Today, Colorado marks a major milestone: The state is celebrating its 135th birthday, and in honor of the anniversary, we're giving shout-outs to ten of our favorite food and drink products made in our own back yard.
10. MM Local hot high desert peppers
MM Local, based in Boulder, partners with local farms to make (and jar) a whole smorgasbord of Colorado products, but my favorite is the hot high desert peppers, a spicy bomb of mixed chiles, grown by Grant Family Farms, pickled in vinegar and seasoned with garlic, salt and spices. They're delicious on their own, in salsas, or green chile.
9. Helliemae's salt caramels
Salted caramels are here, there and everywhere, and while I've never met a salted caramel that I didn't like, I recently discovered the handcrafted sensations from Ellen Daehnick, aka Helliemae -- and I can't shove them in my mouth fast enough. Deep tawny in color, rich with butter, vanilla, cream and pure cane sugar, and soft and chewy, they're judiciously sprinkled with sea salt (from the Savory Spice Shop) and packaged in pretty paper wrappers.
8. Il Mondo Vecchio sausages
I've long had a love affair with just about everything that Mark DeNittis creates at Il Mondo Vecchio, his revered sausage and salumi emporium that pimps everything from breakfast sausage to Portuguese longanzia to the best pepperoni on the planet. He's constantly coming up with new creations, each one impossibly better than the last, and his flavor profiles are spot-on. There's a reason that chefs all over the state call him the salumi king: He is.
7. Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Queso De Mano cheese
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, which started as a small farm in Boulder in 1989, has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, so much so that it quickly outgrew its seven-acre farm and now operates a 5,000-square-foot creamery in Longmont, complete with four aging rooms. But while the cheesery has achieved a national stronghold, it's never compromised its local roots, and the cheeses, of which there are now sixteen, continue to impress, most notably the nutty queso de mano.
6. Colorado lamb
Colorado is the fourth largest sheep and lamb producer in the United States, and if you ask just about any Colorado chef what their favorite state product is, you'll hear a resounding, unified chorus of Colorado lamb, which is milder -- much -- than its New Zealand counterpart. But it's not just Colorado chefs (and me) who herald its attributes; chefs from all over the country put it on their menus, thanks to it faultless texture, versatility and unparalleled flavor.
5. Mountain Standard beer from O'Dell's Brewery
Two years ago, Odell Brewing in Fort Collins debuted Mountain Standard, a beer to help Colorado residents deal with the cold harsh reality of "falling back" from Daylight Savings to Mountain Standard time. The beer, a double black IPA, uses hops grown and harvested near Palisade, and although the flavor makeup changes each fall, the label and name celebrate the Rocky Mountain West and remind us all why Colorado tick-tocks at a different pace than the rest of the world. Jonathan Shikes
4. Noosa yoghurt
There is yogurt -- and then there's Noosa yoghurt, an all-natural, probiotic, gluten-free yoghurt made with milk squeezed from cows that graze to their hearts' content on the pastures that dot the landscape of Morning Fresh Dairy, a family-owned Colorado dairy farm in Bellvue, Colorado. The yoghurt is expensive, but there's no rival -- not here, or anywhere -- and the Noosa honey yoghurt, sweetened with Clover Alfalfa honey from Colorado's Beeyond the Hive, is terrific.
3. Grant Family Farm eggs
The differences between store-bought eggs and farm-fresh eggs are vast, and once you've had the eggs from Grant Family Farms, located in Wellington, you'll never be content buying the crap eggs from the grocery store ever again. Laid by pastured hens, the full yolks are bursts of bright-gold sunshine, the whites clearer than your own mirrored reflection, and they make the most beautiful scrambled eggs you've ever seen.
2. Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Even though Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey was purchased by New Jersey's Proximo Spirit, and though it's tripled its production capacity, not to mention its geographical span, it's still one of our favorite Colorado libations, shot in a glass, mixed in a cocktail or used in dishes from chefs all over the city. I was never a whiskey drinker until I met Stranahan's; now it's a mainstay in my liquor cabinet.
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1. Justin's Nut Butter
I first encountered Justin's nut butters in January at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, and I was immediately hooked. Based in Boulder, the company produces locally sourced, protein-packed jars and squeeze packets of organic and natural peanut butters that are short on sugar but tall on taste. The chocolate-hazelnut butter, similar to Nutella but not nearly as sugar-shocked, is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.