North Conway duo drills into the (olive) oil business

By JOHN KOZIOL
Sunday News Correspondent
November 26. 2017 1:04AM
Bill Kittredge, left, and Matt DiBenedetto, the co-owners of the North Conway Olive Oil Company, display some of the wares available at their store which include recently-pressed extra virgin olive oil from around the world and balsamic vinegars, some aged up to 25 years, from Modena, Italy. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)
CONWAY — There’s a mini oil boom percolating in the Granite State, but it’s the kind of oil you can pour on field greens.

Although it essentially offers only two products, a recently opened business in Conway is already looking to double its space as tourists and locals alike have embraced the pairing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
 
Located at 2730 White Mountain Highway in the heart of North Conway Village, the North Conway Olive Oil Co. since late August has stocked its shelves with 55 balsamic vinegars from Modena, Italy, as well as some three dozen examples of what it claims is “the freshest olive oil in the world.”

Long popular for both their taste and health benefits, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar are riding high again. In New Hampshire, consumers are beginning to have increased access to artisanal varieties like those at North Conway Olive Oil Company and a handful of similar retailers.

The Granite State is also being eyed by Maine-based Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars, which is looking for a permanent location after it operated a tasting parlor over the summer and fall at Orazio’s Gourmet Oils in Wolfeboro.

Nancy O’Brien of Fiore’s and Bill Kittredge and Matt DiBenedetto, the owners of North Conway Olive Oil Company, say they’re happy to help current and future olive oil aficionados “chase the crush.”

Grown in both the northern and southern hemispheres, olives are incredibly perishable, said Kittredge, and they start deteriorating the second they’re picked, which is why they are crushed into oil within four to six hours.

Thanks to its supplier, Veronica Foods of Oakland, Calif., North Conway Olive Oil Company can get the newest oils from 30 to 45 days after the “crush,” whereas it can take up to 18 months for a mass-produced oil to get to market, at which point, DiBenedetto said, it’s still usable but not as palatable or healthful.

DiBenedetto, 56, began working at The Plantation House, his family’s award-winning restaurant in Charlemont, Mass., at the age of 8. He most recently cooked at the Inn at Thorn Hill in Jackson.

When the inn owners sold the business, DiBenedetto opened the North Conway House of Jerky in the same building that now is also home to the North Conway Olive Oil Company.

DiBenedetto recalled that a number of people thought he was daft to launch a business selling “premium-quality jerky” but years later, “it’s worked out well.”

One day Kittredge came into the House of Jerky and sparked up a conversation with DiBenedetto, who hired Kittredge, an accountant, to do his books.

The men gradually became friends and later business partners, uniting behind their desire to launch a “foodie” store in North Conway. Because of their mutual Italian heritage, Kittredge and DiBenedetto settled on initially selling varieties of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

North Conway Olive Oil Company plans to expand sometime early next year into the 1,000-square-foot space now occupied by the House of Jerky, add spices, rubs, artisan salts and “definitely something on the Italian side” as to food, said Kittredge, although exactly what has yet to be determined. Salads are an eventual no-brainer, he said, adding that whatever is added will be something “that’s going to complement our oils and balsamics.”

“People actually get excited by all the choices,” said Kittredge, and the business, which is open seven days a week 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Olive oil from Down East

Nancy O’Brien confirmed that she and husband Pat’s customers are equally passionate about their oils and vinegars, which is why 
Fiore’s, which has stores in six Maine communities and tasting bars at another four, is looking to the west, certain that it has a bright future in New Hampshire.

“Yes, it’s becoming a ‘food’ thing,” said O’Brien, “but it has always been a food thing, even more so now and we saw that in New Hampshire. You don’t want to make it where you’re only catering to the visitors who come, you want to cater to the people who live next door to you.”

The health benefits of balsamic vinegars and olive oil were well known when the O’Briens opened their first store in 2008, “but people weren’t as interested then,” she said, whereas now, “People will walk into the store and say ‘give me the highest phenol oil because I know it’s good for me without even tasting it.’”

Kittredge echoed O’Brien, saying customers come in telling him that “my doctor says I need more good fats” at which point Kittredge directs them to oils with a high phenol content.


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