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This month, Carrburritos Chipotle Salsa made its debut on the shelves of Southern Season. Carrburritos’ owners, Gail and Bill Fairbanks, and their friend, Diane Volkers, have partnered up to manufacture the most popular of the many fresh salsas served at the Rosemary St. eatery. The new product is well on its way to stardom. Diane handed out samples at Southern Season’s tasting station last week and, at day’s end, there wasn’t a jar left in the store.
After tasting the salsa, a small group of food professionals and I gathered for wine and pimento cheese fritters (already topping my list of "best things I’ve eaten, 2013") in the Weathervane bar, a fitting spot to talk about artisan foods. This brainstorming led to our top 10 local artisan foods, all available at stores and farmers’ markets around the county and beyond:
Carrburritos Chipotle Salsa (of course!)
If you aren’t afraid of a little heat, there are infinite ways to enjoy this piquant, smoky sauce: on tacos, hamburgers, added to a cheese spread, basted onto beef before roasting, in chicken salad, deviled eggs, scrambled eggs … to name just a few.
The perfect gift for candy-lovers – crunchy English-style toffee made with pecans, enveloped by high-quality dark chocolate. Karen Graves' family recipe is now available in over 60 venues including Weaver Street, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Foster’s Market and Southern Season.
Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan Butter
Big Spoon also makes plain peanut butter, and peanut butters blended with both almonds and cashews, but for flavor, its peanut-pecan butter can’t be beat. The combination is so sublime, I can’t imagine why it hasn’t been manufactured before. The king of nut butters is available at Johnny’s, Carrboro Farmers’ Market and Southern Season.
Farmhand Foods Bratwurst
Made with local pork and perfectly seasoned with a pinch of nutmeg, this is simply the best bratwurst I’ve ever tasted. After one bite, there’s no going back to Johnson’s. Buy it at Cliff’s Meat Market, Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm and Southern Season.
Farmer’s Daughter Peach Jam
April McGreger’s deft touch with seasonings in her jams, chutneys and preserves proves her culinary artistry. This time of year I crave her mildly sweet peach jam with just the right touch of bourbon and vanilla. Slathered on a hot biscuit along with plenty of salted butter, this makes the most comforting breakfast imaginable on a cold dreary day. Find a jar at Carrboro Farmers’ Market or at 3CUPS (for now).
Chapel Hill Creamery’s Hickory Grove Cheese
Best known for its Carolina Moon Camembert-style cheese, the creamery makes a half dozen other extraordinary cheeses, all comparable in quality to their counterparts in Western Europe. My current favorite, Hickory Grove, is a “Trappist” style cheese, interesting enough to serve on a cheese platter, yet mild enough to complement any kind of meat on a sandwich.
The Blakemere Company’s Fig and Onion Chutney
If you love figs but fig jam is too sweet for your taste, try this delightful, mild chutney with hints of garlic, tamarind and ginger. A terrific complement to Chapel Hill Creamery’s cheeses or with pork of any kind, it can be found at Johnny’s, Weaver Street and Southern Season.
Though the label proclaims it to be “Italy in a jar,” I’d call Nello’s Sauce “farmers’ market tomatoes in a jar.” This delicious sauce brings back summer, wherever good tomatoes grow. Grab a few cans from Whole Foods or Weaver Street and check out Nello’s clever website for some great recipe suggestions.
TOPO’s “Age Your Own” Carolina Whiskey
In the “spirit” of full disclosure, I haven’t tried our local distillery’s moonshine after the aging process, but this is such a clever idea that it deserves our attention. Available at our ABC stores, the whiskey comes with your own aging barrel. Can it rival Woodford Reserve or Knob Hill? I doubt it, but sounds like a fun experiment for whiskey lovers.
Mysterious is just the right word to describe this unfiltered, unpasteurized beer made in Hillsborough. There is no flagship brew, and the offerings change every season. Each ale, lager and stout is indescribably delicious in its own way, but available only until the batch runs out. Look for these amazing beers at local bars and restaurants. Adventurous beer lovers will enjoy trying the latest brews at the Mystery Brewing Company’s taproom on 437 Dimmocks Mill Rd. in Hillsborough, open for tastings every Friday and Saturday afternoon. TW