For a skilled butcher, a Utah chocolatemaker and a jam producer, being finalists for the 2018 Good Food Awards is like being nominated for an Academy Award.
“For a small producer, it’s equivalent to a filmmaker winning an Oscar,” said John Francis, who owns and operates Salt Lake City’s Amour Spreads with his wife, Casee.
The national honor is given to artisan food producers who use fresh and sustainable ingredients and whose food tastes delicious. It’s given in 15 categories, from beer and cider to pickles.
There were more than 2,000 entries in just the preserves category this year, Francis said. Amour’s Olallaberry Jam was selected as one of 24 finalists. “To be considered in this elite group is a fantastic acknowledgment of the work we are doing,” Francis said.
Other Utah finalists are Park City’s Ritual Chocolate, nominated for its Vanilla Bar made with 70 percent dark chocolate; and Salt Lake City’s Beltex Meats, selected in the charcuterie category for its cured pork coppa and a country pâté made with pork liver, pork shoulder and cured pork jowl.
Organizers say the finalists represent America’s rich cultural diversity, its vibrant agricultural landscape, and the creativity and integrity of small-business owners. Winners will be announced Jan. 19 in San Francisco.
Here’s a snapshot of each Utah finalist.
Country pâté and coppa
When Phillip Grubisa started Beltex Meats at the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park, he sold brined pork chops and an original recipe for country pâté — a rustic French-style terrine made with pork liver, pork shoulder and cured pork jowl.
Eight years later with his own stand-alone butcher shop in Salt Lake City, Grubisa said the pâté is still his flagship item, selling more than 80 pounds a month. It cost $18 per pound
“It’s approachable,” he said. “A lot of pâtés turn people off because of the iron-rich flavor that liver can give off. But ours doesn’t have that punch.”
Good Food Award judges must have agreed, as the country pâté — along with Grubisa’s cured pork coppa — is among 18 finalists in the competition’s charcuterie category.
For the pâté, Grubisa soaks the liver in buttermilk for two days, a process that draws out the blood and makes it naturally sweet. “When you taste it, it’s silky smooth,” he said.
Grubisa gives similar attention to the coppa, aging it four months “like a ham,” then salting, curing and rubbing with smoked paprika and pepper. The result is something “delicate and decadent” and similar to prosciutto.
Grubisa said this was the first time he entered the Good Food Awards and he is happy to be listed with some of the country’s charcuterie all-stars. “The names we are next to are bigger and deeper in the cured charcuterie scene than us. But they are what we aspire to.”
Not long ago, Robbie Stout and Anna Davies, the owners of Ritual Chocolate, were part of the “anti-vanilla” movement in the gourmet chocolate industry.
“So many companies use the flavoring to cover up bad chocolate,” Stout said, that artisan chocolate makers have avoided the flavoring. Ritual produces dark chocolate bars containing just two ingredients: roasted cacao beans and cane sugar.
But earlier this year, Stout and Davies experimented by grinding “an excessive amount” of whole premium vanilla beans from Madagascar into a batch of their 70 percent dark chocolate. They were surprised at the incredible flavor that resulted. “We took a natural flavor that is typically used in the background and put it at the forefront,” said Stout.
If selected in January, it would be the second Good Food award for Ritual. The company was recognized in the chocolate category in 2016 for its Mid Mountain bar, a blend of cacao beans from Africa and South America and named for Park City’s Mid Mountain trail near Deer Valley. Stout said the same Mid Mountain chocolate blend was used to make the Vanilla Bar.
What does he think about vanilla now? “I’m not totally narrow-minded. There’s no reason to hate vanilla,” he said. “But it’s an ingredient that should be used with intention.”
He did joke, though, that it may be the worst time to be using whole Madagascar vanilla beans, as the price of the product has skyrocketed due to unstable weather conditions abroad. In recent months, the per-pound cost has jumped from $350 to $400. No wonder the 2-ounce Vanilla Bar sells for $12.
What is an olallaberry?
“It’s the best blackberry you’ve ever had,” said Francis
Pronounced “oh-la-lah,” it is a cross between a loganberry and marionberry and was developed in 1950 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Oregon State University. It has been cultivated mostly in Oregon, in Washington and along the California coast.
John and Casee Francis discovered the gems at a farm near Oregon’s Mount Hood where they also buy tayberries for jam.
Like all Amour’s gourmet jams and marmalades, the Olallaberry is made with just three ingredients: fruit, organic unrefined cane sugar and organic lemon juice squeezed by hand.
The Amour owners hope it’s as successful as their dark, chunky blackcurrant blackberry jam, which won a Good Food award in 2016. Both jams are $8 for a 4-ounce jar.