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

January 16, 2015 § 1 Comment

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.

Field Trip: Good Food Awards Marketplace in San Francisco

January 16, 2015 § 2 Comments

This time of year, you’d be hard pressed to get me out of bed before sunrise on a chilly Saturday morning. Unless, of course, there’s an incentive, like a major shoe sale… or a perhaps a fest of award-winning food. This past Saturday it was The Good Food Awards Marketplace that had me up before dawn, under-caffeinated, and in the car heading up US 101 to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. For me, the event is a kickoff to a new year of food and drink and an opportunity to taste some of the best handcrafted deliciousness in the US without leaving the Bay Area. (Need a review of last year’s GFA Marketplace adventure? Clicky to read Part Un and Part Deux.)

Displays by winners in the Good Food Awards confections category: Sweet decadence, as far as the eye can see!

Displays by winners in the 2015 Good Food Awards Confections category: Sweet decadence, as far as the eye can see!

If you’re not familiar with the Good Food Awards, here’s a short summary from their website:

“The Good Food Awards celebrate the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic and responsibly produced. We grant awards to outstanding American food producers and the farmers who provide their ingredients.”

Note that the awards go to the food and beverage producers and those providing the ingredients! It’s not just the craft and end product that receive recognition, but also the ingredient producers. An award that celebrates the value and importance of a sustainable food system, including the relationship between producer and farmer? Yes, indeed! Because, really, isn’t that what good food is all about — marrying delicious, fresh, sustainable ingredients with the art and skill of food making?

Awards are given in 11 categories: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, pickles, preserve, spirits, oil, and honey. There’s no single winner in each category, rather there are multiple award winners representing five regions throughout the country: Central, East, North, South, and West.

The Marketplace event gives the public a unique opportunity to meet producers and taste the winning products. Hosted by CUESA and The San Francisco Ferry Building, the tasting event, which ran concurrently with the Saturday farmers’ market, was set up around the outside of the Ferry Building and along the driveway. (Two other Good Food events — the awards ceremony gala and Good Food Mercantile “un-trade show” — were held at other San Francisco locations on January 8th and 9th, respectively.)

Good Deal: $5 gets you tastes of all award-winning food products!

Good Deal: $5 gets you tastes of all award-winning food products!

More than just a tasting event, the Marketplace is an opportunity for Bay Area food lovers, trendspotters, and food and beverage crafters to connect with the people who are making good stuff all across the US. Where else might you meet a beekeeper from Pennsylvania, a chocolatier from an island off the coast of Maine, or jam maker from Oregon? Certainly the Bay Area was well represented among the winners, but this year I wanted to look beyond our local and regional foodcrafters, because good food happens everywhere. (While the focus of 650Food is my “local” — the San Francisco peninsula — I can’t encourage you enough to examine the food system in your neighborhood, town, and region.)

Equally as valuable and engaging as the products themselves are the stories about the creation of those products. Every foodcrafter has a story about how he or she was inspired to follow a passion, practice their craft, and create something delicious that is worthy of a Good Food Award. The story behind the food and its ingredients is, in fact, part of the product itself. As consumers and food lovers, those stories can become part of our food experience, too. And that goes a long way to providing support and broadening the community that is so essential to the growth of small food businesses.

What struck me as I tasted and chatted my way through this year’s market was the role that food plays in connecting us. At the GFA Marketplace, it’s certainly an easy conversation starter, but those conversations can lead to connections. A love of well-made and responsibly produced food, not to mention the experience of sharing that food, brings people together. I can’t say it enough times: talk to the people who make your food — whether you’re shopping your local farmer’s market or visiting a chocolate shop in St. Louis, MO. You never know what you might learn or how you might be connected.

My haul from the 2015 Good Food Awards Marketplace

My haul from the 2015 Good Food Awards Marketplace

For a roundup of products I’m crushing on from this year’s Good Food Awards Marketplace, not to mention interesting product stories and unexpected connections, click on over to Part Deux.

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