New Port Townsend business offers gourmet olive oil tastings
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Sandy Spencer, center, owner of the Lively Olive in Port Townsend, educates Ralph Zenger, left, and Jan Zenger about the proper tasting process.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — While Sandy Spencer was renovating the retail space at 929 Water St., to accommodate the Lively Olive she found she could hear people’s conversations outside the store.

“I could hear what people were saying outside, things like ‘how is anyone going to exist selling olive oil, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,’” she said.

“I heard all of these comments and wondered if I made a mistake doing this, but once I opened, I couldn’t believe how excited people were.”

The store, which opened in early December, sells a variety of high grade olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pasta.

It has more than 30 varieties of oil and vinegar in vats and pourable bottles, allowing shoppers to sample each one using small plastic cups.

There are no rules. People can come in and take a full cup and drink it right down, or take a smaller sample and use it to dip a piece of bread, which is supplied.

Spencer doesn’t tell people what to do, she said, standing ready to instruct people about the most efficient and effective way to sample an oil.

The first step, she said, is to pour a small amount into the plastic cup, covering it with one hand while rubbing the bottom of the cup with the other hand until the oil warms and an aroma is detected.

It should be “slurped” all at once, immediately followed by sharp intakes of breath through the mouth to aerate the oil.

At that point the unique taste, be it subtle or strong, will manifest itself in the back of the mouth.

The Lively Olive offers something new to Port Townsend shoppers and, necessarily, tourists.

“We are in a tough spot in Port Townsend because we are dependent on the tourist trade but also need to be mindful of what the community will support,” Spencer said.

“But this can work here,” she said.

“It is a real ‘foodie’ community.

There are some great chefs and dynamite restaurants and people are embracing body health and a positive body image.”

Spencer said that people don’t think about olive oil very much.

Many just buy it at the supermarket or in bulk at Costco.

The right oil, she said, can unlock food’s possibilities.

“When you scramble an egg, you usually don’t do much,” Spencer said.

“You add a little bit of butter and maybe some oil.

“But if you add some oil that contains wild mushroom or sage and put a little bit of cheese on the top, it elevates it to a new level and gives it a subtle nuance and really brings out the flavors.”

The store’s oil is divided into three sizes: 200 milliliters, $11; 375 milliliters, $16 and 375 milliliters, the same size as a standard wine bottle, $26.

Vinegars are $1 per bottle less.

Smaller sample bottles are sold for $6 for one and $10 for two, for those who don’t want to make a commitment.

The oil shouldn’t be stored for too long, Spencer said, adding that shoppers should purchase the amount they will use within three months.

Oil, unlike wine, doesn’t improve with age and actually loses its nutritional value, she said.

Spencer, 63, moved to town two years ago when her husband, Sheldon Spencer, became the manager of Quimper Mercantile.

She looked for a hobby and even took up knitting but her heart wasn’t in it.

She stressed that she means no disrespect to knitters.

“I tried to volunteer, and I learned knitting but it really didn’t make me happy,” she said.

“I really like retail and it made me feel unhealthy to not be involved in something.”

For more information, phone 360-385-3993 or go to


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: December 25. 2013 5:47PM
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