CapNY is every foodie’s dream!
We have an abundance of farm-to-table restaurants, nationally known farms, and incredibly unique food producers. Read on to learn more about five artisanal food makers that have some serious CapNY flare…CAUTION, we recommend reading this after you’ve already had a snack…may cause hunger.
Saratoga Peanut Butter Co.
Saratoga Peanut Butter Company is a woman-owned artisanal nut butter business based out of Saratoga Springs, NY. Owner Jessica Arceri mixes all of her butters in small batches without adding palm oils, cane sugars, preservatives, or artificial flavor. Each peanut butter, almond butter, and peanut-almond butter blend contains little to no sodium and are naturally gluten-free.
Twelve butter varieties are available online, and seasonal blends pop up throughout the year. There’s traditional — and delicious! — Plain Jane. If you like a little chocolate, try Chillin Chocolate Peanut Butter for a sweet-and-salty vibe. Want to try peanut butter with a kick? Let Slow Burner Spicy Garlic Peanut Butter ignite your senses. Arceri is most proud of Adirondack Jack. “It is a peanut/almond butter blend with cranberries, flax, cinnamon, and honey. It’s off the charts delicious!”
How — and Why — Saratoga Peanut Butter Co. Began
Arceri started making peanut butter for friends at SUNY Cortland. After the birth of her son Abe, she started experimenting and concocting unique, innovative nut butters at home. “I started the company officially in 2005. I loved peanut butter and healthy foods. At the time, there were very limited all-natural options, and many still added cane sugars and palm oils.”
At first, Arceri’s blends were only sold at local stores and The Saratoga Farmers Market. Now, you can find Saratoga Peanut Butter Co. butters at Capital Region markets of all sizes, from Hannaford and Price Chopper to Indian Ladder Farms.
Top-notch quality and outrageously fun butters are 2 things that make Saratoga Peanut Butter Co. worth the spotlight. The third is the company’s mindfulness about sustainability. “We have minimal waste and reuse cardboard to ship orders,” says Arceri. “We recycle everything and repurpose whenever we can.”
All Vital Eats hot sauce, jerky, “cheezy” dips and salsas are delicious, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and 100% free of artificial preservatives. Offering healthier substitutes for common favorites without giving up taste has been the owners’ mission since Vital Eats started in 2013. Back then, cousins and Vital Eats owners Jude Goldman and Reuben Schwartz were testing recipes in their kitchens and anticipating the rapid growth in demand for plant-based products in CapNY/the Capital Region.
From the beginning, Goldman wanted Vital Eats to be easy to find for all customers, regardless of status or location. “We try to make the products accessible to those who may not be ‘the elite’,” Goldman explains. Now, shoppers can grab Vital Eats from grocery shelves across New York State, at markets, or online.
For Goldman and Schwartz, riding the wave of the “[fill in the blank]-free” food culture leaves sample room for experimentation.
“The goal is to make cool, innovative products,” says Goldman. Vital Eats Dairy Free Cheezy Sauce is made with chickpeas, so it is safe for people with food allergies. The seasoned soy-based jerky stands out as a vegan version of classic beef jerky. The Superfood Salsa is like the “pill-in-peanut butter” trick for dogs, but for foodies. You will get the superfoods your body desires, in a salsa you cannot put down! Finally, the hot sauces are for the hot sauce lover who is waiting to be wow’d. Vital Eats hot sauces span creativity in both taste and label design. Kimchi Sriracha, Big Hot Apple, and Vampyr Blood Chili Sambal are just a few Vital Eat hot sauces that bring the heat and challenge your definition of what hot sauce can be.
Albany Is an Entrepreneurial Mecca
CapNY/Albany remains one of the best cities for an entrepreneur to explore a cool idea and start a business. Goldman lists CapNY Farmers Markets as a valuable source of information.
“If you’ve got something new and unique and it is something that people want, Albany is a good place to start. Here, you can get immediate feedback at the markets. You’re able to test your product before you take it elsewhere.”
Goldman is happy to help motivated entrepreneurs who want their business to grow. The recent Vital Eats expansion gives young or novice food producers a change to start their business in a license commercial kitchen.
“We recently started producing for small business that may not have the equipment, space, or kitchen to do it themselves.” He hopes the Vital Eats facility located in South Albany brings attention and opportunity to the neighborhood. “We hope to bring jobs to economically depressed areas in Albany.”
Four Fat Fowl
The Four Fat Fowl creamery operates within an old schoolhouse in Stephentown, NY. Willy and Shaleena Bridgham and Josie Madison have been making and selling artisan cheese in Rensselaer County since 2013. They introduced their signature St. Stephen soft cheese in 2014, which went on to win medals at the New York State Fair three years in a row. Later, the creamy, the more pungent, rich Camembertha and versitile Inagadda Ricotta joined the product line.
Cheesemaker Willy Bridgham’s undeniable craftsmanship is clear at first taste. He and wife Shaleena opened Four Fat Fowl after Willy spent ample time as an apprentice cheesemaker in Hudson, NY.
“We thought, ‘We can do this!’” Shaleena exclaims, recalling the beginning of their small business journey.
After exceeding expectations and experiencing rapid growth. Four Fat Fowl moved from a renovated pizzeria to its current location on Route 43. They use more than 500 gallons of Jersey cow milk from Dutch Hollow Farm every week. Sourcing local dairy is important to the Four Fat Fowl process. Cutting down on shipping time and distance is essential to the quality and taste of the cheese.
A Commitment to Rensselaer County
Locality isn’t only imperative for freshness, it is the core of Four Fat Fowl culture. Both the name and the location of the creamery are odes to Rensselaer’s history. All three owners are from Stephentown, and their hometown pride oozes like the cheeses they produce. Why did they decided to stay in Stephentown when they moved to a larger facility? Shaleena smiles, “It’s home.”
Though the owners do not agree on their favorites (Willy and Shaleena prefer St. Stephen. Josie loves the Ricotta!) they all share the same sentiments about the importance of teamwork and their community.
“Stephentown has been incredibly supportive,” says Madison. “Some of our best customers live right in town.” They’ve also got wonderful distribution with stores and restaurants, including Tribeca Grill in Manhattan, and Whole Foods locations throughout the region.
Such unwavering loyalty is what makes the Four Fat Fowl team work so well. “We are super lucky to have a fantastic team of amazing employees who have been with us since the beginning.”
Want to dress your next charcuterie or your next cracker with a Four Fat Fowl cheese? Find it here, stop by their store at 473 NY Route 43 (they’re generally open during our production hours, Monday – Thursday 10-4, for walk-in customers) or purchase online!
Muddy Trail Jerky Co.
The folks at Muddy Trail Jerky Co. in Washington County are keeping up with the Capital Region’s interest in healthy, small batch foods by offering a vast variety of handmade jerkies, seasonings, pickles, dips, and baking kits.
Owners Mary and René Lussier work as a team at their store in Greenwich, NY. They started Muddy Trail in 2015 after Mary’s jerky proved to be a hit amongst family and friends. Now, Muddy Trail is a multi-product seller helping patrons explore a colorful range of spice and flavor at local markets and events.
Muddy Trail Jerky goes fast, so Mary must replenish almost daily. She carefully slices and seasons the Washington County beef to make her flagship product. “We marinate the meat in our own marinades for at least 48 hours. Then, we dehydrate the meat for another four hours.”
Innovation Abounds at Muddy Trail
This time-consuming technique strays away from commercial practice. It is the reason Muddy Trail jerky holds such strong, intense flavor, like the zing of citrus of the Jalapeño Lime Jerky and the northeast style sweetness of their new Maple Rounds.
The Lussiers stay up to date and adopting to trends, including the nation’s latest uptick in home cooking. “Last year, more people started cooking at home,” says René Lussier. For the Lussiers, it was an opportunity for innovation. “People started asking for different mixes, so we made them!”
Muddy Trail offers Everything Bagel seasoning, Sloppy Joe Mix, Maple BBQ mix, and almost everything in between. “We put real pieces of lemon in our Lemon Pepper, and real orange and whole cloves in our mulling spice,” René says, displaying the beauty of the spices through the clear package.
The Muddy Trail Jerky Co. store is across from two CapNY/Capital District staples, 1) The Washington County Fairgrounds; and 2) The Ice Cream Man, creating one of the best food tour triangles in the region. Feel free to stop by the store and meet the owners and browse their offerings, or catch Muddy Trail Jerky at the Troy Farmers Market and upcoming local events!
Shane Avery’s Saratoga-based brewing company Junbucha is popularizing Jun, a close cousin to kombucha. Though the two beverages are both fermented using a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), Jun is made with green teas and honey, while kombucha is made with black tea and cane sugar. Jun has a lighter, more delicate taste. This helps bring out the traits of the added fruits, flora, or fauna.
Jasmine Junbucha bursts with floral notes of the sweet jasmine flower. The Ginger Yerba Mate Junbucha yields both a warm spicy comfort and an invigorating jolt to the senses. New Pineapple Tumeric combines the succulence of organic pineapple juice with the raw complexity of turmeric. It’s packed with antioxidants. Best yet — it fights inflammation!
Junbucha has natural probiotic qualities, which could improve and maintain gut health. Sometimes, to give Junbucha even more of a boost, Avery creates a specialty batch brewed with adaptogenics, all-natural aids for brain and body function that grow directly from the earth. Adaptogenic mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, and Cordyceps support the immune system, fight and repair inflammation, sustain energy, and can promote deeper sleep.
Sustainability is at the Heart of Junbucha
Avery’s commitment to sustainability is apparent. “Your footprint matters,” he confidently states. All Junbucha ingredients are ethically sourced from trusted suppliers. They use a solar powered facility. Waste is either composted or recycled. Finally, the fizzy elixir is poured into custom swing-top glass bottles. All Junbucha bottles are recyclable, reusable, and redeemable for cash through the company’s recycling program.
Saratoga’s exuberant history and tight-knit culture make the area an optimal location for a small scale, health-conscious food producer to succeed.
Dr. Sarah Avery, owner of Moon Cycle Seed Co. (and Shane’s wife and business partner), said they started their businesses in Saratoga County because “Saratoga was built on health and wellness, so it only made sense to start here.” She says locals appreciate high-quality, well-crafted products like Junbucha. “An entrepreneur pours their heart into their product. Community members appreciate this.”
It is this special direct relationship between business, brewer, and buyer that fuels Junbucha’s growth and innovation. “It is a beautiful cycle of creating and sharing.”
Written by: Brennan Austin Peters
Brennan Austin Peters studies International Education Policy at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy. Her concentrations are alternative education, creative learning, and extracurricular programming.