First, though, some background. Before the era of ‘it’s all good’ (which is also the era of it’s all the same) there was such a thing as variation. In New York that extended to neighborhoods. I never lived above 24th Street and so have a healthy disdain for precincts north. That includes the Upper West Side which has never done a thing for me despite proximity to the Park and the River. But the UWS did have one thing going for it–Fairway, a grocery mart located on Broadway at 74th Street.
As a downtown denizen I was always more loyal to the now defunct Jefferson Market. But on those rare occasions when I found myself above 57th Street before dinner, Fairway was a fine alternative. Fairway expanded beyond the City about the same time I left and so I’ve been able to avoid the curse of the big American supermarket. It’s the place I go for a halfway decent butcher, large selection of cheeses and edible baguettes.
All that said, Fairway–like some sort of insider, tri-state alternative to Whole Foods–draws the foodie crowd. My lack of patience with foodies is well documented. I’m not saying they don’t enjoy eating.They just fetishize our daily bread in a manner that makes little sense and in general costs too much. My goal, always, is to live the best I can at the lowest possible cost and that extends to food.
We use lots of olive oil which I tend to buy in 3 litre bottles from Costco. And the brand I usually buy is Flippo Berio. This is where the foodies groan and start complaining about industrial versus artisanal values as though they don’t live in a house full of manufactured items. I like a fruity oil with a bit of bite and the Berio product consistently delivers both.
Consistency shouldn’t be dismissed. Were the local foodies to visit Englewood early some morning they would see Balthazar Bakery take delivery of the latest shipment from Sysco Systems. There isn’t a more corporate, industrial food purveyor than Sysco. And yet the foodies line up at the counter to buy hand-crafted breads, tartes and pastries as though Monsieur and Madame were in back toiling away with fruits and nuts grown just up Dean Street. It’s an industrial bakery, folks.
Back to the olive oil. I am not saying all olive oils are created equal. In fact, there’s more variation than I’d expect. Despite long-standing traditions of olive oil production in Spain, Greece, France and even Lebanon I keep preferring Italian oils. In fact, when it first came on the market at $10 a liter I only used Frantoia. It’s now more than double that price and my commitment to personal economy has become more important than supporting Sicily’s.
Fairway has an olive oil tasting bar and offers close to a dozen variations under their own label in addition to several dozen ‘premium’ marques. I regularly taste what’s available looking for the next great bargain and groaning when I check the price of the one I like best. For a while now that’s been one of Fairway’s own which goes for just under $40 a bottle. I’d rather send my kids to college than indulge myself at that price so I taste and never purchase.
On my last visit to the Paramus store, though, there was new Fairway offering at what I’m sure is an introductory or maybe even loss leader price of $10.99 a litre. The label says Barbera, which is what Frantoia’s used to say, and the detailed label notes it is a blend of oils from Sicily and the surrounding regions. The product is a superior offering–deep fruit, nice pepper and a bit of almond even. In my estimation it’s as good as the Frantoia at half the price and tastier than the higher priced bottles at the bar.
Buy a bottle now, before the price goes up. You’ll be glad you did.