VOM FASS: A Playland of Oils, Vinegars and Spices

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VOM FASS, the new oil, vinegar and spice store at 2424 Times in Rice Village, is not huge but the well-organized space has a whole lot to offer. To the left is a triangular stack of barrels. To the right are bottles, jars, sets and dispensers of spices and spice blends. In the back right corner stand earthen jars glazed in dark purple.

Within the barrels are thick vinegars: fruit, several types of balsamic and even one made with beer. Some have been aged for years. The oldest balsamic pours slowly in a rivulet as viscous as honey.

The earthen jars conceal olive, nut and seed oils that hail from France, Italy and Greece. Some of the olive oils are infused with other ingredients, like garlic oil and citrus. Garlic oil is handy for sautéing vegetables and searing meats, and the orange-infused one would lend a bit of welcome brightness and pop to a salad.

VOM FASS means "from the cask" and the company, based in Waldberg, Germany, franchises its concept around the world. Houston now has it's own VOM FASS location thanks to Brian and Larita Moorhead, who fell in love with the concept when Brian was looking to move out of a career in business development. It's only the second location in Texas. The first was opened by an entrepreneur in Austin.

There's a chef on-staff and both she and the Moorheads are constantly experimenting with new recipes and uses for the various oils and vinegars. For the dark pumpkin seed oil I took home, they recommended pairing it with the pomegranate vinegar. There are tiny plastic spoons in little containers around the store and the owner carefully added a drop of pumpkin oil to two drops of pomegranate vinegar to one and let me taste the combination. The overall effect was deep, autumnal and intense.

I haven't tried it yet, but I'm sure it will make an incredible salad with local greens, fresh orange slices, dried cranberries and toasted pepitas or walnuts. Over the weekend, I experimented with adding just a dash to the peanut oil I normally use for stovetop popcorn. Indeed, the resulting flavor was deeper, darker and more interesting.

The wide selection of fruit vinegars--fig, apple and pear, among others--are almost too palatable. They're gentler and less acerbic than many others on the market. VOM FASS makes a fruit wine first and then makes the vinegar. If you are trying to avoid added sugar, read the labels on the barrel. Some of the vinegars do have sugar added to curb the tartness and it is listed among the ingredients when this is the case.

As far as the fresh whole and ground spices go, even though VOM FASS' emphasis is on blends, there's a good selection of single spices, too. If you've never smelled fresh coriander before, you're in for a treat. You'll find afterward nothing else will do. A red pepper and herb spice blend is intense enough to make you sneeze if you're not careful.

If you're seeking gifts or stocking stuffers for avid cooks, VOM FASS makes it very easy to run in and pick up something. There are several boxed sets, including some themed packages. The Jamaican package, for example, includes chili oil, mango vinegar and pumpkin seed oil. A recipe for Jerked Pumpkin Soup is included and takes some of the intimidation out of how to use the set.

VOM FASS is a cook's playland and idea generator. When it comes to conjuring fresh meal ideas at home, we can all use a little help sometimes.

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