vomFASS, other specialty stores bring fresh take on oils, vinegars and spices
By Rebecca Hennes
Published: October 31, 2014 Houston Chronicle
From the top of a villa overlooking the foothills of Tuscany, Ben Meinen enjoyed a six-course meal made from ingredients all grown or produced within a mile of Armando Morettini’s olive mill.
Morettini founded The Olive Mill Toscana Morettini there in 1950 with his wife, Elvia Finamori. The two have worked for years with vomFASS, a brand well known in Europe for its spices, oils and vinegars.
vomFASS just opened its first Houston store – its second Texas location – in Rice Village. It is among a handful of new specialty stores for spices, oils and vinegars that have opened recently in the area.
Brian and Larita Moorhead own the new vomFASS store, which sells products from countries such as Italy, France, Greece and Spain.
“It’s a Mediterranean-inspired concept that allows people to taste the product before they buy it,” Moorhead said. “That’s just something that’s so new for everyone.”
First-time customers are offered tasting tours through the store’s “liquid to lips” service. Moorhead stressed the importance of testing the products and learning how to use them.
“It is truly a unique tasting experience when you walk into the store,” Moorhead said. “And it’s fun versus running into the grocery store and standing in line.”
Wayde Burt, owner of Olive & Vine in CityCentre, said consumers are simply demanding better, all-natural ingredients.
“There is a huge difference in the quality of what is available,” Burt said. “For decades, substandard olive oil has been sold in the grocery stores, and there was never a particular great taste for it because it was all so bad and nobody ever knew because it’s all they ever had. Once importers started to bring in fresh, high-quality oil, things started to change.”
Specialty products that vomFASS and Olive & Vine sell are not only for culinary experts. Home cooks will be interested in ingredients that can enhance the flavor of meals they already make for their families.
“Flavor-wise, it’s a night-and-day difference,” Meinen said. “I think it’s so important because the quality of the product really makes a huge difference in the outcome of your dish.”
Meinen described his recent trip to tour Morettini’s property: “It really was eye opening to walk through the groves where our olives are grown and to see the product that’s going to be on our shelves. He explained everything from the age of the trees to how they harvest it – the whole bit.”
Meinen said that their olive oils are placed in food-safe “bladders” within 24 hours of being pressed. The quick bagging is critical to avoid exposure to light and air, which can break down the oil and make it taste more acidic.
vomFASS’ most popular vinegars include fruit vinegars, which are processed in huge wooden casks in Germany.
“You could literally drink this out of the bottle,” he added. “You could even put it on ice cream – I mean it’s crazy how good this stuff is.”
vomFASS also carries infused oils and nut and seed oils. Moorhead said the pumpkin-seed oil is one of his favorites and is a popular fall product. For new customers, the easiest place to start using these specialty ingredients is in salads.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was never a huge salad eater,” Moorhead said. “But the pumpkin-seed oil combined with the pomegranate vinegar (on a salad) is an incredible taste. What I’ve learned from those two products is the depth you can use them in; drizzle them on vegetables, on a pumpkin pie, use them in desserts.”
Meinen said calamansi vinegar is another popular product. It also works well on salad with basil and can make a refreshing “shrub” (sparkling water with vinegar drink) mixed with mint. You can use the same vinegar to marinate salmon or sprinkle it on strawberries for dessert, he said.
There’s a health angle, too.
“When you’re talking about fresh olive oil, you’re talking about a product full of antioxidants,” Burt said. “But those antioxidants only exist when it’s fresh because they deteriorate over time, so you’re getting a much healthier product if you’re buying fresh olive oil.”
Spices are a relatively new component of the vomFASS product line. Moorhead said the company has focused on special blends – ranging from Argentina barbecue, Cajun, fish, chicken spice and vegetable spice – that make life easier for home cooks. And they offer advice for pairing the spice blends with oils and vinegars.
Olive & Vine also sells spice blends and displays them by geography, from North African to Indian and Latin.
James Wreck owns iBurn, a relatively new specialty spice, rub and hot-sauce company. He urges people to be creative with favorite flavor combinations. Wreck said one of his favorite combinations is sprinkling his Kentucky Bourbon Infused Salt on a chocolate sundae for the ultimate sweet-salty treat.
“Limiting your selection to only one ingredient is a travesty when you have such a variety at your disposal,” Wreck said. “There’s a big, bold world of food outside of what you find at your neighborhood grocery store. You should venture outside the norm and live a little.”The stores
vomFASS Houston: at 2424 Times in Rice Village; 832-742-6100; vomfasshouston.com. The store opened Saturday and will hold a grand opening Nov. 20. Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Olive & Vine: 795 Town and Country, Suite 146, in CityCentre; 832-377-1610; oliveandvineshop.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday