When Christine Arredondo was growing up on San Antonio’s South Side, her abuelita advised her that olive oil could fix anything.

“It was olive oil for your ears, olive oil for your face. Put it on your belly for a bellyache or on your head as an infant,” Arredondo said. “We did also use it to cook.”

What Arredondo didn’t know at the time was that olive oil really would change her life. A childhood basking in the fragrant smells wafting out of her family matriarch’s kitchen would turn into a lifetime passion.

After Arredondo graduated from South San High School, she enlisted with the military, deploying three times and extending her service after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She traveled abroad and around the United States between deployments, and along the way she learned that the olive oil she tasted as a child wasn’t the same as the olive oil she tasted abroad, straight from olive orchards and nearby mills.

(Most people buy olive oil from the grocery store but don’t know what kind of olive the oil came from or how long the bottle has been sitting on the shelf, she said. Olive oil is good for only five months, Arredondo stressed.)

When the San Antonio native retired from the military in 2013 as a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, she decided the next chapter of her life would focus on something that’s been a constant all along: her passion for better tasting and healthier food. Two days before Christmas in 2013, Arredondo opened an olive oil and balsamic tasting room, San Antonio’s Gourmet Olive Oils.

Canisters of olive oils and balsamic vinegars line the walls of the Eastside business.

It’s been more than five years since then, and Arredondo still operates her tasting room and gourmet food shop on South Hackberry Street just south of Interstate 10.

It’s a point of pride for Arredondo that her shop has been open this long when others have closed after two years. Other shops have opened in higher-income areas like La Cantera or Alamo Heights but had to price their bottles higher to afford the rent, she said.

Arredondo credits her location, which brings a gourmet shop to a part of town that did not previously have access, and a commitment to offering affordable options.

She also has put a lot of effort into educating customers so they can tell the difference in what they are buying.

Good olive oil should be drinkable, Arredondo said. You can’t do that with the kind most people use to cook, she added.

In Arredondo’s store, customers can sample more than 80 varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegar from petite plastic cups. All of her olive oils come from orchards and mills abroad in countries including Spain, Austria, Chile, and Italy and is freshly poured when a customer selects a variety.

Christine Arredondo refills a customer’s olive oil bottle at her shop on South Hackberry Street.

The oil starts off as olives growing on trees in vast orchards. Special machines pick the olives – “the olives should never touch the ground” – which then run through a mill where the oil pressed out of each orb drips for collection into individual bottles, Arredondo said.

From there, the oil can be infused or fused with various flavors like garlic or blood orange, two of Arredondo’s favorites. Olive oils are fused if the olives are crushed with fresh fruits and herbs as the oil is extracted. Infused oils have flavors added after the olive oil has been collected.

The olive oil shop owner estimates she uses four or five different kinds of oils each day to accentuate her meals, both savory and sweet. She uses olive oil with her morning oatmeal as a topper, with chicken or steak as a marinade, or with fish – just a light drizzle on top.

It changed Arredondo’s way of cooking, and eventually her family caught on.

“That’s all they use now,” she said. “Now my parents don’t have bad cholesterol or high blood pressure levels. They’re a lot healthier because of it.”

Arredondo’s customers have experienced their own culinary revolutions. John Cybulski noticed an instant change in his meals when he and his wife began shopping at San Antonio’s Gourmet Olive Oils about a year and a half ago.

“I am not a foodie, I’m a Polish dude, but I can super tell the difference,” Cybulski said. “It’s stupid how good it is.”

John Cybulski talks about his olive oil at San Antonio’s Gourmet Olive Oils.

Every month or so, Cybulski picks up a fresh large bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a smaller bottle of something new with an interesting flavor.

Delma Rivera also has seen a change in her eating habits. Rivera works at JS Fine Wine & Spirits, which uses Arredondo’s olive oils and balsamics during wine tastings. She began using Arredondo’s olive oils personally about four years ago and hasn’t stopped since.

“Her olive oils are amazing. Once you try them you are completely hooked, and it’s the same thing with the balsamic,” Rivera said. “There’s a cranberry pear balsamic and I do that over Brussels sprouts after they are done. I’m getting so hungry right now as I’m talking about it.”

The ultimate goal for Arredondo is to introduce a new way for people to enjoy food in a healthier manner. Each time a customer comments about how familiar recipes are transformed by a slightly different preparation or a family member remarks about the health benefits that come with using olive oil, Arredondo lights up.

“You just have to experience it for yourself, and it will change your life,” she said. “It will change the way you prepare your food, the way you look at your food, the way you look at your health.

“Some people think, “I can’t get healthy.” And it’s true if you keep doing what you are doing. But if you walk into someplace like my store and you just use a good olive oil and a good balsamic, you have already made the biggest change you need to make.”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.