Get Adobe Flash player

Missouri Producer Brings a Taste of Middle Eastern Date Culture to the American Market

By Dave Bernard
When you live abroad and cannot keep up with the demand from friends and family for the interesting food products you ferry home in suitcases each year, it might be time to start your own business. So it was with Colleen Sundlie, who had discovered date syrup while living in the United Arab Emirates with her professor husband and son. Now back in Springfield, Missouri and two and a half years into her business, Date Lady, Sundlie no longer has to seek out the obscure Middle Eastern market to locate a bottle of this nutritious and surprisingly versatile syrup.

After tasting many products and coming to appreciate Middle Eastern “date culture,” where hosts typically serve coffee and dates, and bowls of the fruit are a staple at gyms, hotels and car dealerships, Sundlie put her marketing and business background to work. In addition to the date syrup, Date Lady sells a caramel sauce and a chocolate spread, both sweetened only by dates, as well as packaged dates and a new date balsamic vinegar. The all-natural products are sold nationwide, including at many prominent retailers, such as Murray’s Cheese, Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Markets, as well as in many smaller specialty food stores. Sundlie reports the company’s sales have roughly doubled in the last year.DateVinegar-473x1024

According to Sundlie, consumer demand for Date Lady’s flagship date syrup has exploded in recent months. “We have a lot of people that are addicted to it,” she said. “We’ve had people asking us if they can order it by the gallon.” While the company is looking into larger packaging, it recently added convenience with squeeze bottles for its date syrup and caramel sauce. These products previously came in glass jars. “People were just using it more often and asking, ‘How can you make this easier for us?’” said Sundlie.

When it comes to the company’s packaged date offerings, Date Lady’s uniqueness extends to this product line as well. While most dates sold in the United States are Medjools or Deglet Noors, Date Lady sells organic California Barhi and Halawi dates. Sundlie likens these less common dried fruits to pieces of caramel. The company does use Medjool and Deglet Noor dates in its other products.

In addition to climbing retail sales of Date Lady’s date syrup, some manufacturers have begun substituting the 100 percent fruit syrup for other sweeteners, for example in chocolate and fruit and nut bars, smoothies, ice cream and even beer. Interestingly, none of these products are date-flavored. The syrup has the sweetness of maple syrup but carries a more complex flavor, with hints of caramel, toffee and molasses. The date flavor itself is often masked when the syrup is used to sweeten other foods. However, when used alone as a syrup, for example on pancakes, notes of date do come through.

To meet growing demand from consumers and manufacturers, Date Lady recently moved to a new Springfield headquarters and production facility, tripling its capacity. The company benefits from a relative lack of competition within the larger specialty food landscape. While other companies sell whole dates, Date Lady’s syrup, caramel sauce, chocolate spread and date balsamic go virtually unmatched. Even most Middle Eastern products do not compete directly with Date Lady products. Many include added sugar, and, according to Sundlie, some products touted as “all-natural” frequently fall short of the claim.

Always looking to branch out into the gourmet market with new products, Date Lady launched its new date sugar last month and plans to debut additional products later this year. For more information, visit


Food Lion Names Rhonda Mauldin 2014 Store Manager of the Year

Food Lion has named Rhonda Mauldin its 2014 Store Manager of the Year. Mauldin, who is the Store Manager of the Food Lion located at 1004 W. Georgia Road in Simpsonville, S.C., was selected from a group of more than 1,100 store managers across the company.

“I really don’t think of myself as an exceptional store manager; however, what I do think of as exceptional is my team,” Mauldin said after receiving the award Wednesday. “They really are the reason I’m here today, and I’m honored to accept this award on their behalf.”

Food LionMauldin was honored at an annual event at Food Lion’s headquarters in Salisbury, North Carolina, which was attended by her family and colleagues. This is not the first time Food Lion or the grocery store industry has lauded Mauldin for her outstanding leadership skills. She received store manager excellence awards for her work both with Bloom and Food Lion stores in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014. In addition, Mauldin received Progressive Grocer’s Top Women in Grocery award for the Store Manager category in 2014.

“Our store managers are the face of Food Lion to our customers,” said Meg Ham, President of Food Lion. “Rhonda personifies this every day by running a great store, teaching and training associates, mentoring future leaders and caring for our customers and her community through outstanding service.  Her store is always one of the top stores in donating meals and time for her local food bank. She is an exceptional leader, has developed an outstanding team, and is so deserving of this honor. We’re proud to have her as part of the Food Lion team.”

Mauldin has worked in the grocery store industry for nearly 30 years. She joined Food Lion in February 2006 as a Dry Assistant Manager in Anderson, South Carolina. Six months later, she was promoted to Store Manager and moved to Seneca, South Carolina, to serve as the store manager at this location. Because of her sharp skills of transforming businesses into high-performing stores, she was later transferred to the Simpsonville, South Carolina, store location in 2007.

To honor Mauldin and her exemplary community service, the company will donate $2,000 in Mauldin’s name to her store’s local feeding agency, Harvest Hope Food Bank, in Greenville, South Carolina. Mauldin and her team support this food bank with food donations and volunteerism throughout the year.

In addition to Mauldin being selected as Food Lion’s Store Manager of the Year, three Store Managers were recognized for exceptional leadership. The 2014 Division Store Manager Excellence Award recipients include: Paul Goodnight, Store Manager at 2458 SW Cary Parkway in Cary, North Carolina; James Felix, Store Manager at 12100 Central Ave., in Mitchellville, Maryland; and Kevin Foy, Store Manager at 1304 W. Vernon Ave., in Kinston North Carolina.

Food Lion will donate $1,000 to each of the feeding agencies served by these stores in honor of the division winners. Food Lion’s Store Manager Excellence Awards recognize and honor exceptional store managers who enrich the lives of Food Lion’s customers, associates and the communities the company serves, successfully lead its business, and support and inspire others.



Unified Grocers’ Springfield Logo and Packaging Honored

Unified Grocers’ new Springfield logo and packaging has been named a winner in the 2015 American Package Design Awards sponsored by Graphic Design USA magazine.

SF ButterUnified teamed up with San Francisco-based Murray Brand Communications to redesign and refresh the Springfield packaging, make it relevant to today’s consumers and to attract new shoppers to the brand. After conducting extensive consumer research, the Murray Brand team designed a new brandmark and packaging system for the Springfield portfolio of more than 800 SKUs.

The new packaging was designed to support the brand’s core essence of neighborly, trusted quality and to provide shoppers a consistent, eye-catching look throughout the store. It also includes “Facts Up Front” icons developed by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association to help consumers easily recognize food attributes and benefits such as fat free, low sodium and low cholesterol. The Springfield brand has been in existence since 1947.

“We have a terrific partnership with Murray Brand,” said JoAnn Murdock, Executive Director, Marketing, Unified Grocers. “We’ve been impressed by their extensive, research-based approach and outstanding creativity and design execution throughout the entire Springfield brand refresh process. They truly understand marketing and successfully used shopper insights to achieve these award-winning results.”

Springfield Fam Veg-Fruit“Winning this prestigious design competition, which is judged by branding, design and packaging experts, validates that the new Springfield brand and packaging is beautiful work,” said R.J. Murray, Principal, Murray Brand Communications, Inc. “It reflects our strong collaborative effort with Unified Grocers and their packaging production partner, Western Family, and allowed us to develop fresh and exciting designs which resonate with shoppers and ultimately drive sales.”

For more than five decades, Graphic Design USA has hosted design competitions that spotlight areas of excellence and opportunity for creative professionals. The competition celebrates “well-designed graphics and the power of design to advance the brand promise and forge an emotional connection with the buyer.” About 2,000 entries were submitted to this year’s competition.

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage: Wading into the Mainstream

By Lorrie Baumann

NaturalGrocers1-NHNatural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage opened its 92nd store in Tucson, Arizona, in January. Another new store opened in Wichita, Kansas, on February 24. Altogether, 18 Natural Grocers stores are planned to open in fiscal year 2015.

The current crop of openings reflects a combination of a growing food and nutrition movement in the United States and an ambitious goal of growing the store base at a 20 percent compound rate over each of the five years, after taking the company public in July 2012, said Kemper Isely, Natural Grocers’ Co-President.

Twenty-one stores are scheduled to open in the 2016 fiscal year, with 24 slated for the following year. “We planned on expanding our geographic footprint west of the Mississippi. Any state west of the Mississippi would be a possible target,” Isely said.

The founding principles established by Margaret and Philip Isely when they established Vitamin Cottage, the precursor of Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, in Colorado in 1955, are that the stores are committed to providing nutrition education, to quality, to everyday affordable pricing, to their communities and to their employees. This is according to Patty Moore, one of the chain’s Regional Nutrition Coaches. Vitamin Cottage eventually evolved into Natural Grocers, the name by which consumers generally know the brand. Though the company is now publicly owned, the Isely family is still involved in its day-to-day management and maintains a controlling interest in its ownership.

Natural Grocers’ basic mission to change lives by offering free nutrition education and healthful products that support good nutrition has not changed. What has changed over that time is a growing mainstream acceptance of what used to be called “health food” and recent growing concern about American childhood obesity rates as well as an epidemic of diabetes and other nutrition-related illnesses.

PhotographerIn keeping with its principles, all produce sold in the chain is 100 percent USDA Certified Organic, and the company prefers to buy local products when possible. “We have a commitment to that, which is pretty unique for a chain of our size,” Isely said. “We also support organic producers over local producers. If there aren’t organic sources in an area, we won’t sell conventionally-produced produce in our stores.”

Meats in the stores come from humanely treated animals that were raised without antibiotics, except when needed to treat an actual illness, and without growth promoters or feed containing animal byproducts. Dairy products come from animals raised on pasture rather than in barns. “The cows or goats or sheep that produce the milk have to be on pasture for a minimum of 120 days,” Isely said. “They have to get the majority of their nutrition from forage, so that we’re not stocking products that come from barn-raised animals.”

Providing those products across a rapidly growing geographic area has presented no particular distribution-chain challenges, because the chain is partnered with UNFI, which, so far, has been able to supply every new store, Isely said. “Most of the product is either manufacturer- or distributor-direct to stores, so there haven’t been challenges,” he said. “That isn’t a big issue.”

Before a new product can go onto the shelves at Natural Grocers, it is reviewed by the corporate purchasing staff, which requires third-party documentation that the product meets the company’s quality standards. Approval can take up to three months, and Natural Grocers will not sell any product that contains artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives or harmful trans fats.

The company supported GMO-labeling ballot issues in Oregon and Colorado. “We support GMO labeling for products. We don’t support lawsuits if people inadvertently don’t mention GMOs that they don’t know are in their products. We think that consumers have a right to know if there are GMO-containing foods in the products they purchase,” Isely said. The company adopted a no-disposable-bag policy in 2009 and estimates that since that time, the policy has kept 100 million bags out of landfills.

Every store in the chain has a position available for a credentialed nutrition coach, whose services are free to the community, and newer stores offer regular free cooking and nutrition education classes in demonstration kitchens. The free classes offered in the store cover topics such as maintaining blood sugar stability, heart health, bone health, food quality and gluten-free living, Moore said.

A few of the older stores, such as the Vitamin Cottage founded in 1955, do not have demonstration kitchens, so they do not offer cooking classes, but all offer advice and coaching to guide consumers about nutrition choices, whether they are following special diets such as gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian/vegan, low-glycemic or if they heard something on television on which they want to follow up. “What we like to do is educate people about the various ways there are to eat. Eating whole foods and eating foods that are natural to your diet is a good way to eat. We don’t try to say that everyone should eat Paleo or vegetarian or high-carb. Everyone doesn’t want to eat the same way,” Isely said. “Our people will talk to them about whatever sort of diet they want to have, and it isn’t necessarily one type of diet they should have. Lean meat and vegetables seems to be preferable for good health, but if someone wants to eat differently from that, that’s fine, and we’ll talk to them about that also.”

Natural Grocers currently employs more than 2,000 people, with 85 percent of them full-time. Full-time employees get health insurance and paid personal time off, while a 401(k) plan and employee discount is available to all employees. For every hour an employee works in the store, he or she also gets 75 cents in “Vitamin Bucks,” which are a store credit in addition to the employee discount.

“We’re foodies. We do carry supplements, but food is first,” Moore said. “People are taking back control of their food. They want to be food citizens.”


Star Kay White Celebrates 125 Years

Founded in 1890, Star Kay White, Inc., is celebrating its 125th anniversary on Valentine’s Day, 2015. Owned and operated by the Katzenstein family for five generations, their primary focus has always been making the top-quality ice cream flavor ingredients that America has grown to love, such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peppermint stick, marshmallow, graham cracker, and an old favorite, rum raisin.

Making ice cream is a unique, complicated, and expensive endeavor, and so is the manufacture of the flavors used in the process. Making caramels, fudge, fruit sauces, “variegates” (swirls), bases, extracts, and candies is an equally specialized and exacting process. High quality vanilla extract demands procurement of the world’s finest vanilla beans, with the actual process of making the extract taking over a month. The secrets of Star Kay White’s Gold Star Vanilla Extract have literally been handed down, father to son, for five generations.

Star Extract Works began making and selling ice cream flavors at the southern tip of Manhattan in the same location where the World Trade Center North Tower stood. Lower Manhattan has always been a congested area, and needing more space, Star Kay White followed the New York Yankees and moved to the Bronx in 1928. Eventually, the confines of the city proper caused the company to move again to suburban Rockland County in 1984. As of 2015, Star Kay White maintains four buildings on a 10-acre campus, employing more than 100 people and manufacturing over 40 million pounds of product per year.

Americans have always commemorated happy times with their favorite ice cream. That sentiment is exactly why some mom and pop shops and ice cream companies now owned by multinational corporations have consistently purchased their ice cream flavors from Star Kay White – some continuously for over a hundred years. The best names in ice cream still come to Star Kay White for the craft touch, the family feel, and the extra hustle for which Star Kay White is renowned. American business has always been very competitive and many of Star Kay White’s rivals have come and gone. Few companies can match Star Kay White’s heritage or the expertise that comes with honing a skill for a very long time.

So the next time you find yourself in front of a freezer looking at a pint of ice cream, or waiting in line for a hand-dipped cone at the beach, know that for 125 years, there is this undeniable truth about ice cream: it is American, it is classic, and it is made from old-fashioned hard work. And while you won’t find this name on the package, there’s a very good chance that you are enjoying Star Kay White’s flavors on your taste buds and bringing that smile to your face!

Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noirs Shine in Top California Wine Competitions


Sonoma-Cutrer, most distinguished for producing world-class, award-winning Chardonnay, recently received two top awards for its Pinot Noir wines. The 2012 Founders Reserve Pinot Noir took home the highest honor at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition with the Sweepstakes Red award, while the company’s flagship 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir won the Platinum award at the 2015 San Diego International Wine Competition.Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot family

When Sonoma-Cutrer began crafting Pinot Noir in 2002, it was a natural extension from Chardonnay for a winery focused on the winemaking traditions of Burgundy, France. Today, Sonoma-Cutrer produces four distinctive Pinot Noir wines. Sonoma-Cutrer’s separate, artisan Pinot Noir winery takes many special steps to craft its Pinot Noir from early morning hand harvesting and hand sorting to a hand punch-down in open top fermenters. The same care and respect is used to craft Pinot Noir as with Chardonnay.

“Sonoma-Cutrer has always been recognized as a world-class producer of Chardonnay, with the Pinot Noir program being our best kept secret for years,” said Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter. “To receive honors and recognition for our Pinot Noirs from some of the most prestigious and highly competitive competitions in the United States has the entire Sonoma-Cutrer team over the moon with excitement.”

The care for these Pinot Noir wines is evident through the prestigious awards the winery has recently received, including the Sweepstakes Red award for the 2012 Founders Reserve, and Double Gold for the 2012 Vine Hill Pinot Noir at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The competition, which received more than 6,300 wine entries, is known as the largest competition of American wines in the world. Of all these wines, only eight Sweepstakes awards are given in the categories of Sparkling, White, Pink, Red, and Dessert/Specialty wines.

“Sonoma-Cutrer’s Founders Reserve Pinot Noir was deemed the best of more than 4,000 red wines entered into the 2015 competition,” said San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition director Bob Fraser. “Mick Schroeter and his staff should be complimented for their excellence in viticulture and winemaking.”

The most highly acclaimed and requested Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, recently received the Platinum award and a 95 point rating for the 2013 vintage at the highly esteemed San Diego International Wine Competition.

“Sonoma-Cutrer has long been a benchmark producer of California Chardonnay. Situated in the cool Russian River Valley, it makes Chardonnay that possesses structure and elegance, giving it the ability to improve with age,” said San Diego International Wine Competition director Robert Whitley. “Because of the success of its Chardonnay, the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of wine.”

All award-winning wines can be purchased at the Sonoma-Cutrer winery as well as through the wine club, Club Cutrer. Additionally, the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is available nationwide in stores and at restaurants.

For more information, visit, or visit Facebook at


New Finlandia Imported Butter: Delicious, All-Natural, Non-GMO Butter from Internationally Renowned Cheesemaker

Finlandia, the internationally renowned cheesemaker and a highly regarded brand in America, introduces Finlandia Imported Butter.

This Valentine’s day, Finlandia invites consumers to share their love with that special person by sharing their favorite breakfast; whipping up a savory dinner for two or cooking up some romantic, sweet desserts – all using Finlandia Imported Butter. This eclectic natural butter is perfect for breakfast, to butter a favorite muffin or croissant with its sweet, rich taste. Finlandia Imported Butter is also the go-to choice at dinnertime, to infuse a meal with the full butter experience, followed up by decadent, chocolate delights, also baked with Finlandia Imported Butter.

Finlandia Imported Butter is crafted from pure, fresh milk, and produced on family-owned farms in Finland. It’s perfect for the American natural palate and is made with non-GMO ingredients according to EU standards, with no rBST hormones. Finlandia Imported Butter is made from cows that graze heartily during the warm seasons, and are fed non-GMO feed.

Finlandia Imported Butter also offers a healthy addition to one’s diet. The American Heart Association (AMA) now recommends butter in moderation, in Americans’ diets. The AMA reports that consumers can healthfully obtain up to 7 percent of their daily calories with this healthy fat. Not all butters are alike. Finlandia Imported Butter is the all-natural choice for chefs and home cooks alike.

With butter regaining in popularity, even millennials are loving it. The newest coffee craze, BulletProof coffee, the butter-containing beverage, is steaming up cafes from coast to coast. The secret to making this hot cup of java is butter – but not just any butter. Finlandia(R) Imported Butter, the perfect match for BulletProof coffee: natural, rich, non-GMO butter added to coffee for a satisfying dose of morning energy. This new coffee trend is a hit, offering caffeine, filling calories and offering a healthy fat to fuel one’s busy morning.

Crafted with pure, wholesome milk, rich and creamy Finlandia Imported Butter brings butter from family-owned farms to the American table.

For more information, visit

Haggen Begins Taking Over Stores Divested in Albertsons/Safeway Merger

Pacific Northwest grocery chain Haggen has begun the process of acquiring 146 stores as part of the divestment process brought about by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) review of the Albertsons LLC and Safeway merger. The FTC approved the divestiture on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, and the merger of Albertsons and Safeway Inc. was completed on Friday, January 30, 2015. Haggen takes ownership of the first Albertsons store in Monroe, Washington, at 12:01 a.m. on February 12.

With this acquisition, Haggen will expand from 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies; from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000 employees; and from a Pacific Northwest company with locations in Oregon and Washington to a major regional grocery chain with locations in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona.

“This momentous acquisition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rapidly expand the Haggen brand across the West Coast,” said John Caple, Chairman of the Haggen board of directors and partner at Comvest Partners, a private investment firm that owns the majority share of Haggen. “Now that the deal has closed, our team is focused on seamlessly converting these 146 stores to the Haggen brand over the next five months.”

The Haggen team, led by John Clougher, CEO, Haggen Pacific Northwest, and Bill Shaner, CEO, Haggen Pacific Southwest, has outlined its plans to convert the stores. Under the settlement, the divestitures to Haggen must be completed within 120 days from the purchase of the first store.

Haggen will convert the stores moving from north to south, with a few exceptions. The first conversion begins on Thursday at a former Albertsons in Monroe, Washington. Soon after, another 18 stores in Washington will be converted during February and March, with the final seven Washington stores scheduled in June. The 83 stores in California will be converted from March to May. The 20 Oregon stores will transfer to the Haggen brand throughout the months of March, April and May. The Nevada and Arizona stores will be the last to convert in the late spring. Each week, between one and 12 stores will be converted.

As the stores are transformed into the Haggen brand from the Albertsons, Safeway, Pavilions or Vons brands, each store’s employees will be invited to become Haggen employees. “Retaining the existing store employees was an essential part of the acquisition, and we hope they all accept our invitation to join the Haggen family. These are great teams and these new employees will be an incredible asset to our growing company. Plus, these familiar faces will help ease the brand transition for long-time customers,” said Bill Shaner.

The amount of time it will take for a conversion will vary store by store. Some stores can be converted within two days after the change of ownership, while others will take longer. Both interior and exterior signage will change at all locations. John Clougher said, “We’re excited about the changes we’re making to enhance these stores, and we’re confident customers will like the new look, the new offerings, and their new full service grocery destination.”

Shaner noted how the store offering will change. “Haggen has built its 81-year-old business on providing excellent, locally sourced, fresh produce and high quality meats and seafood. That focus will definitely be reflected in the new stores,” he said.

As a full-line grocery store, Haggen will offer a core assortment that meets the needs of regular shoppers. Plus, the stores will supplement that selection with products that are locally relevant. “Haggen is still small enough to be very nimble and responsive to each store’s customers. What you find in a Bellingham store will differ from what you’ll find in a store in San Diego. Being locally focused is a core value of Haggen,” said Shaner.

The acquisition of the 146 stores by Haggen has been well supported by grocery industry partners. “We are incredibly grateful for key partners that have helped to make this acquisition a reality, including Unified Grocers, SUPERVALU and Charlie’s Produce,” noted Clougher. Unified Grocers will be the primary supplier in the Pacific Southwest and a secondary supplier in the Pacific Northwest. SUPERVALU will be the primary supplier in the Pacific Northwest. Charlie’s Produce will be the primary and preferred supplier for produce for all Haggen stores. Haggen plans to announce many regional and local distributors in the coming months.

Additionally, Starbucks and Haggen have agreed to continue operating the 78 Starbucks stores located in Haggen’s acquired properties, with remodeling planned for these existing cafés. Haggen will also be adding cafés to other locations. Clougher said, “We are proud to be continuing and expanding our partnership with Starbucks – another great Washington company committed to building stronger communities.”

Clougher added, “With the help of both our long-standing and new partners and employees, we are excited to offer our locally sourced produce and groceries, genuine service, and homemade quality to customers throughout Washington and Oregon and now in California, Nevada and Arizona.”


Grund Presents New Collection of Organic Cotton Home Rugs

IMG_5718Grund® America is launching a new home rug line made of organic cotton at the 2015 International Housewares Show in Chicago (North Hall, Booth #8344) from March 7-10. “Organic cotton is a safe, socially responsible and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cotton. It
provides the consumer with the same benefits of conventional cotton, soft, durable, affordable-but without the negative effects to the environment and to human exposure to harmful chemicals,” states Michael Twer, Vice President/General Manager. “We take tremendous pride in being socially responsible for our community and for the products we produce. Our Organic Cotton Home Rugs are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which is the worldwide leading textile processing standard lab. The Grund Organic Cotton Home Rugs can be used in many rooms in the home, including the bathroom, kitchen, laundry and utility rooms.”

Based on the Textile Exchange research, the tangible benefits of organic cotton production include significant reduction in global warming, soil erosion and soil acidification, water use and energy consumption. In addition, the study’s most significant findings when comparing organic cotton to conventional cotton included the following:
• 46 percent reduced global warming potential
• 70 percent less acidification
• 26 percent reduction in soil erosion
• 91 percent reduction in ground (blue) water consumption
• 62 percent reduction in primary energy demand

The release of this study validates the turning point for the organic cotton production as a viable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional cotton. Lastly, the Grund Organic Cotton Home Rugs are grown and produced without exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides. Launching in April just in time for Earth Day, the Grund Organic Cotton Home Rug collection will be available in multiple colors, sizes, and three designs.

Tickets Available Now for California’s Artisan Cheese Festival

The 9th Annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival has announced this year’s roster of experts leading seminars and workshops on Saturday, March 21, 2015. The weekend-long festival takes place March 20-22 and brings together artisan cheesemakers, chefs, brewers, sommeliers, winemakers and passionate guests for three days of touring, tasting and learning about artisan cheese.

Bringing attendees face-to-face with the experts who work with and create some of America’s best artisan cheeses, the Saturday seminars and workshops tend to sell out early every year. Some of the experts that will be leading seminars this March are:

  • Janet Fletcher, author and co-author of more than 20 books on food, cheese and wine, including her newsletter Planet Cheese, is leading two seminars: “Cheese & Cider Happily Ever After” and “Hops vs. Malt: A Smackdown with Cheese.” She will be co-leading the Cheese & Cider seminar with Ellen Cavelli, co-owner of Tilted Shed Ciderworks and next-generation leader in the American Cider Revival. Fletcher and Cavelli will lead guests through a range of traditional cider styles (French, West Country, Basque and single-varietal), as well as wholly unique styles as interpreted by American producers, while helping attendees discover the cheeses that fine cider loves best. In Hops vs. Malt, Fletcher will teach attendees the do’s and dont’s of pairing cheese with hoppy ales vs. malt-focused brews.
  • Award-winning author and lecturer Laura Werlin is leading the “Cheese & Chocolate – World’s Two Best Foods on One Plate, One Palate” seminar as well as “California’s Sheep’s Milk Cheeses (and Wine).” An expert in American artisan cheeses, Werlin received the prestigious James Beard award for her book “The All American Cheese and Wine Book,” which was the first of its kind to focus entirely on cheese and wine pairing. She also received a prestigious James Beard Award nomination for her book, “Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials.” In the Cheese & Chocolate seminar, Werlin will cover the basics in tasting cheese and chocolate side by side, and in her Sheep’s Milk seminar, she will shed light on this rarely used milk and the newcomers around California who specialize in it.
  • The world’s first Honey Flavor Wheel was recently developed by Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science at UC Davis. Harris will be employing her honey wheel and joining forces with Lynne DevereauxDirector of Marketing and Public Relations for Laura Chenel’s Chevre and Marin French Cheese Company, in leading a seminar entitled “What A Perfect Pair: Honey & Cheese.” Cheese and honey are inseparable partners on cheese plates and in recipes. This session goes behind the hive to show how hard the honeybees work to produce honey and how vital their work as pollinators is to the food shed. With a passion for quality and respect for authenticity, Harris and Devereaux are dedicated to celebrating honey and cheese in Sonoma County. Each attendee will also receive a Honey Flavor Wheel to take home.
  • Stephanie Skinner and Thalassa (Lassa) Skinner, co-owners of Culture:  The Word on Cheese magazine, are leading a seminar entitled “Pair if you Dare.” In this innovative seminar, guests will go beyond the usual cheese accompaniments with a broad selection of cheese styles alongside out-of-the-ordinary pairings – including pickled vegetables, smoked shellfish, chocolate, teas, sour beer, and tropical fruits. Stephanie and Lassa will discuss what makes a good pairing and why, as well as different tastes and textures, to help attendees find comfort in contrasts as well as in complements.


  • Soyoung Scanlan, the owner and cheesemaker at Andante Dairy, is leading a seminar entitled “All About the Milk: Tasting & Working with Different Cheeses.” Before becoming a cheesemaker, Scanlan worked as a biochemist and a dairy scientist, but has found her passion in making cheese. In this seminar, Scanlan will discuss how to understand how each milk expresses itself in the context of cheese and how cheese reveals the essence of the terroirs in which the milk and the cheese are produced. Attendees of this seminar will taste and learn about cheeses from cows, goats, buffalo, and sheep.
  • Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, the co-founders of Cowgirl Creamery, will be leading an informative educational afternoon seminar and tasting entitled “Four Ingredients to the Nth Power.”This seminar is for those who want to take the next step in learning about the technical aspects of the four basic ingredients of cheese, and what each element contributes to the final product as well as how the elements interact to make different cheeses. This class will take place at the new Cowgirl Creamery warehouse in Petaluma, which is just a short walk away from the Sheraton.

Sacha Laurin, the assistant cheesemaker at Winters Cheese Company, is leading a unique cheesemaking seminar entitled “Feta and Friends.” The origins of feta go back as far as the late Roman Empire and sometimes the recipe can seem similarly Byzantine. Fortunately, Laurin has adapted the feta-making process for the home cheesemaker, and in this class attendees will make their own batch, then dress up their cheese with olive oil, tapenades, fresh and dried herbs, and other goodies.

Louella Hill, also known as the San Francisco Milk Maid, is leading a cheesemaking seminar entitled “Mozzarella Making,”as well as a hands-on educational seminar entitled “Three Milks, One Recipe, Many Tastes.”

  • The cheesemaking seminar focuses on teaching budding cheesemakers to make a perfect mozzarella, as well as learning mozzarella stretching, rolling, braiding, twisting, and stuffing. The educational seminar is a hands-on learning experience that teaches attendees the difference between goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milks by tasting, touching and smelling every step of the process from the starting liquid to a finished wheel. This class gives non-cooks (and less confident foodies) a way to do something hands-on while building confidence around the language used to describe different cheeses.

For those home cheesemakers who are ready to move on from mozzarella and ricotta, cheesemaker and educator Stephanie Soleil is leading a seminar entitled “Cheesemaking 201: Pressed Cheese – Romano.” This intermediate cheesemaking class teaches home cheesemakers how to press cheese and properly age cheese in their own refrigerators, and every attendee will go home with their own round to continue aging for weeks or months.

  • For those who enjoy a little friendly competition between cheesemakers, then “Bite of California – Cheesemaker Battle for the Best Bite” is the seminar to attend. In order to illustrate the versatility of cheese and some of the incredible food produced in California, cheesemakers including Cypress Grove Chevre and Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery will each prepare a savory and sweet bite showcasing their cheese. In a friendly clash of California’s booming specialty food world, the attendees will sample these bites and vote for their favorite “Bite of California” while learning about food pairing.

All seminars, except the Cowgirls’ afternoon seminar, will take place at the festival’s host hotel, Sheraton Sonoma County–Petaluma (745 Baywood Drive, Petaluma, CA 94954). Seminar times are 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. The ticket price for the seminars and workshops includes a catered lunch by Petaluma Market from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $95 per person for the cheesemaking seminars and $65-$75 per person for all other seminars. Several participating authors will also be signing and selling their books between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. in the main lobby of the Sheraton Sonoma County. Tickets for all events can be purchased at

Those interested can also follow updates by “liking” the Artisan Cheese Festival on Facebookand following the event on Twitter. All events are priced separately and the Sheraton Sonoma County – Petaluma is offering special discounted rates on rooms for festival-goers.

Generous sponsors of the Artisan Cheese Festival include All American Printing, American AgCredit, Beehive Cheese Company, California Milk Advisory Board, Central Coast Creamery, Clover Stornetta Farms, Cowgirl Creamery, Culture magazine, Cypress Grove Chevre, Donald & Maureen Green Foundation, Edible Marin and Wine CountryEdible East Bay, Exchange Bank, Ellipses Public Relations, Fiscalini Cheese Co., John Boos, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Laura Chenel Chevre, Marin French Cheese Company, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, Nugget Markets Inc., Oliver’s Markets, Orland Farmstead Creamery, Pennyroyal Farm & Creamery, Petaluma Creamery, Petaluma Market, Petaluma Post, Pisenti & Brinker LLP, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Redwood Hill Farm, Relish Culinary Adventures, Redwood Hill Farm Rustic Bakery, Sierra Nevada Cheese Company, Sheraton Sonoma County, Simple & Crisp, The Cheese School of San Francisco, Valley Ford Cheese Company, and Willapa Hills Cheese.

Gourmet News

Follow me on Twitter