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Gourmet Newswire

Farm Fresh from the Barsotti/Barnes Family to Customers’ Doorsteps

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.”

 

 

Cheese Done Blue, Everybody Knows One

 

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

Amablu WheelSwiss 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

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.

RC_2013_Rogue_River_Blue_Label-1Oregon 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.”

RC_2013_Flora_Nelle_Label-1-EditThen 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.”

Organic Valley

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

IMG_4068Bleating 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 Debuts First Large Format Juice Pouch

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.

Wacky AppleThese 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.

Crunchies to Launch Freeze-Dried Beet Snacks at Expo West 2016

Crunchies beetsWhether 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.

FDA Suspends E. coli Testing in Cheese

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: 

  • Gianaclis Caldwell, Pholia Farm Creamery and Dairy (Oregon)
  • Lynn Giacomini Stray, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese (California)
  • Andy Hatch, Uplands Cheese Company (Wisconsin)
  • Mateo Kehler, Jasper Hill Farm (Vermont)
  • Jeremy Little, Sweet Grass Dairy (Georgia)
  • Marieke Penterman, Holland’s Family Cheese (Wisconsin)
  • Jeremy Stephenson, Spring Brook Farm and Farms for City Kids Foundation (Vermont)
Michael Taylor, Deputy Director for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, and FDA colleagues will be present to hear from these producers, and they will have an opportunity to ask questions and engage in candid dialogue.

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.

 

Gluten-Free Trend Hits Peak, Has Room To Diversify

 

By Greg Gonzales

Gluten-free dog food, signs for gluten-free haircuts and even gluten-free lap dances are some of the jokes floating around these days, but the gluten-free market is serious business. Gluten-free options are everywhere now, and they’re not going away anytime soon. Even so, the market is set to shrink a little as a result of high prices and trendy eaters quitting the diet.

Research from NPD Group revealed that most consumers see gluten free as a fad, while they still seek natural, wholesome products. In addition, Packaged Facts reported that 53 percent of shoppers consider gluten-free foods overpriced, while 41 percent said they’d purchase gluten-free items if they were more affordable.

Though the trend may be at a peak, there’s plenty of support for the market. According to research from Mintel, 37 percent of consumers eat gluten free because they consider it good for overall health. Fifteen percent of U.S. consumers in a Nielsen survey said gluten free is a very important factor in purchasing decisions.

“The gluten-free trend is not disappearing,” said Kim Holman, Marketing Director of Wixon. “However, we are seeing a greater emphasis on transparency and consumers being able to easily identify gluten-free products on the shelves versus new formulations of gluten-free products.” Plus, consumers are increasingly expecting to know where their food came from, how it was made and if the product offers extra nutrition. Meanwhile, food producers are still moving to add “gluten free” to their labels. “When a formula is already gluten free or contains easily removable gluten, we are seeing many of our customers deciding to make the move to gluten free in order to be able to put the claim on their packaging,” Holman said.

Moreover, 80 percent of respondents in a global Nielsen market research survey said they’re willing to pay more for foods with health attributes, and the Mintel research showed that 26 percent of consumers believe gluten-free foods are worth the price bump. Not everyone in that group, however, has reason to believe gluten-free items are for them. “Consumers are making choices for their lifestyle, the way they want to live,” said Holman. “Consumers are looking for foods that eliminate unneeded and unwanted ingredients, and gluten is one of those ingredients for many people. I do think the trend may be peaking, as almost all research firms are declaring. And why is it peaking? Because eliminating gluten does not cure everything.”

According to Holman, stories of medical miracles spreading through social media were what drove the trend. “Stories of medical miracles made people believe that a gluten-free diet was best and gluten was the devil,” she said. Consumers and experts alike are calling those stories misguided.

Gluten free is a trend for the majority, but the diet and products are a legitimate medical need for at least seven percent of the population, if not much more. An estimated one percent of the population has celiac disease, and anywhere from 0.5 percent to 70 percent of the population could be non-celiac gluten-sensitive, according to Dr. Allesio Fasano, Founder and Director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Fifteen years ago, people didn’t know how to spell gluten,” Fasano said. “Now, in 2015, the pendulum has swung way over … any comedian includes gluten in their acts. People understand what it is, and it’s one of the most popular markets in the United States. The pendulum will come back a little bit, but not like the other diet trends; this diet is also driven by a real medical necessity and [that] will continue to drive the market.”

Fasano added that a gluten-free diet is a medical intervention, and that anyone considering going gluten free should seek advice from a dietitian. “You don’t inject yourself with insulin and then ask if you have diabetes or not,” he said. “Don’t give it a try just because someone told you that you have symptoms, and don’t do this by yourself.”

As new health research is released and gluten myth-busting becomes more visible — such as Fasano’s December 18 article in the Washington Post — consumers who don’t see results and expect transparency from companies are turning away from gluten-free foods. And until medical researchers like Fasano figure out how to diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivities, gluten-free foods are potentially a necessity for anywhere from 1.5 percent to 70 percent of the population. While that’s being figured out, people have some diet choices to consider.

“The vendors need to let them know how things are done, to give the consumer a choice,” said Barry Novick, President of Kitchen Table Bakers. “You’re going to see free-from trends continue; that’s very very important. What is natural? Is baking in an oven natural? Is baking in a microwave natural? The consumer should know how the product is made. We have a patient’s bill of rights, and I believe the consumer should have a bill of rights.”

Novick identified poor nutrition content and low quality as reasons people are moving away from gluten-free products. In the rush to formulate products that taste like their gluten-containing counterparts, many of those products failed to measure up in taste and texture.

“If the product is good, it should diversify,” said Novick. “If it’s just gluten free because that’s what people made, it’s going to end up in the same position as the low-carb fad products,” adding that companies are finding success using real people for tasting, and not just formulas, to mimic gluten.

Chris Licata, President and CEO of Blake’s All Natural, reiterated Novick’s point: “I think the products and the brands that are truly committed to making super-high-quality gluten-free meals will continue to grow. There’s a reason why we don’t have 10 or 12 gluten-free items; that’s because if we make a gluten-free item, it truly has to be as good as a similar item that’s not gluten free. It’s not enough to just have it be labeled gluten free; it has to have taste, texture and flavors that are comparable.”

Novick said his gluten-free products, cheese crisps, work because everyone can enjoy them, that, “You need something universal, that the kids can eat and the parents can have with a glass of wine.… Wherever you go, whatever your diet, you can have our product at the party. You’re never left out.”

With so much time, effort and dollar amounts spent on adding gluten-free options to their lineups, producers within the industry won’t be taking the label off their products. And continued and increased consumer interest in free-from and natural products, nutrient-dense superfoods, along with the many alternatives to gluten, leaves room for the market to grow.

“Many manufacturers want the added value of being gluten free and a small additional cost, but in the end, consumers will decide if gluten free stays or goes,” Wixon food scientist Renee Santy said. “They will speak with their wallet. In the meantime, companies need to stay in touch with their customers and understand their changing needs around gluten free.”

“Many consumers had hoped that gluten free would help them lose weight or help some medical issue. When this does not transpire, they will lose interest in gluten free,” Santy added. “But those consumers, that just feel better because they live gluten free, will continue to live gluten free.”

An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote from Kim Holman to Renee Santy. This story has been updated to correct the attribution.

 

Produce Springs Forward

By Micah Cheek

Spring’s bounty will be headed to shelves in just a few months, and customers will be looking for the most Instagram-friendly options for their plates. In addition to the usual snap peas and asparagus, the more exciting options for spring produce have never been better.

Interest in foraged produce is continuing to increase. “On the specialty side the most typical produce would be morel mushrooms and ramps. Next would be fiddlehead ferns. You’ve got a bunch of peripheral specialties there [too], miners lettuce and nettles,” says Justin Marx, CEO of Marx Foods.

Morels are a traditional spring favorite in the northwest, becoming available in April. ”Morels just knock it out of the park,” says Kim Brauer, Culinary Concierge at Marx Foods. “In the Northwest, a lot of us survive winter be knowing that morels will be coming out.” Now that wild vegetables have moved from a restaurant favorite to a foodie phenomenon, they are expected to remain on the minds of consumers. “The ramps and the nettles, I’m seeing more cooks look for those,” Brauer adds. Ramps and stinging nettles will be available for their limited growing season from April to May.

Edible flowers like pansy blossoms and orchids have been a popular garnish in fine restaurants, but producers are beginning to see interest from retail outlets as well. Marx says, “As they become more affordable and available, it’ll just become more common. A lot of them have culinary merit and flavors that deserve their own merit.” Brauer notes that people want to use them as garnish for regular meals to make them feel like they have a restaurant quality meal. Squash blossoms are seeing interest as they make their way out of the restaurant and on to the dinner table. For retailers, Marx Foods usually supplies a single species of edible flower, followed by a variety if there is greater interest. Another interesting edible flower is the Szechuan button, named after the Szechuan pepper for the numbing and tingling sensation both products induce. “It’s a little yellow flower that tastes like electricity,” says Marx. Cocktail parties can also be livened up by edible blossoms, as an attractive and unusual garnish.

For Easter, the classic fresh vegetable choices are expected to remain robust, so much more so if those veggies are miniature. The cipollini onions are being joined by baby beets, carrots and radishes, says Karen Caplan, President and CEO of Frieda’s, Inc. A violaceous variety will be available for Frieda’s “Power of Purple” promotion in March. A monochromatic medley will be promoted, including purple snow peas, cauliflower, artichokes and a new breed of purple sweet potatoes.

For late winter and early spring, an increasing variety of citrus will become available. “In the winter and spring, we do a bang-up job in all the citrus categories,” says Caplan. More specialty options like Meyer lemons, Buddha’s hand (a fingered variety of citron) and finger limes have been finding their way into popular recipes. The same goes for some non-citrus tropical fruits. “Dragonfruit has just become the darling of American consumers,” Caplan adds.

 

Fabio Viviani Talks Practical Cooking, Entertaining

By Micah Cheek
Halfway through my interview with Fabio Viviani, I had to interrupt the restaurateur, entrepreneur and Top Chef winner to catch up with the quote I was typing. He jumped at the chance to interrupt me back. “You can make it so much easier on yourself if you record everything, get a voice recognition program,” he said. “Get in the 21st century!” Viviani had just reiterated an attitude that has followed him through his restaurants, kitchenware collections and media outlets – keep it simple.

Viviani’s outlook is worth listening to, especially because of the media presence he commands. The “Fan Favorite” status he earned on his initial “Top Chef” appearance put the spotlight on the chef’s undeniable charisma, which he has leveraged into a variety of appearance and endorsements along with his restaurant interests. This media savvy has been placing him on everything from local newscasts to “The Rachael Ray Show,” and the videos just keep coming. Aside from the celebrity factor, the appeal is clear. Viviani is feeding the desires of consumers who want to cook more, cook healthier and do it all with a gentle learning curve.

Viviani’s history, growing up watching his grandmother cook and making his way up through the restaurants of Florence, made me expect to speak with a stickler for tradition. I was surprised to hear that three of his home kitchen essentials are appliances: a food processor, immersion blender and high speed blender, in addition to wooden spoons and a few good knives. And how good should those knives be? “A $30 knife is as good as a $300 one, as long as it’s kept sharp. A $1,000 dollar dull knife is not gonna work,” says Viviani. The chef’s standard fresh pasta recipe, a mainstay of his kitchen demonstrations and TV appearances, avoids the classic volcano of eggs in flour in favor of a minute or two in a food processor. When tradition comes up against practicality, practicality wins every time.

Viviani was raised with a bent toward this efficiency. “I grew up on food stamps. My grandmother was paralyzed from the waist down, and she was always cooking,” says Viviani. “I was witnessing her making a meal out of nothing.” Viviani’s family didn’t have the luxury of stringent preparation rules or of waste. This has informed the way Viviani’s recipes are crafted and executed. Viviani seems excited to encourage consumers to simplify cooking with fresh ingredients. The only time I heard him taking a serious tone was when we starting broaching the subject of home cooking. Viviani said he was expecting home cooking to continue to rise in prominence, and then things began to take a turn. “Eventually people will have to get back in the kitchen or else they’ll go to the cemetery,” said Viviani. “[If] people are lazy, then they get fat, and then they get sick and die.” Viviani has the same passionate outlook on food waste, recalling the times that his family could not even afford to throw away potato peelings. He says he often deals with people who think he can only advocate these changes because he has the expertise to cook in a healthy way. “People say, ‘For you, it’s easy,’” he said. But Viviani grew up watching someone with no formal training feeding a family in this way. “My grandmother was cooking for six people every day, and we didn’t even have food.”

I mention home entertaining, and just like that, Viviani’s usual cheer is back. “I think the best concept for home entertaining is tapas,” says Viviani. “As long as it’s not complicated and it’s easy to consume, everything is good.” Tapas are a good standby, because the format can be as formal as you like, and guests can easily get involved in the kitchen with simple room-temperature snacks. “Food is meant to bring people together. When you have a lot of people and everyone does their share, it’s fun.” Viviani recommends serving for parties on small wooden plates, because the style can be adopted for both formal and casual scenarios. The chef has lent his name to the Fabio Viviani Heritage Collection, a set of acacia wood tableware that fits the bill nicely.

When discussing wine pairings, Viviani said the words that every novice oenophile was hoping to hear. “Everything about wine is an opinion, and I don’t follow opinion much,” said Viviani. “When you think about food and wine, you can think too much.” For Viviani, a few general guidelines can point a consumer in the right direction more than worrying about tannin levels or jammy undertones. “You don’t want to drink a dry white wine with something spicy, or your face will be on fire,” says Viviani. “You want to drink a pinot noir with a lighter meat, while you can save a bolder wine for something heavier.” Viviani’s line of wines, first released last year, promotes this attitude. “The most important rule for us is to keep the wine easy for people to understand,” he says.

If Viviani’s continuously rising star is any indication, consumers are starting to heed the no-nonsense advice. Meanwhile, I’m headed back to the kitchen to sharpen my $30 knives.

Wholesome Goodness: A Brand of Foods that “Love You Back”

 

By Lorrie Baumann

Wholesome Goodness is a brand based on three key tenets: that food should taste great, that food should be nutritious, and that nutritious food should be affordable. Because it fulfills all three of these goals, Wholesome Goodness’ product line aligns with the way that Millennial generation consumers want to eat today, according to company founders Jeff Posner and Rick Letizia.

Posner and Letizia had 70 years of experience in the food industry between them when they decided to leave behind their executive positions in major food companies like Kraft and General Foods to strike out on their own with a brand reflecting their beliefs about how more nutritious foods can help address health problems related to diet. Posner himself suffers from high blood pressure, while Letizia has type-2 diabetes, so they are personally aware of the burdens that nutrition-related diseases place on health care costs, quality of life and longevity.

From experience, they knew that major food companies use ingredients that make products cheaper to manufacture but may offer less nutrition to the consumers who used them. They wanted to go another way; to start a food business that would serve consumers’ ever-increasing expectations for healthier foods. “Wholesome Goodness products emphasize positive ingredients like protein, antioxidants and whole grains, while de-emphasizing negative ingredients like saturated fats, added sugars and added sodium,” Posner said.

“Part one of the Wholesome Goodness promise is that for every calorie consumed you get relatively more nutrition than the mainstream national brands,” he continued. “Part two is affordability. This requirement recognizes that 75 percent of the country is overweight or obese, and the barriers to eating healthier foods are both taste and price. Conceptually, if you take nutritional density and divide by price, our products provide consumers with the optimal blend of high nutrition and affordable cost. That’s our unique value proposition. At Wholesome Goodness, we want the 75 percent of the population that’s overweight or obese to be able to afford and enjoy each and every one of our products.”

The two started out six years ago by talking with consumers and retailers to learn more about changing trends in eating patterns before they decided that their first products would be a line of snacks, Letizia said. “Data shows that the bulk of our population, in particular the nearly 80 million Millennials, are snacking four to six times a day; thus, portability is extremely important – things you can throw in your purse or backpack,” he said.

Wholesome Goodness product lineAs the two developed other products, they stayed with the directive that they wanted their foods to be nutrition-dense, a concept offered up by Yale University childhood obesity and nutrition expert Dr. David Katz. This concept, simply stated, requires that for every calorie contained in their products, the consumer will get a healthier blend of more positive nutrition and less negative nutrition. They wanted clean ingredients without excessive sodium or added sugars. “We currently ban 127 ingredients that other food companies use today, including all 85 identified by Whole Foods,” Letizia said. “We have the cleanest ingredient deck in the industry at the present time.”

And while they were creating clean ingredient labels for their products, they also wanted to produce foods that were more affordable than mainstream competitors’, Posner said. “These are the kinds of products that my mother would have served the family: great-tasting and affordable for the family. Not that she did anything different from all my friends’ mothers; the only thing my friends and I knew growing up was just good, old-fashioned food,” he said. “Frankly, there is no reason why anyone today should have to pay a premium to have better-for-you products.”

“We don’t have anywhere near the cost structure of the large companies. We don’t own any plants; instead, we use highly-qualified third parties to manufacture our proprietary product formulations, so we don’t have the overhead and capital requirements of a big company. We certainly don’t make the multi-million dollar salaries of the executives of the large food companies. We don’t have the requirement to deliver a 15 percent bottom line just to maintain shareholder value – we can make do on a much smaller percentage,” he explained. “We want our products to be accessible to the masses…. For example, our award winning Sweet Chili and Omega Tortilla Chips come in a 9-ounce bag that retails for $3.99 – and even less on feature. A 5.5-ounce bag of competing better-for-you brands will cost about as much as Wholesome Goodness. Consequently, we’re less expensive, averaging about 20 to 30 percent cheaper, ounce for ounce, than these other brands. When you divide our products’ nutritional density by food budget dollars spent, we’re really the best deal in town.”

The Wholesome Goodness product line includes snack chips and crisps; granola bars, snack mixes, and hot and cold cereals. Learn more at www.wholesome-goodness.com.

 

Seviroli Foods, Inc. Announces Asset Purchase of D’Orazio Foods, Inc.

Seviroli Foods, Inc., creator of artisan filled pasta and sauces and the world’s largest frozen tortellini manufacturer, has announced an asset purchase of D’Orazio Foods, Inc, also a purveyor of frozen Italian fare, such as shells, crepe manicotti, stuffed rigatoni and more.

This acquisition represents a key portion of Seviroli Foods’ strategic plan in expanding its market share. The D’Orazio organization will be folded into the Seviroli Foods organization, preserving the long-honored family traditions and cultures important to both companies. Both launched in the 1960s, the combination of these two venerable businesses will further increase the overall capacity to meet customers’ needs. 

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