Americans may think we’re eating a lot of olive oil these days, but Jim Milligan, Fustini’s co-owner, begs to differ: “The U.S. market for olive oil is under-penetrated. Eighty percent of the world’s olive oil is consumed in Europe.” He says Americans have a long way to go to catch up to the average Italian, who consumes twenty-five to thirty liters of the stuff a year. Balsamic vinegar, another revered and, according to Milligan, woefully underutilized condiment of Italy, began to infiltrate the fancier American food networks around the same time as premium olive oil. The vinegar makes up the other half of Milligan’s tasting room.

Milligan does sell a few other products at Fustini’s, which opened in late June in the upstairs space that used to be Elephant Ears (which is now on the east end of the building). The shop has cruets, dishes, baskets, and a handful of other specialty oils and vinegars, but this is a store overwhelmingly devoted to the glories of the olive and the trebbiano grape (the source of balsamic vinegar)–in more flavors than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. Milligan calls the store a “tasting room and bottling facility.” Prepare to spend some time tasting the oils and vinegars, which are housed in silver kegs flanked by little thimble cups for sampling. Most vinegars and oils range from $15 to $18 for a 375-milliliter bottle. When you make your purchase, the sealed bottle–decanted from the very keg you’ve sampled–has a label recently handwritten by Milligan.

Milligan and his wife, Lane, developed a fondness for high-end olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the intensely sweet-tart-syrupy specialty of Modena, Italy, while he was working for 3M. Based in the Twin Cities, he worked in international marketing, and the couple spent a lot of time in Italy. Three years ago Milligan, fifty-seven, took an early retirement, and they opened their first Fustini’s in Traverse City, naming the store after the metal kegs (fustini) that olive oil is shipped in. Kerrytown’s is the fourth Fustini’s–the others are in Petoskey and Holland. Milligan says this store is probably the last: “We’re retired, and we opened these stores in places where we like to spend time. We love Ann Arbor. Lane went to school here. Her daughter went to school here.” And Lane’s sister, Jill Gardner-Bakewell, who lives in Adrian, will be the manager when the Milligans return to their home in Traverse City.

Fustini’s offers nine varietal olive oils from around the world, but Italy and other oil-producing countries are enthusiastically doing whatever it takes to goose consumption of olive oil, and Americans like it flavored. Milligan says the flavors–chipotle, lemon, herbs, porcini mushrooms–are infused at the pressing facility. Dried, pulverized essences are “suspended, so you’ll never see sediment. You get the same flavor at the beginning of the bottle as at the end.”

The balsamic vinegars are even more weirdly flavored–violet, coconut, and chocolate are some of the strangest, though Milligan says the unadulterated traditional eighteen-year-old is the best seller.

Fustini’s, 407 N. Fifth Ave. (Kerrytown), 213-1110. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

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