Chicago’s Giardiniera Queen has 47 jars of it in her fridge
By Janet Rausa Fuller
January 29, 2015
CHICAGO — Right this minute, there are 47 jars of giardiniera sitting in Meaghan Thomas Olson’s fridge. This explains in part why she, not you, has started a website dedicated to what she calls “the little weirdo in the condiment universe.”
The Humboldt Park resident works for a grocery coupon website. She has no ties to giardiniera companies. She just doesn’t understand why giardiniera is little known outside of Chicago when really, the often-misspelled, sometimes-mispronounced condiment (it’s jar-din-AIR-ah) “deserves to make it to the top shelf of every fridge in America and beyond,” she said.
Eatgiardiniera.com went live three weeks ago, but still is very much a work in progress. Coming soon to the site: giardiniera reviews, a giardiniera recipe exchange, an online giardiniera store and more.
Up now on the site is a still-growing A-to-Z master list of giardiniera brands, with tasting notes and details on where to buy them or have them shipped to you. Because that’s part of the problem: Giardiniera isn’t so easy to get outside of Chicago, and Olson couldn’t find such a list online.
“When I travel, I’m bummed people outside of Chicago don’t know what giardiniera is,” she said. “For years, I’ve been asking myself why aren’t there giardiniera executives spreading the word about this wonderful condiment? There’s no one really standing up for giardiniera. So I guess I will.”
And just what is giardiniera? It’s a medley of chopped vegetables (often but not limited to celery, carrots, cauliflower, olives and peppers) and spices in vinegar-tinged oil. It is also an Italian beef’s best friend.
The website idea has long been simmering. Olson bought the domain name a year ago. She has company. Her friend and fellow giardiniera lover, Dana Roeske, is helping design the logo and writing for the site, while Roeske’s husband, Paul Mateja, has been eating lots of Italian subs. Another couple, Rob Newsome and Kathleen Clickett Newsome, will help plan events and also taste and review.
In the spring, Olson plans to partner with another buddy, Thomas McGee, owner of online spice purveyor Pinch Spice Market, to make their own giardiniera with local produce.
Olson’s ideas for further down the road include running a giardiniera-of-the-month club and organizing giardiniera tasting tours by bus around Chicago and giardiniera road trips to “Wisconsin, Michigan and other relevant states.”
Olson, 32, grew up in Beverly on bland Irish food. Besides being flavorful, giardiniera is infinitely interesting, she said.
“There are stories behind each bottle,” she said.
Word of Olson’s website is spreading more quickly than she anticipated, thanks to her cousin linking to it on Reddit. On Monday, the website had 10,000 visitors, she said.