A Pressing Affair

Jamie Griffiths of The Pristine Olive chats about busting myths,
taking a friend’s advice and ­proving your worth

Photo: Jamie Grifiths

JAMIE GRIFFITHS RECENTLY moved The Pristine Olive to a new location on Adelaide Street, five years after opening. In addition to a freshened look, the new location has better parking and more space. He runs the business with his wife, Clara, who also works as an account executive with a customs broker. Their kids, Reid, five, and Ally, three, are often at the store.

Griffiths, 39, went to A.B. Lucas Secondary School and then Fanshawe College, where he ­graduated from the industrial design program.

When not working, he spends time with his family. “People always say it goes by in a flash, so our lives are focused on spending time with Reid and Ally, enjoying every minute.”

What did you know about olive oil, say, 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I probably had a big jug of adulterated extra virgin olive oil and a bottle of balsamic in the cupboard and never thought much about it. When the bottles ran out, we would have bought a new one.

You tell the story of experiencing fresh olive oil on a trip to Halifax. Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you’d stumbled into a candle shop or chocolatier?

After experiencing real, fresh extra virgin olive oil and a balsamic vinegar on our trip, we never looked back. It was life-changing, literally. The friends we were visiting introduced us, and knowing I was looking for a career change, suggested I look into it further. I clearly remember Barry’s advice: “Don’t look back on this opportunity and say I wish I had done that.”

Once you settled on olive oil as your primary product, how did you decide on the tasting bar concept?

The store needs to be experienced, as it is not only a retail environment, but has an educational aspect, too. Most people have never tasted a real evoo and/or balsamic, and until you experience fresh and have that opportunity to understand the difference, you have no idea what you’ve been missing. Tasting before you buy is the key. How else do you know what is actually in the bottle? We bottle after a customer decides on his or her choices.

Do you sell to chefs and ­restaurants as well as ­individuals?

We supply many restaurants around the city, including the Idlewyld Inn, Toboggan Brewing Company, Restaurant Ninety One, Root Cellar Organic Café and Glassroots. Our products can also be found at the Village Meat Shop at the Western Fair Farmers’ Market, Jaydancin in Lambeth and Turner’s Farm Market. Plus, several food ­manufacturers use our products.

We think of the best olive oil as ­coming from Italy. Is that true?

It doesn’t matter where your olive oil comes from in the world, as long as it is fresh and of high quality. We follow the harvests, so none of our oils is ever older than 12 months. The only way to accomplish this is to have oils from the northern hemisphere for half the year and the southern hemisphere for the other half.

What other myths do you come across regularly? For example, should we avoid olive oil in dark glass bottles? Is the glass hiding something?

We love to myth bust. You can do anything with your evoo, as long as it’s fresh and of high quality. It also needs a great polyphenol count. Sauté, fry, roast, bake, marinate, toss, whip, drizzle. The evoo uses are endless. Dark bottles are also important, as light is not a friend of your oil. Nor are air, time or heat.

Explain extra virgin and cold pressed. What’s the big deal?

An extra virgin olive oil, or evoo, is ­produced using a 100 per cent mechanical process, without the use of any heat or chemical to extract the oil. First cold press doesn’t mean much. They are marketing terms that are mostly outdated. The most important part is having your olive oil retailer prove, with actual third-party lab certificates, that their oils are truly extra virgin. You also need to know when the olive was picked and crushed. Think of your oil as a fresh squeezed juice and treat it that way.

If we aren’t buying our oil from you, what should we look for to buy the best?

About 69 per cent of the extra virgin olive oil out there is not truly extra virgin, so the consumer has to ask the important questions.

What other oils do you keep in your kitchen?

I do not have any other oils or butter in our kitchen; just extra virgin for us.

Is there a similar mystique to finding good balsamic vinegar?

Balsamic vinegars are amazing—and healthy—when you are getting the real thing. Our balsamics have no thickeners, sweeteners or caramel colouring, something 95 per cent of other balsamics cannot say.  Interview by Christopher Clark