Passionate about olive oil

Suzanne Capizzano pours a bottle of olive oil for a customer at Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at the store on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Suzanne Capizzano pours a bottle of olive oil for a customer at Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at the store on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Stonington — Stephen Capizzano has an emotional attachment to olive oil.

Growing up in Westerly he remembers his late father, Angelo, cutting the innards out of cherry peppers, blanching them, then stuffing them with cheese and packing them in jars with olive oil.

“Everything began with olive oil, whether it was a meal or canning,” says Capizzano, co-owner with wife Suzanne of Capizzano Olive Oils & Vinegars in Pawcatuck, on the doorstep of Westerly.

“Good olive oil was just a staple in our home; we used it for everything,” he says. Those memories were triggered about a decade ago, when a friend gave the Capizzanos a bottle of quality, extra virgin olive oil. They were living in New Hampshire at the time and they savored the gift and used it as an impetus to change careers.

“It was fresh and robust and it had a nice nose note, and it just reminded me of that early foundation,” says Stephen Capizzano.

They were both working in the health care field, he as an administrator and she as a health care educator, but premium olive oil soon became their passion.

Stephen set out to learn everything he could about olive oil, tracking down the supplier of the bottle they had been given and reading books. Eventually, both of them gained certifications from the University of California Davis Olive Center.

The Capizzanos soon came to realize a lot of bogus extra virgin olive oils are sold — 69 percent, Stephen Capizano quotes the UC Davis olive oil experts as saying. Inferior or mislabeled olive oils have been cut with less expensive oils such as sunflower or canola, and in some cases, colored, perfumed or flavored. Extra virgin olive oil is made by simply crushing the olives and extracting the juice.

They decided they wanted to open a store providing high-quality olive oils and accompanying balsamic vinegars, and to educate customers about selecting the right olive oils and the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

They left health care and have been in business four years on Coggswell Street where they have established a loyal following of customers.

On a recent weekday, Cheree DiBiccari of Westerly and Somers, N.Y., stopped in to buy her favorite oils. A holistic health nutritionist, she said olive oil changed her health for the better, aiding her with a cancer diagnosis, weight loss, and she believes warding off dementia, diabetes and heart problems.

She consumes about 12 tablespoons of high polyphenol olive oil daily — polyphenols are a class of antioxidants — using it in smoothies, on eggs, in salads, or whatever else she eats or drinks.

“The higher the polyphenols, the higher the healing factor,” she said.

Her daughter uses olive oil to treat eczema, says DiBicarri, prompting Suzanne Capizzano to explain how she’s helped adolescents suffering from acne learn how olive oil can improve their skin.

“What we try to do here is be an educational resource to help people create flavor and healthy choices,” says Suzanne Capizzano.

The olive oils are all in stainless steel vats, and bottles are individually filled when a customer makes their choice. Every vat has a card attached with all the important information, explaining the intensity of the oil, the crush date of the olives, where they were grown, and the polyphenol and free fatty acid counts.

But the Capizzanos want customers to taste and be educated before they make their selection. They’ll ask newcomers, “Do you have time?” Time, they explain, for a buyer to hear what they should know and look for before purchasing olive oil.

If the answer is yes, they pull the lever on a vat and put a sip of olive oil in a miniature paper cup. Suzanne demonstrates, holding the cup in the palm of her hand and covering it with her other hand to warm the contents. Then she puts her nose beneath her upper hand and sniffs, then gives the cup a gentle swish before slurping down the olive oil. Then she inhales in a gulp of air.

The slurping, she explains, is called “stirpagio” and that final big breath the “olive sting.” The sting is that peppery sensation a fine olive oil leaves on the back of your throat.

The Capizzanos guide customers through the tasting and offer suggestions for ways to use the oils and the best accompanying balsamic vinegars.

The oils they sell are tested by the most credentialed olive oil lab in the world and have been traced from tree to bottle including country of origin, crush date and chemical analysis measured at the crush. Their oils are made from olives harvested from groves in Spain, Portugal, Italy and California to Australia, South Africa, Peru, Uruguay and Chile.

Every olive has its own profile, Suzanne explains, saying, “Just like people have different personality characteristics, olives do too.”

The Capizzanos are walking olive oil encyclopedias.

“We want to show people that you can just take a few simple ingredients like fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and pour some olive oil on it for a flavor that will wow you,” she says.

A superior olive oil will have “a green, grassy, herbaceous, alive scent to it,” Suzanne says, adding that she looks for “a pungency, a strong, robust flavor.”

Curious customers are welcome at Capizzano’s, where the husband and wife owners easily engage with whoever walks through the door.

“We have a passion,” Suzanne says. “We really are passionate about this.”

Husband and wife Stephen and Suzanne Capizzano toast with bottles of olive oil and vinegar on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at their store Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Husband and wife Stephen and Suzanne Capizzano toast with bottles of olive oil and vinegar on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at their store Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars is located on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars is located on Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Olives for sale at Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Olives for sale at Capizzano's Olive Oils & Vinegars. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Business Snapshot

Business: Capizzano Olive Oils & Vinegars

What: A selection of quality extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, as well as olives, pastas, tomato sauce, and olive oil skin-care products.

Location: 5 Coggswell St., Pawcatuck

Owners: Stephen and Suzanne Capizzano

More information: www.CapizzanoCo.com or (860) 495-2187

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