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Monday Morning "MUG"ing: More reasons to love EVOO (9 photos)

This week’s Monday Morning MUGing visits Thunder Bay OliVine, where you can sample more olive oils and balsamic vinegars than you knew existed.

THUNDER BAY -- Josie (Josephine) and Ron Rogalski had been in the picture framing business since 1988, but three years ago, they branched out into the olive oil and balsamic vinegar business.

“We just needed to diversify,” she said, admitting that the jump from framing pictures to condiments is not a usual one. However, while visiting one of their married daughters in Minnesota a few years ago, the Rogalskis stopped by a local olive oil and vinegar shop and fell in love with the concept of a store with dozens of different oils and vinegars that customers could sample. They decided Thunder Bay could use such a speciality shop, and OliVine was born.

Getting into a totally new industry wasn’t scary at all, Josie recalls. “I just fell in love with the product,” she says, and the rest followed.

Olivine currently shares store space with the Framing and Art Centre on Memorial Avenue and has frames along one side of the store and shiny stainless steel tanks line the other wall. Each tank is labeled with the name, country of origin, date of extraction and levels of bitterness, fruitiness and pungency on a scale of 10, as well as a description and other information. If you need help figuring out what some of it means, Josie is more than happy to explain.

You can try all the olive oils and vinegars sold in the stores, and buy them in bulk in bottles ranging from 60ml ($6) to 750ml ($38). OliVine stocks pure olive oil from all over the world and 16 oils infused with various herbs and ingredients such as chili peppers and citrus fruit. Their most popular flavoured oils are the ones infused with garlic. (“We’re a real garlic town!”)

The flavoured oils are great for dressings or as a finishing touch on a dish, but Josie also recommends them for baking. “You can substitute any oil or butter in a recipe with our olive oils. I use cake mixes a lot, and I use blood orange infused olive oil in my chocolate cake; it just brings out the flavours so much.” If you’re not confident about winging it, they also sell cookbooks catered to the oils they sell, so you know exactly what to use.

The Balsamic vinegars come from Modena, Italy, and they currently have 29 kinds, some as old as 25 years old.

To introduce more people to her new passion, OliVine also hosts private parties, where Josie serves a 3-course meal (focused on olive oils and balsamic vinegars, of course) and a drink made of balsamic vinegar. The parties are by reservation only, and can be booked for six to 16 people.

Josie daydreams of expanding further into the food business by selling speciality salts and other products, but admits that they are constrained by space. For the time being, she is looking into bringing in different nut oils and spice rubs.

“It’s been fun,” Josie says of the past three years. “It took off as a novelty, but now we have steady customers that come back and love our product.”