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Desert Companion

Profile: The olive oil guru

Kazi Aziz has the rumpled, scholarly look of someone who spends more time among dusty books than kitchen appliances and utensils. Ah, but first impressions can be slippery. The Bangladesh native is, in fact, a passionate home chef who helped develop a line of more than 36 infused olive oils and vinegars with a business partner in Arizona. Now, along with his wife Sadia, he’s opened a store dedicated solely to olive oil and balsamic vinegar, Cucina Olive Oil (in Tivoli Village, 463-2759, Store? Actually, it’s more like a shrine. Hundreds of bottles sit in dark, gleaming rows on shelves lining the olive-hued walls. You can sample the goods by dipping bread into an oil and vinegar concoction — or by swigging the stuff straight in a mini-shot of pungent flavor. It’s uncannily reminiscent of a religious rite. Such overtones are not lost on Aziz, who has made more than a few converts to the faith. “When (customers) walk into this specialty store, I can see they are surprised — they are getting crazy, they call this store divine!” says Aziz, who deploys discerning buyers to scour the globe for the best filtered olive oil. But what about tips for the typical shopper? “Look for a darker green and less tart flavor. The more green it is, the less acidity it has.” Age is also key. “The fresher the olive oil, the better. Harvesting takes place overseas, in Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, around November and December. It takes about a month to process everything. So your oil should ideally be no older than about a year.” On the other hand, balsamic vinegar should be well-aged. “The older they are, the thicker they are, and the more delicious.” Indeed, his balsamic vinegars drizzle out lazily like black gold. “Our balsamic comes from Modena, Italy, which is the only place in the world that produces the best grapes for balsamic vinegar. We get these vinegars, which are all 18 years old.” His current fave combo: mango balsamic vinegar and citrus habañero olive oil. You, too, can be a connoisseur with one simple step: Education. “Not too many people are educated about the virginity of olive oil, how to use it,” Aziz says. They’re content to buy supermarket varieties — until they try the good stuff and find olive-infused enlightenment. “That is my satisfaction. When they see the difference, they say, yes, this is the olive oil.” Another convert.

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