This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's time to start thinking about sweets for Valentine's Day.
Need a suggestion?
Take advice from top culinary experts who, in a blind tasting, selected Salt Lake City's Amour Spreads and Park City's Ritual Chocolate for honors in the 2016 Good Food Awards. The national honor is given only to artisan food producers who use fresh, local and sustainable ingredients and whose food tastes delicious. It's given in 13 categories, from beer and cider to pickles.
Amour Spreads won in the preserve division for its dark, chunky blackcurrant blackberry jam, made with fruit grown in the small northern Utah town of Paradise. "Even though it's made with a summer fruit, it tastes like winter earthy, tart and full of flavor," said John Francis, owner of Amour Spreads with wife Casee.
Robbie Stout and Anna Davies, owners of Ritual, won in the chocolate category for their 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. While the characteristics of each bean are evident in the bar, no one flavor overpowers the other, Stout said. "There's raspberry from Madagascar, nuttiness from Peru and earthy flavor from Ecuador. It all pairs together nicely."
The couple founded Ritual Chocolate in Colorado six years ago and in 2013 won their first Good Food Award for their Costa Rica and Madagascar single-origin bars. In 2015, they moved Ritual to Park City, where Stout was born and raised.
The Good Food Award club in Utah now has five members. Previous winners are Creminelli Fine Meats (2012), Amano Artisan Chocolate (2012 and 2013) and High West Distillery (2013).
Spreading love • John and Casee Francis won't take all the credit for the recent honor, because they say the flavor of their jams is a direct result of the high-quality fruit they buy from small, sustainable farmers, mostly in Utah but also California and Oregon. "They've helped guide us," said 61-year-old John Francis , who grew up in Spokane but lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 20 years, near the famed Chez Panisse restaurant owned by Alice Waters.
Amour Spreads are made with three ingredients: fresh fruit (and sometimes herbs), organic unrefined cane sugar and lemon juice squeezed by hand. "We use more fruit and less sugar than most commercial jams, and never add manufactured pectin. Fresh fruit has more than enough pectin," Casee said. The couple often use a food mill with a hand crank, but "we've never used an electric appliance" to make the jam.
The owners also forage in the nearby mountains for tiny pea-size chokecherries and elderberries. Customers are willing to pay for that hand-crafted attention: A 9-ounce jar of Amour Spreads sells for $12; 4-ounce jars are $8.
A Utah native who also owns a landscape and gardening business, Casee, 45, met John in 2004 at a fiddle contest in Weiser, Idaho. Her daughter from a previous marriage was competing, as was John, a five-time national champion and a current senior division winner.
After a long-distance courtship, they married and John moved to Salt Lake City, bringing his corporate recruiting business with him. When the recession hit, the business, which focused on the manufacturing sector, went on life support, and the couple knew they needed a new passion.
On their anniversary in 2010, while hiking in northern Idaho, they came upon bushes of small, fragrant thimbleberries. They picked the berries, carried them home and made jam for the first time. After that, "we became somewhat obsessed with jam," said Casee. They experimented with recipes, coming up with unique flavor combinations such as pear lavender and apricot ginger, and gifted the jars to friends and acquaintances. The positive feedback convinced them that the jam business was the answer they had been seeking.
They rented space in a commercial kitchen and spent the summer buying local fruit and making 17 kinds of jam, about 5,000 jars in all. They launched the company in November 2011, and the products immediately impressed two of Salt Lake City's most influential food buyers: Steven Rosenberg of Liberty Heights Fresh and Matt Caputo at Caputo's Market and Deli. Amour spreads are sold at both shops as well as the Downtown Winter Market. The products also are used on the menus at Mazza, Pago, Publik Coffee, The Bagel Project and Tulie Bakery.
John and Casee have since purchased the commercial kitchen at 1329 S. 500 East and are remodeling and upgrading to keep up with the jam demand. They hope to eventually open a cafe in the front of the building where customers can sample and buy the jams.
Strawberry rhubarb is the most popular flavor, followed closely by heirloom tomato jam, pear lavender and tayberry the latter was a Good Food Award finalist this year. They said the blackcurrant blackberry jam is likely to become a new best-seller.
Sacred chocolate • Robbie Stout and Anna Davies shared a passion for good wine, cheese and other artisan foods, but they still weren't content. "We couldn't find a really nice chocolate to pair with foods," said Stout.
Seeking gratification, they started making small batches of chocolate in their Denver kitchen. Stout said he even devised a bean roaster by installing a drum inside a countertop rotisserie oven.
About a year later, the couple rented a small, unused chocolate factory and launched Ritual Chocolate. (The name is a nod to the Mayan and Aztec cultures that turned ground cocoa beans into a sacred beverage for religious ceremonies.)
Ritual produces dark chocolate bars containing just two ingredients: roasted cacao beans and cane sugar. "From day one, we've been dedicated to quality of the chocolate and not taking any shortcuts," Stout said. "That has been our motto: Even if it's hard do it anyway."
The bars range from 75 percent to 85 percent dark chocolate, and each one highlights a bean from a single origin or region with its own flavor, color and fat content. That "terroir," as it's called in wine circles, "is part of the flavor and part of the [eating] experience," Stout said.
The new Ritual Factory and Cafe in Park City provides more space and modern equipment that will help the company increase production, said Stout.
Not every thing is new. Stout bought a conching machine that had been sitting in a barn in Hamburg, Germany, for several decades.
"It's a crazy piece of chocolate history," he said, noting that initially it was "a ball of rust." But it has been rebuilt and modernized, and when it is up and running, it will allow Ritual to make a 300-pound batch of chocolate at time. It's a significant increase from the 80 pounds of chocolate the company currently is making each day. The chocolate is sold at the factory in Park City as well as Caputo's Market and Deli, Harmon's Grocery Stores and the Whole Foods stores in Salt Lake City. Several of Park City's top restaurants including Handle, Tupelo and Zoom use the chocolate on their menus.
The factory also includes a coffee shop where customers can sip single-origin hot chocolate, espresso or mocha drinks and buy chocolate bars, which normally cost $6.75 but currently are selling for $5 online at ritualchocolate.com.
Inside the cafe, there is a large window that allows customers to peer into the factory and see the chocolate being made. Those who want to know more can take one of the public tours offered Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Finding Good Food
Amour Spreads • Available at Liberty Heights Fresh, Tony Caputo's Market and Deli, and the Downtown Winter Market at Rio Grande every other Saturday through April. The next market is Feb. 13.
Cost • 9-ounce jars are $12; 4-ounce jars are $8
Details • amourspreads.com
Ritual Chocolate Factory and Cafe • 1105 Iron Horse Drive, Park City; 435- 200-8475
Open • Monday - Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tours • One-hour factory tours are held Thursdays and Fridays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays at noon. Guests learn the history and botany of the cacao bean, see the production process and sample various chocolates. They cost $10 per person.
Other locations • Ritual Chocolate bars also are sold at Caputo's Market and Deli, Harmon's Grocery Stores and Whole Foods in Salt Lake City
Details • ritualchocolate.com