Call it what you will: artisanal, handmade, gourmet. Across the Hudson Valley, a new wave of small-batch food producers is melding homegrown with handcrafted, realizing their entrepreneurial dreams with products that inspire and enhance their customers' home cooking. These small-batch products and the stories of their makers are as individual as fingerprints. Small batch doesn't mean small time, however. These makers—with the notable of exception of longstanding and award-winning Fruition Chocolate—are poised for growth. Keep your eyes peeled and your mouth open.
- Less Stone
- Louisa Pabon of Verde & Co.
"A great many Caribbean recipes start with making a sofrito," says Louisa Pabon. "It's mentioned in a 14th-century cookbook. But there's only one major brand out there, and a lot of people think that's what sofrito is." Sofrito, Spanish for "lightly fried," is a mix of vegetables, herbs, and spices that adds a lively accent to meats, soups, stews, scampis, sautes, dips, and more. Pabon, who grew up on the Lower East Side and moved to the Catskills 27 years ago to raise her family, knew she could do better by using fresh ingredients and family traditions.
In 2008, she and a friend, Paula Kaufman, started Verde & Co. in the kitchen of an old Sullivan County hotel; in 2012, they established a commercial kitchen of their own in Mountaindale. "Mom made her sofrito with a mortar and pestle," she says. "We tinkered with the spices; we measure, but it would be hard to duplicate."
And people do, keeping Pabon cooking 12 hours a day most days. "We went and did a demo at Adams Fairacre Farms in Newburgh and sold out," she says. "So we went back and it just kept going like that. We have a distributor now who takes Sofrito Verde to supermarkets. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to hire help—but we'll never compromise our methods or ingredients." Sofrito Verde can be found in Hannaford, Price Chopper, and ShopRite locations across the region. SofritoVerde.com
- Roy Gumpel
- Roy Cohen of MacaRoys
Roy Cohen didn't set out to become a macaron maven. But the Israeli-born, Long Island-raised, 2014 SUNY New Paltz grad has always loved to bake, and when a housemate was given a macaron-making set for Hanukkah and got poor results, Cohen took it as a challenge. "He lost interest after the third try, but I was determined," he recalls. "After weeks, and hundreds of dollars' worth of almond flour, I got somewhere. My boss [Josie Eriole of Moxie Cupcake in New Paltz] loved them and wanted them in the bakery. We sold 1,000 in four months."
That was in early 2016; MacaRoys macarons are now available in a kaleidoscope of colors (Cohen even produced special rainbow boxes for Pride Day in June) and an ever-evolving variety of seasonal flavors (October's selection included: Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Blueberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Hazelnut, Cookies & Cream, Strawberry Jam, Lavender Honey, Mocha Espresso, and Chocolate Peanut Butter). In addition to Moxie Cupcake, you can find MacaRoy macarons at the farmers' market at SUNY New Paltz on Thursdays whenever school's in session, and Cohen will be back at Kingston's Smorgasburg next spring. "I've been blown away by the response," says Cohen. "Next comes my own kitchen and a boutique shop." Keep an eye on Cohen's website: MacaRoys may soon be available by mail. MacaRoys.com
- Ethan Harrison
- FAB Kraut from Crock & Jar
In a Pickle
Michaela Hayes started her professional life in Manhattan as a commercial photographer, but it wasn't long before she realized that her primary passion was the food she was shooting. After studying at the French Culinary Institute, she found herself making gallons of chutneys at Danny Meyer's Indian restaurant Tabla, combining fresh local fruits and Indian spices. Moving on to Gramercy Tavern to take the position of "pickle chef," she became involved in local agricultural sourcing.
Her interest in food activism led her to take a training-for-trainers class with advocacy organization JustFoodNYC, which in turn led to a canning class where she honed in still further on her passion for preservation. "Canning was a perfect intersection of my passion for food, art, and science," she says.
Further studies followed on the West Coast at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems in Santa Clara, California; in 2010, Hayes moved back to Manhattan with the intention of starting a preservation-based food business. Crock & Jar was born. Six years later, Crock & Jar's website offers half a dozen varieties of kraut and an encyclopedic amount of food preservation know-how.
Expect many new additions to the product line as Hayes continues to add value to the harvest from Chester-based Rise & Root Farm, where she and three cofarmers just finished their second growing season. "We're working on hot sauce with all of the farm's peppers and chili paste again this year," she says. "And I did make a small batch of pickled okra, but our crop, the first we've grown, was small enough that customers at the market kept buying it all, so there wasn't much excess to preserve—not a bad problem." CrockandJar.com
- Deborah DeGraffenreid
- Jake and Tara Salerno of Urban Apis
Kingston residents Tara Salerno and her husband Jake happened upon the world of backyard beekeeping by chance. "We talked to a neighbor who had bees, and thought, 'That sounds cool,'" she says. "And the more you learn about bees, the more fascinating they are." Urban Apis recently added a third hive, so the couple's bees now forage in their own uptown Kingston garden full of bee-friendly plantings as well as in a neighboring plant nursery.
Salerno makes Urban Apis's salves, balms, candles, and soap in the family's kitchen. "I got some basic recipes from the Beekeeping Shop and did a lot of research online," she says. "Bee people are a collaborative bunch; I've become Facebook friends with another beekeeper who also makes natural products."
Beekeeping is probably the only method of food production that would dovetail with two day jobs—Tara works for the Department of Environmental Protection and Jake for another branch of state government—but Salerno says it works well for them. "It's still kind of a side hobby," she says. "It's fun, and the bees don't take much time. I'd say they're more work than a cat, but less than a dog."
This year was the Salernos' third year of keeping bees and their second honey harvest. They produced around 30 pounds of the good stuff this year, and sold out by fall, but they still have plenty of other hive products in stock. "How much [honey] you get varies," Salerno notes. "You always have to leave the bees enough to build out their combs." UrbanApis.com
- Roy Gumpel
- Raw cacao beans at Fruition Chocolate
Bryan Graham and his wife Dahlia Rissman-Graham underestimated the market for artisanal food when drawing up their business plan for Fruition Chocolate, the bean-to-bar, small-batch, handcrafted chocolate company they founded in 2008 in Shokan. "At first we didn't even have a retail element here," Graham says. "Because we thought, 'Who's going to pull over on Route 28 for a $10 bar of chocolate?'"
Graham already had experience with sweets; at age 18, he became the pastry chef of the Bear Cafe in Woodstock, and went on to study at the CIA. But when he and Rissman-Graham began talking about starting a chocolate company, they knew they'd have to do something a little crazy to stand out. "That's when we thought that we'd make our own chocolate using raw cacao beans, not buying chocolate, melting it down, and turning it into confections, which is what 99.99 percent of other chocolatiers do," Graham says. "That's a whole separate art and skill, but we wanted to do it ourselves. Which is insane. So we had to build a miniature chocolate factory in our apartment and figure it out."
Fruition also operates a retail store in Woodstock, but the chocolates are also available at retail locations throughout the region. On November 5, Fruition will host an anniversary celebration and open house at its Shokan location from 5 to 9pm. Tastefruition.com