Like so many food entrepreneurs, Rebecca Montero didn’t intend to get into the business of making her savory spreads. As a young woman in the early 2000s, she moved into a New York City apartment with roommates, and they wanted to throw a party—not a pizza and beer party, but something a little fancier. Tapanade was on the menu they came up with, and Montero was assigned to find it. Having lived in Italy and around the Mediterranean, she had “eaten oodles of tapenade,” but had never bought it, and unable to find what she remembered, she decided to make her own. “It was a really big hit, and the next time we were throwing a party my roommates said, ‘You’ve got to make that again,’” she says.
The tapenade, which Montero makes with Moroccan oil-cured olives, garlic and rosemary (no capers, like some versions), became her culinary calling card—until she decided to join the Peace Corps and moved to Paraguay in 2008. There, she was a municipal development volunteer, and eventually became involved in the sustainable animal husbandry business. “If you ever need a subtropical rabbit-raising expert, call me,” she jokes. When she returned to New York for visits, she left tapenade as a thank you gift for her old roommate, who continually urged Montero to turn her tapenade hobby into a commercial venture. “It was supposed to be an excuse to stay in New York a little longer when I came back from Paraguay,” she says. We were just going to sell it at summer markets and Christmas markets.”
Spread-mmms was launched in 2016, with Montero making her tapenade in a food incubator kitchen in East Harlem. She’s now building out her own kitchen in Brooklyn, where she lives. While her products are sold in 14 states, everything is still done by hand, including getting her products into specialty shops like Saxelby Cheese and Kalustyans in New York City. “I prefer reaching out directly and having that personal connection with the buyer, the owner, or the cheesemonger. I feel like that organic placement really goes a long way,” she says. The Spread-mmms line now includes two shelf-stable products—an orange-olive marmalade in addition to the tapenade—plus eight refrigerated spreads with names like Rambunctious Roasted Red Pepper and Brazen Butter Bean, which are only available locally. All of her “ladies,” as she calls them, have a sassy lady in a cap on the label. “They all have different personalities,” she says. “I have a small business, and these are the ladies that keep me going, so I like to refer to them with a personal pronoun.”
Naturally, the ladies love cheese, and both the tapenade and the sweet-savory marmalade go especially well with a plain chèvre, says Montero. Here are more of her favorite pairings:
“Thin Red Line from Lazy Lady Farm looks beautiful when you cut it open and top it with either the tapenade or marmalade.”
“I was just at Crown Finish Caves and tasted Carpenter’s Wheel—I love my tapenade with it.”