By Greg Gonzales
When it comes to hemp-based foods, no company has been as close to the frontier as Manitoba Harvest. With its beginnings in the legalization of hemp in Canada, the company focuses on providing quality hemp foods and consumer education, and incorporates sustainability and forward thinking into its daily operations.
After hemp foods helped him lose weight and gain energy as a teen, CEO and Co-founder Mike Fata started Manitoba Hemp Alliance, a pro-hemp advocacy group that helped legalize hemp in Canada. Once the legislation passed in 1998, he and his partners began Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, helping to open the doors to an entirely new market and set the standard for the industry.
Manitoba Harvest products are all made from hemp hearts. These shelled hemp seeds have a somewhat nutty flavor, rich and creamy with a taste like sunflower seeds or pine nuts, and the versatility of the food makes it an easy addition to lax and rigorous diets, and everywhere beyond and between. Manitoba Harvest raw hemp hearts and hemp oil can be added to cereals, ice cream and salads. And the hemp heart bars make a convenient and healthy snack for kids, commuters, hikers or anyone on the go. The bars come in chocolate, vanilla and apple-cinnamon flavors to please multiple palates.
Food sourcing can get difficult when finding a seller, with a lot of questions about quality, contamination and farming practices, but Manitoba Harvest is the largest vertically integrated hemp foods producer. The company grows, manufactures and sells its own product lines, so it has control over product quality from seed to shelf and is the largest hemp seed contractor worldwide. In 2012, the company’s manufacturing facility received British Retail Consortium’s Global Standards Certification, and the products are also certified organic, GMO-free and all-natural.
The company is also a certified B Corporation, meaning Manitoba Harvest is held to higher standards of social and environmental performance, along with transparency and accountability. That includes taking good care of the team: All employees are paid 20 percent more than living wages, with bonus eligibility. On the sustainability side, 75 percent of the company’s printed materials use sustainable materials while half the energy used in corporate offices comes from renewable sources. The company also educates farmers about hemp’s potential, and encourages them to grow more hemp acres, which continues its efforts to spread the word about hemp foods.
The buzz around hemp-based foods has been about their dense nutritional value, along with taste. A single 30-gram serving provides 10 grams of plant protein, 10 grams of omegas and only three grams of carbohydrates. Hemp hearts also provide iron and vitamin E. Their high nutrition puts them in the superfoods category, even surpassing chia and flax.
Not a lot of consumers are familiar with hemp foods beyond what they know about hemp fibers and psychoactive varieties of the cannabis plant. According to Kelly Saunderson, Manager of Corporate and Public Affairs, the best strategy is to let people try hemp foods for themselves. To prove it, Manitoba Harvest sent out 2 million samples. While attending various trade shows, Saunderson said she’s noticed a before-and-after kind of reaction to trying hemp hearts.
“You pour them in a sample cup, in their hand, and they get this look on their face,” she said. “You can kind of see the transformation on their face; they like it.”
With the company’s December acquisition of Hemp Oil Canada, Saunderson said to expect further company growth in coming years, along with new and delicious hemp food products.
To learn more about Manitoba Harvest and hemp heart products, go to manitobaharvest.com or call 1.800.655.HEMP.
By Lorrie Baumann
Face Rock Creamery is a three-year-old operation on the southern Oregon coast that’s already producing award-winning Cheddars with “in your face” flavors. Face Rock Creamery 2 Year Extra Aged Cheddar won a first place award for aged Cheddars between 12 and 24 months from the American Cheese Society in 2015 and its Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheese Curds won a first place award for flavored cheese curds in the 2013 American Cheese Society competition. “We’ve been really fortunate to win these awards right out of the gate, and it’s given us some credibility and momentum, so that’s been wonderful,” says Face Rock Creamery President Greg Drobot.
Face Rock Creamery is located in Bandon, Oregon, a town of about 3,000 people with a heritage of cheesemaking. Cheese had been made in Bandon for about 100 years from milk produced at dairies upstream along the Coquille River and barged down the river to the cheese factory that employed 50-60 of the town’s residents until 2005, when a large cheese company bought the creamery to shut it down.
Drobot happened to have moved to Bandon in 2005 to pursue a real estate project, and when the project was completed, he was looking for something else to do when local resident and friend Daniel Graham suggested that he think about starting a new creamery and reviving that part of their heritage. “I thought at first it was nuts…. I didn’t know anything about cheesemaking, but it’s such an integral part of everyone’s like here that it stuck with me,” he says. “When we reopened, we had community members coming in in tears to talk about how they felt that the cheese plant was a part of their family legacy. I’m really proud and happy that I can do that.”
He wrote a business plan, got a loan, and suddenly, he was starting a cheese business. He took his plans up to Seattle and showed them to Brad Sinko, a son of Joe Sinko, who’d owned the cheese plant before it had been bought and closed. Sinko was the founding cheesemaker for Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, another award-winning maker of fine Cheddars, and after he’d finished reviewing the drawings for the new plant, he said he might be interested in coming to work there. “He was top of the world, a rock star in the cheese community, and I didn’t even think it was a possibility that he’d come back to Bandon,” Drobot says. “I about fell off my chair when he told me that. It changed things a lot.”
Sinko moved back home to Bandon, and the plant started operating in May, 2013. The plant employs about 25 people directly and provides employment indirectly for about another 15, including delivery drivers and service providers. Holstein, Brown Swiss and Jersey cow milk is sourced from Bob and Leonard Scolari’s family dairy just up the valley, where a temperate climate and coastal rains mean that the cows can be on pasture about 70 to 80 percent of the year. Products include conventional aged Cheddars as well as flavored varieties like In Your Face, a three-pepper Cheddar; Vampire Slayer, which is flavored with garlic; and Super Slayer, which has both peppers and garlic. “Cheese is, for a lot of people, intimidating, but we want to make sure people have fun and enjoy their cheese, so that’s the route we went, especially with some of our flavors,” Drobot says. “We put kind of a fun twist on it.”
The Face Rock Creamery cheeses are currently sold in 2,500 retail locations across 10 states. “We would like to continue to move west and continue to spread the word about Face Rock,” Drobot says. “We want to continue to make wonderful cheeses. We would like to be nationally distributed. We’re never going to be a commodity cheese, we’re always going to be small batch, but the flavors have national appeal.”
Tickets are now on sale for the United States’ premier public artisan cheese event, the 10th Annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, which takes place March 18 – 20, 2016. The weekend-long festival is a celebration of California cheesemakers, chefs, brewers, cider makers, winemakers and passionate guests, all coming together for three days of learning about, tasting and supporting artisan cheese.
Bringing attendees face-to-face with the farmers and cheesemakers who work together to create some of America’s best artisan cheeses, the farm tours tend to sell out early every year. This year, in honor of the 10-year milestone, there will be two full days of farm tours, on both Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, including destinations outside of the Bay Area, as well as educational components included in every tour.
Tickets to the festival’s other events are also now available, including Friday’s Cheesemongers’ Duel, Saturday’s “California Cheesin’ – We Do It Our Whey!” 10 Year Celebration, and Sunday’s Bubbles Brunch with Celebrity Chef John Ash and The Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace. Tickets for all events may be purchased at www.artisancheesefestival.com.
Those interested can also follow updates by “liking” the Artisan Cheese Festival on Facebook and following the event on Twitter. All events are priced separately and the Sheraton Sonoma County – Petaluma is offering special discounted rates on rooms for festival-goers.
Generous sponsors of the Artisan Cheese Festival include American AgCredit, Beehive Cheese Company, Bellwether Farms, Central Coast Creamery, Chevoo, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, Cowgirl Creamery, Culture Magazine, Cypress Grove Chevre, Donald & Maureen Green Foundation, Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese Co., Lagunitas Brewing Company, Laura Chenel’s Chevre, Mike Hudson Distributing, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, Nugget Markets, Oak Packaging, Oliver’s Markets, Pennyroyal Farm, Petaluma Market, Petaluma Post, Pisenti & Brinker LLP, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Pure Luxury Transportation, Real California Milk, Redwood Hill Farms & Creamery, Rustic Bakery, Sheraton Sonoma County, Valley Ford Cheese Company and Willapa Hills Cheese.
By Lorrie Baumann
As love did for Mama Cass Elliott, Peter Lovis’ parade for Crucolo cheese just started quietly and grew. Last December’s 100-yard parade route around the Walden Street corner from Main Street to the front of The Cheese Shop in Concord, Massachusetts was the sixth annual Cheese Parade hosted by Lovis in honor of the arrival of a 400-pound wheel of cheese from the Italian village of Scurelle, where Crucolo has been produced by the Purin family for the past 200 years.
The parade started out six years ago as a couple of 8-foot red carpets that rolled out along the street from a delivery truck into the store. But like Cass Elliott’s love affair, it’s getting better and growing stronger, until last year it included, not just a horse-drawn wagon to carry the cheese along in style, but dancing mice, Miss Crucolo Universe, Miss Crucolo USA, Little Miss Crucolo, a marching band, and a military escort of His Majesty’s 10th Foot, on furlough from their Revolutionary War service in the British army. “Now they’re friends. We don’t hold a grudge in Concord,” Lovis quips. “When it turns on Walden [Street], that’s where the band picks up and the dancers and the mice…. There’s nothing like a cheese parade. Go big or go home. It’s just fun. It’s really just for fun.”
When the wagon stops outside The Cheese Shop, the tractor tire-size wheel is rolled ceremoniously off the wagon onto red carpet, to be welcomed with the reading of a proclamation from the Concord Board of Selectmen; the waving of Italian flags; a speech by the Italian representative of Rifugio Crucolo, another by Tyrolean-hatted and white-aproned Lovis, each line of his text echoed by the crowd; and a protest march by local vegans carrying signs announcing that “Milk comes from grieving mothers.” Lovis says that he didn’t arrange the protest, but he admits without shame that, “If I’d thought of it, I’d have set it up.”
The event, held annually on the first Thursday in December at 3:30, so the kids have time to get home from school first, has become something of a tradition in Concord. People take the day off work for it, some driving in from out of town. “It’s over by 4:30 because it’s dark,” Lovis says. Last year, more than 1,500 spectators showed up. The parade has been featured in news reports all over the world, and the YouTube videos have been seen by thousands.
At the very end of the celebration, someone cuts the cheese to reveal its ivory paste laced with small irregular eyes, samples are passed out to the crowd, and the whole 400-pound wheel is gone in a week. For most of the rest of the year, the Crucolo lovers will have to get by with wedges cut from the 30-pound wheels that arrive in the shop without benefit of a parade. Crucolo, an Asiago fresco-style raw cow milk cheese with a mild, buttery taste and a tangy finish, is one of about 200 cheeses in the case at The Cheese Shop at any given time. The 200 rotate in and out to make a total of about 1,000 cheeses offered to The Cheese Shop’s customers over the course of a year. “We’re always out of about 80 percent,” Lovis says. “People come in and ask for what they want. We can’t have everything all the time.”
The cheese is sold by Lovis and his 16 year-round employees, who are augmented by seasonal employees during the winter holiday season. Lovis has eight seasonal employees who’ve come back year after year during the holiday season, so that they’re now fully trained in every job in the store – one now in her eleventh Christmas at the Cheese Shop, another in her tenth year. “They love it. They love the work, they love the place, they love the customers, and they know I love them,” Lovis says.
Lovis has been in the business since 1976, when he was 15 years old and started a career that has included retail, wholesale, importing – every link of the supply chain. He signed the agreement to purchase the store in 2001 and closed the deal in 2003. “My whole life has been an apprenticeship for owning this store,” he says. In that time, he’s learned a lot about selling cheese for prices that range from about $8.99 to $40 a pound. “One thing I work very hard is not to be a cheese snob about the cheeses we sell,” he says. “The point of being in business is to give the customers what they want…. What we need to focus on is not how good we are about selling cheese. What we focus on is how we get you what you want.”
How you sell people a $40/pound piece of cheese is to give them a taste, he says. “You should never buy a cheese if you can’t taste it first. Have a taste. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If you can’t afford it, I have other cheeses in the same family. But there’s a reason why it’s $40. It’s not cranked out of a machine; it’s made by hand. But if you want something less expensive, I’ll get you something less expensive,” he says. “Give people a taste. It’s not about the cheese. It’s about the customer.”
CocoaPlanet opened a craft manufacturing facility and chocolate tasting room in the heart of California’s wine country. Situated on Broadway just blocks from the historic Sonoma Plaza, visitors to a region famed for artisanal food and wine will now have the opportunity to see CocoaPlanet chocolates being made and sample the company’s award-winning chocolates at their freshest.
The elegant, mid-century modern tasting room features a glass-walled observation area where visitors can see the all new craft manufacturing line while enjoying French bistro style small plates, hot or cold drinks and a variety of desserts based on CocoaPlanet chocolate. CocoaPlanet will also host wine and chocolate pairing events each month with local wineries from the region.
Pearls of Flavor Give You More Taste, Less Sugar
CocoaPlanet distributes drops, or “pearls,” of flavored fillings throughout premium dark chocolate (64 percent cacao), giving More Taste, Less Sugar[TM] than traditional filled chocolates. The chocolate’s structure is designed to readily deliver flavor throughout your palate using much less filling. The result is that each single serving chocolate has less than 100 calories, eight grams of sugar or less and net carbs of nine grams or less.
Flavors include Salted Caramel, Deep Dark Truffle, Vanilla Espresso, Mandarin Orange and CocoaMint™. CocoaPlanet chocolates are made with all natural and mostly organic ingredients, including Fair Trade Cocoa certified by Fair Trade USA. They are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free tested and Kosher OU-D certified. Three of the flavors (Vanilla Espresso, Mandarin Orange and CocoaMint) are vegan.
How Did it Come Up with This Idea?
Founder Anne McKibben was inspired to provide a new taste experience along with fewer calories and sugar. No one in the industry could think of how to realize her vision for a new way of combining flavored fillings with chocolate.
After much research and prototyping, she invented the new technology used to create CocoaPlanet chocolates. Her patent-pending invention suspends pearls of flavor within premium dark chocolate. The result has only 15 percent filling versus the 60 to 80 percent of sugar-based filling found in most flavor-filled chocolates. The perfect balance of flavors means more taste, less sugar – a better, healthier experience that evolves the concept of flavor-filled chocolates.
A superb eating chocolate, CocoaPlanet can also be prepared as a hot chocolate. Simply steam or microwave four to six ounces of milk or milk-substitute, drop in the chocolate and stir. Voila – the chocolate melts along with the flavored filling to create a splendid hot chocolate.
Based in Sonoma, California, CocoaPlanet Inc. uses ethically sourced chocolate produced using sustainable practices, enabling cocoa farmers a better quality of life.
For more information, visit www.cocoaplanet.com, call 707.721.1275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lorrie Baumann
A California produce company has found a way to make the Farm to Fork movement a reality for customers in urban areas across the state – including those who live in food deserts. Farm Fresh To You is a service that delivers produce from Capay Organic, the company’s own farm, as well as from about 50 other organic farms across the state directly to customers’ doors in the San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas each week. “Our philosophy is that for local produce to be successful, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to make the best selection of local produce show up at their door each week,” said Thaddeus Barsotti, one of the brothers who owns the business. “We’ve been very successful at keeping customers happy because we’ve made it really easy to fit into their lives.”
Capay Organic and Farm Fresh to You were originally founded in 1976 by Martin and Kathy Barsotti, Thaddeus’ parents. Martin was a student at the University of California, Davis when he began developing his ideas about how to create direct relationships between farmers and consumers. He got a permit from the city of Davis to start a farmers market that’s now one of the most robust in the country. Then, he and his wife decided that they wanted move out of the city and onto a farm, where they would use organic methods and make it their full-time careers.
Eventually, Martin left the business, but Kathy carried on. She heard about the idea of Community Supported Agriculture from another farmer, and in 1992, she adopted some of those ideas and started delivering produce directly to her CSA customers out of the back of her parents’ Buick station wagon. Kathy kept track of her customers and what they liked and didn’t like in binders full of account records. By 2000, the company was distributing about 500 boxes a month.
About 15 years ago, her sons, who’d grown up with the business, took it over after Kathy’s death just after Thaddeus had graduated from college. Since then, the company has been growing aggressively throughout California, expanded its network of family farms, has added value-added farm products to the offerings and penetrated into food deserts with a business model that Barsotti says is scalable and adaptable elsewhere outside California. “We are serving food deserts in the Central Valley, Manteca, Stockton, some rural communities that are classified as food deserts. We can go there; we just need to have enough people to justify sending a driver out there,” he said. “All of the food deserts in the Bay Area and Los Angeles – we go to all of those places.”
Contents of the boxes change according to what’s local to those regions. A purchasing team stays in touch with the whole network of farms to find out what’s in season and available in their area, and they build local menus for each region each week. “It is a full-time job for a whole team of people,” Barsotti said. The weekly boxes are packed in two facilities, one in Sacramento and one in Los Angeles. Sourcing and distributing season produce that’s mostly local to each region across the entire state is the most difficult piece of the model – Barsotti calls it “ pretty complicated and logistically rich,” but the result is that Barsotti can sell the regular-size box that will feed a family of four for a week for $33. “We’re pretty good at what we do. We’ve been doing it for a long time. The owners grew up doing this, growing produce and hustling produce at farmers markets. We understand it quite well,” he said. “We’re in the business. We know each week, what the best local organic produce is, and we make that selection for our customers, and they don’t even have to think about it.”
Customers can choose to be surprised by what shows up in their weekly box, or they can log onto the company’s website to find out what the company plans to send and alter their box according to their own preferences. A customer might cancel this week’s carrots, add more fruit or opt for spinach instead of kale.
Recently Farm Fresh To You began offering customers a few direct-from-the-farm processed food products sourced from farmers who also provide fresh produce products to the business, including jams, granola, juices, dried fruit, nuts, olive oil and tomato sauces. “We’re excited about the specialty flours we have,” Barsotti said. “Our niche is focusing on products that come straight off farms, and that includes processed things that preserve a crop.”
Customers can also decide before they go on vacation, they’ll donate their weekly box to a local food bank instead of suspending the service. Farm Fresh To You works with food banks in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego that serve the communities in which the company’s customers live and the affiliated family farmers grow. We’ve been able to get tens of thousands of pounds of fresh local organic food to our customers’ local food banks, and we’re really proud of that,” Barsotti said. “We believe that everyone should be able to eat healthy food, but we recognize that not everyone can afford it.”
New customers find out about the service either through meeting with Farm Fresh To You sales representatives that set up shop at local events such as home and garden shows or green festivals, through word of mouth from existing customers or by learning about it through the media exposure that the business has been attracting since a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about it in the mid 1990s. These days, customers sometimes find the business online at www.farmfreshtoyou.com, where customers can sign up for deliveries of various sizes of boxes that contain fruits and vegetables, all fruits or all vegetables in a seasonal mix that varies according to the specific area in which the customer lives, depending on what’s in season there.
“What ‘local’ means exactly also changes with the season. Summer and fall, most of the stuff’s coming from our farm,” Barsotti said. “In the winter, we want to make sure our customers still have a good selection, so they don’t go back to using the grocery store, so we’ll source in southern California for vegetables. Apples come from the Pacific Northwest.” All of the produce, except bananas, is grown in the U.S. by family farmers. Barsotti probably wouldn’t offer bananas at all, since they’re strictly a tropical fruit, but Farm Fresh To You customers want them, so Barsotti compromises a bit by offering them fair trade organic bananas. “Our customers sign up because I’m a farmer. I know what’s good,” Barsotti said. “I take the health of our farmworkers seriously, and we make sure that all of the products we grow comply with U.S. labor laws.”
While some customers are aware of the social justice aspects of Barsotti’s purchasing, not all of them either know or care about anything other than that the business provides a dependable supply of fresh, local, organic produce. “I know we’re doing that, and when a customer signs up, whether they know it or not, they’re affecting my planting schedule and the jobs that come out of that. We’re connecting customers directly to our field,” Barsotti said. “We are trying to transform the food system. It can’t be done on a tiny scale. It’s a big thing. There are millions of people who need to eat better. Our objective is to find how we can get local, organic food to people at an affordable price.”
By Lorrie Baumann
It wasn’t so long ago that the blue cheese you found in your local grocery came in a tub of crumbles or in a bottle of creamy salad dressing. While you’ll still find Roquefort salad dressing and Gorgonzola crumbles in the refrigerated cases, it’s more and more likely that you’ll also find wedges and wheels of moldy goodness in gourmet groceries as blue cheese comes back to the cheese board.
“Blue sales in the U.S. are up again over year prior by about 2.2 percent,” said Jeff Jirik, Swiss Valley Farms Vice President of Quality and Product Development. “That’s great news for those of us who make and love American artisanal, natural cheese.”
Swiss Valley Farms, Caves of Faribault
Swiss Valley Farms is a Midwest dairy co-op that’s also the parent company of Caves of Faribault, which produced the first commercial American blue cheese in 1936. The history of American blue cheese is intimately tied to Minnesota, and Caves of Faribault in particular. In the 1920s, University of Minnesota food scientists began trying to develop a cheese that would rival Roquefort. They were making cheese out of cow milk and aging it in St. Peter sandstone caves when the French took notice. “In 1925, the French declared it ‘bastard blue,’ and that’s what led to the first PDO,” Jirik said. “It was because of the blue cheese made in St. Paul.”
Food scientist Felix Frederiksen came onto the scene at Caves of Faribault when he decided to venture into commercial cheese production. He’d seen sandstone caves used in France for aging Roquefort, so he started looking for a sandstone cave that he might be able to use for the same purpose. He traveled into Minnesota by train, and when the train stopped at Faribault, he couldn’t help but notice the St. Peter sandstone bluffs directly across from the train station. Even better, the bluffs already had a cave, which had once been used as a cool environment for beer storage until Prohibition shut down the brewery in 1919. Frederiksen set up shop in the abandoned Caves of Faribault and operated it as an aging facility for America’s first commercial blue cheese until 1965, when he sold it. The Caves of Faribault went through a couple of changes of ownership before Jirik and two partners bought the facility in 2001, and then it became part of Swiss Valley Farms in 2010. Today, both Swiss Valley Farms and Caves of Faribault make award-winning blue cheeses and gorgonzola.
AmaBlu® Blue Cheese is a 75-day-old cave-aged blue cheese that’s sold in convenient exact weight crumbles and wedges. Its tangy taste profile makes it a good choice for sprinkling on a salad or laying over a burger. AmaGorg[R] Gorgonzola Cheese is aged a minimum of 90 days and has a sharper flavor but is a little less acidic than AmaBlu. AmaBlu St. Pete’s Select blue cheese is a super premium cheese aged more than 100 days and available only in limited quantities.
Rogue Creamery is another cheese company with a respected legacy in blue cheeses. The company started thinking about blue cheese during World War II, when the company was providing millions of pounds of cheddar for the war effort, and Tom Vella, the creamery’s founder, thought what we all think after we’ve eaten no cheese but cheddar for the duration of a world war: A piece of cheese is still wonderful, but it’s time for something a little different. He created Oregon Blue, the West Coast’s first cave-aged blue in 1954.
Oregon Blue successfully carried the blue flag for Rogue Creamery until 1998, when Ig Vella, Tom’s son, created Oregonzola in honor of his father’s hundredth birthday. New owners David Gremmels and Cary Bryant took ownership of Rogue Creamery in 2002 with a handshake promise to keep the plant open and its staff employed. “Ig continued on as Master Cheesemaker and mentor,” said Francis Plowman, Rogue Creamery’s Director of Marketing. “The tradition and path was laid down to develop expertise for blue cheese and to create new varieties.”
Gremmels and Bryant took those two blue cheeses and ran with them, expanding the line to nine with a tenth expected to come out some time in 2016. In 2003, Rogue River Blue won the award for Best Blue Cheese at the World Cheese Awards, and that led to the cheese becoming the first raw milk cheese to be exported into the European Union in 2007 . “That was a catalyst for us, really,” Plowman said.
Consumer demand for the blue cheeses drove production, and Rogue Creamery’s cheesemakers were inspired to see what else they might be able to do. Crater Lake Blue was created in 2004. Smokey Blue won a Trend Innovation Award at SIAL in 2005 as the first smoked blue and then came the award for Outstanding New Product at the 2005 Summer Fancy Food Show. “That became almost an instant best seller,” Plowman said. “We now had two cheeses with international reputations.”
Then the creamery created Flora Nelle Blue Cheese, an organic cheese created especially to comply with Australia’s refusal to allow imports of raw milk cheeses. “We were looking to create a cheese for the Australian market that was the same fine quality as our other products,” Plowman said. “That was also a catalyst for us to learn how to make some of the best pasteurized blue cheeses.” In 2012 Flora Nelle was selected as the Outstanding Organic Product at the Summer Fancy Food Show.
Next up for Rogue Creamery was Caveman Blue, a natural rind cheese with a lot of the flavor profile of Rogue River Blue, but it’s available year-round, while Rogue River Blue Cheese is always sold out before the winter holidays because in keeping with Rogue Creamery’s tradition for cheese production, it’s only made during the six-week period in late fall after the first rains of the season as a celebration of the autumnal equinox and the rich milk coming in at that time. Keeping the tradition means that the supply of Rogue River Blue doesn’t necessarily keep up with demand, and after Rogue River Blue is sold out for the season, Caveman Blue is still available. “I think that all of these things built on the others,” Plowman said. “Ig Vella as Master Cheesemaker made great cheeses, and then the new owners really innovated from that platform.”
“That’s been our niche for more than 10 years,” he continued. “We really focused on certain cheeses. We’ve had a lot of requests to make others, but the facility is dedicated to making the world’s finest hand-made cheeses. Product diversification is great, but we’re not going to start making Gouda or some other kind of cheese. We want to do what we do and be the best at it.”
Founded in 1988, Organic Valley is best known for an entire range of USDA-certified organic dairy products that includes Cheddar, Jack and block mozzarella cheeses sold from the self-service cases at natural and mainstream grocers, but the company also makes the delicious Kickapoo Blue, which is positioned as a specialty cheese. Brand Manager Andrew Westrich says it’s one of his favorites. “Sales for Kickapoo are doing well and growing. There’s a rising interest in blues in general, and I think it comes from the awakening of America’s food palate in the last five to 10 years. Blues offer some of the richest, fullest sensory experiences you can get in a cheese,” he said. “Chefs and consumers are looking for full sensory experiences. Blues offer a wonderful juxtaposition of flavors and colors from the creamy white of the cheese to the tangy, salty notes from the blue-green Penicillium roqueforti mold used in our Kickapoo Blue and in many of the world’s best blue cheeses. You can see the texture on the plate and feel it in the mouth, and they offer a continuum of flavor beyond that of other cheeses.”
Kickapoo Blue presents a mild, creamy taste of the base cheese followed by the rich earthiness of the mold and finishes with a salty tang. “It’s almost like a primal experience,” Westrich said. “Other specialty cheeses offer complex flavor profiles, but blue cheeses offer a very unique, even more dynamic experience that changes from start to finish.”
Kickapoo Blue is unique because it’s made in southwestern Wisconsin from milk that comes from organic family farms from the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. The landscape of rolling hills and valleys is home to some of the 1,800 farmers who belong to the national organic cooperative. They share the goal of tending the land with sustainable methods and have an average herd of about 70 cows. “They’re not 100 percent grass-fed, but they’re out on pasture as much as possible in a Midwest climate,” Westrich said. Kickapoo Blue is made from a decades-old recipe that uses this milk combined with Penicillium roqueforti. “That milk, that great organic milk from our family farmers really makes the difference,” Westrich said.
That difference is gaining the notice of the critics. Kickapoo Blue won a gold medal this year at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition and a second-place award at the American Cheese Society’s 2015 competition. “Clearly we’re doing something right with it,” Westrich said.
Kickapoo Blue is sold in a 4-ounce wedge wrapped in plastic and foil and in tubs of crumbles that are made from the same cheese sold in the wedge.
Bleating Heart Cheese
Bleating Heart Cheese’s Buff Blue is one of most unusual blue cheeses on the American market. Cheesemaker Seana Doughty makes it from water buffalo milk supplied by dairy farmer Andrew Zlot, who uses it to make his gelato during the spring and summer months. Demand for gelato diminishes during the winter, so Zlot urged Doughty to take some of his winter milk and try making cheese with it.
Water buffalo milk is traditionally used to make mozzarella di bufala in Italy, where it’s been made since around 1,200. Doughty, though, who specializes in American Originals cheeses that are an expression of her own creativity, had absolutely not interest in making mozzarella. “But he kept coming back and asking me,” she said.
Zlot finally talked her into trying some experiments. She made a couple of experiments at home and then did some thinking about the implications of the milk’s very high fat content – water buffalo milk contains about 8-10 percent fat, compared to around 7 percent fat for sheep milk, which doesn’t sound like a lot of difference, but the extra fat makes a very dense, very rich milk that’s distinctively different to work with. After playing around with the milk a bit, Doughty began to wonder if it might make a good blue cheese.
The result was Buff Blue, an absolutely unique cheese for the American market. Doughty made it in multiple batches for the first time in late 2014, then sent it to the World Cheese Awards, where it won a bronze medal in its first competition. In 2015, Buff Blue made from spring milk went on to win a third-place award in the American Cheese Society competition.
The water buffalo milk supply went to Zlot’s gelato instead during the summer, but as soon as the cooler weather came, Doughty went right back to making cheese with it. “I have been getting so many requests for it because people who did get a little bit of it loved it,” Doughty said. “Markets have been sending out purchase orders for it even though I told them that we were sold out.”
Buff Blue retails for about $40 a pound, depending on the retailer and the distance from the Bleating Heart creamery, but the reception has been so enthusiastic that Doughty is planning to expand her production of Buff Blue with all the milk that Zlot’s willing to sell her. The cheese, made in 2-1/2 to 3-pound wheels, will continue to be made in the fall and winter, ending each year with the arrival of spring weather.
Buff Blue is aged for at least 90 days, so it’s available for sale in the spring months through June, if it lasts that long. “The buffalo milk is tricky and can be difficult to work with, but I’m used to it now. I know what to expect,” Doughty said. “I feel a sense of accomplishment as a cheesemaker that I have found a way to make an award-winning cheese from this very difficult milk.”
Wacky Apple Organics, family owned and operated fruit orchards and makers of small batch organic applesauce, fruit juice and flat fruit snacks, today unveiled the first of its kind 50.7-ounce juice pouch, made with 100 percent organic real, fresh fruit juice concentrate and zero added sugar or preservatives. This new addition to the juice aisle and family’s refrigerators alike comes in two delicious flavors, apple and fruit punch.
The large pouch delivers a naturally sweet juice with only 98 calories per serving for the apple juice and 80 calories per serving for the fruit punch. All Wacky Apple juices are non-GMO, certified organic, certified kosher, vegan, gluten free, corn free, soy free and nut free and BPA free.
These oversized juice pouches have a reinforced gusset to prevent tipping – so they slide right into refrigerator door for easy access, and are perfect to bring to sporting events, play dates, the park, the beach – or any where family and friends gather for good times. No more large and clumsy plastic bottles! This novel pouch lets the kids be in charge of their healthy beverages. The push dispensers are spill proof, and perfect for little hands to pour their own cup without any mess or heavy lifting.
“We are thrilled to produce the very first large juice pouch! We only use 100 percent real fruit juices, and never any added sugar — the only sugars in our products come straight from the fruit itself. It’s like drinking the juice from the real fruit,” said Sarah Tuft, Co-founder of Wacky Apple Organics. “Our mission is to make healthy food, delicious and fun, and this large juice pack can go anywhere and everywhere!”
“We believe knowledge, combined with fun, will lead to healthy choices now and in the future,” she added. “Our goal is to educate children and families about the benefit of healthy choices while supplying yummy, real, organic food for happy and healthy kids. We believe eating organic food will lead to a healthier life and safer environment for everyone. We are passionate about sustainable farming, a fun and fair work environment and the highest quality products.”
The 50.7-ounce juice pouch is available at wholesale pricing to retailers nationwide, with a suggested retail price of $5.99. For more information, visit Wacky Apple Organics at WackyApple.com and on Facebook at Facebook.com/OrganicWackyApple.
Whether it’s their strikingly rich color, antioxidant properties or numerous health benefits, there’s no question that the beet has become a go-to vegetable for natural foods consumers. With these attributes in mind, Crunchies introduces this essential superfood to its deliciously addictive line of freeze-dried snacks. Crunchies Freeze-Dried Beets will officially launch at this year’s Natural Products Expo West, proving that single-ingredient snacks can deliver nutrition, taste and convenience all in one.
“Because ‘pure’ and ‘nothing added’ are the building blocks of our brand, we knew that we wanted to introduce a vegetable that complemented our mission of health and transparency,” says Crunchies President and CEO Scott Jacobson. “Beets, a well-known superfood, are the perfect, natural addition to our line.”
Crunchies is the only U.S. consumer freeze-dry brand that is vertically integrated “farm to fork,” meaning that it knows exactly where its fruits and vegetables were harvested. Crunchies’ new beets, for example, are grown and processed in France by farmers the company knows and trusts.
“Our UK-based supplier is a veteran when it comes to freeze drying beets. Unlike the European population, which has considered beets a dietary staple for years, Americans are only recently realizing the culinary versatility and nutritional benefits of this superfood,” adds Jacobson.
In addition to their sensory appeal and nutritional density, beets have the ideal composition for freeze-drying, a low-pressure drying process that allows for high retention of nutrients and antioxidant phytochemicals. Unlike dehydration, freeze-drying requires no additives for preservation and generally means a longer shelf life, lighter weight and that satisfying crunch.
Crunchies Freeze-Dried Beets will be available in stores nationwide for a suggested retail price of $4.99 for resealable pouches and $1.69 for single-serve packs. Like all Crunchies products, they contain no added sugar and no artificial flavors or coloring and are non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, kosher and halal certified. Other Crunchies products in the line include strawberries, mango, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, cinnamon apple, strawberry banana and mixed fruit.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is bowing to cheesemakers who claim that in applying a standard for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese that they claim is arbitrary and unscientific, the agency could be, in effect, limiting the production of raw milk cheeses without demonstrably benefiting public health.
“In response, we want to first acknowledge our respect for the work of the artisan cheesemakers who produce a wide variety of flavorful, high-quality cheeses using raw milk and our appreciation for the great care that many take to produce raw milk cheeses safely. We understand the concerns expressed by some cheesemakers, as well as lawmakers, and intend to engage in a scientific dialogue on these issues,” read’s the FDA’s statement announcing the change, issued on February 8.
The FDA has been testing raw milk cheeses for the presence of non-toxigenic E. coli because that’s been thought to indicate fecal contamination. The FDA says that the bacterium is used as an indicator of fecal contamination by other public health agencies in the U.S. and other countries as well as by the FDA. “The FDA’s reason for testing cheese samples for non-toxigenic E. coli is that bacteria above a certain level could indicate unsanitary conditions in a processing plant,” the FDA says.
FDA recently sampled and collected data on 1,200 imported and 400 domestic raw milk cheeses, according to the American Cheese Society. The FDA notes that the sampling it has conducted to date shows that the “vast majority of domestic and imported raw milk cheeses” are meeting the FDA’s criteria.
The FDA will also hold a listening session later this week in Washington, D.C. to hear directly from ACS raw milk cheesemakers. ACS President, Dick Roe, and ACS Executive Director, Nora Weiser, will be joined by seven raw milk cheesemakers from around the country, who will share their stories and speak to the impact of raw milk cheese regulatory changes on their businesses. The seven cheesemakers who will be addressing the FDA include:
Looking ahead, with the FSMA preventive controls rule now final, the FDA plans to take another look at what role non-toxigenic E. coli should have in identifying and preventing insanitary conditions and food safety hazards for both domestic and foreign cheese producers. Changes in the safety criteria the FDA is using will consider what the cheesemakers and other experts have to say about the use of a single bacterial criterion for both pasteurized and raw milk cheese, and the use of non-toxigenic E. coli as an indicator organism.