Homegrown for the holidays
Show your good taste by giving North Carolina foods as giftsBy Leah Chester-Davis
North Carolina has an abundance of food entrepreneurs who produce high quality, tasty products. The range is amazing – everything from smoked trout caviar to butter pecan syrup.
Gift-giving is easier when you tap into the local foods offerings. The gifts are unique and usually well received. Most everyone likes to eat!
Purchasing from a local business person is a feel-good move. And it makes economic sense in that you are supporting your local economy and community. According to Rebecca Dunning, an economist with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, research indicates that food produced and consumed locally creates more economic activity in an area than does a comparable food produced and imported from a non-local source.
It also helps spark a culture of entrepreneurship in communities. According to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), there are more than 3,000 small food businesses in the state, attributed, in part, to an increased interest in local foods. While the state lost some small food businesses in 2008 during the economic downturn, the state is now seeing many startup companies with a tremendous amount of variety, according to Myrtle Earley, a marketing specialist with NCDA&CS.
Local food sales have grown significantly in the last five years, particularly in western North Carolina. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this past May, direct sales alone have increased by nearly 70 percent in the western region, from under $5 million in 2007 to more than $8 million in 2012.
Delicious, nutritious ideas
For the holidays, order your food gifts now and you’ll have time to truly enjoy the season, rather than having to hit the mall for something made overseas. Food items also make wonderful host and hostess gifts.
Here are ideas to consider:
A share Community Supported Agriculture, known as a CSA, is a gift that keeps giving. A CSA means that you pay for a portion of the food production in advance and, in return, you or your gift recipient will receive shares in a farm’s bounty throughout the growing season. There are more than 150 CSAs in North Carolina. Visit ncfarmfresh.com to find one near you.
Honey from a local beekeeper makes a nice hostess gift, stocking stuffer or gift basket item. Pair local honey with cookies or pastries from a local bakery, along with a specialty tea, and you might get invited for afternoon tea.
Herb farms across the state sell both fresh and dried herbs. This time of year, in particular, dried herbs are delicious condiments. Pair little packages of bread dipping herbs with freshly baked bread from a local baker. Herb packets can be ordered from piedmontlocalfood.com. Herbs also pair well with many produce items.
North Carolina pecans are a perfect gift for home cooks or for anyone who loves a healthy snack. Their freshness puts store-bought nuts to shame. Some grocery stores have a local foods section with packaged North Carolina pecans. Place the pecans in a pretty tin for a nice gift. You can also season pecans if you want to add a homemade touch. An Internet search will yield many seasoned and spiced pecan recipes. Some pecan companies sell chocolate-covered pecans and other pecan candies. Find them at the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s website: gottobenc.com (Check the “Find NC Products” section, including its General Store).
Peanuts are a popular snack. Individuals, small businesses and companies alike are turning to local food companies to fill their gift orders. Most clients will be happy with a local food gift. Check gottobenc.com for peanut companies.
Gluten-free products are in demand. Chestnut farmers in the state offer chestnut flour, which is an excellent gluten-free option. It has a rich, nutty, earthy flavor and can be used in crepes, cakes and other dishes. One such farm is High Rock Farm in Gibsonville — order from high-rock-farm.org.
Take fresh North Carolina seafood to holiday gatherings. Oysters are especially welcomed during the year’s-end holiday season. Find out what’s in season at nccatch.org.
North Carolina reigns when it comes to sweet potatoes. A delectable appetizer to add to a gift basket is Millchap Sweet Potato Company’s crackers. Pair them with goat cheese from one of the state’s many goat farms! Millchap, based in Charlotte, gets a shout-out because its crackers won the Gold sofi award at the Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., a couple years back. Sofi stands for specialty outstanding food innovation, and honors the best of the best in specialty foods and beverages. Finalists are selected by a national panel of specialty food professionals. The sweet potato crackers are sold at Southern Season, Whole Foods and other select locations. Learn more at millchap.com.
Other products that have won sofi awards in recent years are sauces from Race City Sauce Works, north of Charlotte. Among its winners are the Roasted Poblano & Green Olive Vinaigrette and the Absinthe & Herb Vinaigrette. Its Deadwood Taco Sauce won first place in the New York Hot Sauce Expo with judges from the New York Times and the Food Network, among others. Find Race City products at racecitysauceworks.com.
Another North Carolina prize winner in the national arena comes from Vintage Bee in Durham. Their creamed honey products were a finalist last year in the sofi awards. The company slowly spins honey until it is extra smooth and creamy, then adds fruit and spices. Flavors include White Chocolate Almond Creamed Honey, Chocolate Mint Creamed Honey, Raspberry Creamed Honey and Spiced Apple Creamed Honey. Vintage Bee’s owners are members of Wake EMC. They currently sell 12 different flavors at vintagebee.com and at many locations.
Cackalacky, based in Pittsboro, bills itself as a Southern Spice Company. It, too, has been recognized in the national sofi awards competition. Try the Cackalacky Cheerwine Sweet Sauce and Cackalacky Spiced Nuts, both made with local ingredients. Its full product list is at cackalacky.com.
Sunburst Trout Farms of Canton, located in Haywood EMC’s service area, has been around since 1948. Their mountain trout products range from exotic rainbow trout caviar and smoked trout dip to smoked trout fillets, many in gift boxes. Visit sunbursttrout.com.
There are also barbecue and pasta sauces, muscadine salsas, jams, jellies, goat cheese, Shiitake mushroom powder, granola and many other items. Again, gottobenc.com is a great resource for many North Carolina products.
Don’t forget North Carolina wine! Find a list of vineyards and wineries at ncwinegrowers.com, the site for the North Carolina Wine Growers Association.
Your presentation can be as simple as a festive ribbon around a bottle of wine to an elaborate, themed gift basket. And some farms offer gift certificates. If all these options make your head spin, purchase gift certificates and let the recipients select their own goodies!