Farmers markets, grocery stores, hardware stores, indie book stores and other local spots are among our favorite places to go souvenir shopping when we're on the road in the Midwest.
Here's another edition of Midwest Market Basket feature about some of our favorite Midwest products, shopping discoveries and where to find them.
Do you love the idea of experimenting with different tastes and ingredients that can help elevate an everyday meal into something special?
We love visiting cool little culinary boutiques as we travel and usually find several things that end up in our market basket to take home for later mealtime fun, flavor and experimentation.
It also should be no secret that bloggers like to check out other bloggers within their own niches. There is a relatively close-knit group of Midwest travel bloggers who like to share tips and compare notes with each other as they plan to visit various destinations within the region.
I read Connie's article about vinegar and oil tasting bars on her Midwest Wanderer blog just before heading out to Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is how I came to add The Olive Twist to our trip itinerary as I planned our trip to that city.
Tim and I were already familiar with the concept of gourmet oil and vinegar tasting bars as we first visited Fustini's in Traverse City, Michigan (also mentioned in Connie's article) shortly after it first opened six years ago.
These premium olive oil and vinegar bars operate a bit like a wine tasting bar where customers can sample several flavors before deciding what appeals to their personal palate and what they might like to purchase.
At first it may seem strange to belly up to the balsamic and vinegar bars and drink a shot of vinegar or oil straight up, but sampling the products by themselves is the best way to appreciate the individual flavor infusions and the smooth character of the products.
The Olive Twist has at least several dozen different barrel-aged Italian balsamic vinegars and another couple of dozen infused olive oils to sample in a wide range of flavors encompassing sweet, savory and spicy choices.
We especially liked the fruity balsamic vinegars, finally settling on a bottle of Black Cherry Balsamic Vinegar and a bottle of Honey Ginger White Balsamic Vinegar to take home with us. The sweet, thick and rich flavor of the vinegars especially impressed us.
On the spicy side, we opted for the Harissa Infused Olive Oil to add to our market basket. Harissa is a chili and pepper spice mix most popular in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, and we're always on the lookout for Harissa-based condiments or spice mixes.
Lori Berndt first encountered the olive oil and vinegar tasting bar concept while on vacation with some family members on the East Coast several years ago.
Lori loved entertaining, gardening, cooking and developing her own recipes, so she originally played with the idea of opening her own bed-and-breakfast inn, but the idea of opening an oil and vinegar tasting bar really fascinated her. This was an idea new to northern Indiana and the business seemed to be a perfect match for her interests and talents.
She returned home from her trip and found that her husband Terry quickly became enthused about the idea as well.
The couple, both northeastern Indiana natives, opened the Covington Plaza Store in the fall of 2010. They opened a second store in downtown Auburn, Indiana, a year later.
We visited The Olive Twist store at the Covington Plaza in Fort Wayne. The store sits in a strip mall, but don't let the suburban setting fool you. This is a unique and locally owned business that collaborates and supports other local products and businesses.
One of the more recent collaborations between The Olive Twist and Fort Wayne's DeBrand Fine Chocolates resulted in a line of premium chocolate bars flavored with oils and vinegars from the Olive Twist. The DeBrand/Olive Twist chocolate bar flavors include: Raspberry basil (dark chocolate with raspberry balsamic vinegar and basil olive oil); Strawberry Almond (white chocolate with strawberry balsamic vinegar and almond olive oil); and Orange Chocolate (milk chocolate with cara-cara orange and vanilla balsamic vinegar and blood orange olive oil).
Visit The Olive Twist Web site or Facebook page for more information about suggested oil and vinegar pairings, recipes, in-store classes and other hints about using the products. The store's monthly email newsletter also offers more recipes and advice on vinegar and oil pairings (Honey Ginger balsamic and Persian Lime Olive Oil anyone? I can already tell my next purchase may have to be that Persian Lime oil!).
The Olive Twist, Covington Plaza, 6410 W. Jefferson Blvd., Ste 7A, Fort Wayne, Indiana or 115 N. Main St., Auburn, Indiana
Thanks to Visit Fort Wayne for sponsoring my recent visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, providing lodging, meals and help arranging interviews and tours of area attractions for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about this stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved