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Tequila 1519 Now Available in U.S. Market

A. Hardy USA, Ltd., a Des Plaines, Illinois-based national liquor and wine importer and national sales and marketing agency,has announced the availability of its new Tequila 1519. A. Hardy USA president Mark Levinson signed an exclusive agreement with Agave Conquista to represent Tequila 1519 to the U.S. market.

According to Levinson, “We are continuing to pursue high quality organic spirits to help satisfy increasing consumer demand and expanding markets. By adding Tequila 1519 to our portfolio, we are filling a specific niche. We expect this tequila to have a significant impact in the super premium segment of the American tequila market because it is quality focused and the market is not crowded with similar products.”

AH Tequila 1519 PhotoManufactured in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, Tequila 1519 is made from 100  percent Agave Tequila plants. And, Tequila 1519 is both certified organic and certified kosher which assures its quality. Tequila 1519’s name is intended as a tribute to the first Andalusian steed horses that were introduced into Mexico in the year 1519. These horses became the seed stock for the internationally renowned Azteca Stallions lineage, now part of Mexico’s pride and history.

Tequila 1519 Blanco has a strong yet velvety flavor that is ideal to drink straight with a pinch of salt and zest of lime. It can be easily mixed without losing its distinctive agave flavor. Tequila 1519 Reposado is aged for sixty days in oak barrels where it slowly transforms into a rich golden color with a hint of wooden notes. It may be enjoyed straight or mixed in cocktails. Tequila 1519 Anejo is aged for a minimum of one year and is the most subtle of the three 1519 varieties. The specific distillation process combined with slow aging in oak wood barrels results in a distinct aroma with delicate wooden notes.

Tequila 1519 is 40 percent alcohol by volume and 80 proof. All three varieties are packaged in 750 ml bottles. For more information about Tequila 1519 write to A. Hardy USA, Ltd., 1400 Touhy Avenue, Suite 120, Des Plaines, Illinois 60018. Call (847) 298-2358 or view the web site at:

World Dairy Expo Announces Grand Champion Dairy Products

The World Dairy Expo, sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, announced the winners of the 2013 Championship Dairy Product Contest. This year, the competition received a record 820 entries. All category first place winners were auctioned off at the World Dairy Expo, held Oct. 1-5 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis.

Among the winners, Sartori Company, based in Plymouth, Wis., was selected as the Cheese and Butter Grand Champion. Upstate Niagara Co-op, based in Buffalo, N.Y., was selected as the Grade A Grand Champion. And Gifford’s Dairy, based in Skowhegan, Maine, was the Ice Cream Grand Champion. This year’s contest judged the best of the best in a number of dairy categories, including cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, sour cream, sherbet, cultured milk, sour cream, whipping cream, dried whey and creative/innovative products. Dairies from across North America submitted their products for consideration.

Emmi Roth USA received two awards at the 2013 Championship Dairy Product Contest, including a first place win for Roth Hot Chili Gouda in the Flavored Natural Cheese category. Roth Hot Chili Gouda is a new introduction for the company and will be available to customers in the coming months. This rich, buttery Gouda is infused with a special blend of three peppers for just the right amount of heat. “As consumers continue to look for bold flavors, Emmi Roth USA is excited to offer another specialty cheese with a spicy kick,” said Linda Duwve, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Emmi Roth USA.

It is amazing how dairy manufacturers have embraced this contest,” said Brad Legreid, Executive Director of WDPA. “Due to the tremendous support from dairy companies throughout North America, the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest has averaged a 15 per cent annual rate of growth over its first eleven years. This is unprecedented growth for a dairy product contest. This growth is a direct reflection of the high level of interest that dairy processors have in entering the only judging contest of its kind in North America. Because this contest is all-encompassing, dairy manufacturers have the unique opportunity to compete in a prestigious, all-dairy national contest.”

The contest’s auction was held at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, where all category first place winners were auctioned off. A portion of the proceeds from the auction were donated to be used to fund various scholarships. A number of scholarships are awarded annually to deserving students pursuing careers in the dairy industry.

For more information on the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest and to inquire about submitting products for the 2014 contest, contact the Association by email at

Slow Cheese Festival Unites 150,000 Cheese Lovers for Massive Bra, Italy Exposition

By Alicynn King

CheeseFestival1-CSAs you stroll down the street in Bra, you can catch a glimpse of the Alps as if they are growing out of the terra cotta roofs that are so characteristic of the Italian countryside. The cobblestone streets are adorned with charming boutiques, wine shops, cafes and specialty markets. Bra is the quintessential, quaint, picturesque town that fills the pages of guidebooks. However, from Sept. 20-23, Bra was anything but quaint, as more than 150,000 cheese aficionados came to the town to taste, discuss and enjoy thousands of cheeses from around the world.

The Slow Cheese Festival happens every two years in Bra, Italy, a town in the northern Piedmont region that is the birthplace of Slow Food International, an organization that promotes gastronomic diversity and the connections between food, culture and the environment. This year’s ninth edition of the biannual event featured a variety of workshops and dinner dates, as well as the Ark of Taste Project, a project that invites individuals to nominate cheeses from around the world that are in severe danger of being lost to standardization within the industry.

The Slow Cheese Festival attracts a wide range of attendees. Although many of those in attendance work in the dairy and cheese industry, a beer tent, wine enoteca and street food carts help elevate this event to more than just an industry show. The crowds swell as hungry cheese connoisseurs converge on the city for four days of food and frivolity.

CheeseFestival2-CSTents opened at 10 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m. each day, allowing ample time to taste and talk. On Saturday and Sunday, Italians brought their families to enjoy street performers and educational events geared towards entertaining kids. Friday and Monday, however, remained days of business, as distributors sat down with cheesemongers to arrange business deals and discuss the details of importing.

What makes this event unique is the ability to sit directly with the cheese maker her or himself and discuss the product. Although massive in scope, the intimate nature of the event facilitates this one-on-one interaction.

Throughout the event, free workshops were also held at many of the booths. For example, at one such workshop, participants discussed the differences between pasta filata cheeses in the Puglia region of Italy. At another, those in attendance analyzed the pairing potential between Parmigiano-Reggiano and artisanal beers. In general, this year’s workshops stressed the importance of telling the product’s story, highlighting why each particular product is so important to the industry.

At workshops on milk, participants discussed the issues surrounding raw milk, starter cultures, animal welfare and pasteurization. And guided tastings such as “The Rediscovery of Regional Cheeses of the United Kingdom” were held throughout the four days, in which attendees dove deeper into particular categories of cheese. With thousands of cheeses from around the world being showcased, those lucky enough to be at this year’s event found themselves indulging in an astonishing variety as they wandered from stand to stand.

While Slow Cheese Festival attendee Jesse Schwartzburg, from Tony Fine Foods, has represented many Italian products over the years, this was his first time on Italian soil. Schwartzburg marveled at the variety and depth of products at the festival. He also had the opportunity to meet with producers and visit nearby farms.

“Over the years, I have realized that I have left so much of the story out. Being here I have heard more of the story,” he said. “To understand [cheese], to drink it with Barbera while eating the Toma Della Rocca Robiola, you understand the regionality of the product.”

In addition to the wealth of Italian cheeses, the selection of international cheeses at the event spanned three blocks. Representing the United States at the event was cheese and specialty foods distributor Gourmet Foods International. This was the fourth Slow Cheese Festival in which GFI has participated. This year, the distributor highlighted Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in California, Cremont from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery in Vermont, Rouge River Blue from Rouge Creamery in Oregon, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont and Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin.

This year, the GFI booth was so popular with consumers and industry members alike that they were one of the few producers that sold out of product by the end of the festival Several European restaurant owners even inquired about how to purchase American cheeses for import.

For many of the European attendees, this was their first real encounter with American cheeses. Giuseppe De Ceseare was in attendance as a translator during the festival, working for the Gourmet Foods International booth. De Ceseare was intrigued by the level of excitement surrounding the cheeses.

“The United States has such big producers that most people don’t know or see the small artisan producers,” he said.

Cheese Festival 018Cow Girl Creamery has had the opportunity to showcase their cheeses at four Slow Cheese Festivals. This was the second year that company co-founder Sue Conley attended the event. For Conley, she values the biannual festival as an opportunity to share her cheeses with a broader audience and to taste what others are making.

“We get to taste cheeses from people we have admired,” Conley said.

The Slow Cheese Festival is an event unlike any other. Filled with a variety of educational opportunities and cheeses, it is the perfect blend of fun and business. For those who are lucky enough to be able to come to Bra, they will surely have an unparalleled opportunity to learn more of the story behind the cheeses they love.

To learn more about 2013 festival and hear about upcoming plans for 2015, visit

The Label Wars: When Governments Define a Product, Some Win and Some Lose

FoodLabeling2-CSBy Lucas Witman

Last year, when media reports emerged that many Greek yogurts on the U.S. market contain additives that are not customarily introduced to the authentic product, many consumers ran to their refrigerators and combed through the ingredients listings on the labels of their favorite brands. Traditionally, Greek yogurt is produced by straining yogurt in cheesecloth to remove the whey, resulting in a thicker, more protein-rich product. Some companies, however, have begun adding thickeners like corn and tapioca starch to achieve this desired consistency. The result is often indistinguishable from the authentic product. However, the problem for many is that true Greek yogurt and the technologically enhanced version are often indistinguishable on store shelves. Both types of products can be labeled “Greek yogurt,” with no requirement that they identify on the front label when additives have been introduced.

The Greek yogurt controversy is just one example of a widening concern among U.S. consumers about how their products are being labeled. Unlike in some European countries where governing bodies more clearly define how foods must be labeled, U.S. companies have considerably more leeway in how they define themselves for consumers. As a result, many companies that produce Greek yogurt, but also olive oil, cheese, wine, meat, coffee and more have been criticized for misleading consumers into purchasing something that is somehow different from what they might expect.

When it comes to food labeling, a particular product may represent much more than just a potential profit to those who produce it. Many products are in fact reflections of cultural identity. Especially for foods and beverages that are tied to a specific region or nation, these items are often symbols of that place, highly valued and protected by those who live there. Thus, when a company reinvents the authentic components and methods behind products like Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Greek yogurt, the result can be damaging to those who are intrinsically tied to the real deal.

Nobody understands this threat more than the Europeans. For this reason, European governments have created a number of different food appellation systems that serve to carefully define different products and lay out how they must be labeled. In France, wines, cheeses, butters and agricultural products labeled AOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) must adhere to standards that have been clearly defined by the government. In Italy, produce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cured meats and cheeses labeled DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) are similarly protected. Italy offers a second appellation system for wines, labeling them DOCG (Controlled Designation of Origin Guaranteed), DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and IGT (Typical Geographic Indication). The European Union offers its own appellation for food and wine as well, designating certain products that meet its standards for authenticity as AOP (Appellation of Protected Origin). A number of other European countries have their own government-regulated appellation systems in place as well.


The benefits of appellation systems

Appellation systems offer the producers of certain foods, wines and agricultural products a number of advantages in the markets in which they are enforced. Perhaps most importantly, when governmental agencies monitor these products and enforce a certain standard, it protects the overall quality of the item. A consumer who purchases a DOP Balsamico di Modena, for example, can be assured that the vinegar inside the bottle is of a certain quality.

FoodLabeling1-CSMore than simply conferring quality on a product, however, these appellation systems also protect the economic and cultural traditions behind it. For example, although it may be easier and cheaper to change the recipe or production process behind Parmigiano-Reggiano, if a company wants to label the product as AOP, it must be made in the traditional manner.

In addition, for a region or country that relies heavily on a product either as a source of revenue or as a draw for tourism, these appellations ensure that another region or country can not lay claim to that same product. The French Champagne region, for example, has a significant economic interest in ensuring that it is the only place where its eponymous sparking wine can be produced.

One company that is particularly supportive of the EU-granted AOP appellation is Le Gruyère AOP, maker of authentic Gruyère cheese from Switzerland. Gruyère cheese has its origins in the Middle Ages. The cheese has been produced in its current state with its current recipe since 1115 A.D. Le Gruyère AOP is extremely proud of its long history and cheers the AOP appellation for preserving tradition.

“An AOP is really linked to your territory (because your base [of your product] is the origin and the landscape) and is actually a protection for your history,” said Philippe Bardet, Director of Interprofession du Gruyère AOP. “Sometimes we really think we are like in the old times, on a horse fighting to save our lives. Like the guardians of the temple, we fight to protect [our product] from copies and innovations.”

“At Le Gruyère AOP, we are known to be one of the most strict in Switzerland, but we know that the final quality of your product is what makes the consumer buy your product,” Bardet continued.

According to Bardet, his association has suffered losses, both financially and in terms of product reputation, when lesser companies in Europe, Russia, South Africa and elsewhere have made and marketed inferior cheeses under the name “Gruyère,” The AOP designation helps Le Gruyère protect its name and its product. Bardet said there has now been about a month of trademark protection for the cheese in the United States, and that the team at Le Gruyère is intent on legal action to protect the usurpation of the name.

“There is a big loss for our product, our producers and, in fact, at the end, the consumers, when you have a cheese sold under the Gruyère name that has no taste and no character,” Bardet said.

Outside Europe, government-regulated appellation systems are less common, and this has been a problem for many specialty food companies whose authentic products are in competition with lesser quality imitators. For example, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is a highly prized version of the popular beverage, and that popularity has given birth to a number of inferior quality coffee blends falsely usurping this title.

“Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee has a long and famous tradition of being the best coffee in the world because of its quality,” said Jamaican Senator Norman Grant, Managing Director and CEO of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited, Jamaica’s largest Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee processing facility. “Grown at the highest elevation in Jamaica, in the Blue Mountain range in the parishes of St. Thomas, St. Andrew and Portland, the product is clean in the cup…The traditional characteristic of the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is intense in its aroma with a medium body—mellow, floral—and chocolatey taste.”

Senator Grant argues that too often, customers purchasing a product labeled Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee may not be getting the real thing. “There are some companies that try to market Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee all over the world but without meeting the prescribed quality standard,” he said.

However, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee producers are working hard to remedy this situation. “The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica has implemented a Trademark User License agreement where companies trading should sign a trademark user agreement,” Grant said. “Where this is not done, companies that breach this can be penalized or be sued.”

The government of Jamaica has gotten involved as well, taking the first steps to protect the name through a European-style appellation system. The Jamaican government, working with the Coffee Industry Board is working to enforce geographic standards, designating the official boundaries within which products labeled Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee can be cultivated. Although this is a work in progress, Senator Grant hopes that, over time, it will help to protect the product.


The downside

Despite the clear benefits that food and drink producers, consumers and entire regions garner from government-regulated appellation systems, critics argue that there are good reasons to eschew such systems.

First, in clearly defining what a product is, what must go into it and how it must be produced, the product is essentially standardized. As a result, producers who may want to approach the item in an innovative way may be stymied from doing so. If Salame Piacentino, for example, must be made with a specific seasoning blend, a company that wants to label its product as authentic Salame Piacentino will be prohibited from changing that recipe.

Another problem some have with these appellation systems is that they often favor larger more established companies, negatively impacting smaller independent producers. While it may be relatively easy for a major cheese company to follow the government’s strict standards and achieve EU certification for all of its products, a small Emmenthal producer may not be able to afford to follow these standards. In addition, she may not have the resources at her disposal to get required approval from the EU.

Finally, some connoisseurs of food and drink argue that these labels too often confer quality on products that have not earned it on the basis of their culinary merit alone. In short, simply because a cheese or sausage or olive oil or mushroom has earned the right to be labeled AOP or AOC or DOP does not mean that it is necessarily a “fine food.” Many simple agrarian staples, for example, long eaten as a means of subsistence, have developed unwarranted reputations as gastronomic delicacies simply by virtue of their appellation.

Responding to the criticism that the AOP appellation pushes smaller producers out of the production process, Bardet argues that this system is extremely welcoming and helpful to independent producers of Gruyère cheese. “We don’t think it is undemocratic,” he said. “The Gruyère AOP now represents 6,000 independents and is still accepting new ones. If anyone wants to come in, he can as long as he respect the rules.”

Senator Grant similarly argues that efforts by the Jamaican government to regulate Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee will not have a deleterious effect on small producers in the region, but rather would equally protect all producers of the beverage, regardless of size. “This, in my view, would not affect Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee business and small companies,” he said. “The main focus would be on the producers in the country of origin and…authenticating those companies who handle the brand.”

Regarding the criticism that appellation systems inhibit innovation, Bardet concedes that this is a necessary aspect of protecting the history behind his association’s product. “With an AOP, you are protected but also limited—no innovation is allowed,” he said. “We are the guardian of a history, a tradition.”

However, Bardet still argues that it is unfair to state that the AOP appellation in any way standardizes Gruyère. “In our opinion, this argument is not true,” he said. “If our product would be standardized it would be made in one big factory…We protect the producers…and want them to stay independent , with their know-how. This is the key.”


To follow in the footsteps of Europe?

From many producers of fine food and drink, both in the United States and around the world, a common lament is heard that they do not receive enough protection for their product when sold in this country. Until recently, this was the case for Le Gruyère, who just this year finally received trademark protection from the U.S. government. Many other companies, however, have not been as successful in protecting their unique products’ names and identities in the U.S. market, making it difficult to distinguish their authentic offerings from lesser imitators.

Still, in many ways, the U.S. specialty foods market potentially offers producers of gourmet products more unrestricted opportunities to craft truly one-of-a-kind products, outside the oversight of a governing body.

In addition, eschewing the bureaucracy associated with a government-regulated appellation system helps open the market up to more producers. Thus, the benefits of the European appellations must be weighted against the benefits of the freer, more open U.S. specialty food marketplace.

Gourmet Food and Drink Popping Up In Unexpected Retail Locales

By Jazmine Woodberry

Gourmet companies are broadening the retail locations at which their products are sold, moving from specialty retailer shelves to the shelves of convenience and drug stores. And consumers, retailers and specialty food purveyors themselves are moving fast to adapt to this changing gourmet marketplace.

Nearly one in four people today say they shop in convenience stores more or as frequently as they do grocery stores. Meanwhile, drug stores also boast a $230 billion revenue profile, bolstered by food and drink sales in-store. This is partly driven by the consumer push for more convenient shopping options. Shoppers may still flock to grocery stories when they are looking to discover new items. However, when looking to retrieve everyday staples, the convenience and drug store channels offer some distinct advantages.

Further broadening the appeal of convenience and drug stores to consumers shopping for everyday staples is the growing selection of private label products offered within this channel. “The convenience stores are a contingent. The drug stores are a contingent. All of them represent different aspects of the same solution,” said Private Label Association President Brian Sharoff.

According to research group IRI, 80 percent of shoppers see private label brands as equivalent to or better than the goliath brands on the shelves. This is true when it comes to both the contents on the inside and the way they are packaged on the outside. Thus, by offering more private label goods, convenience and drug stores are able to gain a greater share of those shoppers not committed to name brand labels.

According to Sharoff, the key to being a successful retailer is to set yourself apart from the competition with your own private label offerings. “How can I maximize profits if I’m a retailer? The answer is to have your own brands,” Sharoff said. “[This is] the thing that binds them all together and the product [that] will eventually be sold under that retailer’s own brand name. Whether that’s an upscale product that will be bought [at] Trader Joes or a downscale product that will be bought [at] 7-Eleven, it’s all about getting your own brand out there.”

It is not just the growth in private label options that is driving more and more consumers to convenience and drug stores today, however. As these stores offer an increasingly high end food and beverage selection, they are able to compete with grocery stores even when it comes to things like fresh and prepared foods.

Walgreens has been successfully running UpMarkets since January 2012, combining the usual drug store experience with higher end food options. Walgreens UpMarkets feature the chain’s private label brands Delish and Nice!, as well as freshly prepared in-house items ranging from pre-made Italian dinners to sushi options, green juices and smoothies.

According to Joe Magnacca, President of Daily Living Products and Solutions for Walgreens, these options are making the companies’ stores “the first choice for health and daily living throughout neighborhoods nationwide.” Magnacca added, “Our fresh food offerings provide customers with easier access to a greater selection of fresh foods and beverages.”

7-Eleven is another company working hard to carve itself a place in the gourmet and private label marketplace, offering an increasingly high end selection of healthy snacks. “Better-for-you is one of the fastest-growing segments of the snacking category,” said Rebecca Frechette, Vice President of Merchandising for 7-Eleven. “People are snacking throughout the day, and they’re looking for ways to improve what they eat without sacrificing taste.”

7-Eleven’s premium snack section features both the company’s own private label snacks such as trail mixes and veggie chips priced from $2.49 to $3.99, as well as high-quality, name-brand snacks more commonly found in gourmet and organic grocery stores, selling from $1.49 to $4.99.

One gourmet snack brand consumers are likely to find on the shelves of their local 7-Eleven is Sahale Snacks, maker snack and nut mixes, including Honey Almond, Pomegranate Pistachio, Maple Pecan and Cashew with Vanilla. Sahale Snacks’ Vice President of Marketing Erika Cottrell said that carving out a place in several different arenas helps the brand stay constant in both the marketplace and the minds and hands of consumers. The partnership with 7-Eleven was perfect timing, said Cottrell.

“This trend, of consumers seeking out good-for-you options and looking for them at quick-purchase locations, continues to grow and shows no sign of slowing down. It definitely helps Sahale Snacks as a brand to be available at the locations our customers visit most frequently,” Cottrell said. “People are going to convenience and drug stores more and more to make many of their home and pantry-filling snack purchases. It’s important for our brand and to our customers that they can find Sahale Snacks where those decisions are being made. When people want to snack, why shouldn’t they have great tasting, better-for-you options no matter where they shop?”

The team at Sahale sees great growth potential in convenience and drug stores. The company has not limited itself to marketing its products at 7-Eleven convenience stores alone. Sahale Snacks are now sold at QuickCheck, Wawa, Sunoco, Maverik, Plaid Pantry, Tedeschi, Hess and Royal Farms stores as well.

Questions Over Safety of U.S. Spice, Chicken Imports Driving Consumer Insecurity

By Lucas Witman

A recent survey found that consumer confidence in the safety of foods and beverages that are sold in the United States is currently at its lowest point in five years. Just one in six of those surveyed said that they felt a “great deal” of confidence in the foods they purchase. In contrast, in a similar survey conducted in 2008, four in six expressed a “great deal” of confidence.

There are a number of reasons that consumers today are feeling less confident in the foods and beverages currently on the market. Recent outbreaks of foodborne illness, concerns over pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms in the food supply and health concerns related to preservatives, artificial sweeteners and trans fats are causing alarm for a growing number of American consumers. Now, news has emerged regarding the safety of spices and chicken imported into the United States, further proliferating insecurity among those already wary of what they eat.

Spice imports

This summer, the Food and Drug Administration released a report, which revealed that as much as 7 percent of all spices imported into this country may be contaminated with salmonella. The agency inspected 20,000 shipments of spices imported into this country and found high levels of contamination on coriander, oregano, sesame seeds, curry powder, cumin and black pepper. The highest percentage of spices contaminated with salmonella arrived from Mexico (14 percent) and India (9 percent).

With such a high percentage of U.S. spice imports reportedly contaminated with salmonella, spices and seasonings companies are scrambling to assure consumers that their offerings are safe for consumption. Still, there are some intrinsic aspects of the spice industry that make reducing possible contaminations to zero a difficult task.

“People don’t take the necessary precautions,” said Mick Whitlock, President of Vanns Spices. “We need to be more careful about bringing things into the country.”

Vanns is a major U.S. spice company that imports its products from all over the world. Vanns searches the globe for the latest and most unusual spices, striving to be the first to offer these unique imports to U.S. consumers.

Although Whitlock states that his company does everything possible to ensure that the spices it offers are safe and free of salmonella, he understands that certain aspects of the traditional methods through which authentic spices are harvested and processed for export have contributed to this contamination. He cites Indian peppercorns as an example of this.

“Peppercorns in India are dried on the ground and then they’re scooped up and put into bags and shipped,” Whitlock said. “Over the years, India has gotten better. They put nets over the drying area.”

There are methods that some companies use in order to protect the safety of their product offerings, but many argue that these methods are either ineffectual or that they harm the quality of the spices.

“There are ways of treating them, and that does compromise the quality,” Whitlock said. “We try to avoid chemical treatment and don’t use any irradiation on our spices. A lot of our spices are steam sterilized.”

Whitlock states that Vanns will continue to rely on imported spices as well as continue its work to ensure that these imports are uncontaminated. Vanns does this primarily by demanding various certifications from its suppliers. The primary certification Vanns seeks from its suppliers is a certificate of analysis for every product that enters Vanns’ manufacturing facility. Vanns is certified by the Safe Quality Food Institute. SQF certification is globally recognized as a gold standard for food safety and quality.

Past third party certification, Vanns works to develop its own relationships with its suppliers, visiting their facilities and learning about the products firsthand. By coming to know each individual supplier, Vanns is able to trust that it knows and approves of the products’ source.

Processed chicken imports

In addition to the FDA concerns over the safety of spice imports, worries about the safety of processed chicken imports have also come to light. In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially gave permission for chicken processed in China to be imported into the United States. What makes the issue particularly thorny for U.S. consumers is that this product does not have to be labeled as originating in China.

Consumers may in fact have a reason to be concerned about the safety of food imports from China, as there have been a number of incidents in recent years where foods produced in the country have been proven to be unsafe. Earlier this year, it was revealed that much of the rice sold in China may be tainted with the toxic metal cadmium. The Chinese dairy industry has been under fire since 2008, when milk and infant formula from the country was found to be contaminated with melamine, a dangerous chemical introduced to the product to increase protein content. And in May, in perhaps the most disturbing incident regarding food safety and quality in the country, Chinese officials announced that it had arrested several criminal traders for selling rat meat as mutton. Further contributing to U.S. consumers’ fears about the safety of poultry imported from the country are the recent Chinese outbreaks of avian influenza, a disease that can be passed on from dead chickens and turkeys to humans.

With U.S. consumers worried about the chicken nuggets on their dinner tables arriving, unbeknownst to them, from China, it might be expected that the U.S. poultry industry would be equally outraged. However, this has not been the case thus far.

“[The Food Safety and Inspection Service] has assured us, and reassured us, that they are fully committed to protecting the nation’s food supply and if China begins exporting processed chicken products to the United States, all food safety steps will be taken as if the products were processed in the United States,” said Tom Super, Vice President of Communications for the National Chicken Council. The NCC is a national non-profit trade association representing the U.S. chicken industry.

Super points out that although the USDA has approved the import of processed poultry from China, the chickens themselves must still be raised, slaughtered, plucked and frozen in the United States or Canada before this Chinese processing can even take place. It is thus unlikely that many poultry companies would find it economical to import Chinese processed chicken on a large commercial scale.

“One thing to keep in mind is that we’re talking about a miniscule amount of chicken in terms of what is both imported and consumed in the United States,” Super said. “Ninety-nine percent of the chicken we consume here [in the United States] is hatched, raised and processed in the U.S. We don’t expect that to change any time soon. There’s no shortage of chicken here.”

Super is somewhat incredulous that any processed chicken from China will in fact actually be imported into this country. “Think about it. A Chinese company would have to purchase frozen chicken in the United States, pay to ship it 7,000 miles, unload it, transport it to a processing plant, unpack it, cut it up, process/cook it, freeze it, repack it, transport it back to a port, then ship it another 7,000 miles,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone could make a profit doing that.” According to Super, the only market for expensive imported Chinese poultry is likely to be niche Asian markets.

The U.S. government

The NCC’s sense of security when it comes to the safety of Chinese poultry imports is largely dependent on the trade association’s confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to monitor these products and determine that they are safe for consumption. According to Super, FSIS has taken all the necessary precautions to protect U.S. consumers.

Still, the U.S. government has not always proven itself completely reliable as a barometer for what is safe to eat on grocery store shelves. “I think the government should be doing more,” said Whitlock. Although Whitlock says he thinks the government has made significant progress in recent years in improving the inspections of food and food facilities, it still has a long way to go to wholly protect the U.S. population from unsafe and unsanitary foodstuffs.

Lucini Italia to Sponsor Intensive Olive Oil Tasting Seminar

With extra virgin olive oil use by Americans increasing every year and a recent United States International Trade Commission report revealing
a majority of extra virgin olive oils on the shelves are “adulterated and mislabeled products,” a deep understanding of extra virgin olive oil is becoming essential to operate successfully in this dynamic category.

Lucini Italia is proud to sponsor the National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters’ (ONAOO) Extra Virgin Olive Oil Intensive Tasting Seminar, a two-day, in-depth training modeled after the five-day professional ONAOO course based in Imperia, Italy.  A first of its kind in the United States, the course is led by Italian ONAOO instructors and will teach proper tasting techniques, sensory analysis and how technology plays a role with the quality of extra virgin olive oil, among other topics. Held in San Francisco two days before the Winter Fancy Food Show in January, the seminar is targeting buyers and category managers who have the task of listing and reviewing olive oils for sale in their stores and distributorships.

David Neuman, President of Lucini, attended the full five-day course in Italy last year and was extremely impressed with the high level of professionalism and vast knowledge the ONAOO instructors possessed. Lucini developed an hour long mini-training that explained how extra virgin olive oil is made, why quality is of the utmost importance and why it is imperative to be able to discern quality vs. fraudulent oils. Lucini held more than 20 mini-trainings in the last year for major retailers, distributors and consumer magazines, all of which ended with the audience hungry to learn more about extra virgin olive oil and asking how they could attend an official ONAOO course.

Realizing that the high cost of travel to Imperia, hotel lodging, course fees and the fact that the course is held in English only twice a year may prohibit others to attend, Lucini began working with ONAOO’s scientific advisor, Dr. Mauro Amelio, to bring a version of the course to America. The cost of the US course is $500 and covers all materials needed, as well as olive oil-centric meals.

“Lucini is not benefiting financially from the training,” Neuman said. “Simply put, quality is our mantra and the more people understand and respect quality extra virgin olive oil, the better and stronger the category will be as a whole.”

The Imperia-based course has been attended by Tom Mueller, Author of the New York Times Bestseller, Extra Virginity, Nick Coleman, Chief Oleologist at Eataly in New York City and Eryn Balch, Executive Vice President of the North American Olive Oil Association. “This course, or one like it, should be mandatory for anyone in the olive oil business – and everyone who wants to understand oil quality,” said  Mueller, who will serve as the keynote speaker for the seminar in San Francisco. “Plus the people in your course frequently become valuable contacts that broaden your experience of the industry.”

The course is taking place in San Francisco on January 17 – January 18, 2014. Visit for more information, full curriculum and to register.

Alter Eco Foods Launches Organic Chocolate Truffles in Two Flavors

Alter Eco Foods has introduced its newest organic, fair trade product line: truffles. In dark chocolate and dark milk chocolate, these truffles are a bold and innovative addition to the popular Alter Eco organic, fair trade chocolate bars. Alter Eco has reinvented the colorful round twist-wrap truffles seen at every grocery store checkout counter. Alter Eco has taken these much-loved favorites and made them with organic ingredients, adding pure lauric acid-rich coconut oil, instead of palm kernel oil, to its fair trade chocolate. Even the packaging is compostable. And while consumers are already familiar with the truffles’ smooth and melty texture, the sustainability-age makeover is all new, all Alter Eco.

Deep dark smooth chocolate sourced from Ecuador (Black Truffles) and Peru (Velvet Truffles) surrounds these sumptuous bite-sized delights. Pure organic coconut oil combined with milk and cacao creates the silky-smooth, melty filling. These Swiss-made, organic, fair trade truffles will launch with two classic flavors: Black (Dark Chocolate) and Velvet (Dark Milk Chocolate). Additional innovative flavors will soon follow.

Newly popular in American nutrition circles, coconut oil is credited with an impressive list of health benefits — from controlling weight, to improving memory, to regulating cholesterol.  “Coconut oil is taking the nutrition world by storm with its array of amazing health-promoting properties,” said Jessica Pantermuehl, Nutritional Counselor and founder of Beautifully Balanced Nutrition.  “It is full of medium chain triglycerides, better known as the good fat, and even appears to raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as the good cholesterol.”

Importantly, coconut oil is a sustainable alternative to the more common palm kernel oil. Alter Eco sources its coconut oil from Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, located on India’s tropical Malabar Coast. This farmer-owned co-op practices jaiva krishi, a sustainable farming method that mimics virgin rainforest, where many crops grow harmoniously together, and many animal species — including wild elephants — roam safely.

The truffles are wrapped in new eco-friendly packaging.  Alter Eco has developed a groundbreaking wrapper — printed with non-toxic compostable ink — that will decompose in yard waste and at-home compost bins.  Additionally, the outer box packaging of the truffles is recyclable.  More information and demonstration of this innovation sustainable packaging can be found at:

“Alter Eco’s goal is to provide consumers with a decadently delicious taste experience, while never compromising our own values,” said Edouard Rollet, Co-Founder and President of Alter Eco. “With these truffles, we’ve taken goodness to a whole new level.”

Alter Eco Truffles, like all Alter Eco offerings, are 100 percent organic, fair trade and non-GMO. The products are also Carbon Neutral certified.  Alter Eco Truffles (SRP $7.99 / 10-pack) will launch exclusively at Whole Foods Markets from October 2013 to March 31, 2014.  They will be available to all retailers through most major distributors by mid-March 2014 for April placements.

Salt & Straw, Artisanal Chocolatiers Partner on Seasonal Gourmet Ice Cream Flavors

Salt & Straw has partnered with small, artisanal chocolatiers Sahagun ChocolatesXocolatl de DavidMissionary ChocolatesAlma Chocolate and Woodblock Chocolate, to show off each of their unique chocolate making styles, techniques and ingredients through scoops of ice cream. Gift pack of flavors will be available for nationwide shipping through  and at Portland area scoop shops beginning February 1.

Sahagun’s Oregon Kiss

Crafted in the form of a deep chocolate ice cream with cocoa-nutty gianduja truffles, this ice cream was created by Elizabeth Montes of Sahagun Chocolates, who helped pioneer Portland’s artisan chocolate scene in 2005.  Her meticulousness with flavor has earned her caramels a spot on New York Times’ “best in the box” list. 
Xocolatl de David’s Bacon Raleigh Bar Ice Cream 
Like a Snickers bar that’s been warped into something that’s just as satisfying yet fulfills the strict demand of “Portland Artisan.” Chocolatier and former chef, David Briggs, has spent the last eight years perfecting this chocolate bar recipe, which can be found on the shelves of even the trendiest of Portland shops. For the ice cream, Salt & Straw melted honey nougat into the base, added heavy ribbons of bacon infused caramel plus candied pecans.
Woodblock’s Peruvian Pisco & Chocolate 
An Intensely cocoa flavored, Single-origin Peruvian Chocolate ice cream mixed with a puckering and tangy pisco sour sorbet. Roasting single-origin cocoa beans in a 19th century, repurposed coffee roaster, Charley Wheelock’s “bean-to-bar” chocolates help to make this Frankenstein-like reincarnation of a traditional chocolate ice cream truly magical.
Missionary’s Blood Orange Chocolate Sorbet
A creamy vegan chocolate delight awaits you with a cup of this decisively bright, indulgently dense blood orange and chocolate sorbet.  Melissa Berry, a naturopathic physician, started her company based on the sheer passion of making delicious chocolates that her vegan mother could eat. Today, proceeds from her company are set aside with the goal of starting an in-patient naturopath hospital funded by chocolate! Similar to Missionary’s truffles, this sorbet doesn’t proclaim the fact that it’s dairy free, but if you’re asking…
Alma’s Boozy Bon Bon
A delicate combination of flavors that are married with precision, Alma’s Boozy Bon Bon  ice cream weaves together the assertive flavors of anise, lime zest, and an extra dark chocolate to create the ice cream base; then studs it with Madeira wine and House Spirits rum-soaked prunes. At Alma Chocolates, Sarah Hart has created a food culture and seasonal bon bon menu around the best ingredients and producers in Portland, creating one-bite beauties that shock and awe guests. 
About Salt & Straw Ice Cream
Salt & Straw Ice Cream is a small batch ice cream company that partners with local artisans, producers and farmers to create unique and gourmet flavors. The ice cream is handmade, using only all natural cream from local farms throughout the Willamette Valley. Flavors showcase the best local, organic and sustainable ingredients from Oregon farmers and artisans, such as Rogue Creamery, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Olympic Provisions charcuterie, as well as imported flavors from small hand-picked farms from around the world. The company started serving eight flavors from an ice cream cart in May of 2011 and then moved to its first brick and mortar location on Aug. 12, 2011. All shops use 100 percent renewable energy as well as fully compostable serveware for all to-go items. Scoops of hand-made, small batch ice creams, sundaes, milkshakes and floats as well as pints to go are available at each shop and served with impeccable service. Favorites, seasonal and design your own variety packs are available for online purchase and can be shipped anywhere in the United States. Salt & Straw’s ice cream cart is available for catering parties and events. Find more information at  or call 971-271-8168. Follow on Facebook at Salt and Straw Ice Cream or Twitter @SaltandStraw.

Stoger Chile Seed Oil Scores Silver Scovie

 Stöger Seed Oils‘ Chile Seed Oil earned a Silver Scovie Award from the 2014 Scovie Awards judging panel of culinary experts in the Condiments – Hot & Spicy category.

This year’s Scovie Awards were extremely competitive, featuring more than 805 products competing for the gold in their respective categories. Products were submitted from around the world, and each entry went through vigorous blind taste tests.

Dave Dewitt, founder of the Scovie Awards stated, “Companies recognize our awards as the most competitive blind taste tested event in the world.”

Stöger Seed Oils are available online at, at select Whole Foods Markets nationally and Central Market, and at other specialty and gourmet food stores. The suggested retail price ranges from $15 to $39 for 100ml-500ml bottles. For more information, visit, and on Facebook at