Get to know... Heidi Burrows
NEW CANAAN — Since opening New Canaan Olive Oil in 2013, Heidi Burrows has amassed a sizable following around town.
According to Burrows, who lives with her husband in Stamford, foodies are drawn to the store by its growing selection of 32 varieties of artisanal olive oils and 32 varieties of artisanal balsamic vinegar shipped from around the world, the bottles of which line either side of the Elm Street store.
Though she doesn’t come from a culinary background, Burrows became interested in olive oil while following the Paleo diet. It set off an interest in olive oil that, after moving to Fairfield County 2012, led her to establish what is now a mainstay of New Canaan’s downtown.
Q: How did the idea for an artisanal olive oil store come about?
A: It’s not 100 percent original. My husband and I saw one year ago — I think we were in Virginia — and at the time we were very focused on eating healthy. Olive oil was a big part of that. So when I saw that store, I thought it was amazing and I instantly started my own business plan to see if I could do it. Once I got into it I became obsessed.
Q: What do you find your customers are typically looking for?
A: We definitely have a lot of regular customers looking either for something they’ve bought here before that they couldn’t find elsewhere or hostess gifts. December is our biggest month because we do a lot of gift baskets.
But I think that sometimes our vinegar are more interesting to people than the olive oils because you never see a flavored vinegar at a grocery store, whereas sometimes people have had flavors like basil oil or garlic oil. Usually, once people have tried one they don’t want to go back to just regular plain old vinegar.
Q: Where do the oils and vinegar come from?
A: We get a lot from California. We have small producers who grill the olives, harvest the olives and make the oil. If they’re flavored, they actually will crush, for example, the garlic with the oil, which makes for a better, stronger flavor. And that way the flavor doesn’t cook out of the oil. You can cook with the garlic oil and you can really taste it, the flavor doesn’t disappear when you heat it up.
We also import from Italy, Greece, Spain. And we are looking at some South American oils right now. So all over the place.
Q: What’s the difference between olive oil sold at your store compared with olive oil at the supermarket?
A: Aside from the flavors, the quality is different. The extra virgin olive oils are all from the most recent harvest and they’re all certified extra virgin, which means we actually do a chemical analysis on each oil to make sure it’s pure olive oil. Then we know how healthy it is, we can actually measure the polyphenols, which are basically antioxidants. If you go to the grocery store that information isn’t available, so we make that available on all of our description cards. So people really know what they’re buying and they know it’s fresh. And that’s really where it started, was the health aspect. So all of our olive oils are really good for you.
Q: What is considered extra virgin olive oil?
A: It has to be the first press of the olives. They should be harvested and pressed in the same day, usually within 12 hours of harvesting, sometimes within 24. And they have to be cold pressed because there is a certain temperature that you can’t go above when you’re making the oil because then it starts to ruin all the antioxidants. So all olive oil is good for you, but the extra virgin that’s fresh has all the antioxidants. The fresher the better, essentially.
Q: Do you suggest certain foods pair with certain olive oils?
A: We have a whole rack of recipes here that we change seasonally and on our website we have tons more. It’s all searchable. If you wanted to do something with our fig balsamic, you’d have a recipe list. We give suggestions, but a lot of it just comes down to your personal preference.
Q: Do you have a favorite olive oil?
A: It’s hard to pick a favorite. The lemon pepper-infused is definitely one of my go-tos. I have it in my house all the time. I’d say I’m not the best cook in the world, but using these products makes it a lot easier to make good food.
But the Tuscan herb-infused is our best seller.