Ann Arbor’s Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars
Ahh! That made sense once I recalled the rows and rows of shiny stainless steel, spigoted drums lining the walls and shelves of the Fustini’s tasting room. Each polished, shiny drum holding gallons of delectable, fresh, pungent olive oils, fruity and herby infused vinegars and oils, and eighteen-year-old aged balsamic vinegar. For anyone who enjoys cooking, stepping into this world of gourmet olive oils and vinegars would surely make their little heart go pitter-patter and their mouth water.
If you’re used to the off the shelf grocery store bottle of olive oil or vinegar, visiting Fustini’s will surely tantalize your taste buds with flavors you never knew were possible. With vinegar flavors such as Sicilian Lemon, Spicy Korean, Pomegranate, Strawberry and almost four dozen others, you’re bound to be tempted to taste. Infused extra virgin olive oils with names like Blood Orange, Herbs de Provence, Persian Lime, and Tuscan Herb, are just a few of the tempting oils. When you visit the Fustini’s in Kerrytown or any of their four Michigan locations, you can sample and taste before you buy. The stores all have trained staff with experts to help you choose the right oils or vinegars for your taste.
“Fustini’s imports their products from artisans and small-batch producers worldwide,” Jill Gardner-Bakewell, the manager of the Ann Arbor store, told me. “For olive oil, we switch hemispheres, so we always have the freshest products from the current harvest season,” she added. Many variables can affect the taste, such things as the amount of rainfall and changes in the weather that can alter the flavor and quantity of oil the olives produce.
How did Fustini’s come to be? For many, the dream of starting their own business is just that a dream. They never really muster up the courage to do it. Or, in the case of Jim Milligan, Fustini’s founder and owner, fate forced him to take a leap of faith. After a 30-year upper-level career in sales and marketing, Milligan was laid off at the age of 55. Having traveled widely during his years on the job, Milligan became enamored with the fresh oils and vinegars he found were a cooking staple in both Italian and Spanish cuisine. He had found his muse. He opened his first Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars tasting room in the Northern Michigan resort town of Traverse City, in 2007. The store was a huge success, and Milligan expanded operations to stores and tasting rooms in three additional Michigan locations, Petoskey, Holland and the Ann Arbor store in 2010.
While the stores specialize in olive oils and vinegars, Milligan has expanded his product line and services to include cookbooks, pantry items and a School of Cooking. Each location now has a kitchen to accommodate the cooking classes.
Class participants can learn new and better ways to incorporate healthy, tasty oils and vinegars into their personal cooking style for everyday meals or for entertaining. The Fustini’s Pantry includes gourmet ingredients that complement their many oils and vinegars such as pasta, tapenades, honey, glazes, spices, sauces, and more.
One of Fustini’s newest offerings is their collaboration with the Iron Fish Distillery for Iron Fish Honey Vinegar. This is a white wine vinegar infused with barrel-aged whiskey flavored honey. This new vinegar was just released in August. This expands Fustini's lineup of local Michigan infused vinegars to four, including the Traverse City Cherry, West Michigan Blueberry and Michigan Apple. Fustini’s prides itself on showcasing Michigan flavors such as cherries, blueberries, apples, and honey.
Fustini's stands out in their community by committing to improve community health through diet and nutrition and give back to the community through their fundraising programs. Their fundraisers support organizations like the Food Rescue in Traverse City and The Manna Project in Petoskey. Recently Jim Milligan decided to pledge $1 dollar of every bottle of oil and vinegar sold between June 1st and the end of September to The Manna Food Project recently giving them a check for almost $3,000. Fustini’s is committed to partnering with non-profits such as Manna to help people live a healthy lifestyle filled with nutritious foods. Fustini’s is grateful for the support that the local communities gave them and wants to celebrate their success by giving back.
To learn more about Fustini’s including their four Michigan locations and the School of Cooking, and to find dozens of recipes featuring their oils and vinegars visit www.fustinis.com. To learn more about all that Ann Arbor has to offer visit: www.destinationannarbor.org.
Note: Thank you to Destination Ann Arbor for introducing me to Fustini's.
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