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Today is March 30, 2020

J. Olive fine oils and balsamics

A family’s journey towards heart health leads to a brand of fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars that are now benefitting the wellbeing of Mississippians statewide.

By Sandra M. Buckley

J. Olive fine oils and balsamics

Wanting to know what is in the food we consume, where it comes from and its nutritional value is natural. In culinary circles, olive oils and balsamic vinegars are the topic of such queries — and the consensus is undisputable: not all are equal. It is only those crafted to meet the highest standards of authenticity and purity that deliver the highest possible health benefits, the most fragrant aromas and elevated taste.

For one Mississippi family, the quest to discover and understand the health benefits, origins and preparation methods of olive oils and balsamic vinegars became a personal mission that stemmed from a health scare in 1992.

In turn, this family’s quest has subsequently expanded the availability, selection and knowledge of gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars for numerous Mississippians — thanks to the James family, which consists of Alan and Tom James of Canton and their two sons and daughters-in-law, Tommy and Manda and Lee and Debbie, all of Madison. 

“My dad suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery,” Lee recalled of the moment nearly 28 years ago that would forever change their family and the course of their lives — though, ultimately for the better.

At that time, Tom’s cardiologist strongly encouraged the family to follow a more heart-healthy diet. This, Lee said, included consumption of more olive oil through salads and cooking. With that advice, the entire family rallied in support and started buying and cooking with olives oils from their local grocery stores.

“Then, once my brothers and I left for college, my parents had an empty nest and began traveling outside the country,” Lee said. “They were exposed to fresh olive oil and began bringing it back from their trips abroad. At that point, we were all hooked.”

This newfound richness of flavor and overall quality of the products their parents brought back far exceeded that of what they had been buying locally. “We just thought that this was how all olive oil tasted,” Lee said. “Boy, were we wrong!”

These experiences are what prompted the James family to open their own specialty olive oil store so that other
Mississippians could also enjoy, have access to and learn more about them. “And J. Olive Co. was born,” Lee shared, adding that the ‘J.’ represents the James family name.

Their flagship J. Olive Co. store was launched in Ridgeland in August 2014. Since that time, the brand has expanded into two more physical locations, in Hattiesburg and Oxford, and a convenient website.


Olive Oil

“All of our oils are 100 percent natural, non-GMO and gluten-free,” Lee noted. “It is literally fresh olive juice. Other oils cannot make that claim.”

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or EVOO, describes the pure oil produced from first press of an olive. It is the result of harvesting fresh green olives, crushing within 2 to 4 hours of harvest and maintaining an optimal temperature of 69
degrees or less at crush. These factors create an olive oil with exceptional freshness and quality, which leads to improved health benefits. Once anything is added to an EVOO, even simply infusing it with natural herbs or fruit, it is no longer labeled EVOO.

As J. Olive Co. procures the freshest olive oils from across the globe, this means that harvest timing of olives is crucial. “We call it chasing the crush,” he said, “because, in olive oil, freshness trumps everything.” The family imports its pristine olive oils from countries in the Northern Hemisphere, such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and the state of California, as well as Southern Hemisphere regions of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Peru and South Africa.

The company’s high standards for EVOO surpass those set by the International Olive Oil Council and FDA. “Grocery stores will often carry ‘pure olive oil’ or ‘fresh olive oil’ — these are just ways of branding a substandard olive oil that did not even meet the lax standards to be considered an Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” Lee explained. “Often, they have been found to be blended with sunflower or another type of oil.”

A popular product with J. Olive Co. customers is fused and infused olive oils, which are naturally flavored and include such options as basil, blood orange, butter, chipotle, garlic, lemon, rosemary and Tuscan herb, where the oils are flavored during the crush stage. “For example,” he shared, “lemons are thrown in with the olives at the crush to make the fused lemon olive oil.”

One question J. Olive Co. staff is often asked is if olive oil can be used as a substitute for butter in cooking or baking. “Absolutely,” Lee confirmed. “Our butter flavored olive oil allows you to get the taste of butter on everything, from oatmeal at breakfast to spritzed over popcorn, without the guilt of using butter.”

J. Olive Co. EVOO provides harvest dates on all bottles, as consumption is recommended within one year of that date.



Health benefits unique to high-quality EVOO are numerous. First, it is high in monounsaturated fat, which is considered a good fat, and is noted to improve blood sugar levels, lower belly fat and potentially prevent cognitive decline often associated with aging and Alzheimer’s. It also is low in saturated fat, contains vitamin E, increases calcium absorption to promote healthy bones, has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve arthritis pain and boosts the immune system.

“Perhaps the most significant health benefit of a quality EVOO, such that is found at J. Olive Co., is the presence of a significant polyphenol level in the oils,” Lee said. “Polyphenols work as antioxidants to protect the cells in our bodies from damage from cancer-causing free radicals. A diet high in polyphenols has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease by decreasing certain inflammatory factors, reducing the risk of blood clotting, improving the lining of arteries, increasing blood flow and circulation and decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”


Balsamic Vinegars

“Just like there are white and red wines, you can have white and dark balsamic vinegars,” Lee explained. “The taste of our white balsamics is fruitier and less bodied than our more traditional dark balsamics. White and dark balsamics are both great over salad, fruit and as marinades. From Modena, Italy, our balsamic vinegars are a low calorie and healthy way to add great flavor to your foods.” 

Among the collection of taste bud-pleasing white balsamic vinegars offered at J. Olive Co. are flavors such as apricot, coconut, grapefruit, honey ginger, jalapeno and peach. Darks range in depths of flavors from black currant, dark chocolate, fig and pomegranate to strawberry, vanilla and wild blueberry.

While many balsamics on the market have hidden ingredients, such as added sweeteners, color or thickeners, J. Olive Co. ensures theirs are 100 percent natural, gluten-free, contain no added sugar and are non-GMO. And as a bonus, they have no expiration date.

The stringent production process adhered to by J. Olive Co. for balsamic vinegar ensures the Italian grapes are harvested, crushed and cooked in copper kettles within the region of Modena. This ancient procedure of using copper kettles is central to caramelizing the grape and is considered a rare step in these days of quick, mass production. Then, the liquid is aged in wooden barrels for up to 18 years.


Popular Pairings

According to James, good EVOO and traditional balsamic is a staple that everyone should have in their home. The James family and J. Olive Co. staff enjoy talking with curious customers who are learning about the expansive uses of these products in the kitchen. “Our managers and employees are a great help,” Lee added, “and we couldn’t do everything without them.”

A few favorite “go-to” recommendations for customers to try are J. Olive Co.’s Tuscan Herb Infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon with chicken, fish or on a salad. Lemon Fused Olive Oil and Cranberry Pear Balsamic are also fantastic on chicken, fish, roasted vegetables or a salad. The Butter Olive Oil and Dark Chocolate Balsamic is a crowd-pleaser on steak. Basil Infused Olive Oil and Strawberry Balsamic over a spinach salad with feta cheese, nuts and strawberries ranks high too.


J. Olive Co.

At J. Olive Co., all olive oils and balsamic vinegars are hand-poured onsite into dark bottles, which should be stored in a cool, dark space, such as a kitchen cabinet or pantry. This ensures that light or UV rays do not taint the natural health benefits of the product. Plus, empty and clean J. Olive Co. bottles can be used for refills in-house, at a $1 discount, on their 200, 375 and 750-millimeter bottles.

While the main focus of J. Olive Co. remains olive oil and balsamic vinegar, boutique gifts such as candles and home décor are also available. “We carry products made from olive wood and also soaps and lotions made from olive oil,” Lee noted. “Other offerings include seasonings and white truffle oil and black truffle sea salt used in cooking.” The website is an additional emporium of products, recipes, pairing suggestions and more. Many customers call in or order online, as the business ships its products all across Mississippi and the country.

“We have had such a good time interacting with our customers and growing closer as a family,” Lee shared. “Our employees have become part of the family as well. It has been such a rewarding experience. It is truly a passion for the James family.”

Today, J. Olive Co. is doing more than starting a conversation about heart health, it is bringing delicious, nutritious and wholesome olive oils and balsamic vinegars to kitchens across Mississippi — making it easy to use in our favorite recipes and establish a healthy habit in our daily life.

“One of our favorite things is to talk to our customers that come in and find out how they are using our products,” Lee added. “People love to talk about food, and so do we.”


141 Township Ave., Suite 109  /  601-850-3860

265 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite J  /  662-380-5013

6555 US Highway 98 West, Suite 22A  /  601-336-7702

Store Hours: Monday — Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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