By Lorrie Baumann
La Pasta’s Radicchio, Parsnip & Apricot Ravioli has won the 2016 sofi Award for Best New Product. Radicchio is sauteed with a little bit of balsamic vinegar to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables and then folded into ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese together with roasted parsnips and dried apricots. The filling is then enclosed in La Pasta’s signature pasta with black pepper pasta stripes.
“We got lucky. It happens,” said Alexis Konownitzine, President of La Pasta, “Our chef Kristen made the product and will be at the Fancy Food Show.”
La Pasta already had several sofi Awards for products including its Marinara Sauce and Beet, Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Ravioli. This year’s winner was selected from among 23 finalists in the Best New Product category by the sofi judging panel of culinary experts in a blind tasting. Overall, 28 products were named winners and 100 named finalists from among 3,200 entries this year.
This year’s judging diverged from the methodology used for the past couple of years, in that the judging was completed before the Summer Fancy Food Show and winners were named at the same time as finalists. This process was designed to make the judging more fair and transparent, according to the Specialty Food Association, which owns the sofi Awards program. The products were judged by criteria that awarded 70 percent of the product’s score for taste, which included flavor, appearance, texture and aroma and 30 percent for ingredient quality, which included a consideration of whether any of the product’s ingredients were artificial and whether they were combined in a creative or unexpected way. One winner was chosen in each of the 28 judging categories, and the top 4 percent of the entries in each category were named finalists. No awards were presented this year in classic, foodservice or product line categories, which were part of last year’s contest.
Finalists for the Best New Product award included Dalmatia Sour Cherry Spread from Atalanta Corporation, Jansal Valley Boneless Prosciutto Toscano D.O.P. from Sid Wainer and Son Specialty Produce and Specialty Food, Organic Stoneground Flakes Cereal — Purple Corn from Back to the Roots and Sliced Prosciutto (Domestic) from Creminelli Fine Meats. “Prosciutto is everywhere in the U.S., but we do it differently, using whole-muscle Duroc pork that’s 100 percent vegetarian-fed with no antibiotics ever. We layer it in the tray by hand instead of by machine,” said Kyle Svete, Creminelli Fine Meats’ Director of Sales for National Accounts. “We invest in people, not machines. It’s part of who we are – people, animal, craft…. We have machines to help us do our job, but it’s really about the people. The recyclable tray and the elegant look of it elevates the product and the category.”
“We’re proud of it. We put the ingredients right on the front of the label,” he added. “That’s all there is to it – time, love, pork and sea salt.”
Chocolate-covered Cocomels – 5 Salts from JJ’s Sweets, Gourmet Honey Spread: Salted Honey from Cloister Honey LLC, Wild Boar Salted Star Anise Single Origin Organic Dark Chocolate Bar from Hagensborg Chocolate Ltd., Original Tangerine Sriracha from Just Jan’s Inc., Mr. Hot Stuff Pepper Spread from Steppin’ Out LLC, Clementine Crush Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Enzo Olive Oil Company/P-R Farms, Inc. and Deschutes Brewery® Black Butte Porter Truffle from Moonstruck Chocolate, Co. were also among the finalists for the Best New Product Award.
Other finalists were Pineapple Habanero Caramel from JulieAnn Caramels, Frozen Passion Chia Lassi from Monsieur Singh LLC, Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) Premium Cooking Oil from Fatworks LLC, Avocado Oil Mayo and Licorice Mint Tea from Chosen Foods, Inc., Chili Crunch Bar from Vivra Chocolate, Vegan Stone Ground Hazelnut Butter from Karmalize LLC, Raspberry Amaretto Preserves from Robert Rothschild Farm, Orange Artisan Fruit Cracker from Simple & Crisp, Gluten-Free Coffee Brownie from Savvy Girl Baking Company and Dark Moon from Marin French Cheese Company.
In the remaining categories, Brussizzle Sprouts from Pacific Pickle Works, Inc. was named the best appetizer. The Spice Hunter, Inc.‘s Coriander Lime Global Fusion Rub was named best baking ingredient, baking mix or flavor enhancer, Ginger Hemp Granola from Michele’s Granola LLC was the best in the category for breads, muffins, granola or cereal, and Vermont Creamery‘s Bijou was judged the best cheese. Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche was a finalist for the award both this year and last year.
Money on Honey by Droga Chocolates won the sofi in the chocolate category, and Bittermilk LLC‘s No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour won the award in the cold beverage category. Bittermilk was a sofi finalist last year with the same product. Non-GMO Salted Caramelized Fig Spread from King’s Cupboard was named the best condiment, and Sea Salt & Vanilla Farmstead Goat Milk Caramels from Big Picture Farm LLC received the award for the best confection. Big Picture Farm won sofi Awards last year for best new product with its Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramels and for best confection with its Goat Milk Chai Caramels. Moon Dance Baking‘s Holly Baking Cookie Brittle Cinnamon & Spice was named in the category for cookies, brownies, cakes or pie.
Barnier Pimento Sauce with Preserved Lemon from FoodMatch Inc. was named best cooking, dipping or finishing sauce. Cranberry Pistachio “The Original” from Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps was named the best cracker. Epicurean Butter‘s Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter was named in the category for best dairy or dairy alternative product. “The reason this is something really new and innovative is that this is organic pasteurized cream, organic coconut oil, organic honey, organic canola oil, organic cocoa powder and Himalayan pink salt. It’s good on crepes, pancakes French toast. We actually just love it on a baguette,” said Janey Hubschman, who co-founded Epicurean Butter with her husband John, who’s the chef and still does all the formulations for the company’s products. “It’s got a lovely mouth feel with the butter and the coconut oil and then the finish of the salt.” The Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter is part of a product line that includes 13 finishing butters, of which two are organic. The company has just installed new equipment in its plant that allows Epicurean Butter to produce single-serve squeeze packs. Each of those has 190 calories for a 1-ounce serving, and Hubschman expects that the single-serve packaging will draw a lot of interest from the producers of home-delivered meal kits.
Bourbon Matured Maple Syrup from BLiS LLC was named the best dessert sauce, topping or syrup. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate‘s Single Origin Drinking Chocolate 72% Belize, Toledo received the sofi Award for the best hot beverage. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate was a finalist in the chocolate category last year with its 72% Madagascar, Sambirano bar. The Gelato Fiasco‘s Ripe Mango Sorbetto was named the best ice cream, gelato or frozen treat.
Cioccomiel, a spread made from hazelnuts, cocoa and honey, won the sofi Award for the best jam, preserve, honey or nut butter. It is imported by Marcelli Formaggi LLC.
Fermín Chorizo Ibérico Picante / Fermín Ibérico Pork Dry-Cured Chorizo Sausage Spicy from Fermin USA was named the best meat, pate or seafood.
Stöger Organic Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil was named the best oil. It is imported by Los Chileros, which won a finalist award last year for the same product.
Gustiamo, Inc.‘s Pianogrillo Sicilian Cherry Tomato Sauce took home the sofi Award for the best pasta sauce, while the best pasta was Pastifico Artigianale Leonardo Carassai, made in Campofilone, Italy, and imported by Bravo International Inc.
Wozz! Kitchen Creations, which won the 2015 sofi Award for best salsa or dip with its Kiwi Lime Salsa Verde takes home the gold in the salad dressing category this year with North African Chermoula Dressing. This year’s award in the salsa or dip category went to American Spoon Foods’ Pumpkin Seed Salsa.
Hickory Smoked Spicy Candied Bacon from Little Red Dot Kitchen LLC won the sofi Award this year in the category for savory snacks. The best sweet snack came from Creative Snacks Co. with its Organic Coconut Bites.
Dinner Tonight Black Bean Tortilla Chili Mix from Backyard Safari Company won the award for best soup, stew, bean or chili. ParmCrisps Mini Aged Parmesan Crisps from Kitchen Table Bakers won the award for the best vegan or gluten-free product. Kitchen Table Bakers was a finalist last year for its Jalapeno Parmesan Crisps. Finally, this year’s best vinegar was Balsamic Nectar from Boulder Flavours.
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.”
“The core of Marie’s Dreams brand is quality and enjoyment, but our vision is also to offer people something their parents and grandparents got in the 1950’s,” says Pekka Rantajarvi, CEO at A1 Tradehouse Corp.
“When people buy a Marie’s Dreams product, they know they get the real thing,” tells Rantajarvi. “Like in the ’50s, when the things were what they were supposed to be. Those days a scooter was made to last more than three months, and you didn’t need to read the small print to make sure you were not fooled. Today’s consumers face a much harder reality. We want to turn back the clock in a positive way!”
The first product out is Marie’s Dreams Seedless Cloudberry Preserve with 45percent wild cloudberries from the clean Arctic nature of northern Finland. “It’s delicious with ice cream, cheese, whipped cream, waffles!” says Rantajarvi.
“I know somebody can launch a product with much less berries for a better profit, but that’s not what Marie’s Dreams is about. We want to give people the real stuff when they buy a Marie’s Dreams product,” says Rantajarvi. “Marie is a young American woman who wants to enjoy real things. She also wants to share her love for quality with all Americans who want to have real stuff. I encourage everybody to visit www.mariesdreams.com to learn more about Marie and her dreams.”
Marie’s Dreams Seedless Cloudberry Preserve is available at selected specialty stores and quality food groceries starting in October.