Since opening shop at Oli.O in 2013, Hutton Fant has seen customers grow from seeing her imported olive oils and balsamic vinegars as a novelty they use when in-laws come over to adding it to their regular grocery list before heading off to Western or Whole Foods. A naturally flavored oil and a balsamic can change the flavors of food dramatically with little hassle, and she loves to help Mountain Brook Village shoppers find the right selections for their kitchens.

What sets your olive oils apart from what you find in grocery stores?

What’s so different about this is the chemistry of it is being tested to ensure it’s 100 percent olive oil. Most of what you see at the stores is being fed with other kinds of oil like canola oil or seed oil that are lessening the health benefits of the oil. For a lot of what’s in the stores, they are wanting to get a higher yield, so they wait for olives to become overly ripe and then press them and then heat them again to extract as much oil. Here the olives are being picked in a 4-8 hour window and being cold pressed (not heated to extract more oil).

How do you suggest using the oils and balsamics?

We use them for salad dressings, bread dipping, pastas, roasted vegetables. We marinate a lot of meat to give it that flavor without the added preservatives or salts that a marinade might have. We put the balsamic over ice cream, and some of the white balsamic we put in cocktails, like a peach balsamic with champagne kind of a like a bellini. We bake with a lot of oils, so we’ll substitute a butter or a canola oil for a blood orange olive oil, so you’ll get a fun flavor but you are also using a better fat for you and also less fat.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook with them?

I love any kind of Mexican food, so a lot of times I’ll use a cilantro and onion oil or a harissa oil, which is a roasted chili pepper with garlic and coriander and cumin, and I will put it over chicken breasts and peppers and onions and do fajitas. We love doing blackberry-ginger balsamic over sweet potatoes. I’ll stir the cinnamon pear balsamic into oatmeal, or it’s good in a pork tenderloin marinade or over
baked apples.

How do you even start to pick which flavors to buy?

Everyone’s palate is so different. It’s best for them to come in and tell me how they enjoy cooking and what they like to eat. My favorite part is interacting with the customer and working through what foods they are preparing in their homes and what might help with their cooking lifestyle. It eliminates a lot of preparation because you are not having to follow a recipe and add eight different spices.

How do you work with other local food businesses?

It’s fun to feed off others’ creative energy. We partnered with Steel City Pops last summer, and they used our strawberry balsamic in their strawberry balsamic popsicle. Shindig’s chef Mac Russell can take the lemongrass mint white balsamic or a more obscure flavor and pair it with a food that complements it so well.