By TOM CHESEK
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a frantic foodie, chances are excellent that you’re likely to reach for the olive oil any time you make some noise with the pots and pans, be it a dab from an 8-ounce bottle or a dousing from a Mama Leone-sized aluminum can.
But before you pluck that pale Progresso off the supermarket shelf, you should be aware that there exists a whole international “olive underground” of connoisseurs out there; a network of enthusiasts whose knowledge of (and romance for) the salty Mediterranean fruit rivals the religious zeal of the most dedicated vineyard-hopping oenophile.
And as you might have guessed, Red Bank is ahead of the curve in bringing this oleaginous subculture to our suburban doorstep, with the debut of a shop that’s described by a co-owner as “a store unlike any other on the East Coast.”
As a principal in Carter & Cavero Old World Olive Oil Company, Chris Ortiz brings the pedigree (his father hails from the village of Cazorla in the heart of Spain’s olive country) and the practical experience (he’s made olive oil his passion since taking over the family-owned mill back in the old country) to a venture in which he’s partnered with Monmouth County native Chris Wall and kin.
With Ortiz having recently returned to his home in Spain after overseeing the opening, the Wall family Chris, Mercedes, Sofia and Christian assumes responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the storefront at 19 Monmouth Street, a onetime art gallery with a floor-to-ceiling glass facade that displays the shop’s smart, airy design for the benefit of the passing epi-curious.
Indeed, the vibe inside is more gallery than grocery, with a display of hand-painted pitchers, platters and bowls by Spanish artisan Alfarería Tito the shop is said to be the exclusive outlet in the United States for these imported pottery creations along with hand-carved wooden utensils, dishes and peppermills; oven-safe clay cookware; even a line of olive-based hair products from Provence that are guaranteed to pop your pimiento.
But it’s on the shelves along the walls of the store that you’ll find a variety of oils you may not have known existed. The selection of first-quality oils from Europe, as well as from award-winning organic groves in California, is housed in a series of metal urns with spigots. Customers are encouraged to sample the flavor and aroma of the wares with the help of blue glass “tasting cups,” the better to discern the nuances of a Greek Koroneiki, a French Phicoline, or a domestic Ascalano.
Thus enticed, a shopper who prefers, say, a Nocellara from Spain can then procure a custom-filled small ($8.00) or a large ($14.00) bottle on the spot to carry out (special burlap gift sacks are available for purchase) or ship to the olive lover in his or her life. For a few dollars more, one can get a pre-sealed bottle packed in an elegantly rustic wooden box.
And for those who can’t toss the salad without the vinegar, Carter and Cavero sells custom-filled bottles of some of Italy’s best, in varieties that range from a tangerine balsamic to a champagne vinaigrette; a dark and sensual fig balsamic is another particularly exciting option. Plans are also afoot for the shop to carry a line of premium pestos and jarred olives from all over the global grove.
So who, then, are Carter and Cavero? As Chris Ortiz explains, they’re names from the respective family backgrounds of the store’s owners; names that the partners felt gave “the feeling of a merger between
the old world and the new.”
Red Bank, says Ortiz, is a place where “people really expect to find unique gift items.” Clearly, he and Wall have drizzled something fresh into the mix.