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Some of our best artisanal food makers fly under the radar, meaning they are local stars rather than international sensations. But that could change at any minute. Don’t wait too long before discovering these rising culinary creators and their handmade products.
Who is Pasta Dave?
His mother is Italian and his father is French. “I learned how to make pasta from my French father,” Dave Brochier says. “They were foodies before there were foodies.” Before returning to his familial culinary roots, he worked as an engineer. Brochier was also into cycling and owned a local bike shop. Cooking was a way to relax, but it became a serious business. Local gastronomes call him Pasta Dave.
He uses Vega Farms eggs and estimates his pasta is 30 to 40 percent egg-based. “It’s not just a starch bomb in your stomach,” he says. If you’ve had a pasta dish at Ella downtown, Brochier likely made the pasta. A partial product lineup includes uber-fresh ravioli, tortellini, ramen noodles and chitarra.
For chitarra, he employs an unusual pasta-cutting tool—also called a chitarra—that resembles a guitar. (Chitarra is Italian for guitar.) When he saw a video of Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry fame) demonstrating how to use a chitarra, he thought about contacting him. It takes self-confidence to tell a world-class chef that he’s doing something wrong, but Keller may want to heed the advice of Brochier, who once made 1,700 portions of pasta in a day.
Brochier will come to your home for a fee and teach you and your friends how to make pasta like a pro. During his five-hour class, you’ll make several pastas from start to finish. Whatever you do, don’t overcook pasta. “It’s sacrilege,” he says.
Find it: Taylor’s Market; Davis Farmers Market
Photo by Rachel Valley
I Heart Macarons
Tiffany Domingo bit into her first macaron on her birthday several years ago. After that, she knew she had to make her own. The problem? She wasn’t a baker. Following several unsuccessful attempts, she turned to YouTube to master the technique. “The next thing I knew, I started taking orders,” says Domingo, whose company is called Love & Macarons.
Macarons (not to be confused with macaroons) are two round French cookies with a soft filling. Domingo uses almond flour, so most of her macarons are gluten-free. She makes them in her home kitchen in Elk Grove, using regular stand mixers and a couple of ovens. She produces about 800 macarons in a week, in 12 different flavors, including best-sellers sea salt caramel and birthday-cake Oreo, which sounds like a daunting task even in a commercial kitchen.
A unicorn is her best-selling character macaron. With long eyelashes, a golden horn and rosy cheeks, it’s too cute to eat, but customers gobble up the mythical creatures as fast as she can make them. By midmorning, it’s “slim pickings,” she says, at the Midtown Farmers Market, where she sets up shop every other Saturday. Recently, she collaborated with Sweet Dozen, another market vendor, to create doughnuts topped with macarons. Sound strange? It works.
Follow @loveandmacarons on Instagram for a preview of the week’s offerings. Savvy customers preorder cookies and pick them up in Elk Grove or at the farmers market.
Find it: Midtown Farmers Market
Gracias Chocolate's Jessica Osterday
Thankful for Chocolate
Jessica Osterday’s a born traveler. Six years ago, she was vacationing on Kauai and learning how to make chocolate. Out of that island experience, Gracias Chocolate was born.
Before starting her company in 2014, she was an intern for the Health Education Council. That work helped shape her views about food and availability, but her heart was set on traveling. She saved enough money to fly to South America, where she lived for the better part of a year, including stops in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. “I have been fortunate enough to travel back to South America several times since, and every time I feel honored to know it more,” she says.
Her gourmet bars offer a different kind of chocolate experience. They are made without soy, dairy, gluten and refined sugar and are both organic and non-GMO. The chocolate has a slight stoneground texture. Osterday uses Ecuadorian cacao, which adds a light, fruity flavor. Coconut sugar from Bali provides warmth and sweetness. The macadamias hail from Hawaii, the maple syrup from Vermont. Osterday makes everything in a commercial kitchen in Auburn.
She pairs flavors like a chef: coffee, maca and macadamia nut; habanero and hazelnuts; fig balsamic and black salt; lavender honey and almonds; sour cherries and pistachios; truffle oil and black salt. Even though she’s a dark-chocolate fan, Osterday is working on a vegan white chocolate. She’s also cooking up new dark-chocolate flavor combinations.
Find it: Corti Brothers; Newcastle Produce; Sunrise Natural Foods
Gabriel Aiello of Burly Beverages
Shrubs and Switchels
Gabriel Aiello, co-owner of Burly Beverages, gave up drinking soda, eating fast food and smoking cigarettes on the same day. Soda was the hardest to quit, and he couldn’t find a replacement. His fiancée suggested he make his own. There were a lot of explosions at home when he started experimenting, he says. At that time, he was working at Preservation & co., and owner Jason Poole suggested he use the commercial kitchen for R&D when he was off the clock.
Aiello wants to bring back old-timey tonics like shrubs and switchels. In the past, shrubs—made with vinegar, fruit juice and sugar—were used to preserve fruit juice. And field workers swigged nonalcoholic switchels after lunch to fuel up. “It’s a healthy Snapple,” says Aiello.
When Aiello is looking for inspiration, he and his friend (and employee) Tom Lake, who is blind, spend time in The Allspicery, a retail spice shop in downtown Sacramento, sniffing spices and creating combinations. He’s concocted a variety of syrups and soft drinks that way. Black lime-bay leaf shrub is his current favorite. The limes come from a local orchard. Mix the shrub with seltzer or club soda to create a fizzy soda, or add alcohol to make a cocktail. Aiello warns people it’s difficult to taste alcohol when it’s mixed with syrup. A burly guy can drink two or three. “Any more than that and you’ll need to call a lift,” he says. (Or a Lyft.)
Last year, Aiello opened a gift shop and tasting room at 2014 Del Paso Blvd., and he has a commercial kitchen in back. Much like a speakeasy, you ring the doorbell to get in. There’s a soda fountain and beverage-related stuff for sale. Buy a Burly B pin and receive 10 percent off merchandise. Forget your pin? Provide the secret code, a handshake and a burly hug—the hug is optional.
Find it: Burly Beverages Gift Shop & Tasting Room; Preservation & co.; DISPLAY: California; select Raley’s
Conscious Creamery's mango chili-lime sorbetto bar, made by Andrea Seppinni. Photo by Gabriel Teague.
Worth the Wait
Four years ago, chef Andrea Seppinni and her husband, Kevin, were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in Europe. They’d switched to a plant-based diet, and desserts were a passion. In Vienna, off a tiny street in an alleyway, they joined a long line in front of a shop that sold vegan gelato. It was worth the wait. Andrea told Kevin, “I guarantee people will be interested in this back home.”
She experimented with gelato recipes for a year. “I was coming at him with spoons,” she says, meaning Kevin was her official taster. She didn’t want to add stabilizers; she wanted a more traditional-style gelato. She settled on gelato made from cashew cream (thus, dairy-free), and they started Conscious Creamery in 2016.
She makes everything at the company’s facility on Bell Avenue. There are no prepared items or mixes. To create the base, she makes her own cashew milk by soaking cashews overnight in the refrigerator, grinding them up and filtering out the fine particles. There are nine regular flavors plus seasonal favorites. Best-sellers include a vanilla gelato bar dipped in dark chocolate with toasted almonds, and a matcha green tea gelato bar dipped in chocolate with sesame crunch.
“You really have to be a little insane to take this on,” she says, but people are excited about the product. Choose flavors via the company’s website and pick them up at the facility. If there’s time, take a tour. “I’m always in there doing something,” Andrea says. Catch the Conscious Creamery cart at Concerts in the Park, where daughter Olivia is in charge of the gelato-trike.
Find it: Compton’s Market; Identity Coffees; Federalist Public House
Yogurt, queso panela, ricotta and ice cream from Long Dreams Farm. Photo by Rachel Valley.
The sign over the milking shed at Long Dream Farm says “Cow Palace.” It’s a clue that this family-owned micro-dairy in rural Lincoln does not focus on production. Andrew Abrahams and his wife, Krista, founded the farm in 2010.
Cows are free to graze on 90 acres at the farm, plus 280 more around Bear River. They are not locked in barns. Showing up for milking time is voluntary. The family’s heritage breed cattle are suited to the farm’s terrain. They are also healthier than commercials cows, don’t need antibiotics and live longer lives, according to Andrew. Every cow has a name (like Melville, Silver and Borealis), and bovines are the stars of Long Dream’s Instagram feed.
The Abrahams make fresh queso panela, fromage blanc and whole-milk ricotta. They also crank out butter, Greek-style yogurt, and coffee, vanilla and chocolate ice cream. They recently started making Halloumi-style cheese. (Halloumi cannot be called Halloumi unless it comes from Cyprus.) It’s good for grilling or pan-frying.
Find it: PlacerGROWN Farmers Market, Old Town Auburn
Wings Trail Mix. Photo by Rachel Valley.
A Little Salty, A Little Sweet
In 2006, Susan Carey, the owner of Wings Trail Mix, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next three or four years, she had 10 or 12 surgeries—she can’t remember the exact total. At that time, she was a corporate account executive. “It was so stressful,” she says, dealing with her health, job and young children.
Carey’s sister-in-law, who had been diagnosed with celiac disease, taught her how to make trail mix from ingredients they picked up at Whole Foods. Carey was impressed and thought the mixture of nuts, seeds and dried fruit had potential. She originally called her company WingNuts, which was started in 2010; that name had already been trademarked, so she changed it to Wings. She makes her trail mix in the same gluten-free facility in Auburn that Gracias Chocolate uses.
She doesn’t miss her corporate job. Carey is in the kitchen twice a week, making 80 to 100 pounds of trail mix at a time. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. It’s not sticky, like some trail mixes, and she doesn’t add oil. It’s a little salty, a little sweet and a little addicting. Use it on salads or yogurt, or as a snack.
Last year, The Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles contacted Carey out of the blue. The luxury hotel now stocks Wings Trail Mix in its swanky hotel rooms.
Find it: Whole Foods Market; Blue Goose Produce; Corti Brothers
Yuzu marmalade from D. Madison & Daughters
Yuzu for You
Fourteen fruit flies provided the impetus for D. Madison & Daughters, a company that makes jams, jellies and marmalades. After the pests were discovered in a trap in Dixon, 112 miles of farmland were quarantined, according to owner Dianne Madison. At Yolo Press farm, which was subject to the quarantine, Madison’s husband grows a variety of crops, including apricots, figs and citrus. He wasn’t allowed to transport fresh fruit that year. “All the small farms in that area were trying to figure out how to deal with it,” she says.
Madison’s solution was to process the fruit and make jam. And customers asked for more. That was about 11 years ago. “When I was growing up, my mother always made jam,” she says. She knew how difficult it was and swore when she got older to “never, ever can anything in my life again.” It’s a lot of work, but she enjoys it now.
Her husband still grows the organic fruit she uses, with the exception of blueberries. Madison makes everything in the farm’s food-production facility. (The couple’s daughters are not involved with the business full time). She picks fruit early in the morning, then washes and prepares it. Using large copper pans, she processes six to eight pounds of fruit at a time. There’s more fruit than sugar in her recipes and no added pectin.
Fig and apricot jam are best-sellers, but Madison has a lengthy list of seasonal spreads, including yuzu marmalade. Madison thinks that Yolo Press is the only farm in the area growing the fruit, which looks like a lemon and has its own citrusy taste. Her marmalade resembles British-style marmalade—a little more texture, a little more bite.
Find it: Davis Farmers Market
Enve Truong's Viet Kienu Sauce Co.
Mom’s Special Sauce
Enve Truong gave up a career as a pharmacist to launch a food-production facility in Rancho Cordova last year. He and his wife, Mary Nguyen, make authentic Vietnamese fish sauces based on his mother’s recipes. Production is on a small scale for now, but he hopes their company, Viet Kieu Sauce Co., will become a household name. “People say I was crazy, but we put everything into it,” he says.
He’s dedicated the company to the people who left Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Viet Kieu refers to the Vietnamese diaspora, and the company’s logo honors his mother, who passed away 10 years ago. It’s an artist’s likeness of her as a young woman. “Everything has a meaning to us,” Truong says. “We did this for my mom.”
Viet Kieu makes three sauces. Spicy lemon grass marinade, the best-seller, can be used for cooking protein or for stir-frying. There’s also garlic dipping sauce and spicy ginger sauce. Ingredients are often sourced locally—lemon grass and peppers come from local farmers—and Truong uses high-quality fish sauce. The sauces have no preservatives or artificial flavors.
Find it: Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op; KP International Market; Oto’s Marketplace
Ryan Dye of Midtown Jerky Co.
When he started Midtown Jerky Co. in 2014, owner Ryan Dye was waiting tables at night and delivering his products by day. He’d had dreams of becoming a commercial pilot, but that was before 9/11. He still has his pilot’s license, but he’s transferred his passion for flying to making premium jerky.
After he met Jason Poole, Dye moved production to Preservation & co.’s commercial kitchen for a while. “I was in a couple of binds and Jason stepped up and helped out,” he says. He continues to work for Poole, as needed, but he’s mainly flying solo these days.
Dye developed his seasoned-beef jerky based on a friend’s recipe. He used to do everything, including drying and curing, but he’s passed that duty on to Stafford Meat Company, a family-owned facility in Sacramento. He’s strict about quality control. He tests three bags of each flavor and checks weight, packaging and, more importantly, taste after every batch. The challenge is to get the jerky as close as possible to the one that he originally developed in his kitchen. He’s working on making tofu jerky (yes, tofu!), and he still uses his home dehydrator when he wants to experiment with new flavors.
Although he’s secretive about the exact process, he uses top-round beef, which is marinated for 24 to 48 hours. It takes about three days to make a batch. He sells three flavors, including a mild sesame seed citrus (made with orange juice), cracked pepper in a “cowboy” marinade, and sweet heat, made with brown sugar and crushed pepper flakes. The heat is his best-seller. Sutter Hospital carries Midtown Jerky in its cafeterias.
Find it: Preservation & co.; Pacific Market; A&P Liquor
Jason Poole of Preservation & co.
Incubator for Fledgling Food Makers
“People in Sacramento are incredibly supportive of small businesses, says Jason Poole, the owner of Preservation & co., a specialty food company. While local consumer support is vital to artisanal food makers, it’s also important to have access to institutional knowledge, which is what Poole has provided to Ryan Dye, Gabriel Aiello and other entrepreneurs. In the past, Poole offered them the space to experiment. Sometimes he gave them jobs. Even though his facility has acted as an incubator for fledgling food makers, Poole sees himself as more of an advocate for the industry.
His place in the local food scene is evolving as Poole gears up his commercial kitchen to produce greater quantities of his own products. Twenty-six products carry the Preservation & co. brand, including his best-selling Bloody Mary Mix. Even though he’s no longer directly supporting local food makers, he responds when they come calling. “I try and make an effort to give them what advice I can,” he says. “We’ve definitely made every mistake.”
When he started his company in 2011 with an investment of $108, he was still receiving food stamps. He didn’t have much to lose, he says, and knew he could always go back to bartending. He didn’t receive a paycheck for two years, but he jokes that he makes minimum wage now.
His company is in a growth phase. Poole is planning to move his production facilities to a larger building. He’s also opening a retail space, cafe and deli in The Bank Food Hall, set to open later this year in downtown Sacramento. Some day you might find his products on shelves in Australia, once Poole figures out how to sell them Down Under.