Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Product Spotlight - Brooklyn Salsa Company


For the second morning in a row, I've woken up to the above scene: large snowflakes gently drifting downwards causing a vaguely snowglobe effect outside of my window as I look towards the East River.  It sort of gives a romantic glow to the block of tenements across the street from my building.  What better to do, then, to test a recipe for Sour Cream Chicken Nachos (which I'll post later) using Brooklyn Salsa Company's fragrant Staten Island Salsa.  Its green tomatillo notes balanced by tomatoes, mango, spices, and other ingredients which make it a perfect base from which to build this dish.


I first came across this line of salsas when I was shopping for holiday gifts at the Brooklyn Flea's Gifted Market and was hooked immediately by the fresh, clean taste and unique personality of each of the 5 Boroughs flavors.  This is the kind of salsa I dream about being able to make at home, but can never quite get right.  It completely transported me back to places out west where I've eaten to get my Tex-Mex food kick, the kind of stuff that's not so easy to get around here (as transplants will confirm).

What better way to find out more about these products than to meet up with one of the founders/creators of the line: Rob Behnke.  Last week, I headed over to their offices in a repurposed industrial space in Brooklyn to talk to him.  Matt Burns, the other partner, was out making some more deliveries of their popular product.  Given how busy both of them are, I really appreciated the time that Rob took to talk to me about what they do and the passion and inspiration behind their salsas.

Initially, the driver for this project was that they just couldn't get great-tasting salsa locally.  After many experiments, Rob said, they finally came up with the flavor balances for which they were looking and officially launched mid-2010.  Since then, their salsas have been a huge hit, wherever they've been available.  When I tried to find out if there was a "gateway" salsa, he replied that there wasn't really any one in particular and that he hears at tastings that folks sometimes mix-and-match depending upon levels of heat and what they are planning to do with it.  They even have a page on their website for folks to send in their recipes, like I did with my Chili con Queso.


Open a jar, any flavor.  The fragrance of the salsa just awakens your sleeping tastebuds and starts your mouth watering.  Dip a tortilla chip or spoon into the jar.  Take a bite.  Robust, hearty flavor hits your tongue, followed by notes of citrus and spice, then the finish of heat and kick of peppers.  It's just enough to make you dip in another chip and keep eating it until you realize that the jar is empty and you'll have to go to the store for some more.  Your mouth has a wonderful tingle all over from the peppers, your brain is smiling, and your stomach is just really, really happy.  These salsa will keep you going for another few months while the thermometer continues to nosedive and the sidewalks continue to be blanketed in white.


Aside from just wanting to make products that taste great and that capture the essence of what is a "salsa" or sauce, another aspect of the company's philosophy, which is what drew me in in the first place, is that Rob and Matt, insofar as is possible, try to work directly with New York farms who grow the raw materials that go into their products.  Obviously, some items, like mango or coconut milk, aren't local to this region, but their next step is to work on the ground where those components are produced to develop these items in a sustainable manner that benefits the farmers.  They also pay attention to the smaller things that go into shipping their jars of salsa, like the composition of the boxes and biodegradable packing peanuts.

The pair have trademarked this methodology "Conscious Methods" to capture the essence of local sourcing, using organic materials as much as is feasible, and direct trade with the manufacturers of the ingredients that they use.  I've talked to a few food producers in the last several months that are trying to capture a similar model for their goods, but this is the first time that I've heard a phrase that really brings it all together.  This combination of philosophy plus quality ingredients is merges completely deliciously from the moment of that first pop of the seal on the jar.

Buon appetito!

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