Eat, drink, savor: vinegars, oils and sauces underline the San Benito Bene label

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The Hollister store specializes in locally and regionally produced food and gifts.

The “buy local” movement has no greater defender in San Benito County than Kathina Szeto. Ten years ago she founded Bene Hollister Gifts and promotes products made in the county with a wide selection of home decor items, self-care products such as soaps and lotions, children’s books and toys, jewelry and ideas from seasonal gifts.

Located at 615 San Benito Street in Hollister, the store also sells local and Californian food items, including oils and vinegar, Mansmith spices, gourmet popcorn, pasta and bottled sauces. There’s even an old-fashioned candy counter where unusual varieties of Marich chocolates are available in bulk.

“We started out as a place to showcase local artists and artisans,” Szeto said. “Many manufacturers came to introduce themselves and our inventory has grown a lot since our beginnings. We think all of our local products are great because the manufacturers put a lot of hard work and heart into their products.

As the holidays approach, Bene Gifts is a source of last minute ideas or more elaborate presentations.

“For an easy gift we have a wide variety of infused California olive oils as well as some very flavorful balsamics,” she said. “We can also work with customers to create custom baskets that we can. send as a gift if they want something special and different. “

Szeto has a knack for assembling complementary products in new and unusual ways. During our tasting the first thing she served was lemon olive oil mixed with mango coconut balsamic vinegar and served over ice cream.

The flavors were incredibly amazing and the idea of ​​blending different infused oils and vinegars opens up a whole new repertoire of tastes just begging to be used in the kitchen. Wild strawberry vinegar with basil olive oil would be a great salad combination. White raspberry vinegar with lime olive oil would look amazing on steamed fish. Once you start making combinations, it’s hard to stop and each one conjures up interesting uses.

Szeto has created a line of San Benito Bene food products, sourcing statewide but focusing on local tastes. There are infused balsamic vinegars, infused extra virgin olive oils, stew and barbecue sauces, and more.

The “Bene” in the name is a throwback to the store’s original name, San Benito Bene, and a nod to “beneficial”, as it is Szeto’s desire to focus on organic products and sustainable.

“When we meet designers who want us to sell their work,” she said, “we are discussing their products and how things can work for both of us. We are always interested in certified organic foods. and in our tastings we try to include and promote local products.

Szeto’s retention of his inventory and his pride in what San Benito County has to offer has paid off in returning customers and increasing business.

“I am so grateful to our customers,” she said. “They teach me about our rich equestrian, agricultural and breeding history. I love being able to share the stories of our talented artisans and their creations.

The store is normally open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but will also open on Sunday from November 28. Items can also be ordered from the store’s website.

Bene Gifts Hollister Foods

Bene Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce (12 oz, $ 15) There is a distinct authenticity in this rich and thick Indian sauce, with chopped onion and tomato puree enhanced with turmeric, garam masala, ginger and garlic. As you would expect from the kitchen, there is a bit of heat in this sauce, but not enough to be beyond the reach of most people. While it’s intended as a 10-minute simmer sauce for chicken, it can be reheated and poured over green beans or roasted potatoes, mixed with stuffing, or even used as a condiment on a sandwich. turkey and croissant.

Bene Korean barbecue sauce (12 oz, $ 15) Similar to a teriyaki sauce, this sweet barbecue sauce has hints of Asian pear fruit and a medium spicy touch of chillies and black pepper. It has a wide and deep flavor with soy sauce and ginger in the front and center. A little of this goes a long way, so I wouldn’t use it for a marinade. But it would work well as a basting sauce or drizzled over any kind of meat or greens – Brussels sprouts come to mind.

Bene Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (8.5 oz, $ 15) The lemon comes out strongly, with a slightly bitter tone of lemon zest on the finish that complements the slight burn of the oil. Lemon oils, for me, can dominate a dish and I would save that for a dressing or a mix with a lighter, sweeter vinegar, like Szeto did with mango and coconut vinegar.

Bene Basil Olive Oil (8.5 oz, $ 15) Basil olive oil is one of my cooking staples because of its remarkable versatility. It tastes great – the pure, almost sweet, flavor of basil comes out strongly and it tastes like eating a basil leaf. There is a bit of burn at the end but otherwise it’s smooth and balanced. One of my favorite things to do with basil olive oil is to use it to sauté some garlic, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and toss it with pasta to which it can hang on like radiators. It is also my essential oil to use in dips.

Wild Grove Mango Coconut Balsamic Vinegar (8.5 oz, $ 16.65) This vinegar was the surprise of the tasting. Mango and coconut mingle without one dominating the other. The acidity of the mango and vinegar is softened by a firm coconut base, one flavor overlapping the other. I think it will pair well with a wide variety of foods: drizzled with Katsu chicken, used in place of malt vinegar on fish and chips, served with cheesecake, or as a dip for egg rolls.

Bene White Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar (8.5 oz, $ 15) The acidity of the vinegar pairs with the acidity of the raspberries for another treat and another bold flavor. Like coconut mango, the experience of trying this vinegar lets you think about ways to add it to food. Szeto suggested pouring it into sparkling water or yogurt. I could see it as an ingredient in drinks mixed with maybe tequila as a brilliant refreshment.

Bene wild strawberry balsamic vinegar (8.5 oz, $ 15) The abundant taste of this vinegar brought back memories of the strawberry jams my grandmother made. The flavor is more of a strawberry reduction than the strawberry puree, so the tone is a bit darker and less sweet. I think it’s a must-have for baked desserts like cakes or cookies and would add spring freshness to salads. Szeto had me try on plain Greek yogurt, which worked well – any fruit vinegar would work well that way.

Marich Dark Chocolate Ginger (5 oz, $ 6.50) One of the signs of my rapid decline into adulthood is a growing preference for darker spices and flavors over sugar and sweetness. It was my favorite chocolate, the bitter dark chocolate giving way to the crisp heat of the ginger. Not a candy to eat compulsively, but a telling treat.

Marich Peppermint Caramel Popcorn ($ 5.50 CAD for 5 oz) The caramel popcorn kernels are dipped in dark chocolate and then coated in white chocolate with peppermint. And if that doesn’t intrigue your sweet tooth, nothing will. They are bigger than other chocolates and are worth two or three bites. They have a good crunch and a lively holiday flavor.

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