By Analiese Paik
This March marks my fourth year as a judge at the CT Specialty Food Association’s Products Awards Competition. The tasting is done blind, so afterwards I always ask the organizers about my favorites. This year I absolutely loved two products in the CT Grown section: strawberry jam and ketchup. I also judged cookies and have to admit that the anise cookie was a standout. The rest of the products I tasted were either good or had flaws that will hopefully be rectified so they can better compete with bigger brands for shelf space.
Here are my top 3 picks from the foods I judged.
Killam & Bassett Farmstead’s Strawberry Jam smells just like perfectly ripe strawberries and tastes like them too. This farm grows all the produce that goes into its jams, which means they have the ultimate control over timing. When strawberries are at their peak of ripeness, it’s obviously time to make jam, even if it’s Saturday. How else could they achieve such wonderful flavor and aroma? This one belongs at the breakfast table or at afternoon tea! http://www.kandbfarmstead.com/. This was one of my top picks last year too and it ended up tying for first place in the CT Grown category.
White Oak Farm & Table’s Marple Hall Spiced Ketchup smells like ripe tomatoes but packs a wallop when you taste it. It’s not horseradish, but black pepper and mustard powder that give it considerable kick. I was particularly curious about this product because my brain immediately registered “cocktail sauce” yet the tasting sheet said ketchup. This is a really delicious, savory and well balanced “ketchup”, but I’d use it as a cocktail sauce and keep it away from young children. Driving home I ran through the possibilities of who could be behind this Westport-based brand. I guessed it had to be Renee Hooper, the owner of Christie’s Country Store. Sure enough, this is their artisan food brand and after tasting this ketchup, I’m compelled to taste the rest of the line. Bravo Renee! http://www.whiteoakfarmandtable.com/
Rachel’s Cookies: Nonna’s Anise Cookie looks beautiful with its powdered-sugar based glaze and has a tastes delicious anise flavor without being overpowering or too sweet. And the cookie is a reasonable size, something harder and harder to find. They really nailed the texture too – the cookie is dense and firm and breaks easily when bitten, but doesn’t crumble. If I had to wager, I’d bet this really is Nonna’s recipe. http://rachelscookiesandtreats.com/cookies.htm
In a few weeks, when the votes are tallied and winners reported, I’ll let you know how my picks fared and who the winners were in all the categories. In the meantime, enjoy!