New Wilmington Restaurant

A new restaurant, Bull Bay Caribbean Cuisine, opened in Wilmington last month at 900 N. Orange St. Jamaican cuisine and culture influence the restaurant’s dishes, which includes jerk chicken, coconut rice and shrimp and grits. The drink menu includes a full bar, beer, wine, and a variety of house-made specialty cocktails. Bull Bay is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lunch and dinner are served every day and brunch is served on weekends. For more information, go to facebook.com/bullbaycuisine.

Bites

Tasty things worth knowing

A Winter Harvest

Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, located in Glen Mills, Pa., and at six other sites throughout Pennsylvania, recently released a new winter menu.

The restaurant offers farm-to-table fare featuring organic, local, sustainable and non-GMO ingredients sourced from more than 75 local farms. Freekeh, Caputo Brothers Creamery Cheeses and Baker Street Bread Co.‘s baked goods play a starring role in the new menu.

Restaurateur Dave Magrogan and Executive Chef Josh Short are utilizing Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op’s organic, local and sustainable ingredients to create the restaurant’s new winter menu, which is available at all of the restaurant’s locations.

Among the menu items are street tacos, flatbreads, brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, seafood, meat, poultry and vegetarian dishes. The super grain salad, vegetarian poutine, tuna poke, Vietnamese chicken tacos, macadamia nut-crusted halibut, Kennett Square mushroom stroganoff and the vegetable stew are also new additions.

And for dessert? There’s the sugar plum cobbler, upside-down zucchini bread cake and bourbon butter pecan.

Harvest Seasonal Grill is currently pickling vegetables for its charcuterie offering, and is working with local initiatives to forage, source and pickle fruits and vegetables during the cold winter months. The restaurant has also begun working with Baker Street Bread Company to secure fresh bread deliveries daily.

Taking A Bite Out of Hunger

Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Delaware Food Lion locations, kids at Clayton Court Apartments in Wilmington won’t have to worry about being hungry after school. Clayton Court is the newest site to participate in the Food Bank of Delaware’s pilot after-school grab and go meal offering. Meal service began just before the holidays, and it’s already popular with both kids and parents. Kids who live in the complex can stop by the rental office and grab a nutritious meal to take home.

Meanwhile, two ongoing supporters of the Food Bank surprised the staff with significant donations. The TD Charitable Foundation delivered a check for $80,000, and the Norfolk Southern Foundation donated $15,000 for the Backpack Program plus an additional $15,000 for community nutrition programming.

More Food Bank news includes its Culinary School course, which begins Feb. 13. It’s for those interested in a career in the food service industry. The 14-week training class will take place in Newark and Milford.

The program includes 12 weeks of hands-on training in basic and high-end kitchen skills, safe food handling, and life skills. Students also have the opportunity to become ServSafe certified. The 12 weeks of training culminate with a two-week paid internship at a food service company. Upon graduation, the Food Bank of Delaware helps place students in entry-level jobs in the food industry.

Breakfast & Bird Walk

Kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count at Coverdale Farm Preserve with a hot breakfast and a bird walk on Friday, Feb. 17, from 8-11 a.m. (with an extended portion from noon-2 p.m.). The bird data collected will be submitted to this international bird survey, a continent-wide survey in which anyone can participate. It creates a snapshot of birds in mid-winter and provides useful bird trend data.
The fee is $15 for Delaware Nature Society members and $22 for nonmembers. Meet at the preserve at 543 Way Rd., Greenville.

Serving Up Sustainability

Bison, Boraxo and biodegradable coasters: Are green restaurants the wave of the future? Some local eateries are giving it a try.

On a blustery fall morning, members of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce gathered at Ted’s Montana Grill in the Christiana Fashion Center for the restaurant’s grand opening ceremonies. It was only 10 a.m., but that didn’t stop servers from passing copper mugs filled with “Hendrick’s Mules” and diminutive burgers speared with tiny American flags. The crowd gathered to watch Ted’s CEO, George McKerrow Jr., and chamber President Mark Kleinschmidt cut into a steak so large that it easily dwarfed a cheesecake.

Just another restaurant opening near the mall? Not quite. The ceremonial steak and sliders are bison, which is the star attraction at Ted’s Montana Grill. Sodas, which come with wax-coated paper straws, are placed on 100-percent biodegradable coasters. Want yours to go? Takeout cups are made with cornstarch. In the bathroom, soap dispensers contain biodegradable Boraxo.

McKerrow and his partner, the media mogul Ted Turner, are dedicated to sustainability in the restaurant industry. “We started the conversation,” says McKerrow. In 2008, they spearheaded “The Green Restaurant Revolution” tour.

But they’re not the only ones making an effort. Several Delaware-based establishments are also stepping up to the plate. It’s not easy. Most restaurants lack the resources of Ted’s Montana Grill, which is fueled by Turner’s convictions, McKerrow’s 40-plus years of industry experience—he also founded LongHorn Steakhouse—and some serious buying power; Ted’s is now in 16 states.

But even Ted’s bows to some consumer preferences, practical considerations, and an industry that has yet to catch up.

Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George
Blackened blue catfish from NorthEast Seafood Kitchen in Ocean View, one of nine restaurants owned by Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts. All nine feature the fish, which is threatening the ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Pam George

On the Plate

Turner—who is an avid outdoorsman—and McKerrow decided to feature bison to help increase the threatened animal’s herds. The population, which numbered up to 30 million at one time, dwindled due to habitat loss and overhunting in the 19th century.

As more consumers become aware of the health benefits of bison (it’s higher in nutrients and lower in calories than most meat), they will increase the demand—or so the theory goes. Ranchers, as a result, will grow their herds, which can be good for the environment. Able to withstand harsh weather conditions, bison are natural foragers that thrive on grass outdoors; there’s no need for feed and artificial shelter. They calve without human interference, and their natural heartiness requires fewer vet visits than cattle.

Their grass diet results in meat that is slightly sweeter than regular beef and much leaner. The taste and the health benefits have whetted the public’s appetite, which is evident by the number of bison burgers in many local restaurants, including Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville. Of course, both Buckley’s and Ted’s also offer standard beef burgers and steaks.

Supporting the growth of an endangered species is one way that restaurants can be sustainable. Another is to create dishes with creatures that are causing an imbalance. Take, for instance, the wild blue catfish, which was introduced into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the 1970s for anglers. The fish, however, has few predators other than man, and it exhibited a voracious appetite for just about anything on the bay’s bottom.

“It’s a pesky fish, but it is delicious,” says William Hoffman, who with his wife, Merry Catanuto, owns The House of William & Merry in Hockessin. “We try to serve it as much as we can to try and help balance the ecosystem in the bay.”

Farm-raised fish have been getting a bad rap for the fish’s unhealthy habitat. Disease not only can affect the farm-raised fish but it can also drift into the wild fish population.

But not all aquaculture practices are detrimental to the ocean. Brian Ashby, the owner of 8th & Union Kitchen in Wilmington’s Little Italy, features Verlasso salmon, which is raised on Patagonian farms that follow sustainability standards established by the World Wildlife Fund. He also sells specials with cobia that’s raised in open-water farms.

These new methods encourage containment in the deep ocean, where the currents can flush the pens. The containment mimics a natural habitat as much as possible, right down to including species such as mussels, which consume waste.

Hoffman offers alternatives to overfished species like swordfish, tuna and salmon. “There are so many species out there that aren’t overfished, but that people don’t know about,” Hoffman says.

In the House of William & Merry, diners expect to find new ingredients prepared in innovative ways.

Buckley’s Tavern, known for its comfort food, recently offered parrotfish, which are threatening coral reefs. But at the Big Fish Grill restaurants, customers stick to the familiar, says Eric Sugrue, the managing partner. “It’s challenging because obviously, we want to do the right thing, but we also want to put items on the menu that people like and can afford to eat,” he says.

The price point is also a factor for the restaurant’s cost, Sugrue adds. Joe Van Horn, owner of Chelsea Tavern, might agree. “We use reputable vendors, and purchase the most sustainable [ingredients that] we can, while continuing to offer the price point that we do,” he says.

What’s more, many restaurants won’t take a risk on an item not selling because diners refuse to try it. Sugrue says there’s been no noticeable uptick in customer concern for sustainable fish or new species, even in the market adjacent to the original Big Fish location in Rehoboth Beach.

Recycle & Reuse

Sourcing sustainable food is not the only way that restaurants can benefit the environment. The reclaimed wood that makes 8th & Union Kitchen’s décor so distinctive likely came from a tobacco factory, says Ashby, who noticed the aroma when the workers were cutting the wood.

Van Horn says that his restaurants recycle paper, cardboard, plastic. glass, metal and fryer grease.

(Using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.)

Along with reclaimed wood for the dining rooms, using services that manage and recycle kitchen oil has become a common practice.

Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant's reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. Photo David Norbut
Brian Ashby, owner of 8th & Union Kitchen, says the restaurant’s reclaimed wood decor likely came from a tobacco factory. (Photo by David Norbut)

Reducing food waste is also a practical priority. Home Grown Café in Newark orders small quantities to make sure that everything is used, says owner Sasha Aber, who also buys as much of her seasonal food as possible from local vendors.

Restaurants like Home Grown and 8th & Union Kitchen that make items from scratch can be resourceful. “There is very little that goes to waste in this kitchen,” Ashby says. “Nearly every vegetable scrap is used in our mushroom pho. Meat scraps are almost always incorporated into other dishes. There is always a veg scrap bin in the walk-in.”

Some Delaware restaurants once participated in a composting program with the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center. But that business was ordered to cease operations in 2014 due to neighbors’ complaints about the smell.

At Harry’s Savoy Grill, the leftover prime rib is donated to Emmanuel Dining Room and other charities. Oyster shells are sprinkled in garden beds. From plastic to glass bottles, everything that can be recycled is recycled at The House of William & Merry.

Ted's Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Ted’s Montana Grill at the Christiana Fashion Center. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Materials Matter

With their plastic straws, coffee stirrers and takeout containers, restaurants can generate a lot of waste that collects in landfills—and stays there. When McKerrow and Turner decided to open Ted’s Montana Gill, they wanted to do something about that problem. In 2001, McKerrow researched paper straws online and found a company in New Jersey that invented the product in 1833. He called and talked to the third-generation owner.

“He said: ‘George, we haven’t made a paper straw since 1970,’” McKerrow recalls. It was possible, however, that the machine was still around. The owner called back to say the engineers had indeed found the machine and could make it work. With packaging in hand, the straws arrived at the first Ted’s in Columbus, Ohio, in trash bags. Unfortunately, they quickly turned to limp noodles in the soda.
The motivated company found a biodegradable polymer to make the straw and stirrer last an hour.

Today, the company also sells the products to cruise lines under the name Aardvark Straws. Being responsible does not come cheap. Regular straws cost less than a penny when purchased in bulk. A package of 24 paper straws is $4.99 online.

Ted’s originally used all biodegradable takeout containers. Without clear plastic lids, though, servers mixed up the orders. Plus, some foods quickly soak through cardboard. The restaurant conceded that aluminum with a clear lid was better for some items.

As for building materials, low-flow toilets, no-water urinals, and high-pressure/low-volume water sprayers deliver a return on investment and help promote sustainability. These are additions that customers, who can press restaurants to do more, cannot see. But for those committed to sustainability, there is too much that they do notice.

Yasmine Bowman, for one, is watching. The realtor and Wilmington resident says she is dedicated to being a responsible consumer. On her Facebook page, she writes, “‘Sustainability’ will be my personal word and cause for 2017.”

“I tend to stay away from restaurants that do not recycle. I prefer to frequent establishments that are in line with my value systems. I also do not go to fast food restaurants that put hot food in plastic containers. The health dangers of BPA leaching into the food are a huge health threat. I would also like to see more restaurants offer organic, cruelty-free and gluten-free options. This is the future. Those who find a way to accommodate this sooner will thrive; those who don’t will slowly fail.”

Newark Restaurant Week is Happening Now

Jan. 16 marked the start of Downtown Newark’s 11th annual Restaurant Week.  Through Jan. 22, diners will have the opportunity to dive into exciting and flavorful dishes from Newark’s most popular restaurants and eateries. Participating restaurants are offering two and three course meals from a prix fixe menu for both lunch and dinner. Most offerings include two course lunches at $10 and two or three course dinners for $22 and $28.

Whether you are faithful to one establishment of Newark’s food scene or looking to try someplace new, with 14 restaurants participating there is sure to be a place and meal for every taste and budget.

For the full list of participating restaurants and course offerings visit enjoydowntownnewark.com/restaurantweek.

Remembering Darius

Darius Mansoory’s first restaurant in Wilmington was Knuckleheads Saloon in the late 1980s. He’d be the first to tell you that it was aptly named; Darius knew little about running a restaurant in those days.

So, after a few years he sold the place, left town for nearly a half-decade, and returned to repurchase the same building – 1206 Washington St. – at sheriff’s sale. In 1997, the location was reborn as the Washington Street Ale House. Darius had, indeed, learned quite a bit about running a restaurant by then.

The Ale House, which is still going strong after nearly 20 years, was the foundation for Darius’ Cherry Tree Hospitality Group. Mikimotos Asian Grill followed. Then Presto Coffee Bar & Bistro and The Marashino Room – all three located along Washington Street in Wilmington. A few years ago, he expanded his restaurant holdings to Rehoboth Beach with Stingray Sushi Bar & Asian Latina Grill. The former “knucklehead” had become quite the restaurateur.

“When I opened up, I knew it all. I was the best,” Darius told Out & About during a 2012 interview for the Ale House’s 15-year anniversary. “And then the next year went by. I looked at me in the previous year, and I said, ‘Oh, that guy probably didn’t know anything. I know it all now.’ And then the next year goes by, and I look back at myself the year before and say, ‘That guy didn’t know anything.’ Where does it end? I don’t think it’s gonna.”

Unfortunately, it ended much too soon for Darius; he died Dec. 31 of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Cuba. He was 52.

I knew Darius for all 28 years of this magazine’s existence; saw his shortcomings; was amazed by his resilience; admired his creative intelligence. Darius lived big and had a heart even bigger. The size of his heart is what I’ll remember most.

Let’s hope Darius’ restaurants continue to operate. It would be a fitting tribute.

A Second Location for Cajun Kate’s

Last month, Booths Corner Farmers Market creole favorite Cajun Kate’s opened a second location—at 722 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington.

The new eatery serves classic New Orleans-style dishes like po-boys, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and more. Both locations are open only on Fridays and Saturdays.

Owners Don and Kate Applebaum moved from Philadelphia to New Orleans in 1997 and quickly established themselves in two of the premier establishments in the French Quarter—Don at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA Restaurant and Kate at Bayona Restaurant. The couple moved back to this area in 2003 to start a family, and in 2006 Cajun Kate’s also was born. Every item on the menu is made from scratch, including all the “special sauces,” and both locations serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Visit cajunkates.com for hours and more.

New Peruvian Eats in Middletown

Local Peruvian restaurant chain The Chicken House, with locations in Newark and Wilmington, opened its newest eatery in Middletown last month.

At 422 E. Main St., the space previously occupied by a Vietnamese eatery, The Chicken House is a 100-seat restaurant with a bar, featuring Peruvian beer and more. The menu includes dishes with seafood, pork, beef and, of course, chicken. Featured item “pollo a la brasa” rotisserie chicken is made by marinating fresh chickens with a unique blend of spices and roasting them, which is one of Peru’s most famous dishes. Visit thechickenhouserestaurant.com for more.

Sips – Jan. 2017

Here’s what’s pouring

2SP Brewing Releases Third Canned Beer

In December, 2SP Brewing Company released Bellcracker Double IPA in cans. This is the Aston, Pa., brewery’s third canned beer, following the successful Delco Lager and ASAP IPA.

According to director of sales and marketing Mike Contreras, Bellcracker is one of the company’s biggest beers.

“We love it at the brewery, but we have to be careful with it, because, well, it’s dangerously smooth and easy to drink at 8.7 percent,” says Contreras.

The feedback on the beer has been excellent, he says, and retailers—like Branmar Liquors, Kreston and Peco’s— have already put in re-stock orders.

“For those who haven’t tried it, this double IPA has Amarillo hops that give it a big tropical hop flavor. The beer is balanced by a solid malt bill, so it won’t wreck your pallet with hops, and there is no burn from the high alcohol,” says Contreras.

Visit 2spbrewing.com for more.

Delaware Art Museum Happy Hour

On Thursday, Jan. 19, join Delaware Art Museum’s Executive Director and CEO Sam Sweet for casual conversation and free drinks in the museum’s on-site Thronson Café.

Sweet, who is new to the Delaware community, will hear guests’ thoughts about the museum while also getting tips on local events, restaurants, and hidden Delaware treasures. Beer, wine and light snacks will be provided. The event is set for 5-7 p.m.

Olde School Barleywine Is Back

This month, Dogfish Head is bringing back one of the brewery’s most requested beers of 2016—the Olde School Barleywine. Currently scoring a 98 percent rating on RateBeer.com and an 88 on Beer Advocate, the brew, fermented with dates and figs, is sweet and fruity. Brewery founder Sam Calagione came up with the beer’s concept in 2002 after discovering an old cellerman’s manual.

At about 15 percent ABV, this beer is a great candidate for aging. Over time, it dries out, the pit fruit flavors come forward and the hops recede. Pairing it with blue cheese and honey is recommended.
For brew availability, check dogfish.com.

Movies On Tap Keeps On Going — and Giving

Since last April, the monthly Movies On Tap series at Penn Cinema, in partnership with Premier Wine & Spirits, has raised $12,720 for local charities, including Food Bank of Delaware, Delaware KIDS Fund, Read Aloud Delaware, Meals on Wheels, Food Bank of Delaware (twice), Preston’s Playground, Good Old Boy Foundation and Delaware Nature Society.

The event is one of the most interactive beer tasting experiences around. Each month, a different local brewery sends its brewers to talk with guests, who sample beers and catch a cult-classic flick on the big screen. Ticket sales go to charities like those mentioned above.

Next up is Bellefonte Brewing Company and The Princess Bride on Friday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. The charity of choice is TBA.

A full event schedule will be announced in February.

Says Premier director of marketing Ryan Kennedy: “The best part of this series is that it supports our local community. Bringing beer and movie fans together to support the community we live, work and play in is the main reason we do this, but knowing 99 percent of ticket sales go to a worthy cause is the icing on the cake for us. It’s been a great experience and 2017 is going to be packed with incredible breweries and movies.”

Visit premierwinespirits.com for more information.

Bites – Jan. 2017

Tasty things worth knowing

New Peruvian Eats in Middletown

Local Peruvian restaurant chain The Chicken House, with locations in Newark and Wilmington, opened its newest eatery in Middletown last month.

At 422 E. Main St., the space previously occupied by a Vietnamese eatery, The Chicken House is a 100-seat restaurant with a bar, featuring Peruvian beer and more. The menu includes dishes with seafood, pork, beef and, of course, chicken. Featured item “pollo a la brasa” rotisserie chicken is made by marinating fresh chickens with a unique blend of spices and roasting them, which is one of Peru’s most famous dishes. Visit thechickenhouserestaurant.com for more.

A Second Location for Cajun Kate’s

Last month, Booths Corner Farmers Market creole favorite Cajun Kate’s opened a second location—at 722 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington.

The new eatery serves classic New Orleans-style dishes like po-boys, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and more. Both locations are open only on Fridays and Saturdays.

Owners Don and Kate Applebaum moved from Philadelphia to New Orleans in 1997 and quickly established themselves in two of the premier establishments in the French Quarter—Don at Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA Restaurant and Kate at Bayona Restaurant. The couple moved back to this area in 2003 to start a family, and in 2006 Cajun Kate’s also was born. Every item on the menu is made from scratch, including all the “special sauces,” and both locations serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
Visit cajunkates.com for hours and more.

Hagley’s Winter Movie Series

Indulge in free popcorn and be a part of a good cause with “Hagley After Hours: A Night at the Movies,” in February and March. The series will include cult classics Mean Girls on Thursday, Feb. 9, The Matrix on Thursday, Feb. 23, and The Breakfast Club on Thursday, March 9.

Hagley Museum is partnering with the Sunday Breakfast Mission for the March 9 showing, and all attendees who bring a nonperishable item for the Sunday Breakfast Mission will receive a free bag of popcorn. Donated items can include canned food, toiletry items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.), winter clothes, diapers or formula, and school supplies.

Movie nights will feature themed cocktails and snacks for purchase. Guests are invited to embrace each movie’s theme to receive a free goodie: e.g., wear pink to the Mean Girls showing; wear your favorite sci-fi shirt or accessory to The Matrix; or wear 1980s clothing to The Breakfast Club.

Movies will be shown on the large screen in Hagley’s Soda House auditorium. Prior to each feature film, there will be a short film from Hagley’s collection. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the feature starting at 7 p.m. Admission is just $2 per person.

Events are weather-dependent, so check hagley.org for updates. Because of construction, use Hagley’s Buck Road entrance (298 Buck Rd., Wilmington).

Grain Now Caters

Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark is now offering catering for meetings and special occasions. The food is prepared fresh and designed to serve 10-200 or more.

The catering menu varies, featuring create-your-own yogurt parfaits, street tacos, sandwich stations and more. Orders can be made online at catering.grainonmain.com. Grain’s chef will review the order and confirm prior to starting. Catering is either available for pickup or both delivery and setup for an additional $25 fee. Grain supplies plates, napkins, cutlery, sides, chafing stands, and the Sterno to keep everything warm.

Olive Oil: The New Wine?

Find out about EVOO, give a tasting party. Learn to love this liquid gold.

I know someone whose first sip of wine was a 45-year-old Port. My inaugural taste could boast no such vintage; it was from my aunt’s bottle of Manischewitz, which was first cracked open three Thanksgivings prior. For years, my wine consumption was limited to gifted bottles or summer sangria made with cheap wine. Eventually, business interests took me to wine dinners, where the origins of a Syrah and a Shiraz, a Grenache and a Garnacha, became important to me. Once I could carve out a budget for great wine, bottles from five continents began rotating through my once-dusty wine rack. Although I’m not yet an oenophile, I cannot imagine going back to “factory wine.”

Similar to my wine choices, what occupied my cabinet for years was store-brand olive oil, the quality of which reflected the budget I’d devoted to it. Once again, professional interests led me to a palate-awakening, and for me there is no turning back to generic olive oil.

If you can tell a Merlot from a Cabernet, or even if you can’t, olive oil may be the next horizon for broadening your palate. From tasting parties to sommelier certifications to health magazines, there are many routes to learning why olive oil is worthy of the same enthusiasm as wine. With U.S. consumption increasing by 250 percent in the last quarter century (compared to worldwide growth of 73 percent), there’s a good chance this “liquid gold” has seeped or will be seeping into your kitchen soon.

Things to Know

Some things to know when shopping for “good” olive oil: extra virgin is the best; it can cost a dollar or more per ounce; reading the fine print is important, and it should impart an unmistakable flavor. That $6 store-brand olive oil probably tastes like any other oil in your cabinet…nothing distinctive, even if it does say “Imported.”

Process and timing is everything. For superior quality oil, olives are gently picked (often by hand), taken to press hours after picking, mashed into a paste, and “cold” pressed until “extra virgin olive oil,” with an acid level no higher than .08 percent, pours out. “Virgin” olive oil is limited to two percent acidity—same process, riper olives. Refining with heat or chemicals can turn imperfect, bruised or old olives into edible oil, albeit devoid of flavor and aroma. “Pure” and “light” oils are all or part refined oil.

Where its olives are grown is part of an oil’s pedigree. Your olive oil is most likely imported from the Mediterranean, where archaeologists have found evidence of olive oil production going back at least 6,000 years. By some estimates, America imports 97 percent of its consumption.

This is not to say there is anything innately inferior about American olives. They grow in California, Texas and the “Olive Belt,” stretching from South Carolina to Mississippi. However, it is a relatively new industry in the U.S. The self-proclaimed “oldest” American olive oil producer is only 80 years old. The largest domestic producer of olive oil has grown its market share somewhat quickly thanks to mechanized harvesters, a newer technology not yet widely used overseas.

Every nation thinks its olive oil is the best, and marketers capitalize on the reputation of a country to sell oil to American consumers. In other words, the phrase “Made in Italy” is on a lot of oil, but you need to know more to determine quality.

Indicators of Quality

Italian olive oils, for example, may have origin labels that are a reasonable indicator of quality. Protected Designation of Origin (PDO/DOP) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI/IGP) labels are guarantees of authenticity, regulated by the European Union. A PDO oil has an attribute that is unique to its geography (in wine lingo, terroir), whereas PGI indicates region alone. The E.U. applies such labels to wine and other agricultural products, like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and champagne and cognac.

Olive oil lovers like to talk about traceability and authenticity. One in 20 people I meet at tastings asks me, “Did you see that 60 Minutes episode…?” about how the Italian Mafia counterfeits extra virgin olive oil. The product is adulterated with inferior oils, possibly oils from outside of Italy, colorants and deodorizer… if there is even any extra virgin content at all. This is a national crisis to Italians, who use 10 times as much olive oil per person as Americans. For them, olive oil authenticity is a matter of national pride, and it has a direct impact on the economy.

I am fortunate in that I can respond confidently when asked about the source of the oil I sell. For the past four years, I have worked for a Wilmington company that is the exclusive American importer of a single-source oil from a family-owned Italian farm and frantoio (olive mill). Olevano Olive Oil is pressed from hand-picked olives grown in Wilmington’s sister city, Olevano sul Tusciano, in Salerno. When I mention the surnames of the Wilmington owners, Delle Donne (Tom) and Fierro (Al), to locals, and describe how it’s their cousins in Italy who pick the olives, Delawareans often recognize some connection to the family, and thoughts of fictional Corleones hijacking our oil supply are quickly forgotten.

Marketing and regulation aside, country and region can be a reflection of your flavor preferences. Oil from northern Italy—Tuscany, for example—can seem lighter in mouthfeel than other oils, but no less flavorful. Further south toward Umbria, peppery olive oils dominate. Southern Italian olives, such as those from Campania and Puglia, produce full-flavored, fruity oil.

Planning a Tasting Party

Armed with what you now know about process and origin, you may be ready to dive into the world of what Rachael Ray calls “EVOO” (extra virgin olive oil). Tasting parties are a trendy way to experience good EVOO, and sites like Williams-Sonoma.com offer party planning tips.

Buy several bottles, or have each guest—ideal party size is three to eight people—bring a bottle, aiming for a variety of origins or attributes (filtered or unfiltered, buttery or peppery, grassy or fruity, consecutive harvests, distinct varietals). Serve room temperature, in order from mild to strong flavor, and observe the swirl and the nose, before loudly slurping (yes, really) and swishing the oil in your mouth, just like wine. Skip the official cobalt glass in favor of wine glasses, which tasters can hold in their palms to temper the oil, or you can opt for single-use plastic tasting cups for beginners.

Search “what wine pairs with olive oil” for beverage ideas. Don’t forget the “spit cup” and palate-cleansing bread or tart apples, and give guests pen and paper to write notes. After the tasting, try your favorite oils on bruschetta, buffalo mozzarella and even vanilla ice cream.

Visit Fusion Taster’s Choice in Wilmington, the Olive Orchard in Rehoboth Beach or visit a vendor (like me) at an arts and crafts festival, for low-key tasting opportunities. No time to taste? Buy your oil where the foodies shop, like Capers and Lemons or Janssen’s Market.

When it’s time to cook, remember “smoke point.” Exceeding any oil’s smoke point creates bitterness and devalues EVOO’s health benefits (in fighting diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis), but is not hard to avoid. At its lowest reported temperature, EVOO’s smoke point is close to that of butter. If you wouldn’t fry a cutlet in butter, don’t fry it in good EVOO. Low acid makes EVOO more versatile than some would have you believe, but pros still suggest saving the expensive stuff for dishes where its subtle flavors will shine: salad dressings, drizzles, dipping, quick sautés or braises.

As a gastronaut, you may even set your sights on becoming an “olive oil sommelier.” OliveOilTimes.com offers a course through the International Culinary Center in New York City. The first of three courses costs $1,200; you’ll taste 100 oils from 25 countries over a three-day weekend, learn the history and process of making EVOO, how to judge the quality and attributes of an oil, and more. Sommelier candidates complete two additional levels of coursework. Alternatively, for $350 plus airfare, you can get a “Master of Olive Oil” certification in Los Angeles (nasommelier.com).

Whatever level of expertise you aspire to, tasting olive oil is perfectly positioned to be a palate-pleasing pastime for trend seekers.