Rosemary and Tony Melli, both native New Yorkers via Queens and Brooklyn, have lived in Westport for 32 years. Rosemary, a speech pathologist, commutes to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Tony is director of guidance for the Westport Public Schools. They have two sons, ages 21 and 25. Rosemary and Tony have relatives and friends in Italy and travel there twice a year. A chance remark to their holiday host in Tuscany led them into an avocation in the olive oil importing business. The olive oil is called Rendola, distributed by Olio di Melli. It is sold at Lees Supermarket, Provender in Tiverton Four Corners, Cerulli's in Providence, and specialty stores in the Boston area.
WHY OLIVE OIL?
Rosemary: "During a trip to Tuscany six years ago, Tony and I were visiting friends who produce olive oil in Figline del Varno in the Chianti region of Tuscany. I happened to remark to our host that my work was stressful and I needed to find something relaxing to do when Tony and I decided to retire. He surprised me by saying 'Why don't you try selling our olive oil? We didn't decide right away. I spent a solid year reading everything I could find about olive oil."
Tony: "It is estate grown by our friends in Figline del Varno and then we import it. The olives are picked in the time honored Tuscan style. They pick the olives before the olives are ripened. That means you get less product but more intense flavors. The olives are picked, crushed and bottled in a 24-hour period."
Rosemary: "It has a strong peppery finish, 'pizzica' in Italian, unlike any I ever tasted before. At first, I didn't like it. Now, commercial brands taste bland to me by comparison. It's a gourmet item in a niche industry. This olive oil is considered an artisan product, which means it is produced by hand. It is not mass produced and it is not a blend. Generations of Tuscans have worked these same groves for thousands of years."
Tony: "We brought it to the chef at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. He said, 'If you sell this, I will buy it!'
Tony: "We teach a seminar on olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts."
Rosemary: "I'm the co-leader of the Boston chapter of Slow Food USA. The Boston chapter has about 500 members. It's an international movement founded in Italy in 1986 as a reaction to industrialization. One of its principles is to promote pure food that is local, seasonal, and locally grown. It's a perfect fit with our company and many Westport businesses."
ON LOBSTERS: "On Sunday, July 18, Slow Food is hosting an event at The Back Eddy with Trevor Corson, who wrote a humorous but educational book about lobsters. It's about sustainable lobster fishing. We plan to visit local farms, the winery and end up at the Back Eddy for a lobster dinner."