Israel may be the land of milk and honey, but for me olives have always been its real fruit of the gods. Much as in Greece and Spain, here the tiny, piquant fruit is found in nearly every home, on every table - either brined and snackable in chunky tapenades, or pressed into velvety smooth oils.
But nowhere has the olive been more elevated to an object of reverence than at Olia, Israel’s first haute olive oil emporium, whose wood-panelled, sun-drenched flagship boutique (first image) I recently visited in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv. Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, Olia was developed by former retail executive Hilla Wenkert and her brother Nimrod Zaltzman. The siblings have transformed their love of Levantine cuisine into the country’s leading speciality olive oil firm.
I first came to Olia ages ago for its collection of extra-virgin oils (there are 13 to 15 different varieties available, depending on the season). Wenkert herself sources them solely from small-batch growers across the country; they range from the bold, cold-pressed Souri to the sweet and delicate Kalamata and light, fruity Arbequina. All are sold in Olia’s graphic green packaging, printed with the brand’s whimsical tag line: “An Olive Oil Love Story” (second image). When I was there, it was clear that Wenkert's love continues to grow. New products such as olive oil-enriched bath salts and olive wood butcher blocks sat alongside the hearty tapenades and olive oil-based soaps and body wash I’d enjoyed during the previous year’s pilgrimage.
This year, however, Wenkert has also begun looking beyond olives to equally feinschmecker-worthy foods, including chocolates spiked with roasted mustard seeds, zingy mustard with lime and honey, and spreadable “caviars” – including a sweet and savoury tomato must-try. All are available for tasting at Olia’s shop, and at its new open-air outpost in the heart of Tel Aviv’s historic Carmel Market, which also includes a full-sized, Spanish-inspired Olia tapas bar that serves light meals and drinks.
Clearly thinking globally as she produces locally, Wenkert now exports Olia products to speciality stores across Europe and Asia. She is also a regular at olive oil summits that bring together growers and purveyors from across the Middle East, hoping to promote regional peace by cultivating the soil (and the palates) of those around her. For me, however, nothing beats popping into Olia’s original shop to dip and spread its olivey treats while discussing that season's harvest. I never walk away with empty hands – or an empty stomach.