May is a sacred month in the olive oil world. That’s when olive growers in the Southern hemisphere harvest and crush their fruits into a golden nectar. It’s just a matter of time before the new batches reach Darien, at Olivette on the Post Road. “Many people don’t know how olive oil should taste,” says Alina Lawrence, who opened Olivette in 2012 and is happy to do the educating.
At her store, shelves are lined with stainless steel containers filled with extra virgin oils that are identified by the country of origin, the variety of olive and the crucial crush date. “Which would you like to taste?” she queries, grabbing a paper tasting cup. What, no chunks of Italian bread for dipping? “Smell it,” Alina directs, then suggests slurping it to let the oil slalom down the back of the tongue. This gives taste receptors the chance to make their assessments.
The oils here all have a peppery finish at the end, a mark of freshness which Alina knows all about. A sales rep who visited Olivette last winter came touting a new batch of oil he said was crushed a month before in Greece. After tasting, Alina spat the whole thing out in the pail and told the rep the oil was two years old. She then saw him to the door and hasn’t seen him since.
Greece is where Alina spent summers as a teen, hopscotching across olive orchards with her father’s relatives. She learned to cook, condition her hair and moisturize her face with olive oil. And she made sure to smuggle home to Romania Coca-Cola bottles full of the stuff on each trip. When she moved to Manhattan to study finance six years ago she couldn’t find any great oil. She thought she could make do—she was only here for a brief time—until she fell in love with Manhattan, and then with a Manhattanite. She and Dee Lawrence married in 2011. They searched for a new home for themselves and for the business Alina wanted to start. The couple moved to Stamford and chose downtown Darien for the shop, which also sells balsamic vinegar on tap. They recently added a second location at the SoNo Marketplace in Rowayton.
“I love it here,” Alina says. “I especially like when customers come in to taste the oils and vinegars and you can tell that they really get it.”