Crack-enade: Gourmet spread could be habit-forming

Warning: The product described below could be highly addictive.

Dish was hooked from the first taste of Joan Maute's parmesan tapenade at the Crozet Farmers Market and immediately bought some. When we served it to guests and they wanted to know how to get some– and became upset when Maute wasn't at the next farmers market– we knew we had a highly delicious, habit-forming product on our hands.

Maute, it turns out, had the same cravings and was seeking to copy a parmesan-and-olive spread she had bought. "I ate the whole jar in three days," she remembers. "I thought it was very expensive and very addictive."

She set out to make her own. "The first time I used regular black California olives," she says. "I threw it away." Through much trial and error, she settled on black Spanish olives and green Spanish olives, and got the right Parmigiano-Reggiano and in the right proportions.

"I finally got a product I loved better than the original," she says.

She took it to Mountfair Vineyard, where she works. "They tasted it and said, oh my God, you have to make it," recounts Maute. "A food-based business was not on my list of encore careers," says the woman who owned a landscaping business for 17 years in Hawaii, where she's also licensed for massage therapy, and is a nationally certified riding instructor– and personal trainer. "I've never done anything like this," she says.

The first step was getting her kitchen certified. And there was packaging to consider. "At first I was printing the labels on my printer," she says. "The ink would run if it got wet."

And her fans said she needed more flavors, which is how the champagne, the red wine, and the truffle tapenades came into being. "At first I would say I don't need six flavors," she says. "I would say I'm eliminating a couple, and someone would say, that's my favorite."

Maute stresses the high quality of her ingredients, which are raw: "You get the full flavor, the full essence of the olives, the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the extra-virgin Italian olive oil." Even the lemons are hand squeezed. "It's very labor intensive," she says.

And expensive to make, which is why the jars of heaven range from $12 to $15 on her website. For instance, she made a double truffle oil tapenade for her vegan friends. "The truffle oil is very rich and earthy," she says. "The truffle oil is from California. It's insanely expensive."

And there's one other problem, once you're hooked on Maute's Artisan Spreads: finding a supplier. Right now, they're available at Mountfair Vineyard, DuCard Vineyards in Madison County, and the Artisan Spreads website. She's usually at the Crozet Farmers Market on Saturdays– except in July, when she's out of town until the end of the month.

One bit of good news for would-be addicts: 40 calories a tablespoon.

"Every jar is infused with love," assures Maute.