Would you spend eight dollars on a jar of jam? What if I told you it had beer in it?
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The small batch food movement has taken off in the last ten years and, while at one time it may have conjured up visions of elitist upper class shoppers who didn’t hesitate to spend twenty dollars on a hand crafted chocolate bar from Brooklyn, today it is much more inclusive and appealing to a larger crowd of people who want to make conscious decisions about knowing what goes into the food they are eating. Small batch foods are making a comeback and can be found at farmers markets, in subscription boxes, at online specialty food sites, pop up shops and even here, in Westerly. This is not to say it is still not a bit of a luxury. I know the offer for buy one get one free on a mass produced jar of jam is often impossible to turn down, if for no other reason than financial.
But today I’m making the case for small batch foods. For making conscious decisions about what you feed your body. For knowing who is making your food. For supporting the small business owner who had a dream of making food healthier and more flavorful. For saying well done to the young(ish) hipsters who have revived the do it yourself lifestyles their great grandparents led. For encouraging you to spend eight or more dollars on a product and then figuring out multiple ways to use it so that it is worth every penny.
So what is small batch food? Generally speaking, small batch foods are created from beginning to end by the makers (or a small group of helpers). It is not mass produced. It is created in small batches…hence the name. It is food made by people. People you can speak to or read about on their web sites. People who you can hashtag on your Instagram photos and they will comment back or at the very least like your post. People who often start out using commercial kitchens and spending every last dime to get their ideas rolling.
As a food blogger and curator of my own online small batch food marketplace, I am a little addicted to small batch food, and, perhaps, a little biased. Not only do I find the flavors to be exciting, I LOVE the aesthetics of the packaging. The well thought out logo. The shape of the jar or package. The design of the label. I really appreciate the effort that went into the processes of becoming that brand. But more than any of those criteria, I absolutely enjoy learning about the makers. People who usually have fabulous stories about how they came into making food. People who can speak intelligently about what inspires them to create the foods they make. People who are passionate about discovering how to make flavors wake up your taste buds all while using the fewest ingredients possible. When you can learn about who makes your food and why they are making it, you are one step closer to knowing what you are putting in your body.
While it is not on every shelf, you can find small batch treasures in various spots around town. I started my small batch treasure hunt at Sandy’s Fine Food Emporium, one of my favorite “indulge me” shops. Beautiful produce with some great small batch food finds, they also have great cheese. And the chocolate near the register? How sneaky is that?! As it turns out, they happen to carry my very favorite brand of savory jams from Potlicker Kitchen out of Vermont. Which brings us back to the eight dollar jar of jam with beer in it. Potlicker Kitchen makes the best beer jellies EVER. You might be asking yourself what is beer jelly? What would I eat it with? Beer and jelly? Together? Does it actually taste like beer?!
Here’s the thing. I do not drink beer. But I LOVE this jelly. With all of the alcohol cooked out, you get the flavor of the beer, which I love, without the carbonation, which I do not love. This jelly is versatile. You can eat it with cheese, put it on sandwiches, use it with meats as a glaze or….if you find yourself in a little bit of a desperate situation… you can grab a spoon and have at it right out of the jar. At our house we love to use it as a condiment with little savory pork pies that are served cold. While the Pale Ale is my absolute favorite, I opted to try the Oatmeal Stout this time around thinking it would be great with smoked cheese and hearty bread in sandwich form. You can read about what I did with it in my recipe below.
Keeping things much more local, my next stop was McQuade’s for a bottle of Dave’s Coffee Syrup. I’m from a small town in Massachusetts where we did not have coffee syrup. Before I moved here less than a year ago, I had never even heard of coffee syrup. But since moving here and discovering this ridiculously amazing product, my extra thick coffee flavored milkshake (that is the Massachusetts version of a milkshake mind you) addiction that I had nearly kicked has returned full force. And so too has my attendance at Zumba classes…just to balance things out!
You might be surprised to learn that you can even find small batch products at large grocery stores. Stop & Shop has two of my frozen favorites, Maine’s Gelatto Fiasco and Boston’s Batch Ice Cream. Batch Ice Cream is on the top of my list for great flavor…and did you know the milk and cream they use to make Batch Ice Cream comes right from Rhode Island? The flavors are unique and the ingredient list is short. When makers can use honest ingredients and fewer chemicals the flavors and quality of the product improves. And, at the end of the day, it is probably the same cost as that pint of Haagen-Dazs.
Because parts of town are so seasonal, my last stop didn’t pan out. Hope & Sundries in Watch Hill is not yet open for the season. They were voted Best General Store in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine for 2015. They carry so many of my favorite products such as Empire Mayonnaise, Big Spoon Roasters Nut Butters and the fun and fabulously entertainingly named jams from Brooklyn’s The Jam Stand. They stock beautifully curated brands and present them in a gorgeous environment all adding to the experience of shopping local.
In the end, the experience of purchasing your small batch products is part of the joy of buying them. Grocery shopping has become a mindless task that takes up a good chunk of time out of our lives. Throwing products in our shopping carts without paying attention to what is actually in them has become a normal part of life. Unless you win the lottery, you will probably not be filling your cart with these small batch products each week, but you should at least experience them from time to time as a little splurge. Instead of spending fifteen dollars on fast food, spend eight to get a great jar of small batch mustard and put it on your own burger that you make at home. I promise you it will be worth it. Life is short. Eat well. Eat beautifully.