I was recently sent two sample-size "review" bottles, of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, from The Olive Tap, an Illinois company that specializes in high-end oils and vinegars from around the world.
The bottles were about the size of one of those little liquor bottles that they sell in liquor stores, so I wasn't about to just toss it into a salad dressing or use these in a dish where they'd get drowned by other flavors. Instead, I made a crusty, homemade "rustic" style bread, the better to taste both.
I got these for free - I want to make that clear - but they may have been the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted. Not that I'm a connoisseur of either, but I use and consume them on a fairly regular basis. These were head and shoulders above the stuff I've been using till now.
The oil was The Olive Tap's Tuscan Herb Olive Oil, which is flavored with a proprietary blend of several
herbs including oregano, basil, garlic, and rosemary The flavors of the herbs complemented the rich flavor of the oil, without overwhelming it, and the underlying, almost sweet flavor of the oil shone through, making this a great oil for dipping. I've also used it on homemade pizza, with excellent results - it's especially good on white pizza, the better to allow its rich and subtle flavors to come through.
The vinegar was also a revelation. I always have balsamic vinegar on hand, and I thought I'd been buying pretty decent stuff, but this one, from Modena, Italy, had a richness of flavor that I'd never experienced before. Sweet but not cloying, it too was great soaked into bread, along with the oil, and terrific on a simple salad.
I wish I could say that these products are available around Rochester, but the nearest Olive Tap store or satellite location is in Medina, Ohio. Their products are available for purchase online, though. It's not cheap (a 375 ml bottle of the Tuscan Herb olive oil - about 35 servings' worth - goes for about $16), but, well, this isn't cheaply made, and the prices are pretty reasonable considering the quality of the product. And again, this isn't necessarily stuff you'll be using for ordinary cooking, where the flavors are apt to get drowned - you can use the basic brand for that, and save this for dishes where you and your guests will be better able to appreciate it.
The downside of this is that I'll never be quite as happy again with "ordinary" olive oils or vinegars. But if it's not too late, Santa, I'll gladly take a bottle or two of these in my stocking this year.