Talenti Gelato is bringing back three seasonal favorites:
The flavors are available nationwide for a limited time only starting mid-October at a suggested retail price of $4.99-$5.99, so consumers can enjoy and indulge while supplies last.
Kontos Foods, Inc., a U.S.-based manufacturer and distributor of traditional Greek and Mediterranean foods, announced the launch of Kontos Rustics Collection™, Tandoori-style naan bread in original and garlic flavors.
“Kontos Rustics Collection Tandoori Naan breads are light and fluffy, providing a great accompaniment to virtually any meal,” said Steve Kontos, Vice President of Kontos Foods. “Restaurants and home cooks can use the Rustics Collection to create new and exciting fusion cuisine offerings. They offer all the goodness and functionality of breads and wraps, with great taste and authentic Tandoori taste and texture.”
The new oblong-shaped naan bread, targeted at retail outlets, restaurants and food service establishments, contains no added preservatives. The naan come two to a pack in a re-sealable bag with a zipper-style closure, in packaging that allows retailers to stack them on a shelf or hang them from a peg.
Within the coming months, Kontos Foods will be introducing two additional Rustics Collection flavors: Whole Wheat and Onion. The Rustics Collection extends Kontos’ current line of over 50 ethnic-style breads, including Massala Nan, Kulcha Nan, Roghani Nan, Missy Roti, and Pan Planos.
Naan bread, one of the world’s first flatbreads, originated around 2600 BC in Tandoor ovens in India. Naan became a staple of ancient India, evoking delicious flavor, versatility and portability – the world’s first flatbread. The word “naan” is derived from the Persian word “non” which refers to “bread.”
Kontos Rustics Collection Naan breads can be used for sandwiches, personal pizzas, toasted, or eaten right out of the package to accompany dips such as hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki sauce, salsas, onion, or vegetable dip. The breads are ideal paired with soups or stews, or as a base for Mexican dishes such as huevos rancheros. Served with a dipping dish of extra virgin olive oil, the Rustics Collection also works well in a breadbasket. The naan can even be used as satisfying breakfast bread, providing fiber in every serving.
“U.S. retail outlets are embracing the Kontos Rustics Collection because of their authentic flavor, texture, shape and versatility. We’re also receiving a very positive response from our retailers in Canada and the Caribbean, showing that this bread has widespread appeal,” said Warren Stoll, Marketing Director of Kontos Foods. “This naan bread is re-invigorating the Indian and South Asian bread category.”
Kontos sells its products to retailers and foodservice establishments across North America and globally. Find Kontos Foods on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Kontosfoods and follow the company on Twitter @KontosFoods.
Fisher® nuts announced a statewide campaign to bring Texas communities together to help feed families in need this holiday season. In its fourth year partnering with Feeding Texas for the Fisher Shares & Cares campaign, Fisher is donating $40,000 that will be used to help feed 400,000 Texas residents throughout the holidays.
Texans from across the state can help Fisher package meals for families in need by participating in one of five Fisher Shares & Cares Volunteer Day events on November 18, 2015. Events will be held at the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank, Food Bank of West Central Texas in Abilene and the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo. Those interested in helping make a positive impact in their communities can sign up to volunteer on November 18 by contacting the nearest participating local Feeding Texas food bank. In San Antonio, Fisher employees from the Selma plant will join their community at the San Antonio Food Bank. Fisher will provide snacks, refreshments and t-shirts at the volunteer events.
“There are so many families in Texas that have to make difficult choices between affording food and other needs,” said Neeraj Sharma, the Selma, Texas Plant Operations Manager for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., the manufacturer and distributor of Fisher nuts products. “With the holidays approaching, we’re eager to join together with the community to help make an impact across the state.”
Feeding Texas member food banks distributed enough food for 284 million meals in 2014 nourishing over 3 million Texans through a statewide network of 3,000 soup kitchens, food pantries and local agencies. The organization also helps food banks build the capacity to end hunger by managing statewide food sourcing and purchasing programs, offering expert technical assistance and training, and spreading food bank innovations and best practices statewide.
“There are over 1.7 million Texas families living in food insecure homes, so we are very grateful for the ongoing support from Fisher,” said Celia Cole, Chief Executive Officer at Feeding Texas. “This contribution will help provide meals to thousands of deserving families right in time for Thanksgiving.”
By Richard Thompson
A southern California quinoa company is bringing about social reform in Bolivia as it works with the indigenous community to provide award-winning products to American tables. Andean Dream is a Fair Trade certified quinoa pasta, soup and cookie company that makes non-GMO, allergen-friendly products that range from Organic Fusilli and Organic Orzo to Coconut and Cocoa-Orange Cookies. The entire line is made from Royal Quinoa – the most nutrient-dense quinoa – and the products are free from hydrogenated oils and gluten along with being allergen-friendly, with no chance of cross contamination since they are made in a dedicated facility free of gluten, eggs, soy, corn and nuts. “Free-from was what everyone was talking about, and we were the first to really do it,” says Andean Dream Founder and President, Ingrid Hirstin-Lazcano.
The cookies, which launched in 2006, are offered in Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Cocoa-Orange and Cafe Mocha varieties. Each contains only 2.5 grams of sugar, says Hirstin-Lazcano. “My personal favorite goes between the Cafe Mocha and Coconut, but the best seller in the line is Chocolate Chip.”
The pasta line includes Organic Fusilli, Organic Macaroni, Organic Shells, Organic Orzo and Organic Spaghetti. Each is made gluten- and corn-free, is vegan friendly, organic- and kosher-certified, is non-GMO and is produced in an allergen-friendly facility. Each 8-ounce box of pasta contains 24 grams of protein. “Our Organic Vegetarian Quinoa Noodle Soup was originally seasonal, but we’re bringing it back to the marketplace,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.
Andean Dream started out as an ordinary cookie company in 2006 but quickly blossomed into a specialty food/social justice project under the leadership of Hirstin-Lazcano, who was inspired to practice conscientious capitalism to help bring jobs, medical benefits and retirement pensions to single mothers and disabled individuals throughout the poorest regions of Bolivia. “I wanted to create a value-added product that could aid indigenous farmers and workers in Bolivia,” she says. Already involved with the Bolivian community in Los Angeles, she learned of the circumstances regarding the poverty stricken regions in Bolivia from her husband, Fernando Lazcano Dunn, a 25-year diplomat who worked as Consul General of Bolivia in Los Angeles at the time, and sought out a solution that aligned with her personal convictions.“They are close to my heart and I wanted to see everyone have an equal opportunity,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “I wanted to help raise their standard of living.”
According to 2015 Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, 45 percent of Bolivia’s population lives under the poverty line (based on the international standard of two dollars a day) with three out of four people in rural areas living in poverty. The Rural Poverty Portal, a forum that discusses the difficulties of rural life in Bolivian regions, notes that women and young people are particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.
“I wanted to bring attention to the situation over there and provide single mothers that don’t have jobs – or are working menial labor – and help give them a regular respectable job,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.
Hirstin-Lazcano spent two weeks traveling through Bolivia in 2006 to find the right co-packer that could provide large scale manufacturing at a local level, offer jobs and provide advancement to native farmers. Hirstin-Lazcano says that she was able to find a co-packer that would work with locals as well as provide benefits such as medical care and retirement pensions that they wouldn’t have ever gotten before. Currently, the co-packer that works with Andean Dream is employing between 20 to 25 indigenous people for Andean’ Dream’s manufacturing, many of whom have received promotions to higher management positions. “There are always new opportunities as we grow, and as we grow our facility for production, many others will be hired for satellite locations,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.
One particular story that stands out for Hirstin-Lazcano is that of a deaf and mute woman who had been resigned to harsh janitorial work and would have been stuck there had it not been for Andean Dream’s project. Edith was hired and was eventually promoted into a supervisor position. “She would’ve never been able to do that before,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “Because of her employment, both of her sons are able to go to university. One is studying to be a dentist, and the other an architect.”
In addition to the company’s social activism in Bolivia, Andean Dream was the Official Cookie Sponsor in the Special Olympic World Games, providing 48,000 cookies to athletes as well as regularly giving away products to local charitable foundations, food-banks and organizations focused on inner-city kids with economic challenges.
When asked about how her work makes her feel, Hirstin-Lazcano isn’t shy about answering: “We’re socially minded … and helping to provide opportunities to individuals who need a better life is our Andean Dream.”
This story was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Gourmet News.
By Lorrie Baumann
Catalina bleats insistently from her pen in the Toluma Farms nursery barn as farmer Tamara Hicks approaches. Slender and long-haired, Hicks has the sun-kissed complexion of a woman who spends much of her time outdoors, and she doesn’t have the bottle that Catalina, a pure white Saanen kid born several weeks ago, is hoping for.
Like the other lambs and kids born this year at Toluma Farms, a 160-acre farm in west Marin County, California, Catalina is named after an island. There are also Kokomo, the island of the Beach Boys song; Floriana; and Manhattan – all bodies of land surrounded by water, a topic that’s very much on Californians’ minds. “We have often discussed the irony of being surrounded by water, being a coastal farm and dairy and worrying constantly about water,” Hicks says. “Hence, the islands seemed comical in a depressing sort of way.”
She and her husband, David Jablons, bought this farm in the rolling hills near Point Reyes in 2003 with the idea that they could become agents of change in the local food production system and in the debate about climate change. “We made a conscious decision that we could be part of the conversation about restoring the land,” Hicks says. They’ve sunk most of their children’s potential inheritance into this property, and now California is giving them a practical lesson in what the state’s climate means to the future of local food.
California is in its fourth year of a drought that’s setting records even for a state with a long history of concern for whether it has enough water to supply a burgeoning population and an agriculture industry that supplies most of the country’s fruits and vegetables. The period from 2012 through 2014 was the driest three-year period ever in terms of statewide precipitation; exacerbated by record warmth, with the highest statewide average temperatures ever recorded in 2014. Every California county has been included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought designations at various times between the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2014.
Unlike most other natural disasters, drought is a gradual crisis, occurring slowly over a period of time. There’s no sudden event that announces it, and it’s not usually ended by any one rain storm. The impacts of drought get worse the longer the drought continues, as reservoirs are depleted and water levels decline in groundwater basins.
Even though some parts of northern California did get a little rain last December and again in February of this year, the cumulative effect of four critically dry years has created a crisis that is expected to cost California’s agriculture industry $1.8 billion this year, with a total statewide economic cost of $2.7 billion. More than 18,000 jobs in the state’s agriculture industry are likely to be lost to the drought this year, according to agricultural economists studying the effects of the drought for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Marin and Sonoma Counties have been the heart of northern California’s dairy industry since 1856, when Clara Steele made the first known batch of cheese in this part of the country from a recipe she found in a book. These are not the state’s most drought-stricken counties, but even here there’s a pervasive air of crisis. Marin County has declared a state of emergency so that farmers can qualify for any aid that becomes available. Local radio stations advertise water conservation tips and the availability of financial aid for water-saving devices. Farmers and gardeners hold evening meetings to share advice, offer each other fellowship and discuss the chances that this year’s drought might be California’s new normal, as Governor Jerry Brown said it is in April, as he imposed mandatory water use restrictions. Across California, the message is being passed that, “Brown is the new green,” as the state’s residents are urged to save water, save water, save water.
Hicks and Jablons take some solace in the knowledge that this property has a long history of having sufficient water. California’s most significant historical droughts have been a six-year drought in 1929-1934 – the Dust Bowl years, the two year-drought of 1976-77 – a comparatively short drought that nevertheless had very serious effects on the state’s groundwater, and another six-year drought in 1987-1992. The 1929-1934 drought was comparable to the most severe dry periods in more than a millennium of reconstructed climate data, but its effects were small by present-day standards because the state’s urban population and agricultural development are much greater now. In the 1970s drought, the family that owned Toluma Farms then had enough water to allow friends and neighbors to come and fill up tanks to truck back to their own farms. This time around, Hicks doesn’t feel secure enough to make that offer.
When they found this property, 18 miles west of Petaluma, in an area where they’d been coming for weekend camping excursions for years, it was a dilapidated farm with a history of dairy production that had been abandoned and the pastures neglected. Ten thousand old tires had been piled on a hillside in an ill-advised attempt to prevent the slope from eroding and were spilling down into the road. Other discarded junk had been dumped around the house or buried in backhoed pits.
Neither Hicks nor Jablons had any experience in farming – Hicks is a clinical psychologist and Jablons is a surgeon, both with busy practices in San Francisco – but they felt that their financial resources, their skills in forming and maintaining helpful relationships with other people and their commitment to their values could see them through the challenges of returning the farm to its historic use as a productive dairy farm. “It’s a good thing that we are both equally committed to the idea of restoring the farm to health and making a statement about the value of sustainable agriculture and a healthy food system,” Hicks says. Otherwise, she adds, their marriage might not have survived the challenges of figuring out how to turn derelict pastures and an ad hoc landfill into a financially and ecologically sustainable family farm. After more than a decade of work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to rehabilitate the pastures, hauling away the tires and other garbage, building a guesthouse that’s rented out for in-depth educational farm stays and meeting space, and opening a creamery for making cheese, the farm hasn’t yet fulfilled that dream of sustainability. Hicks is hopeful that the artisan cheeses from the Tomales Farmstead Creamery she opened on the property in 2013 will be the final piece in a patchwork of enterprises the couple operates to support the farm, but returning the land to health will probably take a few more decades, she estimates. “We’re not profitable yet,” she says. “I’m not sure if it’s possible to make a living as farmstead cheese producers.”
Toluma Farms gets its water from sidehill wells that just have to last until the drought ends because the farm can’t support the costs of trucking in water, even if the water was available at all, which it probably wouldn’t be. “We kind of hope and pray,” Hicks says. “The city [of Petaluma, the nearest municipal water system] has pulled way back in prioritizing water for agriculture. Houses out here can’t even get water.”
Coming to terms with the drought has meant cutting back the milking schedule to once per day instead of the usual twice-daily milkings at 12-hour intervals, which saves half the water normally used to clean the milking parlor but reduces milk production by 25 percent. State and federal regulations require that the equipment used in milking must be sanitized before every milking and then washed immediately after use, both to protect the milk from contamination and to protect the health of the animals, and all of this cleaning is a major use of water on dairy farms.
Tomales Farmstead Creamery makes and sells five cheeses made from the milk of its herd of 200 goats and more than 100 East Friesian sheep. The cheeses all have names that reflect the heritage of the coastal Miwok Indians who lived here before the Europeans arrived. Kenne is a soft-ripened goat cheese with a wrinkly Geotrichum rind that’s aged for three weeks. Teleeka is a soft-ripened cheese made with goat, sheep and Jersey cow milk – the only one in the collection that’s not a farmstead cheese, since the Jersey milk comes from Marissa Thornton’s dairy farm just down the road. Assa, a word that means “female” is an aged goat cheese with a chardonnay-washed rind. The name is a tribute to the many women who work on the farm as well as the female animals that produce the milk. Liwa is a fresh goat cheese aged just three days – the name means “water.” “We pray for water,” Hicks says. Atika is an aged sheep and goat cheese with a McEvoy Olive Oil rind. Atika won a second-place award from the American Cheese Society in 2014, in the creamery’s first time to enter the awards contest.
All five cheeses are made with pasteurized milk, since the creamery doesn’t have the space to isolate pasteurized milk cheeses from raw milk varieties. Hicks is glad now that the couple made an early decision not to make raw milk cheeses because she’s noticed that the makers of raw milk cheeses are getting extra scrutiny this year from food safety inspectors. While there are raw milk cheesemakers who believe that pasteurization could compromise the complexity of the flavors in their cheeses, Hicks is satisfied that the production method she has chosen produces an excellent product. “We think it’s delicious cheese, or we wouldn’t do what we do,” she says.
Two years ago, Jablons and Hicks started growing their own hay using dry-land farming techniques, by planting 40 acres with a mixture of oats, rye and barley that yielded one cutting last year and a second cutting this year. That’s easing some of the effects of the drought on the farm, since it insulates the couple from the extra costs of buying hay in a market in which the supply/demand ratio has been affected by decreased production from farmers who haven’t had enough water to irrigate their hay fields. “We still have to supplement some, but not nearly what we had had to do,” Hicks says. “With the drought, we’re paying twice as much now as we did 10 years ago. It’s now $300 a ton, and the quality is not as good…. We know people who’ve had to get rid of their cattle. Fortunately, sheep and goats don’t drink as much water.”
She’s grateful for the coastal fog that blankets the hillsides of her farm in the mornings and shelters the fields from the evaporative power of the sun’s heat. “I don’t know how the farmers around Modesto are doing it,” she says. “The weather is so much hotter there.”
Next: Drought Adds to the Pain of a Bleating Heart Continue reading
By Lorrie Baumann
Every society has its orthodoxies, and some of them look foolish later. One of today’s is that cheap food and high quality can happen at the same time, says Joel Salatin, a full-time farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and a leader in the American sustainable farming movement. “Five hundred fifty years ago, you would have been laughed out of the room if you’d dared to suggest that the Earth was round. The flat Earth idea was quite ubiquitous in the world and that was the orthodoxy of the day. We look back and laugh,” he told an enthusiastic audience during a keynote speech in Baltimore at this year’s Natural Products Expo East.
Americans spend a smaller percentage of their total consumer expenditures on food than do the residents of any other country in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are countries where residents spend less per capita on their food, but they’re the likes of Colombia, Bulgaria and South Africa. On the other hand, Americans spend more on health care than do the citizens of the vast majority of other countries, according to the Global Health Observatory Data Repository. “We suggest, the weirdos, the heretics of our culture, dare to suggest that maybe we would be a healthier culture if we spent more on food,” Salatin said. “Think about how the experts told us to eat hydrogenated margarines instead of butter and lard. It should not be a surprise to us that we would be a healthier culture if the government had never told us how to eat.”
As a nation, American farmers have decided to invest in drugs, capital expenditures and energy intensity rather than farm management strategies that require people on the ground, and that has resulted in declines in the number of farmers and in their economic and cultural status in our society as well as in increasing pollution. What Americans should be doing instead of reducing food costs through these strategies is to manage their food expenditures by buying high-quality fresh foods and cooking them at home rather than buying processed foods, according to Salatin. “You don’t need to pay $3.99 a pound for potato chips,” he said. “Just go home and slice it up and fry it, and then you’ve got real nutrition – especially if you fried in lard,” he said.
Another way to reduce food cost is to move food supplies more efficiently from farms to consumers, Salatin said. He predicted that brick and mortar grocery stores are becoming obsolete, and electronic aggregation and distribution like that practiced by Amazon will become the way of the future. Already, he’s selling 40 percent of his farm produce through an electronic shopping cart maintained by a metropolitan buying club that’s able to drop the price of that produce below that offered by local warehouse stores because the buying club doesn’t have to pay for the brick and mortar infrastructure of a retail store.
Another myth that will seem foolish in the future is that organically and naturally produced food can’t actually feed the world’s population. That’s not a new myth, according to Salatin.
In 1910, the world had run out of unexplored regions, and what happened was a worldwide fear that the planet was overpopulated and would run out of food, he said. Experts thought that we were running out of soil, and that meant that we were going to starve to death, he said. Out of this developed two parallel schools of thought about how to deal with the situation. One school of thought said that all of life was a reconfiguration of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Then there was another school, the naturalist, who said that life was not fundamentally mechanical, it was fundamentally biological, according to Salatin. “Both sides moved forward with their approaches,” he said. The process for describing aerobic composting was described in 1943 by Sir Albert Howard, but by then, the world was distracted by World War II. “What the world was wanting at that time was not compost; they needed explosives,” Salatin said.
Then, after World War II, the factories that had been using nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to make explosives turned to making cheap chemical fertilizer that farmers could use instead of composting animal manure. “Sir Albert Howard had another idea, but we were tired of shoveling,” Salatin said. “It took a while for our side to develop all of the infrastructure necessary to come up to speed with the requirements of Sir Albert Howard’s gift of compost.”
“Life is fundamentally biological not mechanical. The soil is not lifeless, inert material. The soil is the most amazing foundation of life – the foundation being invisible. When do we think about that in our lives? Nobody ever thinks about it,” he said. “The orthodoxy out there is that Nature is a reluctant partner that we must subdue. What we have learned is that Nature is a benevolent lover that responds to caresses and wants to bless us with abundance beyond anything we could imagine.”
By Lorrie Baumann
UMAi Dry offers consumers the means of dry-aging or dry-curing their meats at home. Originally targeted for foodservice professionals when UMAi Dry was launched in 2009, the product has attracted the attention of culinary consumers who are using it successfully to dry-age steaks and dry-cure charcuterie and salumi at home.
“Fundamentally, UMAi Dry is a moisture-permeable membrane for dry-aging meat in the refrigerator. It functions as a combination of the traditional dry-aging method and the modern wet-aging method. It allows meat to be exposed to enzymatic activity, which enhances its rich texture and buttery flavor, just like old-fashioned dry-aging methods, but it does so with modern technology, to provide the food safety protection and ease that people need,” said Thea Lopatka, President of Drybag Steak LLC, which produces UMAi Dry. The company was founded by Lopatka, who then brought on college classmate Igor Pilko as CEO in 2013.
To cure a prosciutto, a pancetta or bresaola with UMAi Dry, the user rubs the cut of meat with curing salt and spices, refrigerates it for a couple of weeks to absorb flavor and draw out moisture, then rinses off the salt and spices and vacuum-seals it into an UMAi Dry bag. The meat then goes back into the refrigerator for six to eight weeks until it’s lost 35 to 40 percent of its weight. The company includes recipes with the kits and demonstration videos online for a wide range of salumi and charcuterie projects, as well as a wealth of information regarding how to dry age steak.
“We’ve noticed an increasing interest in capicola and in creating dishes like pancetta, which is rather simple to make because pork belly is now available everywhere,” Lopatka said.
Dry-aging a steak cut is even simpler: a whole subprimal ribeye will go into a large UMAi Dry bag that’s vacuum-sealed and placed in the refrigerator to age for four to six weeks.
“At a butcher or a warehouse club store, you can find the full subprimal piece in the processor packaging, so that it has all the fat attached and the muscle is intact. Whenever possible, try to transfer from processor packaging directly into the UMAi Dry. During the aging process, the meat will develop a mahogany brown bark, and when that is trimmed off, it is best to strip the parts that would be cut off anyway. You want to leave on the fat because that will develop the nutty, earthy taste that’s characteristic of dry-aged beef,” Lopatka said. “After you’ve dry-aged the meat, trimmed off the bark and cut it into steaks, they can be individually sealed and frozen. They freeze beautifully.”
The secret to the process is the UMAi Dry bag, which is made of a special membrane that’s moisture-permeable and oxygen-permeable. This allows moisture to flow out of the meat and into the refrigerated atmosphere around it, and the result is the kind of product that’s usually only available from a specialty meat shop.
The products designed for the retail market have been selling well online since the brand launched them through a Kickstarter campaign that began in April. Those commitments have now been fulfilled, and the company is ready to expand distribution into retail stores.
There are currently three products for the retail shelf: the Artisan Meat Kit, the Charcuterie Pack and the Dry-Aged Steak Pack. The Artisan Meat Kit, which retails for $170, includes a small appropriately designed vacuum sealer, a charcuterie pack for five items and a dry-aged steak pack that allows the user to dry age three full boneless ribeyes or strip loin subprimals (14-20 pounds).
The Charcuterie Pack retails for $30 and includes two large and three smaller UMAi Dry bags, enough curing salt to cure 30 pounds of meat, some juniper berries and VacMouse adapter strips that allow the UMAi Dry membranes to be sealed with the vacuum sealer. (Consumers can use basic model vacuum sealers or the one UMAi Dry offers). The Dry-Aged Steak Pack retails for $28 and includes enough supplies to dry-age three 14-20-pound strip loin or ribeye subprimals.
The kits are available online now, through Amazon and at shop.umaidry.com. Visit www.umaidry.com to learn more.
By Lorrie Baumann
Thirty three years ago, the goal of American Spoon founders Justin Rashid and Larry Forgione was to make the best preserves in America using Michigan fruits. The goal is the same today, Rashid says.
American Spoon is based in Petoskey, Michigan, a summer resort area with a remarkable microclimate that stretches along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, which buffers the extremes of temperature to make a growing season that allows local farmers to grow most of America’s crop of tart cherries as well as Haven peaches and, since the 1920s, a good share of America’s cultivated blueberries.
Rashid spent the summers of his childhood in the area and it was then that he learned to appreciate the local fruits. As he grew up, he learned to forage for wild mushrooms and fruits from the 30,000 acres of state forest lands that surrounded his parents’ summer cabin. “Any excuse to be out there in the woods,” he says. “It was what I loved to do, and I had a passion for it.”
He met Chef Larry Forgione, a pioneer in the farm to table movement when Forgione was looking for sources for wonderful ingredients to use in his restaurant menus and started supplying him with wild mushrooms and fruits. It wasn’t long before Forgione paid him a visit to see for himself where the wonderful produce that Rashid was supplying had originated. Once he saw the bounty available in Michigan, Forgione knew he wanted more of it in his restaurants. “He asked if I could provide fruit preserves for the River Cafe,” Rashid says. “We were both young, you know. I said, ‘I’m sure I could make preserves.’”
The two of them together founded American Spoon, which was incorporated in 1982. The name refers to the spoonability of the preserves, which are more suited to scooping onto bread or a cheese with a spoon rather than spreading them with a knife. Forgione developed the recipes, Rashid sourced the fruit, and together they set up a kitchen equipped with traditional copper kettles and wooden paddles.
Today, American Spoon still makes its preserves in small batches the old-fashioned, labor-intensive way and sells about 85 percent of what the company makes directly to consumers in six retail stores, all located in destination resort towns along Lake Michigan. “We have developed a very significant direct mail and Internet business, so some of the same customers who discover us when they’re on vacation here in the summer become year-round customers at Spoon.com,” Rashid says.
American Spoon draws summer tourists from the small-town sidewalks of the resort towns into its shops with a sampling table where visitors can try everything the company makes. “The wonderful thing about our small towns here is that they’ve been around a long time, so they have small-scale, human-scale, walkable downtowns,” Rashid says. “People taste and they buy, and very often they buy a case. It’s like going to a vineyard and tasting the wine and going away with a case.”
“A company of ours is not supposed to be able to survive based on quality, quantity and price. You have to justify your existence by producing products that spoil people,” he says. “We have one chance, when they open that jar and taste it, to create a relationship. We’re not selling food as fuel. We’re selling it to people who use it to entertain, for gifts, to celebrate.”
After 33 years in business, Rashid says that running American Spoon is still a lot of fun. These days, his son Noah Marshall-Rashid does all the marketing and runs many of the business details while Rashid himself is more involved in the production side of things. “I don’t suppose it would be as much fun if it were not that I have Noah here, who does most of the heavy lifting, so to speak,” he says. “We have a great time meeting our customers in our stores, talking with them about food, sharing recipes with them…. The food business can be very rewarding because everybody eats, and it makes people happy.”
One of the nation’s top wine brands has partnered with award-winning Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle to make this holiday season all the more merry. Starting November 1, Robert Mondavi Private Selection wine bottles will be adorned with a coupon offering consumers $1.50 off a 4-ounce or larger bag of Brownie Brittle with purchase, through December 31 at stores nationwide including retailers like Walmart, CVS, Safeway and Albertson’s. In states that do not allow a required wine purchase for coupon, a $2 mail-in rebate will be offered instead.
“Die-hard Brownie Brittle fans already know how well our snack pairs with wine—now we’re making it official with our Robert Mondavi Private Selection partnership,” said Founder Sheila G. Mains. “The partnership is perfectly timed with the release of our holiday flavors: Chocolate Chip with Snowflake Drizzle, Mint Chocolate Chip with Dark Drizzle and Salted Carmel with Dark Drizzle, also hitting shelves this season.”
The wine pairing experts at Robert Mondavi Private Selection recommend pairing their Cabernet Sauvignon with Salted Caramel Brownie Brittle, and Heritage Red with Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle.
Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle is available in tens of thousands of stores across the globe, including Target, Walmart, Kroger, and Safeway. Brownie Brittle has also been flying high as a snack on United and Alaskan Airlines flights.