Gifts with Good Taste
These food gifts for the holidays are local and award-winningBy Leah Chester-Davis
North Carolina food artisans produce a bumper crop of specialty foods each year, something to please most any palate. Several of these food creations end up receiving impressive accolades at state, regional or national competitions. We’re highlighting a few of the national winners as starting points for your gift-giving inspiration. Whether you’re looking for a hostess gift or the perfect find for that hard-to-please person, specialty food items make gift-giving fun for the giver and the recipient. You just can’t beat a gift with good taste!
CHOCOLATES, CONFECTIONS, SNACKS
Chocolate and confections never go out of style. The state has several winning bean-to-bar chocolate shops, meaning they start with the cacao beans. While cacao beans aren’t a local food product, most of these companies are committed to fair-trade and organic beans when possible. The beans are turned into chocolate products in these shops in the state.
Brasstown Chocolate in Winston-Salem won a Good Food Award this year for one of its chocolate bars and was a finalist for two others. Brasstown also garnered top honors at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards. Their chocolate is available at their retail store in Winston-Salem and several other sites across the state.
Escazú Artisan Chocolates, of Raleigh, also won a Good Food Award this year. They source organic beans from Costa Rica, Venezuela and Peru, and make and sell an evolving selection of bars, truffles and confections on-site in Raleigh. Gift baskets and online ordering are available.
Videri Chocolate Factory, also in Raleigh, is a Good Food winner in the confections category with its Sugarplum Ganache Bonbon. Videri also offers a selection of chocolate and chocolate subscriptions. Any chocolate lover would welcome a monthly indulgence, and a chocolate subscription is sure to be a winning gift. Visit the factory or order online.
French Broad Chocolates in Asheville captured a Good Food Award for its Hazelnut & Almond Dragee, a scrumptious sweet and salty snack. They also offer chocolate subscriptions. French Broad Chocolates are available statewide.
Creative Snacks Company in Greensboro bakes delectable snacks that are award-worthy. The company’s Organic Coconut Snacks that combine coconut, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds won rave reviews at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, where it won a sofi award (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation), securing top honors in the sweet snacks category. Creative Snacks Company products are sold in stores statewide. Tuck a few bags of these snacks into a gift basket with other North Carolina goodies.
PICKLES & PRESERVES
North Carolinians love pickles and relishes, which can accompany a wide range of dishes — from fish to barbecue. Jams, jellies and preserves are another popular gift in a jar. While the traditional fruit-flavored versions abound, for good reason, a couple of companies have gotten creative with their flavor combos and brought home Good Food Awards for them.
Two Chicks Farm, of Hillsborough, got its start when Audrey Lin and Debbie Donnald began selling produce at the Carrboro Farmers Market. In 2014, they transitioned to value-added products such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and pepper jellies. They grow most of the ingredients for their products or buy them from nearby local organic or sustainable farms. Two Chicks Farm (served by Piedmont Electric) took home the Good Food Award this year for its Dill Pickles, and several of their products have won in years past. Their line of products makes for a nice sampling for a gift basket so a recipient can enjoy all the winning products.
Farmer’s Daughter Brand, also of Hillsborough, (served by Piedmont Electric) has three products that were recognized in the pickles category: Ramp and Mustard Seed Kraut; Ruby Kraut; and Hot Chili Okra Pickles. Owner and creator April McGreger also won an award in the preserves category with Bourbon’d Figs, an unexpected combination of bourbon, figs, lemon and vanilla. Most of the ingredients in her products are grown on small, local farms.
Fiddlehead Farm, of Pittsboro, makes a wide variety of jams, jellies, preserves, hot sauces and baked goods in its certified kitchen. Their Blueberry and Cinnamon Basil Jam was a Good Food Awards finalist. Fiddlehead Farm labels include information on the farm, grower or source for each raw ingredient in the jar, and whether it’s certified organic. Fiddlehead Farms products are at markets and stores in the Triangle and available online.
Some specialty foods products in the state offer a touch of the exotic, introducing flavors and ideas from other countries.
Kitchens of Africa was started by Jainaba Jeng when a military coup prevented her from returning to her home in Gambia, in western Africa. While sauces and spices to make international dishes from other countries like India, Thailand or Mexico are readily available, she couldn’t find similar products for African cuisine. She introduced a line of flavorful and authentic African-inspired condiments that yield complex flavor combinations of some of her favorite traditional dishes. Yassa is an onion simmer sauce that she says is her favorite, and the one that her family and friends most often request. The sauce contains ginger, garlic, caramelized onions, fresh citrus, smoky paprika, Dijon mustard sauce and a blend of spices.
A growing number of cheesemakers and their high quality products are consistently recognized in competitions.
Goat Lady Dairy, of Climax in Randolph County, is the recipient of numerous awards through the years. This year, Goat Lady won both Good Food Awards and top honors in the 2016 American Cheese Society competition. Goat Lady Dairy makes several kinds of cheese and the ones winning accolades this year are Lindale, Providence, Roasted Red Pepper Chèvre and the Smokey Mountain Round. Goat Lady Dairy products are in stores statewide and beyond.
Prodigal Farm, of northern Durham County, also makes several types of cheese. They were recognized with a Good Food Award this year for Field of Creams, a four-inch diameter cheese that looks like brie but is made differently. Woodland aromatics in the rind influence the flavor.
Boxcarr Handmade Cheese, of Cedar Grove in Orange County, captured awards from the 2016 American Cheese Society competition for two of their cheeses: Rocket’s Robiola, a goat’s milk cheese that they describe as luscious and zingy with notes of almond and bright mushrooms, and Cottonseed, a mixed milk cheese. Their products are in stores statewide.
These artisans, farms and shops are just the tip of the iceberg, representing a small sampling of what the state has to offer. There are more than 3,000 small food businesses in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Visit gottobenc.com for more gift-giving ideas and to find food artisans near you.
Other ways to get your chocolate fix