La Quercia founders Herb & Kathy Eckhouse added a fourth Good Food Award to their shelf this month, this time for Speck Americano, prosciutto that is lightly cold smoked over apple wood. On January 15, more than 800 people gathered to pay tribute to 176 Good Food Award Winners of 2016. By the majestic Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco Bay numerous farmers, chefs, journalists, and activists united to celebrate exceptional food crafters including luminaries Alice Waters, Nell Newman and Slow Food Founder, Carlo Petrini.
La Quercia calls its award winning Speck Americano “a charcuterie board crowd pleaser.” La Quercia prosciutto is aged for nine to 12 months then cold-smoked over apple wood, adding the evocative aroma of the open fire to the deep sweetness of the meat. The producer recommends pairing La Quercia Speck with hard cider, a wide range of beer and wine, and almost any cheese, as well as wrapping it around fruit, grilled vegetables, or grissini for an easy happy hour bite. Made with pork that is raised humanely on family farms in Iowa and central Missouri without the use of antibiotics. Ingredients are pork and sea salt — no nitrates or nitrites added. Sold at specialty markets across the nation and available via mail order: http://laquercia.us/order_cured_la_quercia_meats.
By Richard Thompson
Sriracha Pork Jerky is the latest offering from Golden Island and its line of gourmet jerkies. This fiery new addition rounds out the line of specialty beef and pork flavored jerkies that include Korean Barbeque, Kung Pao and Chili Lime. “We are focused on handcrafted, gourmet jerky,” says Stephen Silzer, Director of Marketing at Golden Island.
Originating in Taiwan over 50 years ago as a family business, Golden Island is a California-based jerky company (now owned by Tyson Foods) whose product line stands apart from competitors due to the company’s small-batch cooking process. “With origins in Taiwan, the ingredients and recipes have been passed down.” says Silzer. “This includes individually slicing and marinating each piece in small batches…. Then we either kettle cook or flame-grill our meats to best ensure…great-tasting, tender jerky.”
Golden Island sells six different flavors of jerky made with an exclusive blend of natural herbs, spices and sauces authentic to the company’s Asian roots. The three beef and three pork flavors are all high in protein and clean label – all-natural, gluten-free, no preservatives and no nitrites added.
The company’s top seller is Korean Barbeque Pork Jerky, made with garlic powder, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil that carry’s a little sweet flavor from the marinade mixed with a savory bite from the sesame. The Grilled Barbeque Pork Jerky tastes like small shavings of honey-touched Christmas ham dropped in your mouth, giving your tongue something to celebrate.
The Beef Jerky flavors include Kung Pao, Chili Lime and Five Spice. The smoky flavor of the chili flaked speckled Kung Pao Beef Jerky adds an earthy kick to the intense tongue burn that the Kung Pao Beef Jerky is known for. It has a loyal following because of its heat, says Silzer, while the Chili Lime Beef Jerky has a nice balance of zesty lime flavor that compliments its own heat as well. The Five Spice Beef Jerky is gluten-free and starts with a little kick that retains its bold flavor from the Asian inspired sweet and spicy flavorings.
While there are no plans for additional offerings to the product line in the immediate future, the company is always looking ahead. “We are always focused on the next flavor trend and looking to expand our lineup…and existing flavors,” says Silzer.
Currently, Golden Island products can be found at Costco Wholesale, World Market and in Southern California in traditional grocery stores like Ralph’s – as well as on the company’s website. According to Silzer, “We are looking to expand into more retail and convenience stores where snacks are sold as well as embrace the penetration of Amazon.com and online grocery selling opportunities. Our focus is about delivering flavor with a moist and tender texture from our proprietary process that stands alone with the company.”
Verde Farms, which provides 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb for both retail and food service, is engaging in several new brand initiatives, including a website re-launch and a packaging refresh to position the company towards a new phase of growth. The demand for grass-fed beef in the U.S. has fueled exceptional growth for Verde Farms. Founded in 2005, the company experienced 70 percent sales growth in 2014 and is on track for another record year of growth as 2015 comes to a close.
“I think you’re seeing a shift in how we think about beef here in the states. It’s not just about reducing meat consumption and depriving ourselves – it’s about eating better meat,” said Dana Ehrlich, CEO and Co-founder. “The reason we’re seeing such success is because Verde Farms has always been committed to sourcing and delivering the best 100 percent grass-fed and grass-finished beef products that are better across the board. Better for consumers, better for the animals and better for the environment.”
While the company’s first customers were upscale restaurants, caterers, and medical facilities that wanted an organic and grass-fed alternative, Verde Farms now services fine retailers nationwide. The company has also gained loyal food service accounts like Boston-based Boloco, among others.
Heading into 2016, Verde Farms has also quadrupled its sales team and plans to expand its branded retail presence so consumers know to look for the green and orange Verde Farms logo when seeking the best quality meat and lamb. Studies suggest that grass-finished beef may be lower in fat and calories than grain-finished beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acid — an essential fatty acid thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks), and more antioxidant vitamins, like Vitamins E.
While visiting South America, Ehrlich was inspired by the expansive pastures and grass-fed cattle that roam in stark contrast to conventional beef farming in the U.S. A former engineer at Intel, Ehrlich leveraged his background in product development with a passion for sustainable, high-quality meat to found Verde Farms. Alongside Tuck School of Business classmate and Co-Founder, Pablo Garbarino, the two built the company on three guiding principles – health benefits for the consumer, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Today, Verde Farms is the number 1 importer of grass-fed beef from Uruguay and also sources from family farms in Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
“Beginning with family farmers that we’ve diligently selected, we wanted to provide consumers with a better option – one that was not only more nutritious, but also better for the environment and for the animals themselves,” said Ehrlich. “We have been meticulous every step of the way to ensure that our cattle is raised as nature intended – on pastures and with grass feed only – and that we provide a delicious, premium product.”
By Richard Thompson
Meat industry professionals are seeing red as media coverage of a recent World Health Organization report tying red meat consumption with colorectal cancer continues to confuse consumers. Media responses to the report have made mountains out of meatballs, creating confusion on what makes up a balanced diet for consumers, says Eric Mittenthal, Vice President of Public Affairs at North American Meat Institute, but will not, in the end, much affect the meat industry.
The report, headed by a panel from the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) and released by WHO, concluded that for large numbers of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance. Mittenthal, whose agency represents processors and meat packers throughout the country, sees that despite all of the sensational headlines used by the media, consumers and meat industry professionals are still finding the report’s results hard to swallow: “This confirms our position that the report was over-reaching and alarmist and the fact that the [IARC] panelists were not even unanimous about the findings supports [our position].”
According to Jeff Stier, Risk Analysis Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), the report confuses readers by not accurately explaining the difference between actual and theoretical risks. “Correlation is different than causation.” warns Stier, “Even if they are right, all they are alleging is that if you eat a lot of [processed meat] your whole life, you have a very slight increased risk for cancer. But if you’re eating that much meat anyway, you might be more concerned with cardiovascular disease, weight problems and diabetic issues. Not colorectal cancer.”
In the report, the experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, but Mittenthal and Stier dispute that finding as inaccurate and poorly worded.
Stier, whose job is to direct the risk analysis division of NCPPR and help translate information into good public policy, says that using the 18 percent without understanding the context is like saying that living near a NASA facility triples the chances someone will be hit by an errant spaceship. “It may be true, but doesn’t mean much,” says Stier.
“Our industry supplies consumers, and they are the bottom line, and it’s clear by how people are reacting to this that they are rolling their eyes. Most people take this information with a grain of salt – which, I’m sure, somehow can cause cancer too,” says Mittenthal.
While public affair officials like Mittenthal are concerned over the public relations impact of the study, industry professionals from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) and American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA) are branding the science behind the report as inaccurate and incomplete. Dr. Shalene McNeill, PhD., RD, Beef Checkoff Nutrition Scientist and Registered Dietician for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association observed the IARC process, “IARC…doesn’t always represent consensus in the scientific community. After seven days of deliberation…IARC was unable to reach a consensus agreement from a group of 22 experts in the field of cancer research, something that IARC… typically achieves.”
“We know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and the report simply adds to people’s confusion about cancer,” says Deidrea Mabry, MS, Director of Scientific Communications and Technical Programs for the American Meat Sciences Association (AMSA).
The IARC findings insinuate that for every 50 grams of processed meat (or about two pieces of bacon) comes an 18 percent increase of getting colorectal cancer, but the reality is more mundane, according to Stier. During a lifetime of eating 50 grams of processed meat a day, every day, a person has an estimated 18 percent increase of having colorectal cancer versus someone who didn’t follow the same diet (an actual individual risk increase of 1 or 2 percent over the course of their life). To put that in perspective, red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC – consisting of air, aloe vera, coffee and wine, among others – that pose some level of theoretical hazard if used over-abundantly. McNeill explains, “The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”
Now that the WHO report is out, pro-meat agencies like NCPPR will continue to provide scientifically accurate information to consumers. “This is what I do for a living; stuffing toothpaste back in the tube,” says Stier.
As for national regulatory agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, no action is planned in response to the report or its findings. According to a press release by the FDA, the agency hasn’t had an opportunity to review the IARC monograph report and that IARC does not recommend regulations, legislation or public health interventions. On top of that, the NIH National Toxicology Program (NTP) report on Carcinogens has not looked at red or processed meats nor have those substances been nominated for review for the next edition.
Mabry seasons her concerns with prudence, “Consumers have seen beyond the sensational, and often inaccurate headlines….we know that cancer risk is not about diet alone and…it’s easy to get caught up in a report or a study.” According to Mabry, what’s most important is that consumers understand eating a healthy and well-balanced diet – including meat (both red and processed) – is supported by the strongest science available.
Her words appear to have resonated with WHO and IARC as well, since at time of press, the agencies have started backpedaling on how the report was worded and subsequently reported on via a Twitter account. Sample tweets include: “The #cancer review on processed meat does not ask ppl to stop eating meat, but to reduce intake to lower cancer risk.” They even went as far as to say there was a “shortcoming” to the classification system that processed meats were placed in.
For McNeill, this report changes nothing to what everyone in and out of the industry has already known for years, “As a registered dietitian and mother, my advice hasn’t changed. Eat a balanced diet, which includes lean meats like beef, maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and, please, don’t smoke.”
White-tablecloth chefs are beginning to pass the word that they’re interested in moving meat off the center of the plate, and they say that that’s in response to request from their customers who are interested in eating less meat but have no intention whatever of cutting back on flavor. Specialty food producers are hearing those whispers as well, and they’re also responding.
Sweet Earth Natural Foods is producing a line of handheld sandwich options that include no meat but will appeal to consumers who want options for multiple day parts. Think about McDonald’s decision to offer breakfast all day long and the early success of that strategy and about growing acceptance of the burrito as a breakfast option, and you’ll see why this is an idea with legs.
Quorn is a market leader in meat alternatives because it tastes great and even mimics the texture of poultry. Made from mycoprotein, which is derived from a fungus, the taste and mouth feel of the company’s chik’n and turk’y products are winning fans.
While the meat alternatives are offering great options for people who want to cut back on the amount of meat they’re consuming, other consumers are bound to decide that the way they prefer to go is to find meat choices that will give them more satisfaction. For some of those folks, Lone Mountain Wagyu, which won awards in this year’s sofi Awards competition, will be an option to consider. Vermont Smoke & Cure offers another line of meat snacks with great taste that will hit some of the same marks.
By Lorrie Baumann
Vermont Smoke & Cure launched a bold new brand design and three new flavors of its Meat Sticks during this year’s Natural Products Expo East. Like the other half-dozen flavors of the better-for-you meat snacks in the line, the Spicy Italian Pork, Rosemary Thyme Chicken and Teriyaki Chicken Sticks are gluten free and contain considerably less fat and salt than competing meat sticks.
“We are working to make the whole meat business better – with new products made from vegetarian-fed meats that are raised with no antibiotics or added hormones,” says Chris Bailey, Vermont Smoke & Cure’s CEO. “Our new packaging look better conveys our clean ingredients and the positive impact we work to bring about in our community and landscape.”
Vermont Smoke & Cure Meat Sticks start with quality meat. Beef in the sticks comes from lead supplier Pineland Farms Natural Meats in Maine or other similar suppliers. Pork comes from DuBreton in Quebec or from Coleman Natural Foods, which works with family farmers throughout the country to produce meat raised entirely without antibiotics.
“Our Sticks don’t have overwhelming flavors – you get nice spice and you can still taste the meat,” Bailey says. “It’s all ingredients you’d find in your kitchen, just meat and spices with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.”
“The Sticks have been the fastest-growing part of our business,” he added. “The bacon has been growing quite well also, but the Sticks have been outpacing it.”
To fulfill the demand for its products, the company just installed the equipment for quadrupling its processing capacity. Its Meat Sticks, which retail for $1.69 to $1.99, are currently distributed nationally in Whole Foods and through major natural foods distributors to hundreds of co-ops and natural and conventional grocers around the country.
For more information, visit www.vtsmokeandcure.com.
By Lorrie Baumann
Uncle Bill’s Sausages started with a breakfast burrito. Today, Uncle Bill’s Sausages makes 50 varieties of sausage that are sold in supermarkets across Montana.
That breakfast burrito came into the story when Bill Stoianoff went to San Francisco to attend the Winter Fancy Food Show. He was staying with a friend, and he thought he’d make her a nice breakfast burrito one morning to help show his gratitude for the lodging. To make his burrito, he says, you boil a potato the night before, and then in the morning, you cube it up, dice an onion and fry it, and you scramble an egg with some sausage in it. He’d bought some chorizo to put into it, but when he opened the package and looked at it, it scared him so badly that he just tossed it into the garbage. “It was one of those aha moments where you think, ‘I could do this better,’ and that’s what I do,” he says. “I said, ‘You know, I could make this from pork shoulder, and it would be better.’”
That started something. In 1987, he went to New Orleans to take lessons in andouille. “I had a letter of introduction, and in the South, a proper introduction is everything,” he says. “I couldn’t get the good stuff, so I learned to make it.”
He came back to Montana from New Orleans, met up with a friend who was opening a Cajun restaurant and made up a batch of the andouille he’d just learned to make. “We were in business after that,” he says. “I used to make it in a teeny kitchen in the back of a bar that was about three phone booths big.” Then after a few years, a butcher who was supplying him with his meat offered him the use of his kitchen, and Stoianoff made his sausage there for the next 15 years. “It’s just kind of the Montana way of things,” he says. “You just say, ‘This seems like a good idea,’ and run with it.”
For the past nine years, he’s been making his sausage in a commercial processing kitchen called the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, Montana. It’s a hundred-mile drive from Stoianoff’s home in Missoula, but it’s worth the drive because it’s also a US Department of Agriculture-inspected facility, which allows for commercial production. “Before that, I could only sell in the farmers market,” Stoianoff says. “Now I can sell to grocery stores.”
“It’s just wonderful. I went to Bozeman to get more USDA training,” he says. “To do USDA, you have to be perfect. But once you’re certified, people will buy it because they know it comes from a completely clean situation.”
Stoianoff insists on using only high-quality ingredients. “No preservatives, no additives, no fillers, low fat, low salt, and I grind all my spices from whole just before I use them,” he says. “It’s made with pork shoulder. No noses, hoses or roses. They call that offal for a reason.”
Maple Leaf Farms, a producer of quality duck products, has added Southwest Style All Natural Boneless Duck Breast to its retail product selections.
The gourmet-flavored duck breast is marinated with a robust, Southwestern spice blend featuring garlic and cayenne pepper. The marinade enhances the duck’s delicious natural taste which makes this product great as a main menu item or an addition to salads, pasta, stir-fry, quesadillas or fajitas.
Featuring all natural ingredients, the gourmet-flavored duck breast comes with unscored skin and offers easy-to-follow cooking instructions on the inside package label.
“This is the third flavor for our marinated duck breast line,” says Duck Marketing Director Cindy Turk. “Providing the duck breasts already marinated with gourmet flavor helps consumers create restaurant-quality meals with minimal time and effort in the kitchen.”
For convenience, Maple Leaf Farms Southwest Style All Natural Boneless Duck Breast is available frozen in clear, vacuum skin packaging that gives full view of the product. Nine duck breasts (7.5 ounces each) come per case for retail stores. Branded freezer trays are also available for display of the product. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the Southwest Style All Natural Boneless Duck Breast is $8.95.
Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc. has just introduced a new brand logo reflecting its natural and organic product values. The brand logo is concurrent with the launch of new Empire® Kosher deli and grocery products, including the first-ever line of kosher uncured deli meat products that are minimally processed, contain no artificial ingredients, have no added nitrates or nitrites, and are made from turkey and chicken that are never administered antibiotics. Empire operates its own hatchery, humanely-raising its flocks on family farms in accordance with Empire’s standards. In addition, Empire Kosher will introduce a line of kosher, certified organic soups and broths, and a special reduced sodium chicken broth formulation certified kosher for Passover.
“Empire Kosher brand poultry and deli meat products are on-trend to meet the demands of our loyal consumers who have enjoyed Empire Kosher products for decades, as well as our growing number of millennial consumers,” stated Jeffrey N. Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc. “Consumers can now enjoy new products meeting the high standards for kosher and quality that Empire Kosher delivers in its natural or certified organic products, and we are extending that vision to deli meat products, value-added poultry, and soups and broths to be introduced this year at Kosherfest, the world’s largest B2B trade show for the kosher industry,” he continued. “We will continue to build upon our very strong brand recognition in the kosher market to expand into new categories, with innovative products combining our expertise in kosher with our knowledge of the natural and organic market, to meet the demands of the growing number of consumers who want both,” he concluded.
Empire Kosher’s new deli line-up debuting at Kosherfest includes natural, slow-roasted turkey breast; natural smoked turkey breast; and natural turkey pastrami in both bulk and pre-sliced 7-ounce sizes. The pre-sliced products come in resealable packaging that has a reduced environmental footprint compared to the brand’s deli line previously sold in tubs.