But visitors to Seasons, a new specialty oil and vinegar shop in Bethlehem, will discover a fully functioning taproom, where you’re encouraged to sip and sample. Small cups are placed next to each fusti, an Italian-made stainless steel cask that preserves the freshness of oils.
Husband-and-wife team Tim Balshi and Soraya Augilar opened Seasons retail shop at the end of March, after years of importing gourmet oils and vinegars to restaurants and businesses. A supplier suggested opening a retail store, and Seasons was born. Aguilar is from Spain, and her family still lives there and operates an olive estate. The beautiful photography of olive trees and olive harvesting on display throughout the shop are of her family.
Upon entering, I was encouraged to help myself to the various flavor-infused balsamic vinegars and regional olive oils. My knowledge of gourmet oils until now has been limited to the ethnic food aisle of the grocery store. I gave myself time to browse the many varieties, most of which I had never considered and some that just plain surprised me. Descriptions accompany each fusti and provide information about the contents, such the harvest location, flavor notes, and recipe suggestions.
The employees are well-informed and can help guide you toward something you already have in mind or wish to know more about. If you’re used to the extra virgin bottle that you keep in your pantry to cook with, you’ll be delightfully surprised at the complexities and depths of flavor in selections from places such as Chile, Greece and Australia. The infused oils range in flavors from perfect-for-spring Persian lime or blood orange to one of my favorites, sage wild mushroom. The latter reminded me of that bubblegum scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when the unsuspecting Violet is struck in disbelief that such a tiny piece of candy can contain the deep, robust flavors of a full-course dinner.
Among balsamic vinegar infusions are the subtly sweet vanilla, cinnamon pear and dark chocolate. You’ll also find the bestselling 18-Year traditional balsamic, which has been aged for 18 years in various wood barrels such as chestnut, oak, mulberry and juniper. Seasons also sells white balsamic vinegar; I like to think of myself as a food explorer, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit that until I visited this shop, I didn’t know there was such a thing. Its flavor is a little lighter and more crisp–think of the basic differences between red and white wine, for example. I found these to be the most intriguing. All were refreshing, but my favorites were white grapefruit, honey ginger, jalapeno, peach and coconut. Coconut! Its suggested use? Cole slaw made with shredded jicama, red bell pepper slices and fresh blueberries. If you’re looking for a way to impress everyone at the next sunny outdoor party, this will likely do the trick. Similarly, if you’re looking for an alternative to bringing a bottle of wine to your next dinner party, any of these selections would make a refreshing, thoughtful alternative. The store’s specialties will be available online for purchase, too, in the coming weeks.
Seasons aims to keep very small quantities of each stock available if you’re picking something up in a rush. Otherwise, spend some leisurely time sampling everything that looks intriguing, and your bottle will be filled at the time of purchase to ensure the freshest product possible. Prices for the 375ml bottles average at $12.95 for white balsamics, $14.95 for most other oils and vinegars, and the lavish white truffle oil for $33.00. Imported Italian snacks and pastas are also available; most impressively, a 2-foot long black pasta which obtains its color from cuttle fish ink.
Seasons, 504 Main Street, Bethlehem; 610/866-2615
Jaime Karpovich writes the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle blog Save the Kales!, and loves petting other people’s dogs. She lives in Bethlehem.