Our annual survey of some of the states best products
EUGENIA UhL PHOTOGRAPH
Fresina’s Pasta & Italian Specialties
3458 Drusilla Lane, Suite B, Baton Rouge
Nothing says good taste like recipes and cooking techniques handed down through generations. For proof, look to Fresina’s.
“We’re the third generation of the family to make pasta,” says Linda Fresina, whose husband, Frank, is the son of the Sicilian pasta pros. “Mama and Papa Fresina ran the store for years, and now they’re in their 80s, and they still come in to help,” she says.
Speaking to the importance of using time-tested techniques, a central feature of the Baton Rouge store is the original pasta-making machine used in the business for decades. Recently, the Fresinas had a new die made for the machine in order to produce fleur-de-lis-shaped pasta. Linda Fresina says they typically produce 1,000 pounds of pasta at a time, “and we’ve made run after run of that shape.”
Fresina’s has expanded its gourmet shop beyond its 30 or so varieties of handmade pasta to include a line of sauces made from Mama’s original recipes. They also offer handmade Italian sausage and a selection of imported vinegars and sweets.
Not planning to be in Baton Rouge anytime soon? Not to worry. Many Fresina’s products are available via
the Web site.
Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods
519 N. Lombard St., Opelousas
In a place as steeped in spicy cuisine as Louisiana, producing a seasoning blend that stands out from the crowd is a
big challenge. So it says a lot that family-owned and -operated Tony Chachere’s has been doing it successfully for decades.
Founded in 1972 by chef Tony Chachere, using his own seasoning formula, the business expanded far beyond that blend to offer products ranging from dinner mixes and injectable marinades to fish fry,
stuffing mixes and smoked sausage.
But the company’s best-selling product remains its first one: Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.
“Our original outsells every other competitor in the category, five to one,” says Alyce Ray, sales and marketing assistant. She says the product’s strength derives from a tenet of Creole cooking: “We choose to focus on flavor while other manufacturers believe it’s all about heat.”
Don Chachere, the founder’s grandson, now oversees the company, which does business nationwide through supermarkets, chains and its Web site. Total annual sales of products in the Tony Chachere line average $45 million, Ray says.
P.O. Box 6190, New Orleans
It was more than 120 years ago that Emile A. Zatarain Sr. trademarked his signature root beer. Gradually, his business branched into mustards, pickled vegetables and extracts on its way to becoming a powerhouse name in seasonings. Today, some 200 Zatarain’s products are known around the world for offering the flavors of New Orleans.
“Without a doubt, what makes us so good is the flavor of New Orleans-style cuisine,” says company Business Director Michael Morse.
In 2003, big-name spice business McCormick & Co. acquired Zatarain’s but kept the New Orleans plant operating as before. Demand for the products remains high, Morse says.
“Nationally, the rice mixes are by far the most popular, but for folks in Louisiana, in addition to the rice mixes, our breadings, fish fry, crab boil and Creole mustard are big sellers,” he says.
Morse says a symbol of Zatarain’s longevity is its packaging: “Everybody knows the bright red and yellow on our breadings and the blue label on our crab boil.” If the products were made anywhere else, the labels likely would have changed by now. In New Orleans, Morse says, “We wouldn’t dare.”
Slap Ya Mama/Walker & Sons Inc.
1103 W. Main St., Ville Platte
The joke goes that when you taste the seasonings developed by Jennifer Walker and her family, you’ll be so impressed that you’ll want to go home and “slap ya mama” for not serving up something this good.
Whether or not you buy the story, you have to admit the name is catchy. “But the real reason people like us is that we make good, flavorful products,” says Jack Walker, one of Jennifer’s two sons who co-manage the company.
Billed as “real Cajun seasoning for real Cajun cooking,” the Slap Ya Mama line includes several spicy seasoning blends, pepper sauce, seafood boil, fish fry and étouffée sauce.
“Our most popular item is the 8-ounce original blend in the yellow canister,” Jack Walker says, though he says that his own favorite is the hot blend.
Jack Walker says the products resulted from customer requests for seasonings other than salt in the deli of a convenience store the family used to own. But the family doesn’t fret over deli customers anymore.
“We sold the convenience store when we realized this Slap Ya Mama thing was going to take off,” he says.
Bruce Foods Corp.
P.O. Drawer 1030, New Iberia
So you’re planning your Thanksgiving menu, and you come to the question of starch. If you’re in Louisiana, the answer is easy: sweet potatoes.
Bruce Foods sells a big range of products found on dinner tables in and outside of Louisiana, but none is more popular than Bruce’s Yams, the No. 1-selling canned yam in the country. What makes ‘em so good?
Patrick Brown, a member of the Bruce Foods owner-family headed by Joseph “Si” Brown II, says it’s a matter of history and quality, “with emphasis on quality.” The Louisiana-grown yams are known far and wide for their sweet flavor and golden color. “And you don’t want to serve a second-tier product at Thanksgiving, which is the peak selling season for yams,” he says.
Brown says Bruce Foods’ biggest sellers in Louisiana, along with the yams, are Louisiana Hot Sauce –
the company sells 300 million bottles annually – and Cajun Injector marinades.
A new Bruce Foods product could join those ranks soon: The company will bring baked sweet potatoes to market shortly, in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.
Blue Runner Foods Inc.
726 S. Burnside Ave., Gonzales
The role of beans in Louisiana’s cuisine is nearly as central as that of a favorite companion – rice. And when locals honor the treasured tradition of preparing red beans and rice, there’s a good chance they’re using beans produced by Blue Runner Foods.
With roots reaching back almost a century, the Gonzales-based company evolved through the production of canned fruits, vegetables and vinegars before deciding to focus solely on beans. Today, Blue Runner offers three different versions of Creole Cream Style red beans and navy beans – including low-sodium and New Orleans Spicy – along with Creole pinto and black beans.
CEO Richard Thomas says Creole Cream Style Red Beans are consumers’ favorite. “They have a thick, creamy consistency unlike any other canned bean,” he says.
Thomas says Blue Runner beans are kettle-cooked and “softly stirred” for hours before they are canned. He says most other canned beans are brine packed, meaning the cans are half-filled with dry beans and then topped off with saltwater and cooked in the can.
“We cook them the way a native to New Orleans would cook them at home,” Thomas says.
Abita Brewing LLC
P.O. Box 1510, Abita Springs
For beer-lovers, it was a match made in heaven: Folks who were passionate about good beer started a brewery in Abita Springs, a source of the purest water for many miles around. Twenty-five years later, Abita Brewing produces more than 100,000 barrels of beer annually from a plant set in the piney woods of Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore.
The company’s seven flagship beers include Amber and Golden – the first beers made by the brewery – along
with the popular Turbodog, Purple Haze and recent addition Jockamo IPA (India Pale Ale).
“Amber is still our strongest seller,” says David Blossman, president and CEO. “We really thought Golden was going to be the big seller because Amber was totally radical and different, but people just reveled in how much character Amber had and how well it went with our food.”
Blossman says the brewers like to keep the ideas flowing. Along with its year-round brews, the company produces five seasonal beers, a series of three “harvest” beers that use Louisiana ingredients and a root beer made with Louisiana sugar cane. Coming soon: Vanilla Double Dog, a 25th anniversary beer aged with vanilla beans.
Natchitoches Meat Pies Inc.
620 Rush St., Coushatta
Many of Louisiana’s distinct food specialties arose from a blending of cultures over time. In Central Louisiana, Spanish settlers likely introduced the empanada-like dish now known as the meat pie, but the item became so closely associated with Natchitoches that when Len McCain and Donald Horton formed a business around it in 1985, they dubbed the company Natchitoches Meat Pies.
A basic meat pie consists of seasoned meat folded into a pastry crescent, sealed at the edges and fried. Its size, shape and crust make it an easy-to-eat treat whether you’re seated at a restaurant table or roaming the grounds of the annual Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival. The company makes the pies available for home preparation, as well.
Ready-to-cook pies are shipped frozen and can be either fried or baked.
Maggi Vanderlick, Natchitoches Meat Pie’s marketing director, says the original pie, made with a mix of beef and pork spiced with cayenne pepper, is the company’s best-seller, though several other fillings are available.
All are popular during the holidays and particularly during football season, she says. “Our mini-pies are great for football gatherings.”
Blue Frog Chocolates
5707 Magazine St., New Orleans
If you’re in New Orleans and your sweet tooth starts to tingle, what do you do? Hop over to Blue Frog Chocolates.
Don’t worry: Frogs have nothing directly to do with the delectable treats you’ll find here – bonbons, truffles, caramels, butter creams and a host of other confections in white, dark and milk chocolate.
Ann and Richard Streiffer started the enterprise 11 years ago as something of a hobby. Today, demand is high for the dozens of varieties of boxed, bar and molded chocolates they offer.
“The chocolate itself is excellent,” says Ann Streiffer, noting that the Swiss chocolate comes in 10-pound slabs that have to be tempered to exactly the right consistency. “When it’s molded or made into a bark, the chocolate has to be shiny, and it has to have the right snap when you break it,” she says.
As for the frogs: Aztec legend holds that Xocolati, the god of delight, appeared to humans as a blue frog and taught them how to extract the “food of the gods” from cocoa pods. You can thank him by sampling one of the store’s chocolate frogs – in blue, of course.
Community Coffee Co.
P.O Box 2311, Baton Rouge
As any Louisiana native knows, good coffee never goes out of style. Four generations of the coffee-loving Saurage family have followed in the footsteps of original Community Coffee brewer Henry Norman “Cap” Saurage to build Community into the nation’s largest family-owned retail coffee brand. For the past 30 years, the company has produced its packaged coffee at a plant in Port Allen, where, in 1980, Community introduced the first-ever vacuum-sealed coffee package.
The company took another big leap in 1995 when it opened the first CC’s Community Coffee House on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Some 30 CC’s locations now operate in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Community’s lineup now includes whole-bean and ground coffee, and choices ranging from medium and dark roast to coffee-and-chicory blends, flavored coffees, instant brews and cappuccinos. Consumers find it in grocery and convenience stores, offices and many top restaurants. And of course, coffee- drinkers can enjoy a leisurely cup or two almost any time at CC’s Coffee Houses across South Louisiana.
Mitcham Farms LLC
1007 Woods Road, Ruston
The folks at Mitcham Farms say the reason its peaches are so sweet and juicy is that they are imbued with a secret ingredient. “The iron in our soil makes our peaches distinct from others,” says Debbie Otwell, sales manager at the sprawling orchard.
For more than 60 years, the orchard first planted by J.E. Mitcham has been producing one of Louisiana’s favorite fruits. Now the state’s largest peach orchard is run by the founder’s son, Joe E. Mitcham Jr., and Otwell says its focus remains “everything peach.”
The season for fresh peaches begins about the third week in May with the first harvesting of Cling peaches. About a month later, the harvest of Freestone peaches begins, and both varieties are available into early August.
Otwell says sales are steady throughout the season, but a predictable peak occurs in June during the Squire Creek Louisiana Peach Festival in Ruston. “During that festival, we’ll have 150 to 200 people standing in line waiting on peaches,” she says.
If you miss the season, no need to miss the flavor. Mitcham Farms Country Store offers tasty products year-round, including peach preserves, jams, jellies and salsa.
Louisiana-Made Honor Roll of Past Featured Companies
Southern BBQ Sauce, Jennings
Elmer Candy Corp., Ponchatoula
Richard’s Cajun Foods, Church Point
Louisiana Fish Fry, Baton Rouge
Jelks Gourmet Coffee, Shreveport
Steen’s 100 Percent Cane Syrup, Abbeville
Cajun Power Sauce, Abbeville
Conrad Rice Mill, New Iberia
Tabasco, Avery Island
Feliciana Cellars Winery, Jackson
Pontchartrain Vineyard, Bush
Celebration Distillation, New Orleans
Jacob’s World Famous Andouille and Sausage, LaPlace
Louisiana Pecans, Cloutierville
Crystal Hot Sauce, Metairie
Camellia Beans, Harahan
Plantation Pecan Oil, Winnsboro
Haring’s Pride Catfish, Wisner
Dumas Candy Co., Delhi
Pleasant Acres James and Jellies, Pineville
Panola Pepper Corp., Lake Providence