’s 100% actual espresso in there!
But wait! there’s more…
Not sure what you would ever use espresso balsamic or Persian lime olive oil for? Fresh Harvest has been developing and testing recipes using their products for the past seven years. Main dishes + sides, smoothies + desserts, low-carb, vegetarian—they’ve covered the entire spectrum! And they’re all available for free on their website.
You can also order Fresh Harvest oils + balsamics online. You can. But I’m warning you now, you’ll be missing out big time. Besides his oils and vinegars, Troy sources his own line of pasta that’s ONLY available in his stores, as well as Spanish olives + all kinds of other gourmet food items.
On top of that, when you visit Fresh Harvest in person, you can taste test all. the. flavors. We’re talking more than 90 different products just waiting for you. “With all the things to taste, it’s like DisneyLand for your taste buds!” Troy says.
Fresh Harvest now has two tasting rooms, in Eureka Springs and Rogers. When you shop at local places like Fresh Harvest, not only do you end up with high quality products, but you also get to be a part of local growth! You can find Fresh Harvest and other locally-owned businesses on Towny – your FREE resource for exploring Northwest Arkansas, choosing local, and building a robust economy. Find Towny online or on your phone!