The Best in East Bay Packaged Foods
From crunchy kale chips and puckery pickles to fiery sauces and artisan sweets, specialty foods are once again flourishing locally.
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Photo by Lori Eanes
When Renato Sardo found it difficult to procure high-quality, dried pasta produced in the United States, he and Dario Barbone set about to create their own line of handmade, Italian-inspired dried pasta, Baia Pasta.
East Bay residents are lucky in that they don’t have to go far to find high-quality meats and produce. Whether that source is the neighborhood farmers market, the local indie grocer, or even a big name chain, it’s usually filled with good stuff. But it can be so much better with sauces and rubs, kimchi and jams. This guide to packaged foods offers some novel ideas about how a few innovative local products can add flair to your table.
Eat Super Foods
Who among us hasn’t wondered how kale could be induced to become even more delicious and potentially even more nutritious than it is in, say, baby-kale salad or banana-kale smoothies? Dehydrated under low enough heat to qualify as raw, Oakland-based Alive & Radiant’s Kale Krunch chips shout “superfood” with every crackly-crunchy, richly intense bite. Flavor options include garlicky, habanero-hot Southwest Ranch; tangy Tarragon Dijon; pumpkin/cacao/coconut-sugar-kissed Chockalet Chip; florally fiery (and actually pink and green) Hibiscus-Pink Peppercorn; smoky-strong Cheezy Chipotle; versatile Perfectly Plain and the addictive original offering, Quite Cheezy. Made with large, full leaves since their 2003 debut, they’re also certified organic and vegan; a cashew-pepper-yeast mixture masquerades as cheese. Find them at Whole Foods and Andronicos’s or buy them online (www.Shop.KaiaFoods.com). Alive & Radiant, www.EatAliveAndRadiant.com.
Packing a Powerful Punch
Inspired by founder Lloyd J. Vassell’s Arawak Indian heritage, Arawak Farm’s line of spice rubs, fruit spreads, and pepper sauces draws on the flavors of South America and the West Indies. Expect some heat and spice as habanero and serrano chilies play off sweet basil, ginger, and fruit such as peaches, cranberries, and mango in fruit spreads that double as a dip or sauce ingredient. The dry rubs rely on big flavor—not salt—with ingredients including paprika, mustard seeds, allspice, cumin, and garlic for a low-sodium alternative. All of Awarak Farm’s offerings are low-sodium, low-sugar, gluten-free, and vegan, made from non-GMO ingredients and a powerful punch of fresh flavor. Arawak Farm, www.ArawakFarm.com. Available locally at Andronico’s, Draeger’s, Farmer Joe’s, Piedmont Grocery, and Lunardi’s Markets.
Just Add Sauce
When Renato Sardo and Dario Barbone found it difficult to procure high-quality, dried pasta produced in the United States, they set about to create their own line of handmade, Italian-inspired dried pasta. Baia Pasta calls Jack London Square its home—baia is ‘bay’ in Italian—and, from there, the small, artisan business draws on the duo’s roots in northern Italy and the Slow Food Movement to create a line of pasta produced from American-grown grains such as durum, spelt, and khorasan wheat—a grain from the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East. The small-cut pastas include familiar shapes such as elbows and corkscrews, as well as lilies, mohawks, and the seashell-shaped spinners. Produced in small batches, Baia Pasta creates something uniquely Oakland with simply flour and water. Baia Pasta, Jack London Square, 431 Water St., Oakland, www.BaiaPasta.com. Baia Pasta is also available at retail stores.
Think you know pickles? Think again. The Cultured Pickle Shop strays from the limited definition of a dill cucumber pickle—though it does offer its take on the sandwich staple when cucumbers are in season—embracing everything from sauerkraut to kombucha. Using natural fermentation methods, various cultures influence The Cultured Pickle Shop’s culinary cultures. You can see these influences in ingredients such as goji berries, daikon, and green tea; and fermentation methods—including a fermenting style dating back to Zen Buddhist monasteries in 16th-century Japan. The Cultured Pickle Shop features regular menu offerings—it’s famous for 10 kinds of sauerkraut—as well as seasonal selections and pickled jars packed with produce from local farmers. Ditch the dill and expand your pickled perspective. The Cultured Pickle Shop, 800 Bancroft Way, Suite 105, Berkeley, www.CulturedPickleShop.com.
Get out of a Jam
INNA Jam shamelessly plays on a familiar saying with Inna jam, Inna pickle and Inna shrub, adding humor and taste to your breakfast or relish tray. Jars of jam and jelly gleam like jewels on the shelf, and the taste is bright, sharp, and clean. Meyer lemon marmalade is like California sunshine on your toast. Seascape strawberry is mildly wild enough to please a toddler’s palate, but watch out for Pretty Spicy Fresno Chili—scrumptiously hot and sweet at once, try this with cream cheese on melba rounds or dunk some starchy jicama sticks or carrots. The sweet-crunch-fire makes beautiful music in your mouth. This Emeryville company also makes preserved Meyer lemon pickle and various flavors of shrub. Available at Berkeley Bowl, Arizmendi, The Local Butcher Shop, and many more East Bay locations; see the website for all retail sites: www.INNAJam.com.
—Julia Park Tracey
Traditionally, in France, oils were created in village mills supplied by local nut farmers—a good reminder that farm-to-fork isn’t a new trend, but a decidedly old one. With La Tourangelle, the Kohlmeyer family continues this tradition in the Loire Valley of France, and members brought their knowledge, expertise, and traditional equipment to California’s Central Valley. With headquarters in Berkeley and an oil mill and farms in Woodland, the family-run oil mill produces and distributes gourmet oils—such as pistachio, avocado, sunflower, and grapeseed—across the nation. With fair trade and organic options, La Tourangelle offers high-quality staple oils as well as unique offerings—a pumpkin seed oil can surely find its way into Thanksgiving dinner—that’ll help you reinvent time-honored recipes from the ground up. La Tourangelle, www.LaTourangelle.com. Available locally at Andronico’s, Berkeley Bowl, Draeger’s, Sur La Table, and Williams-Sonoma.