Chef Bennett Hollberg has had plenty of experience planning menus around certain foods and specific wines. But he's never been asked to do anything like this.
"This was the first time I've ever had to plan around olive oil, but you know, it really wasn't hard," said Hollberg, executive chef at Atlanta Grill in The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta.
On his menu, meant to showcase a new brand of flavorful olive oils, Hollberg crafted a spread of gourmet fare. Starting with a salad of baby beets, followed by poached trout, braised lamb osso buco and a dessert of fig carpaccio, each dish was linked by one common ingredient: Ollo olive oil.
In many ways, olive oil is becoming the new wine, said Ollo spokesman Roger Ley, and Ollo is leading the trend. Introduced to the worldwide market in 2005, this isn't just the same old EVOO - Rachael Ray-inspired kitchen lingo for extra virgin olive oil.
For starters, the Ollo brand hails from Australia - not Italy, which has long been the king of olive oil. And then there's the price. At $9.99 to $10.99 per 500-milliliter bottle, it's within any foodie's price range.
"We're really trying to reach a mass market, not just the food elite," Ley said.
But Ollo's biggest selling point is its flavor - because it has one. The oil is available in two varieties: Mild and Mellow, and Fresh and Fruity.
Rich and more pungent, the Fresh and Fruity oil is crafted early in the season from green olives. Though the name says fruity, the oil is actually more peppery, with a distinct kick of an aftertaste. Hollberg used this lively finish to contrast with a dish of mild trout and sweet figs.
Cultivated later in the season, the Mild and Mellow oil is squeezed from ripe black olives, offering a buttery, soft taste, with a sweet aroma and rounded texture. This oil complements an assortment of dishes, from pasta to steamed vegetables. Hollberg opted to include the milder oil in the appetizer of baby beets, as well as on the heartier dish of lamb.
"I really found that there was a lot you can do with the flavors of the oils," Hollberg said. "It enhanced my dishes in new, interesting ways and I'm excited to see what else I can create with it."
For food purists, Ollo has yet to become a kitchen standard, much in the same way Australian wines have yet to gain the esteem of European blends. Australia is still relatively new to the food world, and it will take time for Aussie products to gain the same renowned reputation as Old World cultures, Ley said.
"Slowly, we're gaining the recognition we deserve in Australia," he said. "We're changing things up and creating new ideas. That can be a little scary, but ultimately it's very exciting."
SideBar: Ollo Bruschetta
Ollo Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available in two flavors: Fresh and Fruit, and Mild and Mellow. The Mellow blend offers a smooth, buttery taste, and the Fresh flavor is actually more peppery.
In this recipe, made from generous slices of warm crusty bread, fresh garlic, ripe tomatoes and a drizzle of Ollo extra virgin olive oil, the Fresh variety creates an appetizer with a kick. By adding a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or prosciutto, the oil takes on a flavorful change.
Vine-ripened grape tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup Spanish onions, finely diced
10 leaves of arugula, torn
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup Ollo Fresh and Fruity Extra Virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
French bread, sliced
Mix the tomatoes, garlic, onions, arugula, mustard, vinegar and olive oil together, and season with salt and pepper. Spread mixture on slices of French bread.