Entering Loidé Oils and Vinegars means walking into a wide variety of options.
Gleaming silver containers line the shelves, one after the other with identification cards that provide names of what is inside, ingredients, what they can be used in or on and what they can be paired with.
There is Black Current Balsamic, “naturally flavored with the floral, sweet, taste of black current in this rich unique balsamic condimento” that can be used on yogurt, cheese, ice cream and meat marinade, pairing well with items like Persian lime and butter. Or a Wild Blueberry Balsamic that has “an incredibly strong flavor and will add a touch of brightness to anything you add it to!” for use with pancakes, blue/feta cheese, garden salad and barbecue sauce. Or maybe a Key Lime Balsamic to add to cocktails, salsa, seafood or cheesecake. There are 70 different flavors.
For business owner Lois Hensel — Loidé is Italian for Lois — there is no right or wrong way to pair the olive oils she carries with the balsamics. Half the fun comes in trying new combinations and new flavors. She lists combinations on each of the containers so people don’t have to search and those in a hurry can quickly find a good match.
“The whole concept is to offer clean eating and to provide the best quality products,” Hensel said. “So with the oils and vinegars, the olive oils, we are ultra premium certified. So the standards for our products are above any in the world. And I switch hemispheres every six months, so that I'm bringing in the freshest oil and then our balsamics are authentic. And I stress authentic, because you can go buy a balsamic vinegar in the store. And there's other oil and vinegar stores out there that sell it, but if it has a best buy date or a use by date on it, it's not authentic. The balsamics we have are imported from Modena, Italy. They will never go bad. The longer they age, the more delicious they become.”
To help people use the products to their full potential, the store has information on how to incorporate extra virgin olive oil into the daily diet for use on mashed potatoes or cauliflower, pasta, toast or muffins, or popcorn — as a butter olive oil substitute for liquid butter.
Extra virgin olive oil can be used to pan fry meat, fish, eggs or be brushed onto food on the grill as a marinade to help seal in juices and create a crispy exterior. The oil can be used for roasting, browning, sauteing, baking and to make fresh hummus or pesto. It can replace mayonnaise. Combined with balsamic vinegar, it can be used for bread dipping, salad dressings and meat marinades, even on fruit, appetizers and desserts.
While the oils and vinegars go well for salad dressings, there are also options for people who prefer a creamy dressing. Hensel recommends mixing the vinegar with a heavy whipping cream, sour cream or yogurt for the creamy dressing without all the other additives.
For Hensel, balsamic has multiple uses and benefits from flavoring water, as a drizzle on anything from plain yogurt to cheese and pancakes, for smoothies and cucumber slices, tomatoes, pepper, fruit and ice cream. On her handouts, Hensel notes she’s used blueberry balsamic, Cara Cara Orange Vanilla balsamic and maple balsamic on pancakes.
Hensel points to the popular Mediterranean eating style or diet, often recommended by health care providers for weight loss, and the consumption of 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for health benefits.
The business is open in what was once the Bead Box in downtown Brainerd by Menk’s Jewelers on Laurel Street. Since opening a few months ago, Hensel said they’ve had people walk in to see what the store is about. That people in the Brainerd and Baxter area weren’t as familiar with her stores, one of which has been open in Nisswa since 2013, came as a bit of a revelation.
Hensel was surprised at how many people in the Brainerd and Baxter areas don’t travel to Nisswa to shop given all the specialty stores and unique offerings available after a 20-minute drive north. For residents who have short windows to grab a gift or something for their own use, after juggling jobs, activities and children, the new location in downtown Brainerd may mean discovering Loidé Oils and Vinegars for the first time. Or they may be building on an experience after seeing the Nisswa store on a shopping excursion but find it more convenient closer to home.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what this area is going to do,” Hensel said during an interview in her Brainerd store.
One side of the vibrantly colored store has space devoted to high-end appliances, an addition Hensel says will give the area a new shopping option without the need to drive long distances, such as the Twin Cities, to see the items, order what they want and even experience what the appliances can offer. Hensel plans to include cooking demonstrations and classes that will incorporate both sides of her business, the oils and vinegars and the high-end kitchen appliances. In Bemidji, Hensel did community education cooking classes. She’s also done Olive Oil 101 classes.
In the appliance area, they’ll offer different styles of microwaves, double ovens, single ovens, single refrigerator, single freezer, combination fridge/freezer, variations of cooktops and a full range. The main feature will be a Viking 7 series with six burners and a griddle and the oven. They’ll also have beverage centers.
Hensel expects the appliances to appeal to anyone that wants a good, proven quality item, those remodeling or building homes. One potential customer was looking at including three kitchens in the home. The chef or the home chef or the budding chef may all be on the list.
Hensel also expanded her product line to include things that work well with her oils and vinegars, such as quality seasonings and fresh homemade pasta. The items in the store don’t have preservatives, are clean eating and gluten free items. The olives are aged, not heat processed, which Hensel said means they have lower sodium and stay nice and firm. She said a lot of people are talking about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar but for many that might not be the most pleasant to consume, but the same benefits come from an authentic balsamic. Hensel said to dispel misinformation about olive oil and whether it can be used in high heat safely for cooking that quality olive oil has a high smoke point. She uses it for roasting at 450 degrees.
Hensel looks for products with multiple purposes — like a tomato pesto that can be used as a dip and on chicken and other dishes. The store also features gift items.
Hensel’s store is the latest example of the Destination Downtown Business Challenge bringing a new business to Brainerd. Hensel was one of three finalists in the 2019 contest.
“I think the No. 1 priority for us is the customer service, and helping people to sample the product so that they know that they like it before they ever leave the door,” Hensel said. “And then we give them a multitude of ideas on how to use it. Most people walking in the door will either say salads, or bread dipping, some of the meat marinades. Most do not think of putting balsamic vinegar in their water or using it on plain yogurt, using it in their vegetables.”
Customers are able to taste-test the vinegars and oils. Hensel said new customers can be confused about the ability to drink the sample.
“It’s fresh,” she said. The products are all natural with no sugar added to the balsamics. Hensel said it’s pleasing to see the look of surprise when the result is not what people expected as they say it tastes so good.
“We've actually had several people going, ‘Oh, I don't like vinegar.’ And then they taste it. And they're like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn't know that this could be this.’ So it's very rewarding.”