GFA Marketplace: Favorite Tastes, Interesting Stories, and Unexpected Connections

Following are some of my favorite food and beverage winners, product stories, and unexpected connections from this year’s Good Food Awards Marketplace. (I could post for days about all the delicious creations I tasted, but in the interest of time and space, I’ve listed just some of my favorites.) I encourage you to check out the websites and read the “About” or “Bio” sections for the producers. As I said in Part Un, you never know what you might learn or how you might be connected.

By the way, the usual disclaimer for my favorite tastes applies: I have a professional and personal appreciation for fine chocolate and confections, which puts these two categories at the top of my list for sampling (yes, chocolate for breakfast!), although I indulged in plenty of honey, preserves, and cheese as well.

Charm School Chocolate (Baltimore, MD)
The win: Coconut Milk Chocolate

The Deets: Charm School’s winner is a luxurious vegan milk chocolate bar that is completely craveable. Coconut milk stands in for the milk and butter typically used in non-vegan bars. Charm School’s combination of coconut milk and high percentage cacao (49%) gives their bar a rich mouthfeel that can stand up to any dairy-based bar. No boring, super-sweet milk chocolate here; this bar has flavors of cocoa, toasted caramel, and just a hint of coconut on the finish.

Charm School Chocolate's winning entry: Vegan Milk Chocolate Bar
Charm School Chocolate’s winning entry: Vegan Milk Chocolate Bar

The Connection: Owner/chef Josh Rosen is a fellow alum of both of my alma maters: Carnegie Mellon and the Culinary Institute of America. He also spent some time here in the Bay Area as a culinary student, pursuing his externship at Farallon Restaurant.

 Josh and Irina from Charm School Chocolates
Josh and Irina from Charm School Chocolates

French Broad Chocolates (Asheville, NC)
The Win: 68% Nicaragua Bar

The Deets: French Broad sources single-origin beans from Matagalpa, Nicaragua to produce this bean-to-bar treat that gets its touch of sweetness from organic cane sugar. That’s right: no emulsifiers, no additives, just pure cacao and organic sugar make up this winning bar. And the flavor profile? Complex with dominant dark-caramel and mocha notes and a slightly woody finish.

French Broad's 68% Nicaraguan Bar
French Broad’s 68% Nicaraguan Bar

Interesting Story: Owners/chocolatiers Dan and Jael Rattigan have an amazing story of their adventures along the path to becoming award-winning chocolate producers and business owners, not to mention a thoughtful manifesto of their values and business practices. Make sure you read about it on their site.

Apoidea Apiary (Pittsburgh, PA)
The Win: Rosemary Infused Dark Knotweed Honey

The Deets: Knotweed honey has a dark-amber color and rich flavor that pairs well with rosemary. Under Christina Neumann’s careful hand, the pairing is well-balanced, creating a flavorful, unique nectar. You’ll taste the knotweed first, with the rosemary on the finish. Use your grocery store honey for tea and toast, but save Apoidea’s winner for a special indulgence, pairing it with a rich cheese, such as brie, and toasted nuts.

Honey from Pittsburgh? Yes, indeed! Rich, flavorful Rosemary-Infused Knotweed Honey from the banks of the Allegheny River.
Honey from Pittsburgh? Yes, indeed! Rich, flavorful Rosemary-Infused Knotweed Honey from the banks of the Allegheny River.

The Connection: Beekeeper and honey producer Christina Neumann is a graduate of my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon (yes, two of this year’s GFA winners are CMU alums!). If yinz live in The ‘Burgh, you should know that the apiary, which consists of 30-50 hives, sits on the north side the Allegheny river, about six miles from the university. Apiary tours are available during the summer; check the website for announcements.

    Christina Neumann: CMU alumna, architect, apiary manager, honey producer
Christina Neumann: CMU alumna, architect, apiary manager, honey producer

Black Dinah Chocolatiers (Isle au Haute, Maine)
The Win: Cassis de Resistance Truffles

The Deets: A harmonious pairing of tart, island-grown blackcurrants (cassis berries) with a rich dark-chocolate ganache in a thin, crispy couverture. Biting into the truffle immediately releases the intense dark-cocoa flavor of the ganache, followed by the lingering tart, fruity flavor of the infused cassis berries.

Black Dinah's Cassis de Resistance: Irresistable
Black Dinah’s Cassis de Resistance: Irresistable

Interesting Story: Black Dinah Chocolatiers is owned and operated by Kate and Steve Shaffer on Isle au Haute, a small island community located seven miles off the coast of mainland Maine. Living on an island means using what’s available, so chocolatier Kate uses local cream and her own butter for creating Black Dinah’s truffles. The Cassis de Resistance was created when the Shaffers traded chocolate for cassis berries grown by local farmers.

Kakao Chocolate (St. Louis, MO)
The Win: Turkish Coffee Truffle

The Deets: A beautifully smooth dark-chocolate ganache infused with coffee and cardamom, hand-dipped in dark chocolate couverture and finished with a sprinkling of coffee. A rich mocha flavor with a hint of something extra.

Kakao's Turkish Coffee Truffles
Kakao’s Turkish Coffee Truffles

The Connection: Chocolatier Brian Pelletier’s approach to confectionery resonated with me: all of Kakao’s treats are made by hand (no machine enrobing involved). It’s time-consuming and labor intensive, but allows the chocolatier to take a true “hand-ons” approach to making and controlling the product.

Plum Tree Jam (Portland, OR)
The Win: Tayberry Jam

The Deets: A tayberry is a blackberry-raspberry hybrid, about twice as long as a raspberry, with a flavor that is both tart and sweet. Originally created in Scotland, it thrives in our Pacific Northwest. Plum Tree’s owner and jam maker Miranda Rake picks the berries by hand, then cooks them with just the right amount of sugar and lemon juice to produce a berry-licious jam that I want to put on everything.

Rich purple-red color, sweet-tart flavor... tastes like summer to me
Rich purple-red color, sweet-tart flavor… tastes like summer to me

The Connection: While chatting with Miranda and tasting her award-winning jam, I found out that she has a day job as a writer and editor with one of my favorite print publications. (Hmmm, multi-tasking writer/editor starts a food business? Sounds familiar!)

Raft Botanical Cocktail + Soda Syrups (Portland, OR)
The Win(s): Lemon Ginger Syrup and Hibiscus Lavender Syrup

The Deets: Barely sweet, with true flavors from natural ingredients and botanicals, these syrups can up your beverage game. Combine with bubbly water for a healthier and more flavorful soda alternative. Replace the plain ‘ol simple syrup in your home bar with one of these syrups (use half as much Raft syrup as you would simple syrup) to add another level of flavor to your cocktails.

Take your drinking-making skills to the next level with Raft's syrups
Take your drinking-making skills to the next level with Raft’s syrups

Interesting Story: Raft is the result of the founders’ Roslynn Tellvik and Sook Goh’s interests in combining creative flavors, healthful ingredients, and food science. If handcrafted drinks (of both the boozy and non-boozy kind) are your thing, sign up for their weekly recipe newsletter and add some new twists to your drink-making repertoire.

Crude Bitters and Sodas (Raleigh, NC)
The Win: “Rizzo” Bitters (Rosemary, Grapefruit, and Peppercorn)

The Deets: Crude’s flavorful bitters are handmade in small batches by macerating roots, herbs, and spices in a corn-based spirit. “Rizzo” is herbaceous and peppery, with a zing that would complement cocktails made with clear spirits, such as vodka, gin, and tequila. I’m trying this winner in my next round of vodka martinis.

Rather refined: Rizzo bitters
Rather refined: Rizzo bitters

The Connection: I had a nice chat about handcrafted libations and the vibrant food and drink scene in Raleigh with Bitter Soda Jerk, Craig Rudewicz (hey, that’s what it says on his business card!). Turns out Craig knows the guy who installed the taps in my brother-in-law’s new restaurant. It’s a small world.

Crude's Bitter Soda Jerk, Craig Rudewicz
Crude’s Bitter Soda Jerk, Craig Rudewicz

Avalanche Cheese Company (Basalt, CO)
Tomales Farmstead Creamery (Tomales, CA)
The Wins: Avalanche’s Goat Cheddar and Tomales Farmstead’s Assa

The Deets: Avalanche’s Goat Cheddar is aged 6-12 months and made in the style of traditional British cheddars — but with goat milk. It’s a medium-firm cheese with a touch of creaminess that slices like an aged cheddar. Tomales Farmstead’s Assa is a hard goat cheese (reminiscent of a manchego, but made with goat milk), that is aged 6-24 months.

The Story: By the time I’d worked my way through the sweet stuff, I was riding a pretty serious sugar high, and the Marketplace was winding down. I managed to squeeze into the crowded charcuterie and cheese area for some last-minute cheese tasting before calling it a day. I had a tough decision as to which cheeses were going home with me (because, well, cheese), so I was a good girl and limited myself to these two.

Both the Avalanche Goat Cheddar and Tomales Bay Assa Aged Goat are perfect on a crisp cracker with a touch of Plum Tree’s juicy Tayberry Jam or shaved into a wintery salad of shredded lacinato kale, roasted sweet potatoes, thinly sliced apples, and toasted pecans. Or, with a glass of wine after a full day at the Ferry Building.

Phew! Did you attend the Good Food Awards Marketplace? If so, what were some of your favorite tastes, interesting stories, or unexpected connections? Missed Marketplace event? Be sure to check out the full list of winners here. There’s likely a Good Food Award winner or two near you. If so, show some local love and support their businesses by trying their products and learning their stories.

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