Here we take ‘Eat Local’ seriously: 13 products made in Santa Cruz County you can grab at the store
Santa Cruz County is ridiculously fortunate when it comes to locally produced products you can pick up at pretty much any grocery store you shop at. There are too many to list, but here are some definite favorites.
It’s easy to “eat local” in Santa Cruz County. We are surrounded by food that’s grown, caught, foraged, brewed and baked within a few miles. But while it’s simple to spot local products at the farmers market, it’s more difficult at the grocery store, where they share shelf space with items from all over the world. And yet there are plenty of local treats lining grocery store aisles if you know what to look for.
To help you on your search, here’s a handful of my favorite products made in Santa Cruz County that are available at neighborhood markets. There are far more delicious local products out there than can be listed here, and your grocer will be able to help you discover more. Next time you go grocery shopping, throw a few of these delicious goodies in your cart.
Creamy Goat Cheese Torta
Soft goat cheese layered with a spicy apricot jam is easy to love. Sweet and creamy with the barest hint of heat, once you dig in it’s hard to stop. When I went to Bella Chi-Cha’s website, I discovered that Santa Cruz maker Brenda Townsend suggests turning the container over onto a cheese tray so the sunny jam is on top for a quick, pretty appetizer. That feels very fancy compared to my method of digging straight into the container with a cracker when I feel like a decadent post-work snack. You do you. It’s also delicious smeared on a bagel or a piece of toast. Bellachicha.com.
Kitchen Witch Bone Broth
Beef Bone Broth
When it comes to broth, quality matters. If you want robust flavor and maximum nutritional value, no one does it better than Kitchen Witch. At this Santa Cruz-based, woman-owned business, they slow simmer a variety of bones and organic veggies for a full 24 hours, and the end result is a flavorful, high-quality broth swimming with health benefits. While making chicken broth with leftover chicken pieces is fairly straightforward if you feel so inclined, spending a whole weekend splitting, roasting and simmering beef bones for hours and hours is less appealing. So when beef broth is the main ingredient, or the goal is maximum, easily digestible nourishment, it’s worth it to splurge on the good stuff. Kitchenwitchbroth.com.
Mrs. A’s Famous Salsa Buena
Fresh Traditional Salsa
Choosing a favorite locally made salsa is like choosing your favorite local taqueria. On any given day, depending on the person and their particular set of circumstances, they are all the right choice. Having said that, the salsa that I return to again and again for exceptional flavor is Mrs. A’s Famous Salsa Buena. It also helps that the story of Mrs. A is so endearing. The teacher and San Lorenzo Valley resident would bring in food for her class to share and build community. Her students fell in love with her homemade salsa, and encouraged her to sell it. One of her students even made the label, which features a smiling sun. mrsafamous.com.
Masala Chai Co.
The fans of Masala Chai Co. are legion, and now I’m one of them. Chai was new to Americans when Raphael Reuben and Susan Beardsley started making chai in their kitchen in Santa Cruz in the 1980s, but now their chai can be found throughout the county and beyond. Produced in small batches with whole spices, their masala chai can be served hot or iced, and is the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. Having a delicious chai that doesn’t have to be brewed, just waiting in your fridge, is such a treat. masalachaico.com.
Everyday Herb Salt
I’m nerdy about salt. At any time, I have on hand Diamond Crystal kosher salt for all-purpose seasoning, Maldon flake sea salt for finishing, and a few flavored salts for fun. Farmer Freed’s Everyday Herb Salt is one of the best-flavored salts I’ve ever tasted. Emily Jane Freed infuses kosher salt with organic dried parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and you can smell it as soon as you open the jar. It’s not too salty, so you can use a liberal hand and sprinkle it on just about anything — eggs, chicken, veggies, salad dressing… keep it in your kitchen and I’m sure you’ll find a million uses. farmerfreed.com.
Flip’s Awesome Sauce
Are you a condiment person? Does your fridge door rattle with dozens of bottles of sauce? Does your weekly meal plan feature Bowls of Rice Topped With Stuff? You have to add Flip’s Awesome Mushroom Sauce to your quiver. Don’t be fooled by the grey color; there’s a lot of flavor packed into this little bottle. Chef Oyunaa Sophie of Oyunaa’s Mongolian Restaurant in Santa Cruz infuses soy sauce with a mushroomy umami, sesame oil and a touch of vinegar for an addictive, salty condiment you can splash on anything. flipsawesomesauce.com.
Pure Tahitian Vanilla Extract
You might not think the quality of vanilla extract has much effect on your baking, but you’d be wrong. Yes, it can get a little pricey, but you don’t have to use much to have the heavenly, warm, rich aroma of vanilla filling your nostrils with every bite. Rain’s Choice Pure Tahitian Vanilla Extract uses premium vanilla beans and is fair-trade, sustainable and eco-humane. Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen, purchases vanilla directly from farmers, the majority of whom are women, at fair trade prices. With one powerful little bottle, you can support local makers, women in developing nations and better baking. vanillaqueen.com.
Why does fresh pasta feel so luxurious when it is so simple and fast to make? Next time you’re looking for a quick meal, remember that making a box of macaroni and cheese takes three times as long. Local veteran pasta maker Mike Ruymen of Pasta Mike’s has been making a variety of fresh pastas and raviolis for more than 30 years, including classic styles like fettuccine, spaghetti and traditional ricotta ravioli, and seasonal flavors like sweet potato. The texture of his pasta is perfect, soft yet chewy, and the flavors of the fillings are exceptional. Pair them with one of his homemade sauces for an even easier weeknight dinner that tastes just like the pasta your Nonna used to make.
Taggiasca California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
When it comes to olive oil, freshness is vital for maximum flavor. Knowing that, who wants old, bitter olive oil flown in from another continent when you could enjoy lively, fresh olive oil from just a few miles away? Santa Cruz County boasts several olive oil producers, and my current favorite is Olio Umberto in Corralitos. Their oil made from Ligurian taggiasca olives has a bright, grassy nose followed by a nutty flavor and peppery finish. I don’t recommend cooking with it because heating it will ruin its wonderful flavor. Instead, drizzle it liberally to finish soups, steamed vegetables, fish and salads, even ice cream. And enjoy it fresh! olioumberto.com.
Spiced Bavarian Mustard
& Strawberry Balsamic Jam
Twins Kitchen makes dozens of mustards and jams using local produce, and their flavors change seasonally. Every one that I’ve tried is delicious, but two products in particular have won my heart. The Spiced Bavarian Mustard is a whole-grain mustard made with warm spices, with just a touch of sweetness. It’s a great all-purpose mustard on sausages, roast vegetables, sandwiches and in salad dressings. On the sweet side, the Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Black Pepper & Rosemary is divine. The rich, deep flavor of sweet vinegar marries perfectly with ripe strawberries, and the pepper and rosemary add an interesting savory note. It’s great on desserts and cheese, and my friends still talk about the time I used a whole jar to flavor a batch of strawberry cupcakes. Twinskitchensantacruz.com.
Annie’s Non-Dairy Spread
Cashew, Sesame & Pimento
For a vegan dip, Annie’s spread has a die-hard fan base, and rightly so. This light, creamy spread is made with cashews, nutritional yeast, sesame and red bell pepper, and is as versatile as it is delicious. Use it as a dip for veggies or chips, spread it on a sandwich or dollop it on a baked potato. I have friends who have moved out of the area and mourned the loss of their beloved Annie’s spread. As locals, we should count ourselves lucky.
The Charapa Project
Peruvian Aji Sauce, Aji Rocoto
This bright orange Peruvian chili sauce is one of the best hot sauces I’ve ever had. Your tongue has just enough time to register its delicious bright, roasted chili flavor before it’s hit with the heat. The spice level is moderate, and it keeps you coming back for more. Use it wherever you use hot sauce, but don’t be afraid to be generous. Toss a big spoonful into a marinade for grilled meat, spoon it into guacamole, dab in on fresh oysters, or make the classic Peruvian dish, ceviche. This aji sauce is made by chef Leo Ramirez, a native of Peru who now lives in Santa Cruz. Find more recipe ideas on his Instagram page, @charapaaji.
Ivéta Scone Mix
I’ve been hearing about how wonderful Ivéta’s famous scone mixes are for years, but I’ve never tried them. I have my own scone recipe from my mother that I love, and I doubted that a premade mix could be better, despite the numerous awards and unanimous rave reviews — even Oprah is a fan. Apparently, I can be a little stubborn about family recipes. It wasn’t until I set out to write this story that I finally took a bag home to try, and sorry, Mom, they’re better. Tender and sweet, aromatic with lemon and vanilla, they are a perfect scone. They also couldn’t be simpler to make — just add cream, pat it into a circle, cut into wedges and bake. These deserve a permanent spot in your pantry to pull out on Sunday mornings. Iveta.com.