Spain-inspired Conn. man opens gourmet olive oil dispensary

If you never thought of olive oil as a gourmet delicacy, a trip to Sabor 44 Olive Oil Tap Room and Gallery will have you delighted with just how wrong you are.

Owner and operator Luis Valentin, 47, a resident of Somers, opened his shop at 44 Main St. last May.

“Basically, it’s a combination of the passions that I have for good food and good art,” he said.

The shop’s name, which means “flavor” in Spanish, alludes not only to the flavors of food but to the varied flavors of art and style as well, Valentin said.

Valentin’s shop focuses on artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Some are pure and unaltered, and others have been infused with different elements to deliver a delightful burst of flavor, from blood orange to jalapeno– and even dark chocolate –to the unsuspecting palate.

The oils and vinegars are dispensed and sold directly from taps set up around the shop. Valentin offers a selection of 7-ounce glass bottles that can be filled with a customer’s choice of oil or vinegar for about $12 apiece. On each return trip, the price to refill the reusable bottle is around $9.

The products are also priced per ounce, so customers can bring their own food-safe vessels to fill, Valentin says.

Though these prices are the average cost of Valentin’s oils and vinegars, he has some that are more and less costly for different reasons. His truffle olive oil, for example, is about twice as expensive due to the high cost of truffles. Valentin sells almond and avocado oils as well, which are about half as expensive as the average bottle and are very popular due to their touted health benefits.

The shop also offers organic herbs, spices and salts from around the world, olive tapenades, cheeses, artisan pastas, and chocolates as well as some non-edibles like locally made wooden cutting boards, glassware, and pottery.

“My motto is “taste before you buy,” said Valentin, who offers unlimited tastes of his oils, vinegars, and even the cheeses he offers.

“If you don’t know what it tastes like, how will you know what you want?” he reasons.

He invites customers to make an experience of tasting his products, which dispense from taps set up around the shop. Purchased product is dispensed right from the tap into a bottle to take home and enjoy.

“Everything that I carry is extra virgin, and they all come from different parts of the world,” he said of his olive oils. “We have things from Peru, California, Italy, Spain, Morocco. I just got back from Turkey to get some connections so I can start carrying Turkish olive oil.”

Valentin first discovered his passion for all things olive during a trip to Spain. He had originally planned to take the trip in the summer after he graduated from college.

“I ended up going in November because it was cheaper. I didn’t know it was harvest time,” he said.

Valentin brought along camera equipment and planned to spend much of the trip taking pictures. The trip took an unexpected turn when he saw an olive harvest in progress.

“I ran into some people who were harvesting in a grove and I said, ‘I’ve got to check this out.’ Before I knew it, I had put my camera equipment away,” he said. “I worked with them for my whole vacation.”

Following the trip, Valentin spent about seven years documenting the production, from olive harvest to oil, through photography.

“I completely fell in love with the process,” he said. “I fell in love with the simplicity. People who work in the groves are so happy.”

Valentin is currently teaching himself how to grow olive trees. “My dream is to do a small (grove) just so people can see the process,” he said.

Though he knows the New England weather is not optimal for olive trees, Valentin is determined. “I’ve decided that I’m going to take the challenge and make it happen,” he said.

Valentin plans to put his Somers home on the market this summer and look for a house with some land in Stafford, where he plans to eventually start growing the olive trees.

Why Stafford?

“That’s the question everybody asks me,” he laughed. “There was something about this town that I said, ‘You know, I think this is the place where I want to put my dream together.’”

Valentin found the town to be the perfect place to open up his shop as well as to nurture his other passions for painting, art and photography.

On the second Friday of each month, Valentin participates in Art on Main, an art and music festival organized by The Main Street Business Association in Stafford, of which he is a member.

The festival is filled with local food, music, and art. Each shop unveils a display featuring the work of a local artist, which will remain in the shop all month.

“Everybody gets together, and from 6 to 8 p.m., we party,” Valentin said.

An artist himself, some of Valentin’s paintings and photographs are on display in the front of the shop.

Sabor 44’s display for the month of April features the work of local painter Olof Aspelin, 36, who lives on Main Street about a half mile from the shop.

The train that runs through town influenced Aspelin to paint the series of works on display.

“I’ve always wanted to jump on one, just randomly, and just go,” Aspelin said.

“Olof is an amazing artist,” Valentin said.

Valentin, along with many other Main Street business owners, believe in the town’s potential.

“This used to be one of the first towns that people came to for vacation because of the mineral springs,” he said. “There used to be a lot going on.”

Valentin and others feel that the town has what it takes to make a comeback.

“There’s a lot of history here in town,” he said, “and we’re trying to get it back going.”

Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com.