The holiday season is supposed to bring comfort and joy, and few things offer more of both than good food. So if you’re thinking gifts, Asheville has an abundance of high-quality local products that can make even the pickiest foodie smile. Here are just a few of the many options.
Mimi’s Mountain Mixes
How about a loaf of warm Italian herb bread? Or a tasty cookie made with local beer, hard cider or a nonalcoholic sparkling beverage?
Lin “Mimi” Johnson loves baking and thinks everyone should have easy access to homemade treats, even if they’re not bakers by nature.
“I’ve always baked from scratch,” she says. “But I know today’s young people don’t seem to have the time. They eat out a lot, and it’s not always good for them.”
So as grandchildren began appearing (she has 10, and they call her Mimi), Johnson began to wonder how she might help them enjoy more home-baked goodies without the fuss of scratch-made.
“I started working on how some of the things I loved could be made into a mix to which one need only add a can of beer or cider or soda,” she explains. “Everyone has that in the house.”
Johnson founded her business in April. Her mixes are assembled in a two-room basement facility in Hendersonville underneath Dandelion, a local eatery and job-training restaurant run by Mainstay, an agency that helps victims of domestic violence. The nonprofit also receives a portion of the proceeds from Mimi’s sales.
“I know how hard it is for these women to get on their feet,” says Johnson. “I spent some time staying on couches of friends at the end of my first marriage.”
Her three full-time employees are all survivors of domestic violence. Assembling, packing and labeling the mixes, they say, has helped them gain self-confidence as well as work experience.
Products include coffee cakes, a molten lava chocolate cake (which, Johnson says, “you can’t eat without milk, ice cream and whipped cream”), cookies and breads. Soft pretzels will soon be added to the list.
The mixes are sold singly or in gift packages complete with a bread or cake pan, potholders and a spoon.
Mimi’s Mountain Mixes are available at mimismountainmixes.com and at Ingles Markets, the aSHEville Museum, the French Broad Food Co-op, Ben’s Penny Mart, Highland Brewing Co. and more. Check the website for a full list of outlets.
Green Mountain Maple
Don Mandelkorn came to Western North Carolina from Barre, Vt., bringing pure maple syrup with him.
The syrup comes from Craftsbury, a few miles north of Barre, and nothing’s in it but the cooked-down sap of maple trees.
“If you add anything, you can’t put the Vermont label on it,” Mandelkorn explains. “It’s 100 percent pure.”
Green Mountain also sells maple crème and maple candy, and a percentage of sales is donated to charities in North Carolina (United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and the Land of Sky Regional Council) and Vermont (OUR House, an agency serving victims of child sexual abuse and their families).
Mandelkorn offers free local delivery: “Figure out what you want, and we’ll bring it to you in the Asheville area, just like the milkman,” he says.
Green Mountain Maple products are sold online at greenmountainmaple.net, at local festivals (listed in the website’s calendar section) and at Roots & Fruits Market in Black Mountain, Sentelle’s Specialty Market in Clyde and The Proper Pot in Brevard. They’re also being used by a number of local restaurants, including Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack and the Over Easy Café.
Angie Rainey wanted a job she could do from her Asheville home, at least until her kids were older. The former barista and trained coffee taster also hoped to find something that would tap her expertise.
And right about then, Coffee Crate dropped in her lap.
The business was started by two men from Durham, who decided to sell when it began interfering with their regular jobs. Rainey snapped it up.
“The timing was perfect,” she says. “The baby turned 1 on July 15, the day after I bought the business.”
On the 15th of each month, Coffee Crate sends subscribers three 4-ounce bags of regionally roasted coffees, usually with a treat or trinket tucked in the box.
“North Carolina has some great roasters,” notes Rainey, “and we get the beans fresh. When you get them, they’re still fresh. They haven’t been sitting on a store shelf for weeks.”
Sources range from microroasters to well-known brands, and the beans come from farmers all over the world. Most of the coffees are organic and fair trade-certified.
Single-month, three-month, six-month and one-year subscriptions are available at coffeecrate.co. Through Dec. 31, Rainey’s offering a 15 percent discount with the coupon code MTXCOFFEE15.
With so many tasty options on the table in Foodtopia, making up your mind can be hard. To ease the stress, Celia Naranjo packages multiple items into gift boxes.
She and a friend both lost their jobs in 2012 and decided to launch Asheville Goods. The friend moved on a few months later, but Naranjo stayed with it. Today, she works with more than a dozen local companies, including Lusty Monk Mustard, Roots & Branches, Imladris Farm, Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Mountain City Coffee Roasters, French Broad Chocolates, 12 Bones Smokehouse and Farm & Sparrow bakery.
“Asheville has so much to offer,” says Naranjo as she sorts through a box of Asheville T-shirts. “Our whole mission is to showcase local artisanal producers. People really love small-batch goods.”
Many of those businesses also sell at local tailgate markets, and some products can be found in local food markets, but Asheville Goods does the selecting and pairing for you.
There are six standard baskets plus a customizing option that allows for foods with a shorter shelf life, such as popcorn.
Each package comes with a “meet the makers” information card and a reproduction of a vintage Asheville postcard. “They make great gifts for anyone who loves the food in Asheville,” notes Naranjo.
The goods are packed in biodegradable boxes with biodegradable packing material and tied with cotton baker’s twine. “It’s all eco-friendly,” she says.
Asheville Goods baskets can be ordered online at ashevillegoods.com or by calling 252-9175.