Joe and Dee Caligiuri.
It is one of the best little food stores in the nation and it sits in Red Hill South between the old train line and a thriving fruit orchard. Red Hill Cellar and Pantry is owned by Joe and Dee Caligiuri. This husband-and-wife team loves food and wine and met in Europe in the late 1990s. They travelled through that part of the world and Dee’s home in Israel before living in Australia. Joe was studying winemaking and working at Pizzini in the King Valley. Dee was working at another vineyard. “I grew up by the sea and could not imagine a life where I could not walk to the beach,” she says. “Our family holidayed on the beach at Blairgowrie,” says Joe. “So we started looking at food businesses around the Mornington Peninsula.”
The Red Hill Store dates back to the 1930s. For decades it was a licensed store selling bread, milk, and beer but was given an overhaul in the 1980s when new owners captured the excitement around food as Australians discovered such delights as Italian sun-dried tomato and locally made blue cheese. By 2003 the store had run out of steam and was desperately in need of new blood. Joe and Dee arrived at the right place at the right time and took over the business. “We love food. We love wine,” says Joe. “When we opened, we were on the lookout for food that we love, food that we would have in our kitchen,” adds Dee. “Which was good,” says Joe with a laugh. “Because 18 years ago, people were not buying buffalo mozzarella, and we had ordered loads. Luckily we love Caprese salad.” Their store features cheeses from around the world but with a large selection from Red Hill Cheese and Main Ridge Dairy, both of which are a few kilometres away as the crow flies.
The pair’s dedication to helping local growers, producers, farmers, brewers and winemakers is second to none. “When we first came here, we drove the backroads trying to track down farmers to sell us their produce,” says Joe. “We still do that, but the word of mouth network has people coming to us.” Dee starts grinning. “It is almost cherry season,” she says excitedly. They stock more than 600 locally produced preserves, bread, meat, vegetables, cakes, cheeses, beers, spirits and wines. More than 60 per cent of their wines come from the Mornington Peninsula. Remarkably, they also stock fine wines from France and Italy and cult drinks such as vermouth and sherry from Spain. “We also deliver around the Peninsula and Australia,” says Dee. “We have put together special MP wine packs of three, six, and 12 to send as gifts to people who love our wines,” says Joe. “And we do picnic packs in a little drawstring satchel with beautifully packed seasonal foods, meats, cheese and bread,” adds Dee. “People order these then go for a wander down the old railway line,” continues Joe. “And that’s what we love about where we live,” says Dee. “Good food and wine, but also beautiful places in which to enjoy them,” she says. “Life’s about those small celebrations.”
Red Hill Cellar and Pantry
Richard Cornish is a freelance food writer filing regular food news stories for newspapers and magazines across Australia and now each month in Mornington Peninsula Magazine – www.richardcornish.com.au