Global Gardens is one of those food businesses suffering from an unfortunate name. Not Jay Leno Late Night worthy, but more a product of unnecessary self-inflicted assumptions. That corporate-sounding title evokes visions of a Pier 1 Imports empire rather than the small, family-run business in nearby Los Olivos that it is. Their website homepage hardly helps, with descriptions like "Global Gardens is the brand name for the only complete specialty food company in Santa Barbara, CA wine country" and "[we] make over 50-homemade food items." Sounds about as homemade as those Whole Foods salad bar offerings.
But this really is a small family operation run by founder Theo Stephan, with less than 10 employees -- many of those part-timers who bottle their darn good oils and vinegars by hand.
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Stephan owns around 22 acres of olive groves and supplements her oils with olives from other farms. After school, her two daughters also help out with crushing olives or snapping website photos. These are the sort of sub rosa cooking secrets you overhear at the local coffee shop, or in our case, via a certain fiery jam maker -- Laura Ann Masura -- with a compulsion for anything pushing the sweet-tart boundaries. ("Have you tried the vinegars from Global Gardens? You must.")
We recommend sticking to the great olive oils and vinegars, both very good, as those "over 50-homemade food items" contain an unsettling variety of glazes, sauces and snacks. The sort of things you buy at their country store and then sit on your pantry shelf until the expiration date. We will refrain from comment on the imported pashminas and pillows, as we believe sticking to the simple things, even globally, is always best.
Take that black currant champagne vinegar, aptly described on the website as almost drinkable straight. That's not necessarily a desirable quality in vinegar, as eye-opening tang is the entire point. But here, that sweetness works fantastically well with a simple a dash of olive oil when drizzled over, say, a roasted beet and goat cheese salad.
Better yet, in a cocktail. With its fruit-sweetened edge, we like to think of this vinegar as ready made semi-shrub. Though it has a lot more tang, nor the alcohol content of the macerated fruit version, it's a close enough approximation to the classic ingredient to amp up gin cocktails. Reduce the vinegar by half (to temper the bite) and let it cool, then stir a teaspoon of your black currant syrup into a gin and tonic. Add an orange twist, and suddenly you've got a cocktail worthy of a fancy (fantasy?) mixology sort of name. Christen this cocktail as you please, but might we politely suggest steering clear of any global references?