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The Land of Oil and Honey

oil and honeyWho knew one could achieve a higher education in those basic yet exalted substances, honey and olive oil, in the spiffy heart of Rhinebeck? Housed in the old hardware store building, Bumble and Hive on East Market Street is a two-year-old general store of sorts, filled with more than 50 varietals of honey, accessories, children’s clothing, antiques, jewelry, and hard-to-find cosmetics. Around the corner, the equally new Pure Mountain Olive Oil offers dozens of varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. Each hyper-focused shop has highly trained staff dispensing an academic knowledge of their product.

Bumble and Hive’s owner, Holly Haal, was drawn to the Rhinebeck location. “It seemed like a really good choice. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly culture here. There’s so much foot traffic and the merchants work really well together.” Rhinebeck resident and Pure Mountain Olive Oil co-owner, Zak Cassady-Dorion felt the same.

oil and honeyHaal is a vat of knowledge about honey, bees, and their plight, but she wasn’t always on the honey wagon: she endured the corporate grind for many years, and knew she wasn’t being true to herself. “I’ve always been an artist. I went to Rhode Island School of Design. I took a smart, grown-up, semi soul-crushing nine to five job because that’s what you do,” but she always wanted to do something more creative. “I decided life was too short to be locked into something that wasn’t fulfilling for me.”

She first opened shop with children’s cloths and tchotchkes, including honey, but saw that the latter was selling faster than anything else. “I really stumbled into the honey thing. I listened when it started flying off the shelves. So the shop morphed into this,” she says referring to her 1,000 square foot retail space.

Bumble and Hive source their honey from far and wide, like Catskill Provisions ($12 per bottle) from Long Eddy, NY, made by a former fashion magazine editor turned beekeeper, to Manuka Honey from New Zealand ($39.95 per bottle), which is said to have medicinal purposes. Haal’s right hand and secret weapon is Christopher Richards, a Bard student and a rock star on all things sweet and golden. “It doesn’t spoil; archaeologists have found edible honey in ancient Egyptians’ tombs,” he says. “It has an antiseptic quality and was recommended on the battlefield to heal wounds and burns. It also has antioxidant properties.” The store also boasts a honey bar, where almost every brand can be sampled.

Zak and CharlieTucked across the way is another small specialty-foods gem, Pure Mountain Olive Oil, started by cousins Zak Cassady-Dorion and Charlie Ruehr (left), who are infomercial-crazy about their oleaginous wares. They love everything about it: how it’s produced, the traditions behind it, the delicate process of pressing the olives, even the fact that an olive is actually a fruit. Rhinebeck employee Holly Condina says of the men, “They are like fine-wine zealots, but with olive oil. They just know everything there is to know about it. It’s remarkable.” At Pure Mountain, the oil is tasted in a similar fashion to wine. Cassady-Dorion and Ruehr instruct clients to “swirl it in a cup, warm it a bit with your hands to open up the flavor, and smell it. Seventy percent of taste is really based on smell. Let it roll around in your mouth and cover all of the areas of your tongue.”

oil and honeyThe oils are housed in Italian-made “fustis,” large metal containers — specifically made for the substance — that line the Tuscan orange colored walls. Pure Mountain staff are there, sommelier-style, to guide and educate customers on the product’s health benefits. (In Ancient Greece, it was applied to the skin and hair after bathing to protect from the elements. Athletes slathered their bodies in it and dusted them with sand to protect their skin from the sun and regulate body temperature. Also, its polyphenols are natural anti-oxidants that may prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and slow the effects of aging.)

Pure Mountain Olive Oil sources their product and soon hopes to have a more direct hand in the process. Currently, there are more than 30 varieties, some extra virgin, some infused, like their very popular garlic and mushroom, blood orange, and rosemary olive oil ($17.95 & up). They import from the usual places: Italy, Spain, Greece, and California but also from places one wouldn’t expect like Chile, Turkey, and Morocco.

The shop’s team works on different blends, but there are recipes and olive oil facts all over the walls. Cult flavors disappear off their shelves, like “butter olive oil” and seasonal “pumpkin,” but there will always be a new infusion on hand to try.  —Dale Stewart

Bumble and Hive
47 East Market Street
Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 876-2625

Pure Mountain Olive Oil
23 E Market Street
Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 876-4645

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Posted by Dale Stewart on 04/02/13 at 10:28 AM • Permalink