Almanac, Xocolate, and Other East Bayites Win Good Food Awards

Other local winners include Fra'Mani, Cleophus Quealy, and Community Grains.


Sana Kadri

Images: Kristan Lawson

The winners of this year's Good Food Awards were announced last week — and they include many East Bayites.

The nonprofit Good Food Foundation aims to empower and celebrate independent, often overlooked makers, growers, ranchers, and others who bring us sustainable, amazing foods and drinks. Among GFA's many projects is an annual competition which attracts thousands of entries from all fifty states.

As announced last Friday, Alameda's Almanac Beer Company won a GFA for its Apricot Sournova. Berkeley's The Xocolate Bar won for its Cacao Fruit Jam. Concord's Tsar Nicoulai Caviar won for its Sturgeon Paté and Sweet 'n' Hot Smoked Sturgeon. Richmond's Incontro Cured won for its Salame de Bue and Salame Sicilia. San Leandro's Cleophus Quealy Beer Company won for its Frambozenbier. Berkeley's Fra'Mani Handcrafted Foods won for its Salame Toscano. Oakland's Community Grains won for its Identity Preserved Organic Spaghetti Pasta. Richmond's Falcon Spirits Distillery won for its Raspberry Liqueur and Aperitivo Aplomado. 

These winners along with dozens of other entrants and past winners shared their wares during last weekend's Good Food Awards Mercantile gathering in San Francisco.

Normally, the pulpy fruit between cacao pods' hard outer skin and prized inner bean is discarded.

"But I'd always wanted to taste it," said Xocolate's Malena Lopez-Maggi. "After doing so, I realized that it was really special. I wanted to do something with it because, as far as I know, no one else ever has," said Lopez-Maggi, whose tangy-sweet sunset-hued preserve wowed the GFA judges. 

Oakland native Trevor Zebulon won a Good Food Award for the ethereally sparkly Rosé Cider brewed by his Healdsburg-based Goat Rock Cider Company. It's not force-carbonated, contains zero total sugars, and is so exquisitely dry as to evoke champagne. 

Lauded last week in the New York Times, Oakland-based Diaspora Co. offers Indian spices harvested within the last year. Most commercial spices are already up to five years old when they arrive on store shelves, explained Diaspora's owner, Sana Javeri Kadri. 

"I'm trying to raise the bar on spices," Kadri said. 

Other East Bayites at the Mercantile included Oakland's Absinthia, whose enchanting organic absinthe blanche is made with biodynamic organic grapes, star anise, fennel seed, coriander, and fresh wormword; Oakland's Salt Point Seaweed Co., co-owned by three women who hand-harvest wild seaweed off the far Northern California coast and transform them into tasty Surf Snacks; and Richmond's Far West Cider Co., whose You've Guava Be Kidding Me is infused with actual pink guava fruit. 

Berkeley's Tina Wolfe hadn't planned to launch a food business.

"I only wanted to send my kids to school with peanut-free, high-protein sandwiches.

"Sunflower-seed butter seemed like the obvious solution, but all the commercial sunflower-seed butters I tried had an inherent bitterness," said Wolfe, whose research resulted in a brand-new brand, Treat Street Snacks, which includes a line of Much Better Butters.

It was in a Berkeley kitchen four years ago Gillian Reynolds created her jam company, Jamnation — whose sumptuously pectin-free, lower-in-sugar, fruit-intensive choices bear such irresistible names as Apricot Red-Handed,  A Crockwork Orange, and To Peach His Own.

From organic family farms within 200 miles of her kitchen, Reynolds sources such rarities as as stone-fruit varieties with a mere two-day shelf life. 

Among the many other entrants and winners, knockouts included rich, fruity, barrel-reserve Sloe Gin from Sebastopol's Spirit Works; smallholder-grown West African fonio grain from New York's Yolélé; and Lavender-Spice hemp-infused beverage from Oregon's Aurora Infused Elixirs. 

Even vegans could admire the creativity behind Brooklyn Cured's salami chubs — in flavors such as Rye Whiskey-Orange; Belgian Ale-Lemon Zest; Bourbon-Sour Cherries; Lamb, Za'atar, and Cane Cola; and Mezcal Lime. 

Livermore-based Joe Phan makes his low-salt, high-umami Nectar of the Sea fish sauces — traditional, pineapple, honey, and koji — from California-caught anchovies and San Francisco Bay salt, based on sauces his grandmother made in a Vietnamese fishing village. 

Another nice local surprise was crunchy, seedy, savory, gluten-free Cult Crackers, crafted with cornflour and cassava flour in the classic Swedish crispbread style by Berkeley buddies Dianna Dar and Birgitta Durell.

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