Crescendo opened just two weeks ago in the heart of the Distillery District, and without any signage, is definitely a curious addition. The oak barrels and wooden jugs mounted on one wall would, at first glance, be indicative of fine wines or whiskies, but they actually house a variety of oils and vinegars.
The Crescendo brand is German by origin, but brothers John and Deni Crescenzi own the rights to it in Canada, and have undertaken the daunting task of unveiling the two first Canadian outposts simultaneously--one in Mount Pleasant, and this one.
The shop's design recalls rustic farmhouses, with its wooden furniture, scattered baskets, and the pieces of twine tied around the neck of oil bottles. Everything in the store is organic and preservative-free, and their range of nut oils is made specifically for them in the south of France.
The oils are a revelation. Most of them, particularly the nut oils, are composed entirely of the pressed nut as opposed to using flavoring agents. Upon entry, I'm immediately given a spoonful of their hazelnut oil--which tastes exactly like Nutella--then paired with the fig-creme vinegar for a touch of sweet acidity.
"What surprises people is the integrity and intensity of the flavour," Deni tells me, which can be attributed to the freshness of the oils. While other oil producers may press, package, and store in a warehouse for so long that the resulting product arrives virtually dead on your plate, Crescendo's oils are pressed and can arrive in the shop within a week.
The oils are stored and dispensed through a traditional European method, with vacuum-sealed barrels to prevent oxidization. Since the shop opened, they've already almost exhausted their entire supply, and some of the more popular flavours have already been replenished several times. In short, "it's not sitting in a bottle."
Oils and vinegars are priced by the 100ml bottle (between $6.95, and $28.95 for the pistachio oil), which is marked with a "best before" date, and can be washed out, returned, and re-used. There are unlimited flavour combinations. You can pair the tartness of the Calamansi balsamic ($4.95) with a few drops of avocado oil or olive oil, and their gift sets in particular lend themselves to this kind of customization.
Their wellness oils are held to the same standard of purity and freshness, including evening primrose, flaxseed, cedar nut, and rosehip oil. The only oil they don't press themselves is the argan oil--beauty junkies will recognize this as the de rigeur ingredient in hair and skincare--which they obtain directly from a women's cooperative in Morocco.
What's most refreshing about the Crescendo set-up is its aversion to stinginess. They not only permit, but encourage, tasting of all the store's items. Bread (from Brick St. Bakery) and dips are available in the center of the shop, but I recommend tasting the oils on their own to truly appreciate the quality. The honey creme vinegar ($15.95), in particular, should be paired with everything. Ever.
In case it's not yet clear, they're do much more than olive oil, but they do have four unflavoured olive oils--two from Italy, one from Spain, and one from Greece--and several classic, wine-based balsamic vinegars from Italy. Their own line of vinegars is made in southern Germany, and depending on the flavour, they're fermented in whiskey barrels between 2 and 12 years. You'll find no trace of caramel or added colour here, just the pure fruit, in an unusual selection of flavours such as fig-chili, pomegranate, lychee, quince, grape-ginger, and even a lush date vinegar.
Crescendo is not done growing. Arriving soon will be a vinegar bar--apparently popular in Japan--which will make non-alcoholic drinks (although alcoholic offerings later in the future are not off the table) using a small hit of vinegar. They'll also be launching a line of "pure oil essence" skincare, combining a base cream designed specifically for the company, and a fresh oil that corresponds to your particular needs, such as argan, apricot kernel, or cold-pressed grapeseed oils.
In the shadow of all this are the spices. No, this is not a comprehensive wall of spices, and yes, it's given second billing, but the most remarkable aspect of the 'wall' are its unique pre-combined spice blends of up to 25 spices. The Argentina barbecue combines ancho chili, cumin, mustard seed, and tarragon for a signature smokiness, while the game mix adds a touch of heat with pimento, juniper berry, coriander, and paprika.
You'll also find vanilla pods, flavoured sea salts (the basil citrus sounds particularly inviting), and Tasmanian peppercorns--all priced between $0.85 and $8.95/10g. In keeping with the theme of freshness, they also offer grinders, in which you can mix and match from their range of peppercorns.
Deni tells me they want to "re-define the way you think about your food." To even whisper using any of these as cooking oils is blasphemy--they're intended purely for finishing touches. You can reap all the health benefits by sprinkling on salad, breads, and cheeses. "Because of the purity, you're getting all the good stuff," Deni says, then adds, "and the flavour."