Cook The Farm Recap: Part II

As promised, following my Cook The Farm Recap: Part I, here’s Part II which highlights Wine Week, visits to Siracusa, Cefalu, Castelbuono and our final week-long tour of Sicily.

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Similar to Part I, I've opted to bullet a number of stories, quotes and thoughts woven between some of the photos I took. It's neither chronological, nor an exhaustive list of everything I learned, saw, experienced. Feel free to hop around and read or view what you choose. 

The photos below are from a weekend in Siracusa. We stayed on the tiny island of Oritigia, which is the historical center of Siracusa, and one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily. 


Wine Week at the school was FULL of inspirational speakers and tastings. The week started out with a presentation on pruning grape vines, and I didn't expect it, but this turned out to be not only informative and memorable, but also fascinating. Pruning can really make or a break a wine! In my wine studies, pruning was never presented in a particularly exciting way. I've read about the various methods, seen the diagrams, but it never meant much to me. Now, I will never look at grape vines again the same way. Livio Tognon was our pruning presenter; he's part of the Simonit & Sirch pruning team that works with vineyards around Italy, and across the globe, to train pruners and work against the deterioration of vineyards. 

  • "The soul of the winemaker is as important as the place where the wine comes from." -Livio Tognon

The lecture and tasting that changed my perspective on how I want to taste and talk about wine was taught by Sandro Sangiorgi, essayist, author, sommelier, a founding member of Slow Food, and impressionable personality of Italian gastronomic literature over the last three decades. The wines we focused on with Sandro all fell under the category of natural wine. Many standardized tastings and exams are built around conventional wine, so we were challenged to analyze wines a bit differently. Sandro had so many fantastic, deeply romantic quotes, a few of which I've written below. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of Sandro. Just his words. 

  • "Wine is life, so it’s hard to bottle something that’s alive. It’s unpredictable." 
     
  • "When the life of a barrel is divided into the bottles, then there are many lives. Like a mosaic, it looks like one thing until you approach it and see it has many pieces."
     
  • "To taste a wine is always a trip inside of yourself."

  • "When we say a wine has changed over a 30-minute period, have you thought about how much WE are changing in 30 minutes?"

  • "A good wine should make you feel good."

Arianna Occhipinti brought plastic grocery bags full of soil and rocks from Vittoria (the south-eastern tip of Sicily), and poured the contents into small bowls for us to pass around, feel and smell. Although she's a young winemaker, Arianna's wines are beloved across the world. They reflect her character: earthy, rebellious, intriguing. During her presentation, Arianna conveyed a great love of the land where she comes from, and her ongoing study of what's beneath the surface. Her wines have a noticeable emphasis on terroir, or, a similar concept that she introduced: contrada. Contrada are smaller pieces of land within a wine region that have unique characteristics defined by elevation, climate, soil, etc. A few important quotes from Arianna:

  • "'We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.' I love this phrase by Saint-Exupery. He has always guided me in my work as winemaker."
     
  • "There is no recipe to tell you how to practice agriculture. You have to take in all the information and make your own decision."
     
  • "The grape is the tool to express terroir. It is not the goal."
     
  • "To be concentrated, you need some empty moments to think."


Below is a series of photos from in and around the town of Castelbuono, which lies within the Madonie park. Castelbuono translates to "good castle," and references an Arab-Norman castle in the historic center. Just outside the city, the mountains are speckled with ash trees from which manna is harvested. Manna is a sweet sap tasting vaguely of maple syrup that can only be found in this region of Sicily. We got to see a demonstration of the manna harvest, and taste the final product. To me, manna tastes like a piece of maple sugar fell into a bottle of flowery perfume. It's tasty when used in small quantities!


Our last lecturer of Cook The Farm was Chef Pino Cuttaia. Pino is from a city in Sicily called Licata, and opened a restaurant there called La Madia in 2000 with his wife. He received his first Michelin star in 2006, and his second in 2009. As a young adult, Pino worked in a factory in Northern Italy for a while, but always felt drawn to the kitchen. He told us, "One morning, I was standing in front of an onion, and realized I could choose to cut it any way I wanted. It made me feel free, and freedom was my calling." Pino's philosophy of cooking is based in simplicity and elegance, and I've already recreated some of the dishes he demonstrated for us that afternoon. 

  • "The maximum communication that happens when you pass someone on the street is 'Hello,' but food can open up a much more interesting conversation and story."
     
  • "A big part of enjoyment of food is the element of surprise."
     
  • "If you find something that gives you a sense of freedom, you’ve found something you love."

And finally (FINALLY!), photos of our week-long trip around Sicily are below! We started in Modica, made our way to (yet another!) artisan cheese maker: Giovanni Floridia, a producer of Cacio Cavallo cheese and farmer of the Razza Modicana cows. We made a quick stop in Noto for almond granita, then arrived in Catania where the focus was largely on the fish market, and preparing fish. Sidenote: I now know how to gut, clean and filet fish!
We stayed in Mirto one night to experience a unique hotel called Albergo Museo Atelier Sul Mare that is part-museum-part-hotel with each room designed by a different artist. The tour of the rooms was equally as dazzling as it was hilarious. Our last leg of the trip included a fantastic (REALLY fantastic: top-5-meals-in-Sicily-fantastic) lunch at an unassuming, yet beautiful agriturismo called La Manna di Zabbra in Pollina, a quick visit to the salt flats in Trapani and a tour and tasting of Marsala IN Marsala at Cantine Florio. Whew!

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I also traveled for a bit after Cook The Farm (went to Malta, Rome and up to Finland!), and added those photos to my portfolio

And that's a WRAP! Thank you so much for following along on this singular experience. 

If you are planning a trip to Sicily, or considering applying to Cook The Farm, need a good pasta recipe, or just want to know once and for all if it's arancini or arancine, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, or by email me at: brineproject@gmail.com. 

Cook The Farm Recap: Part I

I recently returned from a ten-week food studies program called Cook The Farm at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in central Sicily, and wanted to post a recap of my experience, as best I can.

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Through tastings, lectures, and hands-on lessons in the kitchen and on the land, this program was all about bridging the gap between farming, cooking and eating. Each week was dedicated to an ingredient, for example: Wheat, Wine, Cheese, Citrus, Nuts & Seeds, etc. in addition to culinary anthropology and garden horticulture. Our home for the duration of the program was a convent (yup) in the center of a small town called Valledolmo, which we shared with three Sicilian nuns. The church bells chimed every hour and half hour, and at around 6pm each night, they played a short tune that was slightly out of key. I wish I recorded it, because it was weirdly comforting.

There were many special moments in this experience, but I wanted to share a few of the ways that it felt especially meaningful. I've opted to bullet a number of thoughts, quotes, ideas, questions woven between some of the photos I took. It's neither chronological, nor an exhaustive list of everything I learned, saw, experienced. Feel free to hop around and read or view what you choose. 

  • Sicily is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever seen-- it's Italian, but so different than any other part of Italy I've visited. It has a rustic beauty, and old traditions are still very much alive. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to visit many corners of the island, because over my ten weeks there, I really grew to love it. 
     
  • “Semina luce” in Italian translates to sowing light. This phrase was mentioned in one of our first lectures by Gea Galluzzi. Gea's talk focused on the great agrobiodiversity heritage of different wheat species and the challenges this genetic diversity has faced over time as industrialized agriculture and food systems develop. She emphasized that cereals are the foundation of agricultural society. And so began Wheat Week. 

Most of our lectures took place at Case Grandi (pictured below), where the Tasca family produces many of their wines:

  • "Tradition, in our idea, is something timeless, but the further we get from our relationship to food, the more we use the word 'traditional'."
     
  • You must be your own compass for what is "good" or "bad."

The series of photos below were taken at a local mill we visited not far from the town where we lived. It was encouraging to see these millers working with local wheat. Their flour is stone ground, so that the germ of the wheat is ground into the endosperm, spreading its oils and imparting both nutrients and flavor into the final product. We were lucky enough to taste their flour in the form of freshly baked cornetti. 

  • I came into this program thinking that I would walk away with answers, but as it turns out, I walked away with even more questions. One that I've been thinking about a lot: “How can small be sustainable? How can big be right?” This question was posed by Fabrizia Lanza, director of the School and founder of Cook The Farm. Fabrizia is a wealth of knowledge about all things food and wine, and deeply connected to the Sicilian landscape.
     
  • "Ancient grains is an abused qualifier. Each grain has a personality, a color, a perfume."
     
  • While she was “caulking” a bowl of couscous over a pot of boiling water (far left photo below) using a paste made out of flour and water, Bonnetta Dell-Oglio said, “You must be elastic. Never too heavy. This idea arrives slowly to the consciousness.” Bonnetta is a Sicilian chef and passionate advocate of organic agriculture and biodynamic wine production. I have a lifelong tendency to overthink everything, so the idea of letting go, or "being more elastic" not only in the kitchen, but also in my every day, felt freeing. For many years, Bonetta has fought for the defense of Sicily’s ancient grains (she also said the quote above), which have been cultivated on the island for over 8,000 years. 
  • I like every step of bread making. I like sprinkling flour across a counter, I like seeing dough after it's risen, I love punching it down, kneading, shaping, I love the yeasty smell and the smooth texture. Bread is beautiful, and so culturally charged! Bread is a staple in the Sicilian diet as well as many other countries around the world. I spent a lot of time thinking about how the US has a history of demonizing one food category at a time, which plays a huge role in our complicated relationship to food and tradition.
     
  • Changing where you shop and/or how you eat has to be a fundamental change in values. And change is ALWAYS tough, but it's possible.
     
  • Sourcing matters!
  • Rina Poletti came from Emilia-Romagna with her giant rolling pins, and taught us how to make traditional sfoglia: a sheet of pasta dough to make ribbons of pasta or stuffed pasta. In Italy, pasta is often made by hands with fresh eggs and flour. Rina emphasized that making sfoglia requires FEELING it with your hands. The recipe changes according to you and your body, your body temperature and how you move your hands. Even though we didn't speak the same language, it was obvious that Rina is one of those shiny, deeply good people, a phenomenal teacher, and generous with her knowledge. I'll never forget her walking around the room while we made our first attempts at sfoglia, and showing us the crucial ranare ("frogging") motion that looked like a swift swimming motion across the length of the rolling pin. Rina recently started a non-profit called Missione Mattarello (Mission Rolling Pin) to help those affected by earthquakes in Italy.

  • "Smell is the sense that is least understood."
     
  • "When tasting food or wine, environment matters. Both your internal environment (ie hormones, mood, what you have been consuming throughout the day, which in turn, affect your saliva make up) AND external environment: temperature, noises, aromas."
     
  • Nikki Welch gave me a lot to think about in her Physiology Of Taste lecture (see her quotes above), but “Open yourself to being curious” was something I thought (and now think) about frequently. Nikki was talking about flavor when she said this, but I think the same sentiment rings true for new experiences, or traveling, or even the mundane moments of everyday life. It's incredibly difficult to step outside of what we know, or what we believe ourselves to be good at. Staying curious seems obvious, but it's a necessary reminder.
    Nikki is a UK-based wine and flavor specialist. The combination of her passion, work and experience in wine led her to the creation of the WineTubeMap, a visual way of exploring wine, organized by flavor. Nikki was wonderfully inspiring and energetic and made me want to delve further into smell science.

Below: 56(!) varieties of citrus fruits gathered from Palermo, and spread across a table at the start of Citrus Week. We learned about when these plants arrived in Sicily, the different mutations, textures, flavors and colors.


The town of Valledolmo was delightfully quaint, but on weekends, it felt necessary to escape and see other parts of the island. Below is a series of photos from Scala Dei Turchi (The Turkish Steps) in Realmonte, followed by photos in and around its neighbor city, Agrigento, on the Southern coast of Sicily. The steps are an impressive natural limestone rock formation, and they turned out to be an unexpected highlight of this weekend trip.

Agrigento is probably most known for its Vallei Dei Templi and Garden of Kolymbetra. Founded around 580 BC, this hilltop city was once a grand city of the Mediterranean, and Valley of the Temples is now an UNESCO world heritage site. The Kolymbetra Garden is a fascinating example of the plants and trees that flourish in the Mediterranean: mostly citrus, but also pistachio, olive, carob and pomegranate trees that still grow because of the ancient water network.


Not far from Agrigento, Favara was an impoverished and nearly abandoned city until local resident, Andrea Bartoli, decided to buy some of the empty buildings and convert them into a contemporary art space in the historic center. The area has an adult playground feel to it, and now includes a school of architecture for children, a bookshop, a tea garden, a sandwich shop, a bar and more. Buildings are covered with art inside and out, and the project became known as the Farm Cultural Park. Since its opening in 2010, the Farm Cultural Park has not only attracted tourists and artists from across the globe, but also created more jobs for local people. The park is colorful, eclectic and cool-- it feels like you're stumbling across one of Sicily's best-kept secrets.

There's also a noteworthy almond museum in Favara, where there are over 200 varieties of almonds as part of the permanent collection.


  • Watching a lamb being butchered was a challenge for me on many levels, but the toughest part was the accompanying sounds: the skinning, the slicing, the sharp cracking of the limbs and neck. The butcher was quick, clean and respectful, and butchered two lambs in only a few hours, but I couldn't help thinking that I might not eat meat if it were up to me to slaughter and butcher an animal. It's remarkably easy to buy meat in a grocery store, neatly wrapped in plastic, but I think that's distanced our connection to this process, and the animal. Though I don't think I will ever eliminate meat entirely from my diet, I'm more aware of the process and take pause to consider what exactly I'm buying and who I'm supporting.

On another weekend away, we visited the city of Acireale, known for its Carnevale parade, complete with festive floats (that were actually quite sinister), and crowds of people dressed up in costume. And confetti. Everywhere. I took minimal photos in Acireale, but I remember it was a RARE warm, sunny day and we sat on a restaurant patio with beer and a charcuterie & cheese platter. Our server was friendly, and the other diners also appeared to come for cheese and beer, so they tended to be relaxed, adding to the good vibes. This day was a refreshing reminder that one of life’s simplest pleasures is just sitting in the sun with friends. And a beer. Unfortunately, I filled up on our cheese platter, but some friends also got sandwiches here: 

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I liked the drama of the all smoke, plus, I was told the sandwiches were top-ten-best-sandwiches-ever quality. 


  • Cheese only involves THREE ingredients: milk, rennet (an enzyme contained in the stomach of ruminant animals, although there are some vegetable rennet options now!) and salt.
     
  • We went to a number of cheesemakers on this trip! The series below features Filippo Privitera of Caseificio Privitera. Filippo specializes in pecorino (one of the world's great cheeses) and ricotta (which actually translates to "re-cooked" and is made by using the whey that runs off from making the large wheels of pecorino). Each morning, the sheep are hand-milked; the pecorino is made immediately, followed by the ricotta. The ricotta "groupies" (some local men who are very fond of cheese) roll up around 10am with bread or pastries or wine to pair with warm ricotta at the same exact moment that it's ready to eat. They talk (argue?) about cheese and eat snacks. Then the sheep go out to pasture for the remainder of the afternoon, before they are milked again in the evening. We shadowed one of the shepards, and went out to pasture with him and the sheep. He slowly guided them around for hours using a variety of different whistles that he has come up with over the years to communicate with them. 

We also saw the stretch-curd cheesemaking process at a separate facility near Valledolmo. Here, they're preparing the fresh curds in hot water to help give the cheese its structure, then stretching, and tying off the hunks of mozzarella. 

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*Not pictured: countless other un-photogenic-yet-amazing moments.

If you made it all the way here, THANK YOU! There will also be a (much shorter) Part II coming in two weeks! 

Kate McCrea

"Eating well shouldn’t mean that you can’t have treats. But even your treats should be made out of real food."

         To enter the sweet butter-scented refuge of McCrea’s Candies in Hyde Park, MA is to become enveloped in a world of all things delightful. In the back kitchen, there was the bubbling pot of soon-to-be caramel, that, when poured over a sheet tray, folded onto itself in thick ribbons. There was the seemingly endless rope of cooled caramel snaked across a prep table, ready to be stretched and pulled. And there was the rhythmic thrum of the red machine that swiftly chopped and wrapped each candy. I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Kate McCrea, Co-Owner & Marketing and Product Developer of McCrea's Candies, to discuss not only how it all started, and but also how delicious and unhealthy don’t have to be synonymous.

 Kate McCrea, at the McCrea's Candies kitchen in Hyde Park, MA.

Kate McCrea, at the McCrea's Candies kitchen in Hyde Park, MA.

Gwen Koch: So why caramel? Are you as in love with it today as you were when you started?

Kate McCrea: "My husband, Jason, and I started McCrea's Candies together— and he was definitely the charge-forward person between the two of us— but I really trace the seeds of this company back a bit further, even before the first batch of caramel was made. When [Jason] was laid off, it was a terrible time to be out of work in the economic down-turn. There were hundreds of thousands of resumés out there and no call-backs. It was our 15th wedding anniversary, and I insisted that we go away. So we went to Acadia National Park, rode our bikes around, and talked a lot about: What’s next?"

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          Kate and Jason McCrea, both biologists by training, have always seen a strong connection between art and science. During their getaway to Acadia, they talked about hypothetical What's Next scenarios, like hooking an ice cream maker to the back of a bike and pedaling your way to a sweet cup of ice cream! They loved pondering these playful ideas, but never considered seriously putting something into action and starting a capital 'B' Business.

KM: "It’s kind of a critical piece when you think, did we sit down one day and say: “Let’s make caramel; that’s our dream business!” That isn’t really how it happened. It was more thinking and seeing and making connections. While in Acadia, we read a newspaper article about a local woman who made caramel apples for trick-or-treaters and had been doing it for something like 60 years. We came home from that trip and our good friend's daughter was injured and in a body cast over Halloween (which is one of our favorite holidays) and Jason made her caramels as a gift."

There are two important things to know about Kate and Jason's relationship with caramel:
          1. Candy is chemistry— the science of it didn't scare either one of them. 
          2. Jason grew up making candy alongside his mom. For him to get a recipe and recreate his mom’s caramels was relatively
             straightforward. 

KM: "But Jason's also a detail person, and really good at what he does, so he made the caramels that Halloween, and they were fantastic. And our friends jumped up and down and said, 'Why are you even bothering to send out resumés?! You should do this.' Then we started to think: Oh, we might be good at this! We brought caramels to other friends, and gave some to our son’s teacher who made an order sheet, of sorts, and all the teachers started ordering caramel, and we thought, Maybe there really is something here."

          While Kate was still working, Jason took a solid year to plan and create the business. There was so much more to it than making good caramel. They had to sit down and ask themselves: is this viable? Could they make enough? How would they fund the project? What kind of wrapper would they use? Hand-wrapping, though they did that for a while, was simply not an option; they couldn't make enough. Once the foundation was set, they went into a shared kitchen space called Commonwealth Kitchen where makers rent space hourly.

KM: "Funny stories from that kitchen! Caramel is very susceptible to humidity, and when you’re in a shared kitchen, you don’t know what other people are working on, so you’ve got food trucks coming in and opening and closing the doors, and all the humidity is entering the space! We had a supplies cage, and we hung plastic sheeting inside, and placed a small de-humidifier within to create a dry zone. It was really strange-looking, but we made it work! And that kind of problem-solving was fun for us.       
          We started doing really tiny farmers markets, and even with a small number of people passing through, most of them wanted to buy caramel. After about a year, we started working with our first wholesale customers, and we quickly outgrew the hourly kitchen space. We added a third business partner, Jim, who also happens to be our neighbor for the last fifteen years. He owned a restaurant for 30 years, and he’s a good businessman who knows his way around a kitchen. The three of us all lived about two miles from here, and it was HUGE when we moved to this kitchen space. Now we’re squeezing out of it, but being here really allowed us the growth we had to have to become a real company."

KM: "We started with a 'farmers market' brand— had a little cartoon on it— that had a very local feel. The caramel has always sold, but when we were working with retailers, we found that it moved slower, because we weren’t standing there, selling it. In 2015 we went through a much bigger re-branding process: we dug right to the bones, moved everything out (in a sense), and re-branded from the ground up to really reflect who we are and what the product is, including the elimination of plastic packaging, which was really important to all of us.

The stunning, eye-catching packaging that McCrea's uses now is the result of that huge re-branding process in 2015.

KM: "As a scientist who has followed studies of plastic found in the ocean, [plastic packaging] really bothered me. Even if it's recyclable, you're counting on other people to clean up the mess that you’re making. That’s how I see it. So we went to a paper package. We went to a differentiating package. There’s a lot of intentional flavor development and knowledge behind our product. It’s not really about producing as much as we can. Our fresh ingredients are one of the things that sets us apart. Real maple syrup, fresh ginger, fresh rosemary.... Rosemary steeped, almost like tea. Rosemary cream that smells SO good! We’re not going to compromise there."

GK: What inspires each of the flavors? Do they have a personal connection?

KM: "The first flavor was 'Plain,' which we call 'Vanilla,' because we put a good amount of vanilla in it. The Black Lava Sea Salt is probably one of the most personal flavors, because Jason spent so much time trying all different types of salt. Pink salt becomes invisible on caramel. White salt, same thing. Grey salt, same thing. Black salt. Black salt tastes fabulous, because the carbon in the black salt pulls bitterness, and it looks gorgeous, which goes back to the artistry of it. There’s some contrast there. 
          Vanilla, Black Lava, Ginger and Mocha. Those were the first four flavors we ever made. For a while, we used to hand-cut the caramels into squares, and Jason would place a single coffee bean on each one. 'Caramel Eyes' is what we called them. We used to line them up in a tie box. I think Macy’s [department store] gave Jason a huge box full of tie boxes, and we put our sticker over the Macy’s label, and then on a small piece of parchment paper within the box, he’d carefully line up these beautiful caramels."

GK: Do you think your science background has helped you with development?

KM: "Absolutely. We’re open to trying different things— different solutions to a problem. We’re used to collecting data. Every batch we’ve ever done (EVER!) has a data sheet associated with it. From the very first batch. Jason would specify, I couldn't cut this. It was sticking to the X, Or just, Too hard to cut. Very important when you’re working with something like Scotch, for example, which impacts the texture. 
          Both of us have always loved food, and we love craft, and we love science, and we love people, and we’re both data crunchers. McCrea’s Candies is really the culmination of everything we’ve ever done."

          As Kate described scientific methods and toured me around the space, it became clear that the lasting charm of McCrea's is characteristic of Jason and Kate's way of creating and owning a business: fastidious yet playful, and always striving toward a balance of natural and simple in a way that is their own. We moved on to discuss the challenges of being a consumer, and while sometimes it seems that we're making strides in demanding transparency, some of the language on food packages and ingredient lists feels not only confusing, but also deceiving, and perhaps this is exactly why small food and beverage businesses are having a moment right now. 

KM: "I think some of what’s driving that is people being more educated about food, or, food and where it comes from, and then getting annoyed, and feeling like, I could make something wonderful. I could make something that doesn’t do X, Y and Z and is still wonderful. For us, in that year where Jason was doing product development and creating this business, taking out the corn syrup was really important to him. What does corn syrup do in candy? Most people think, I dunno: it’s sugar. No. It has a specific function in candy, so that it keeps it from crystalizing. Why? Because it’s an invert sugar, and it’s the balance that determines whether your candy crystalizes or not.  It also determines the flavor profile. Too much fructose— the high fructose corn syrup— and you get a flat, sweet taste on the front of your tongue, and the flavor is gone. I can taste it the second it hits my tongue. We tried all different sugars and we finally found inverted cane. We love that! We dig in to this kind of challenge. Jason does these talks at high schools, and brings in his molecule model, breaks it in half…. But that’s kind of what I mean. We started learning more about food, and thought, I can do something about this. I like candy. What’s all this stuff in here? I don’t want that! But I still want candy. So I wonder if sometimes that’s where people see a lot of opportunity.

I pointed out how much I love the simple, yet sophisticated, look of McCrea's brand and packaging— how it draws a beautiful connection between food and art.

KM: "You want the packaging to represent what’s inside. It’s the indication that it’s something special. There are even things on the tubes that you don’t notice until you buy it. There's a colorful design on the inside lip— a little pop of surprise! The designers were trying to capture the unexpected part of McCrea’s. It's very important that it’s a whole experience— not just the caramel. And when you eat one, it should match the experience of the packaging.
          Natural and simple is a really difficult balance to maintain. If you look at the caramel world, you could run in a million different directions, and sometimes it takes some discipline to hold your ground. Sometimes you’ll start to see this obsession of adding and adding and adding."

GK: Has being this involved with caramel changed the way you think about food or interpret flavor? 

KM: "Yes. Specifically caramel? Somewhat. Because I look at candy in a different way. Eating well shouldn’t mean that you can’t have treats, but even your treats should be made out of real food. I think you should recognize what’s on our labels, and that’s that. But being involved in the food industry, in general, is very eye-opening, and makes me more committed to real food. It’s good and bad sometimes. If you look at ingredient lists, there’s a lot of weird stuff on there. And I don’t like to see things like 'Natural Flavor,' and 'Natural Color.' I don’t know what that is, and I don’t like it. As a scientist, I've always read labels, but it’s really more as a food industry participant that pushed me to read labels more carefully. The other part that stands out to me is branding. I take notice of what brands I’m loyal to, and why. And what brands I feel betrayed by with the tricky language out there. It affects me personally, and me as an advocate for the food world."

GK: What are your biggest pieces of entrepreneurial advice for other food entrepreneurs? 

KM: "1. Find people who know more than you. That’s absolutely a must. And look at the big picture. With our new brand, for example, that was a big picture decision, and it really paid off. The small picture decision would have been: We can’t possibly afford this! Let’s go with the cheapest proposal (I can still hear the arguments in my head). I think those two actually go hand in hand.
         2. You need to have a realistic view of where your business stands. When you’re selling in farmers markets, stick with a farmers market brand! But don’t assume you're going to go into Bloomingdales with that brand.
         3. Hire a 'No' Man. Jim is our 'No' Man. We have these crazy ideas sometimes, and Jim is there to say 'No' to quell unbridled enthusiasm that isn’t going to get us anywhere. Enthusiasm is awesome. Enthusiasm for something that's blinding you to bigger problems is not awesome. You need people who encourage you, but who will also pull you down and keep your feet on the ground. I don’t think you can go forward without that kind of framework. If you need someone else to be doing that analysis with you, then get someone else. Jim never would have come on board if he didn’t think we had something to build."


Caramel Tasting: 
          McCrea's caramel flavors include Classic Vanilla, Ginger Fusion, Dark Roasted Mocha, Single Malt Scotch, Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt, Tapped Maple, Black Lava Sea Salt, Deep Chocolate, and Cape Cod Sea Salt, among other rotating seasonally inspired flavors. Unexpectedly, Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt was my favorite flavor. The way their website describes it is "Fresh-from-the-garden rosemary mingled with truffle sea salt. Savory magic." The foundation of creamy caramel shows off rosemary's cool, eucalyptus-y evergreen flavors. The truffle is subtle and keeps the whole thing from tasting overly piney. The slight crunchiness of the sea salt provides an enticing texture that makes you want another one (or...the whole tube!)!

 To me, the flavor breakdown looked like this:

Read more about the McCrea's story here. You can purchase McCrea's hand-crafted caramels through their website, or find them on retail shelves all across the country. In the Boston area, McCrea's caramels can be found at Boston General Store, Brookline Grown, Formaggio Kitchen, Russo's and Allandale Farm, among a number of other retailers. Follow along on Instagram @mccreascandies to find out about seasonal flavors and the latest updates. 

Special thanks to Diane Parazin for organizing this interview, and to the McCrea's caramel makers who were SO generous to let me photograph them doing what they do best! Such an incredible and kind team!