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Las Vegas Market Names Global Goodness Award Winners

Four exhibitors at the 2017 Winter Las Vegas Market – Anji Mountain, The Cottage Potters, Dunitz & Company and Quilling Card – are winners of its sixth Global Goodness Awards, recognizing furniture, home decor and gift companies for environmentally-friendly, sustainable and socially responsible activities. The 2017 Global Goodness Awards were presented at the Winter Market.

“Las Vegas Market is pleased to recognize companies whose production and business practices are making positive impacts not only on the industry, but also to communities around the world in the course of sourcing and manufacturing their products,” said Dorothy Belshaw, President of Gift Leasing and Chief Marketing Officer, International Market Centers. “As the leading furniture, home decor and gift destination in the western United States, Las Vegas Market is proud to support these corporate “good citizens” who are dedicated to are doing well by doing good.”

Read more at KitchenwareNews.com.

Entries Now Open for San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition

The third annual San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC) is now accepting entries from all olive oil producers in the state of California. To qualify for the opportunity to showcase their flavorful products, olive oil must be made from the most recent olive harvest; deadline to enter is March 24, 2017.

“Giving olive oil producers within California the opportunity and place to showcase their quality products has had a tremendous response,” said Stacy Rianda, Deputy Manager at The Big Fresno Fair. “After a very successful first two years, we look forward to drawing even more producers from even more corners of California.”

There are two classes for entries: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Flavored Olive Oil. Competition categories in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil class include: Spanish Blends (arbequina, arbosana, etc.); Spanish Singles; Italian Blends (ascolano, etc.); Italian Singles; Other Blends (picholine, barouni, etc.); Other Singles. Competition categories in the Flavored Olive Oil class include: Citrus; Herbal (rosemary; basil, etc.); and Other Flavors (chile, jalapeno, garlic, etc.).

Awards will be given out for gold and silver medals in each category, as well as one overall “Best of Show” in both the Extra Virgin Olive Oil category and the Flavored Oil category. Judging will be evaluated and scored as follows:

Gold Medal: Awarded to an olive oil that demonstrates its type and/or varietal character, balance, structure and complexities to the highest standards. Gold medals will be awarded to those oils receiving scores between 86 – 100 points.
Silver Medal: Awarded to an olive oil reflecting the correct distribution of balance and character of its type or variety; an oil deemed to be well crafted and of excellent quality. Silver medals will be awarded to those oils receiving scores between 76- 85 points.
Best of Show: Awarded to an olive oil recognized to possess special characteristics of the highest quality overall.

Producers may submit multiple entries under one category but may not submit a particular entry to more than one category. All entries must be available for commercial sale at the time of entry. Entries are due by March 24, 2017 by 4:30 p.m. Judging will be held on April 4, 2017 and winners will be announced on April 13, 2017 by 5:00 p.m.

Gold medal and Best of Show winners will have the opportunity to have a booth in the Wells Fargo Agricultural Building on one day during a weekend of the 2017 Big Fresno Fair where they can taste, display and sell their award-winning product. Additionally, educational information will be set up so that fair attendees can learn more about the art of making olive oil, its health benefits, recipes and more.

Each submission must include an entry form, at least two 250 ml bottles of the olive oil with retail labels attached and a $60 non-refundable fee per entry. Entries can be dropped off at The Big Fresno Fair Administration Office or can be shipped to SJVOOC – The Big Fresno Fair, 1121 S. Chance Ave. Fresno, CA 93702 no later than 4:30 p.m. on March 24, 2017. Any entry delivered by mail, freight or express must be prepaid. The administration office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for drop offs.

Last year, 61 entries from all throughout California were received. Below is a list of the Gold medal Winners and Best of Show. For a complete 2016 winners list, go to: https://www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition.

Extra Virgin Olive Oils – Gold Medal Winners

Spanish Blends
Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Tyler Florence Test Kitchen EVOO (Clovis)
Rosenthal Olive Ranch’s Arbosana (Madera)
Spanish Singles
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Premium EVOO (Lodi)
Calolea Olive Ranch’s Calolea Mission (Marysville)
The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma)
Italian Blends
Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Winter Creek Olive Oil (Winter Creek)
Winter Creek Olive Oil’s Ruscello d’Inverno (Winter Creek)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Growers Blend (Lodi)
The Olive Press’ Italian Blend (Sonoma)
Coppetti Olive Oil’s Harvest Blend (Modesto)
Bava Family Grove’s Bava Monticelli Estate Napa Valley (Escalon)
San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Nectar of the Gods (San Miguel)
San Miguel Olive Farm’s Tuscan Gold (San Miguel)
Italian Singles
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Lodi Olive Oil Ascolano (Lodi)
Other Blends
Bozzano Olive Ranch’s A2 (Stockton)

Flavored Olive Oils – Gold Medal Winners

Citrus
The Olive Press’ Lime (Sonoma)
The Olive Press’ Limonata (Sonoma)
Herbal
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi)

Other Flavors
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Jalapeno Garlic (Lodi)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Extreme Heat Serrano (Lodi)

Best Of Show

The Olive Press’ Picual (Sonoma)
Coldani Olive Ranch’s Calivirgin Bountiful Basil (Lodi)

For more information about the new San Joaquin Valley Olive Oil Competition (SJVOOC), including downloadable entry forms and deadlines, visit www.fresnofair.com/sjv-olive-oil-competition, email questions to srianda@fresnofair.com or call The Big Fresno Fair office at (559) 650-FAIR.

Registration for Fresno Food Expo Now Open

Exhibitor and buyer registration for the 2017 Fresno Food Expo is now underway. The seventh annual event will include expanded exhibitor and buyer platforms aimed at building greater opportunities for central California food and beverage companies to connect and do business with retail and foodservice buyers. These efforts will continue to forge a path that will bring together the region’s food industry leaders to demonstrate, and bring recognition to, the depth and strength the region carries in the global food industry. Nearly 50 percent of the Expo show floor is already filled with returning exhibitors with more than 150 exhibitors and 950 key pre-qualified domestic and international buyers expected to participate.

Kicking off in the spring as part of an expanded exhibitor platform, the Expo will host an exclusive exhibitor gathering that will invite all central California food and beverage companies who have participated, or plan to participate in the Expo, to share in the value of a nationally-recognized business seminar. This first-time event will feature a keynote speaker that will address the needs of businesses throughout the region including topics such as professional leadership, training and motivation. Furthermore, the Expo will continue to include educational training opportunities for current exhibitors throughout the year on varying topics.

Through the Expo’s own awards programs, the region’s innovation will continue to be celebrated and recognized through the New Product Awards presented by Baker Peterson Franklin CPA, LLP, which has debuted over 160 new products from Valley-based companies since the showcase began in 2013. Most recent awards include the 2016 winners, Aubrey’s Jerky, made with real beef heart, who took home first place buyer’s choice award category, and ARO Gourmet Pistachio’s, made with Himalayan Pink Salt, who took home the people’s choice award.

Also returning to the Expo will be the Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award. Named in honor of Fred Ruiz, founder of Ruiz Food Products, Inc., this award recognizes companies who have the same vision and qualities that took Ruiz Foods from a small, family start-up to the largest frozen Mexican food manufacturer in the United States. Lanna Coffee Co., a Fresno-based coffee company who sources its beans from Thailand to support economic stability in the villages where the beans are grown, was named the 2016 winner.

These award-winning exhibitors who represent some of the very best food and beverage companies in the nation, in addition to innovative, start-up companies that utilize the Fresno Food Expo platform to launch their businesses, continue to draw in buyers from around the world. Buyer participation is now five times more than the original participation number when the Expo began in 2011 – with the 2016 Fresno Food Expo drawing in over 900 local, national and international buyers, 77 percent of which had decision-making authority. Major retailers attending the show include ALDI, Costco Wholesale, Grocery Outlet, Safeway, Save Mart Supermarkets, Vallarta Supermarkets, Walmart and Whole Foods Market, along with international buyers hosted by the Center for International Trade Development, State Center Community College District as part of an organized buying mission tied to the regional food show.

As part of an effort to continue drawing in these types of decision-making buyers, the Expo touts an expanded buyer platform and will be bringing in a buyer-focused keynote speaker on July 26, the day prior to the tradeshow, who will discuss topics relevant to the retail, foodservice and distributor buying channels – another first-time initiative announced as part of this year’s event.

This year’s Buyer Agenda also includes exhibitor-hosted site tours and the Expo’s opening reception, Pairings, which offers an exclusive opportunity to make meaningful connections with our region’s leading food producers and attending buyers, complete with live cooking stations that will put a spotlight on the region’s most celebrated chefs.

“Now in its seventh year, the Fresno Food Expo has helped elevate public perception of the award-winning Central California food region and put a spotlight on our diverse food industry companies who have been recognized by their peers on state, national and international platforms,” said David Nalchajian, General Manager of the Fresno Food Expo. “To further support and create new pathways for our region’s food industry companies to become recognized leaders and innovators within the food industry, the Expo is excited to launch, and further develop a year-round network that fosters business growth opportunities for companies both big and small.”

In order to further highlight the award-winning region and tell the story behind the region’s food companies, the Expo will begin hosting its own blog and develop a voice representative of central California’s thriving food industry.

A collaborative group of top food industry leaders will continue to lead the Fresno Food Expo as a board of directors serving in various advisory capacities including Chairwoman of the Board Ashley Swearengin, President and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation; Vice Chairwoman of the Board, Agnes Saghatelian, President of Valley Lahvosh Baking Company; Board Secretary, Vincent Ricchiuti, Director of Operations for Enzo Olive Oil Company; Board Treasurer, Denver Schutz, Technical Services Manager of Gerawan Farming; Mark Ford, President of JD Food; Mike Grazier, President of Busseto Foods; Helen Chavez-Hansen, Owner and President of La Tapatia Tortilleria, Inc.; Jimmy Maxey, Chairman of Certified Meat Products; Chuck Nichols, President of Nichols Farms; Rod Noll, Vice President of the Western Region for US Cold Storage; Justin Parnagian, Sales Director for Fowler Packing Company; Fred Ruiz, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Ruiz Foods; and Bill Smittcamp, President and CEO of Wawona Frozen Foods.

The trade show portion of the Expo will take place during the day on Thursday, July 27, followed by the public celebration, Expolicious, filled with sampling and discovery taking place that evening. Registration forms and additional information for exhibitors and buyers are available at www.FresnoFoodExpo.com. Exhibitors can take advantage of early bird discounts, a 30 percent savings available through February 1, with tickets for Expolicious going on sale in May.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the House that Humboldt Fog Built

By Lorrie Baumann

Field of Goats - Cypress Grove ChevreCypress Grove originally started in 1983 in a couple of old barns in McKinleyville, California, before moving 13 years ago to its present-day home in Arcata, a small agricultural community just north of Eureka and just south of the border between California and Oregon.

DSCN0155

“We realized we needed a proper cheesemaking facility,” says Cody Wandel, Cypress Grove Quality Technician. “That gave us our first purpose-built cheese facility…. Our kind of cheese is very difficult to make and get to market in good condition. We’ve been evolving our ability to provide the optimum environment for the cheese.”

Mary 1In those days, Cypress Grove Chevre, as it was known then, consisted of about 15 or 20 people following the lead of Founder Mary Keehn in making high quality goat cheeses that adventurous eaters who weren’t familiar with goat milk cheeses found easy to love. An American food movement that valued the local, the sustainable, the artisanal, had just started gathering momentum, and Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog exploded into the scene as an American Original with aesthetics that combined a visually striking appearance with a mellow flavor that reminded precisely no one of the barnyard. “We were there and we were well established,” Wandel says “People in America decided they were willing to give goat cheese a try.”

Today, Cypress Grove is owned by Swiss holding company Emmi, a company with majority ownership by a cooperative of farmers and dairy operators that bought Cypress Grove from Keehn in 2010. Cypress Grove now employs over 70 people, including those at a new demonstration dairy made possible by Emmi’s capital investment, and Keehn is still the spiritual leader guiding the values that appeal to consumers concerned about the environment and social justice as well as flavor. “Emmi’s model is not to be involved in the day-to-day, so we really operate as an autonomous company,” Wandel says. “It’s been one of the challenges – how to grow and keep the sense of intimacy we all used to have with Mary back in the old days…. We pretty much are rolling the way we always did…. It’s very important that our goat cheese is the best you can get.”

“The goal of an artisan cheesemaker is to create a cheese that is roughly the same every time, as opposed to a commodity cheese, which is exactly the same every time,” he continues. “All of our cheeses are almost entirely hand-made, and they’re all made in the same process we’ve always made.”

Cypress Grove’s cheeses include the fresh chevres that were among the first products that Keehn made when she found herself with a herd of show goats and more milk than she and her family could use.

“I started raising goats as a show herd, but if you have enough animals to have a strong genetic base, it’s too much milk to drink,” she says. Her first thought was to sell the milk locally, but it was quickly apparent that there wasn’t enough of a local market for fluid goat milk, so Keehn began making cheese and selling it to retailers wherever she could find them, which was sometimes at the Winter Fancy Food Show, where she’d bring cheese in ice chests – or even in her purse – and urge show attendees to have a taste. “From the very beginning, I was selling out of the area,” she says. “I don’t know why we survived. The cheese was always good, but nobody liked it then…. If you have goats, you’re a little stubborn in the first place – and weird.”

Then came a chance for Keehn to go to France and learn more about traditional European cheeses, including the Morbier that was something of an inspiration for Humboldt Fog. Morbier is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese traditionally made from evening milk and morning milk, separated from each other by a layer of vegetable ash. On her way home from that trip, Keehn had a dream in which she saw, almost photographically, an image of a goat cheese with a black layer of vegetable ash bisecting it like the coastal fog layer that frequently floats among the hills around her Humboldt County home. “The naivety of it – it’s wrong in many ways,” she reflects now. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

“Nobody liked it for quite a while,” she adds. “We threw away a lot of cheese.”

Some of the people who did like it, though, were rather influential: New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant mentioned Humboldt Fog in a 1997 article about growing interest in fine cheeses, and Russ Parsons, a former food editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asked Keehn to send some to Julia Child for her birthday. “She happened to taste it, and she liked it,” Keehn says.

Humboldt Fog is still made in essentially the same way that it was in those early days: by hand, by cheesemakers who are asked to remember that they’re not just making cheese – they’re making Humboldt Fog. There are a couple of differences: the cheese is now inoculated with some Geotrichum mold as well as the Penicillium culture in its original recipe, which extends its shelf life a little bit without affecting its flavor, and Cypress Grove is making – and selling – a great deal more of it now that Humboldt Fog has become one of America’s most popular artisanal cheeses. “It just takes time and really sticking with what you care about,” Keehn says.

The path from Cypress Grove’s earliest days is marked along the way by new cheeses, some of which are no longer made, although they’re remembered in plaques outside the meeting rooms in Cypress Groves’ new offices. Truffle Tremor, another aged goat cheese that’s fancied up with the addition of real truffle pieces for an earthy taste of knee-buckling decadence, is a hearty survivor of a ruthless market.

Truffle Tremor started as an experiment in whether truffles and goat cheese could find happiness together, and it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, Keehn remembers. She added some truffles to fresh chevre and realized immediately that the bright, clean flavors of her chevre and the mellow earthiness of the truffles conflicted, as did the contrasting textures of the truffles and the fresh cheese. “It was like a fight in your mouth,” she said. “It was so bad.”

Keehn responded by trying the same strategy that worked for the kids in “The Parent Trap” – putting the pair she loved away by themselves so they could fight it out, in the hope that maybe they’d find a way to get along. Two or three weeks later, she brought the aged truffled cheese out into a staff meeting and asked people what they thought. “We tried this cheese – I swear, this was my, ‘You coulda heard a pin drop’ moment,” recalls Cypress Grove Sales Director Bob McCall. “Nobody said a word for a long time, and then somebody just said, ‘I think you have a winner.’”

“I love it when they do the happy dance,” Keehn adds. “I don’t believe in doing something unless you can really knock it out of the park. There’s no need for another mediocre cheese…. For us, cheese is a vehicle to make people’s lives happier.”

Original U.S. Madeleine Manufacturer Donsuemor Celebrates Tradition

DonsuemorHistorically a French treat, the traditional madeleines made by Donsuemor are buttery shell-shaped cookies that are soft to the touch and offer a sweet and timeless taste. Adding in a fresh and zestful twist to the original classic recipes, the range of the company’s products has expanded over the company’s 40 years in business, and a French-inspired tradition is at the heart of it all.

“Our Traditional Madeleine has stood the test of time,” said Laure Chatard, Director of Sales at Donsuemor. “Coming out of our 40th anniversary year, we have had an amazing history with this original classic treat and are looking forward to the future as the company moves forward into the next 40 years.”

Donsuemor madeleines come in a variety of flavors including Traditional Madeleines, Dipped Madeleines, Lemon Zest Madeleines, and seasonal Pumpkin Spice Madeleines.

 

Albertsons Companies Announces Milestones Since Safeway Merger

On the two-year anniversary of the merger that created the second-largest supermarket company in the U.S., Albertsons Companies announced that since the merger with Safeway, it has grown its workforce by 10 percent, creating 26,000 jobs; built or acquired 174 locations; increased healthy food and financial donations; and elevated its commitment to sustainability.

“We added an exceptional class of talented employees to our family as we grew to serve more neighborhoods and customers. We also supported hundreds of causes with millions of dollars in donations and transformed into a greener, more sustainable company,” said Bob Miller, Chairman and CEO of Albertsons Companies. “I’m extremely proud of our accomplishments, which are a result of the dedication of every employee. They helped us take steps toward being the Favorite Local Supermarket™ in the communities we serve.”

Merger Anniversary Highlights:

  • 26,000 jobs created
  • 23 new stores built and 151 stores acquired
  • 47,000 team members celebrating 20 or more years of service
  • $271 million of food donations nationwide in 2016
  • $25 million in donations from The Albertsons Companies Foundation in 2016 supporting education, cancer research, hunger relief, veterans support and programs for people with disabilities

When AB Acquisition LLC and Safeway Inc. joined forces on January 30, 2015, the combined company included 2,230 stores and a team of 250,000 people.  The 19-banner company is now 26,000 people stronger, with a total workforce of 276,000 team members. Moreover, many of our employees have spent their entire careers with Albertsons, Safeway or one of the other Albertsons Companies banners. At the end of 2016, nearly 47,000 team members had 20 or more years of service.

Supporting Our Neighborhoods 

Food donations nationwide topped $271 million last year, up from $245 million in 2015, reflecting a commitment to increasing support for the critical cause of hunger relief. Each store donates wholesome products to a local food bank partner, a collaboration that decreases food insecurity for the many people who rely on these organizations for meals. Along with the direct donations, most stores also conducted in-store food drives and other events throughout the year to bring additional support from our customers during the holidays and summer months when the need is greatest. The company’s Fresh Rescue initiative to donate meat and other perishables to hunger relief partners was expanded in 2016 to include more products and stores. For this ongoing dedication to hunger relief, Albertsons Companies was recognized in 2016 as a Visionary Partner by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization.

In addition, The Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation recently awarded $4.6 million in grants through Hunger Is, a joint charitable program designed to increase awareness and funds to end childhood hunger in America. The funds, raised through in-store fundraisers, will increase access to free and reduced-cost school breakfast, improve the nutritional quality of breakfast programs and expand weekend, summer and vacation food programs. Academy Award-nominated actress Viola Davis is the Hunger Is program’s Ambassador and spokesperson.

The Albertsons Companies Foundation also supported education, cancer research, veterans support and programs for people with disabilities in 2016, contributing more than $25 million to these and other important areas of need.

Focus on Sourcing and Sustainability

In 2016, Albertsons Companies continued a broad commitment to sustainability. During the first quarter, the company committed to sourcing and selling only cage-free eggs for its store operations by 2025, based on available supply. The company was among the first and largest in the conventional retail grocery sector to make such a commitment.

In November, the company announced a new Responsible Seafood Policy, which expanded the previous program beyond fresh and frozen seafood to include shelf-stable tuna (canned and vacuum-sealed), as well as sushi sold from our delis. The company also committed to ensure that by 2022, 100 percent of the top 20 wild and farmed seafood products sold at stores will meet the Responsible Seafood Policy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Albertsons Companies’ industry-leading sustainability initiatives with the Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award for increasing awareness of products that are safer for people and the environment.

KABRITA USA Expands Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit Pouch Line

KABRITA USA, a line of premium goat milk formula and goat milk baby foods made with naturally easy-to-digest, non-GMO goat milk, is introducing a new flavor, Sweet Potato Apple Cinnamon. The new flavor is shipping to retailers nationwide this month.

KABRITASweet Potato Apple Cinnamon Goat Milk Yogurt is made with organic sweet potato, organic apple puree and organic cinnamon, as well as gentle, antibiotic-free whole goat milk yogurt for a comforting and nutritious snack or breakfast. High in vitamins A and E, it contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and comes in convenient, squeezable BPA-free packaging.

“KABRITA is excited to present this new, unique flavor that will add some warmth to the winter months,” said Simona Irwin, Director of Sales at KABRITA USA. “We know that little ones will be more likely to choose healthy snacks from a young age if companies like KABRITA provide delicious, nutrient-rich flavors that appeal to all palates. Our goat milk yogurt pouches are also a great alternative for the many parents out there whose kids are sensitive to cow’s milk.”

The full KABRITA product line includes Goat Milk Formula for Toddlers in small and large sizes, and Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit pouches, which are also available in Mango Peach, Banana and Natural Vanilla Bean and Mixed Berry. The pouches can be introduced from six months of age and are approximately 70 percent organic. All products are naturally easy to digest and may be a solution for little ones with a cow’s milk sensitivity, which can surface as digestive discomfort, congestion or eczema. Goat milk is one of the most commonly consumed milks worldwide. KABRITA goat milk is produced without any exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones or preservatives and is free from artificial colors and flavors.

KABRITA is available at natural and traditional grocers nationwide, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Safeway, Whole Foods Market and major online retailers like Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Costco.com and more. To learn more about KABRITA, the benefits of goat milk, and for expert nutrition insight via its Nourish Blog, visit http://www.kabritausa.com.

It’s Springtime for Bellwether Farms

By Lorrie Baumann

DSCN0213Liam Callahan measures his days out in minutes: 10 minutes until time to cut the curd for Carmody, another 10 until time to add the rennet to Crescenza and then a few minutes to come back to his tiny office at the front of the creamery to attend to paperwork and keep an eye on the newly installed “lamb cam” that watches over the activity in Bellwether Farms’ sheep barns. The metronomic ticking away of the tasks is a calm measure of certainty that stands in sharp counterpoint to the uncertainties in which Callahan, as well as every other farmer and artisanal cheesemaker, operates: the vagaries of weather that decide feed availability and costs and therefore the production costs of milk, the threats from new regulations decided in Washington and the weight of the paperwork they entail, the whims of consumers who might decide that dairy products are the villain behind the bulge at their waistlines.

Baby_Lamb_300dpi_1.2Outside the Bellwether Farms creamery, in the wake of a tumultuous 2016, it seems like anything could happen. Inside the creamery, the aging rooms full of Pepato and Blackstone are milk in the bank, the lamb cam monitor behind Callahan’s desk reassures that the farms’ future is fine, the clock says it’s time to drain the whey from the Carmody and prepare to turn it into basket-drained ricotta made in the traditional Italian way, and at 50, Callahan is optimistic about the future of the American artisanal cheese industry and his place in it. “I don’t think we’ve begun to exhaust the possibilities of people knowing where their food comes from,” he says. “People have realized that they enjoy knowing more about their food.”

BF_Cheeses-2Let’s take a step back for a moment to introduce you to the cast of characters here. Carmody is a firm cheese made from pasteurized Jersey cow milk made by cheesemaker Liam Callahan at Bellwether Farms, which is near Petaluma, California. Crescenza is also made from pasteurized Jersey cow milk, but it’s a soft-ripened rindless cheese with a tart flavor. Pepato is an aged semi-soft sheep milk cheese studded with peppercorns. Blackstone is an aged mixed milk cheese studded with peppercorns and hand rubbed with vegetable ash. Liam Callahan is the cheesemaker at Bellwether Farms, which was founded by his mother, Cindy Callahan, who began raising sheep to keep the grasses under control on the farm she and her husband bought as a country home. “We were just basically looking for lawnmowers,” Callahan says.

The family bought its first 20 bred ewes at a Petaluma livestock auction and the first lambs were born on December 24, 1986. “Our heads were spinning. We knew nothing from nothing,” Callahan says.

Suddenly, Cindy was the farm’s herd manager, a role that she is just beginning to step back from, in favor of what Callahan calls “a high hover” that will free her from the exigencies of the lambing schedule. The family kept those first lambs, bought more sheep and started selling extra lambs to local restaurants in 1987. “One of our very first customers was Chez Panisse,” Callahan recalls. “Our primary product was the lamb until 1990, when we built the dairy.”

LiamLamb_300dpiCallahan was just finishing college when a family friend visited from the Middle East. He noticed the sheep grazing on the slopes of Bellwether Farms’ hills and pointed out that where he came from, sheep were milked to make cheeses. That was when the Callahans realized that many of their favorite imported cheeses were, in fact, made from sheep milk. “That summer, we built the dairy, started milking the sheep and making cheese and going to farmers markets,” he said. That timing dovetailed with the growth of farmers markets and with the American food movement in general, and local chefs who had learned in Europe to go to farmers markets to find the freshest of local ingredients found Bellwether Farms cheeses at the farmers markets around San Francisco. “A lot of the value of these products is in explaining the story of how they’re made,” Callahan says. “Everything we’ve done has been because we were interested in it…. For the most part, the things we were interested in have aligned with the direction the market has gone.”

DSCN0190“I’m not doing anything, really, that hasn’t been done for centuries. But is it innovative to say, ‘I want to do it that way again?’” he adds. “The fact that this is done in a unique way resonates with a lot of consumers…. It’s more than cheese – there’s a history there. There’s a story there.”

blackberryToday, Callahan makes highly regarded sheep milk yogurts and an array of award-winning cheeses from both his sheep milk and from cow milk purchased from local organic dairy farmers, and he’s planning the construction of a new creamery that should be finished in 2018 and that will expand his capacity with space for aging more cheeses and for giving him a little more elbow room around the cheese vats. He has recently been elected to the board of directors for the Dairy Sheep Association of North America, taking his place as a husbandman of sheep as well as the farm’s cheesemaker as his mother steps away from her herd management.

There’s been some controversy about the future of the sheep dairy industry in the U.S. after both Many Fold Farm and Barinaga Ranch ceased cheese production recently. Journalist Janet Fletcher discussed the reasons for that in a New York Times article in which she suggested that the American sheep dairy industry might be doomed by the economics of competing with European sheep milk cheeses. She noted that the cheeses produced by both Many Fold Farm and Barinaga Ranch were excellent cheeses, as evidenced by the many ribbons that their cheesemakers were taking home from competitions, but that wasn’t translating into profits for the farmsteads behind them.

Callahan believes, though, that despite these regrettable losses, there’s no immediate necessity for gloom about the future of the sheep dairy industry as a whole. “We really feel that we’re on the cusp of turning the corner, but I still feel there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about what sheep milk has in the future,” he says. “The consumers respond to the milk and the products we make from it.”

He pointed out that recent nutrition research has shown that sheep milk has valuable health benefits, and the U.S. government has recently approved the importation of a limited supply of dairy sheep semen from France and that there are efforts under way to begin importing dairy sheep from Spain as well. “That’s a game-changer,” he says. Callahan plans to incorporate some of those genetics into his flock, which should result in lambs that will eventually grow into ewes that will produce more milk than do the ewes he has today. That should reduce his production costs for milk, and it will also make his lambs more valuable as potential breeding stock. All of that will give him a more solid economic base for his business. “We’re loving the sheep milk,” he says. “We’re just stuck on production…. Our ability to grow depends on our ability to use peak milk and put it in a cheese bank.”

Gluten-Free Label Becomes Secondary to Other Benefits

By Greg Gonzales

Disco didn’t really go anywhere; it inspired new forms of music, and eventually gave rise to nu-disco, a genre that blends the classic style with electronic dance music and modern rock, satisfying a larger and more diverse crowd. The same could be said for gluten-free foods. Sales growth peaked a year ago, but producers continue to launch and expand gluten-free lines, innovating them with nutritious, better-tasting ingredients that help the products compete with their gluten-containing counterparts. Though gluten-free food sales are growing at a slower pace, the brands and their fans are here to stay.

Going gluten-free is not motivated by gluten intolerance or sensitivities for most people, but a third of American consumers still purchase gluten-free products. According to the Packaged Facts July/August 2016 National Consumer Survey, 30 percent of consumers who bought gluten-free foods said they bought them for reasons other than gluten-free certification. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said the products are “generally healthier,” while 20 percent said they use the products to manage weight. Of those surveyed, nine percent of consumers said they buy gluten-free products for a household member who has celiac disease, a condition that affects only one percent of the population.

“The bottom line is, people are looking at the back of the package and being critical of what they put in their mouths,” said Barry Novick, President of Kitchen Table Bakers. “If the consumer turns the package over and the information is not there, the consumer suffers.”

Consumers seek out gluten-free, but want more than a gluten-free label. A 2013 New York Times poll found 75 percent of Americans were concerned about GMOs. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 44 percent of Americans incorporate organic foods in their diet, too, and half of them avoid sugar. In addition, about 90 percent of those polled said they try to eat more fruits and vegetables. This lines up with Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey, which found that 64 percent of respondents are avoiding or limiting consumption of specific foods or ingredients.

“Informed and savvy consumers are demanding more from the foods they eat, and some are prioritizing ingredients over brands,” said Andrew Mandzy, Director of Strategic Health and Wellness Insights at Nielsen, in the ingredient-sentiment survey report. “To many consumers, simple is beautiful, and foods with a short list of recognizable ingredients resonate strongly. Savvy manufacturers are responding to this trend by modifying product portfolios by simplifying food ingredient lists and creating natural and organic alternatives to existing offerings. Meanwhile, retailers are also prioritizing healthful foods and better-for-you brands in the center of the store, and emphasizing fresh and perishable foods around the perimeter in order to drive growth.”

Total sales for gluten-free foods this year are set to clock in at $1.328 billion, according to the Packaged Facts Gluten-Free Foods in the U.S. report. The report also said gluten-free food sales growth fell from 81 percent in 2013 and 30 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2015. By 2021, the report says, growth rates should end up at a steady five to six percent, with $2 billion in sales by 2020. “Sales do continue to grow, just at a slower pace,” said Mintel Senior Food and Drink Analyst Billy Roberts. “As manufacturers, large and small, enter the largely fragmented gluten-free marketplace, consumers gain an increased availability, quality and variety of options.”

Small Specialty Food Producers Find a Home in New Hampshire

By Lorrie Baumann

Swineheart product characteristicsMary Macdonald got just three weeks’ notice that her business, The Discerning Palate, was about to lose its home because the facility in which she was making and packing Swineheart’s Signature Sauces, Old’s Cool Wild Game Sauces and Our Local Table specialty food products had been sold and was closing. The other New Hampshire food producers who shared the space with her were out on the street just as suddenly.

She and her husband Gavin responded by building Genuine Local, a specialty food production facility that functions as an incubator for specialty food businesses, a shared use kitchen, co-packer and the new home of her house brands. “We wanted to figure out how to make something that worked for the people who were also displaced,” she said. “We found that not only did the people who were displaced by the other facility need a new production facility, but there was also a need within the central part of the state because there were no other resources like this anywhere.”

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Genuine Local opened for business on January 2016 in a 1,800 square-foot former warehouse, and now has 125 to 150 products coming out of the kitchen from 23 different producers. “We received our final notice of occupancy on January 25, 2016 at about 10:00 in the morning,” Macdonald said. “By 1:00, the first batch of sauce was in the kettle.”

In December 2016, Local Baskit, a meal kit subscription service owned by Beth Richards of Concord, New Hampshire, became Genuine Local’s first graduate. Local Baskit had launched in June 2016 using Genuine Local’s facility as the base of operations in which Richards packaged all her meal kits. As the business grew, she shifted her attention to customer service and recipe development, while Genuine Local took on assembling the meal kits. Then in December, Richards relocated her business to a space that will allow her to expand her offerings to include cooking and nutrition classes. “At lightning speed, she leaped and she landed,” Macdonald said.

Genuine Local, located in Meredith, New Hampshire, is in the middle of the state, about 40 miles north of the state capital in Concord and about 80 miles west of Portland, Maine, as the crow flies. It’s equipped as a small-scale commercial kitchen with 40-gallon kettles, which is large for a catering kitchen but small for a production facility. “We expect that people will come in and work for a year or two, but then move on as they outgrow what we’re here to offer,” Macdonald said. “The group that I’m most excited about working with are all the specialty food producers who need to take the next step.”

The facility doesn’t have a USDA license, so it’s not for meat products, and there’s no cold chain production capacity. “We don’t do cheese, but we can pretty much work with anybody else,” Macdonald said. “It’s a very purpose-built facility, so it has a very functional footprint. All of the equipment is on wheels. Everything we have is semi-automated, including the bottler and the labeler. It’s all about being the bridge.”

OLT OC SSSThe 23 producers who are currently sharing the space make a variety of products, including conventional hot pack products and a range of ethnic foods that include a unique West African pepper relish, Ruth’s Mustards, Little Acre Gourmet Foods’ condiments and Bleuberet’s microbatch relishes and jams. Local caterers also use the facility. “Products coming out of here are in distribution throughout New England into upstate New York, as well as pushing down into New York City. We have one customer that’s featured in all of the Eataly stores,” McDonald said. “We have another customer that’s really happy being able to drive to every single store that carries their product, and that’s where they want to be.”

3Pepper Ketchups“We have everything from one company that makes a northern Indian-style eggplant relish, and that’s their only product, to Little Acre Gourmet, which is really pushing to expand their line,” she added. “I’m thinking that in three years, we’re not going to be big enough for her, but we are for now, and we’re very glad.”

The facility is also home to The Discerning Palate’s house brands. They include Swineheart’s Signature Sauces, which offers seven flavors of handcrafted, small-batch sauces representing various styles of American barbecue. “We got into the food business as a hobby gone wrong. The kids gave their dad a small smoker for Father’s Day about 10 years ago,” Macdonald recalls. From that beginning, the Macdonalds started competing in the barbecue circuit and developed their own sauces. “From there, people started wanting to purchase the sauce, and the company just grew,” she said. Once they’d decided to produce the first Swineheart’s Signature Sauces on a commercial basis, they set up shop in a copacking facility that also rented space on an hourly basis. “It was historically a culinary training program run by the county,” Macdonald said. “It was set up as a catering kitchen that transformed into a production facility, whereas ours was set up to be a production facility from the get-go.”

OLT Logo clearNew brands grew up around that 2010 start, including Our Local Table, which offers a trio of onion relishes as well as salsas and spicy Peri Peri sauces, and Old’s Cool, a line of three sauces designed for wild game. “They’re fat-free and made with gluten-free ingredients with no preservatives or artificial flavors or colors,” Macdonald said.

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Genuine Local is also home to Genuine Local’s Bootstraps Program, an a la carte business development program that works by subscription and offers assistance with all the myriad problems that people have to solve when they’re starting a food business: labeling and nutrition panels, licensing, market development and recipe development. “For regular business planning, we refer those out. There are simply not enough hours in the day,” Macdonald said. “We have some people who are qualified to do a variety of types of production, and they’re willing to work with people on a freelance basis, so we do make those types of connections as well.”

“We developed that Bootstraps Program out of recognition that we’d never have been able to do what we’ve done without the generosity of other people,” she added. “It’s frankly not rocket science, but there’s no manual. We have a really strong commitment, with our focus on local, to help people take the next step.”

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