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We’ll be featuring posts celebrating local food, agriculture, and art, leading up to AgriCULTURE Fest and Feast on September 16.

What shifts a food from ordinary to distinctive … something to go out of your way for?  Welcome to the craft food movement. How does a food or drink qualify to for a ‘craft’ label?  Let’s start with the term:  ‘craft’ is generally used to describe an activity that involves creating something by hand and/or via a process that requires a special skill.  An artisan is a skilled worker who makes things by hand.   Homemade also fits into this bucket.

Maybe the first thing that comes to mind with the craft food phenomenon is beer.  Congress legalized the home brewing of beer in 1978 when only 45 such breweries were in existence; tax breaks for the small brewers were limited to operations producing less than 2million barrels per year.  In 1983, an article in The New York Times coined the term “microbreweries” to describe these smaller scale operations with limited distribution capacity.  The term “craft beer” and “craft breweries” in America is credited to Vince Cottone, a beer writer who framed the terms in his 1986 book, The Good Beer Guide:  Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest.

As the number of these beer artisans grew, The Brewers Association, a Boulder-Colorado trade group formed in 2005 to represent brewers, took a run at a craft beer definition as one of its first actions.  By a vote, the Association defined a craft beer as “made by a brewer that is small, independent and traditional.”  In terms of terms, “small” means production capped at 6million barrels annually; ”independent” means only 25% of the brewery can be owned by anyone not identified as a craft brewer; and , “traditional” refers to the notion that a majority of the beer produced derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients in their fermentation.   In 2016, by that definition, there were 5,301 total breweries in the U.S., of which 5,234 were craft brewers.  Locally, Greeley boasts several craft brewers:  Crabtree, Grand Island, WeldWerks, and Wiley Roots. Other local brewpubs, such as BRIX and Broken Plough, specialize in sales of Colorado craft brews.

There are contests for best new brews, funky names of specialty suds, designer labels to go with the designer flavors and, most importantly, consumers.  Consumers who want not only a cool new brew but also an experience to go with it.

FONA (Flavors of North America, Inc.), is an Illinois company in the “flavor industry” founded in 1987.  Moving beyond beer, FONA defines one who works with craft foods as “a producer who uses traditional methods and ingredients to create a handcrafted product and has a connection and understanding of the end consumer.”

K.J. Tencza, whose beekeeping family offers products produced by bees at the Greeley Farmers’ Market, can certainly lay claim as a craft honey producer under such a definition.  The family business, Illuman Apiary, sticks (so to speak) to traditional means to raise bees and harvest their sweet bounty.  Tencza is passionate about the important role bees play as pollinators of flowers and crops and works hard to educate consumers about the value of honey produced in traditional and environmentally sustainable means.  For example, the Illuman Apiary bees stay in Colorado (some beekeepers ‘farm’ their hives out in off seasons to operations out of state), and they have cultivated a diverse range of indigenous flowering plants for the bees to access.  This nectar menu for the bees has resulted in a distinctive honey flavor that is unique to his operation.  One that now offered as the premier craft honey for visitors to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

Integral to the growing number of consumers who are seeking an authentic food experience is the ability to tell the story of the product crafted.  Consumers want to have some justification for the craft label (and often higher cost) of a specialized product.  A unique flavor and high-quality ingredients are among the top criteria that accompany consumer expectations for a craft food or drink.  Knowing the source of the product’s materials, the traditional or unique manner it was crafted, and its simple but creative packaging are all part of the product’s appeal.  When offered in a shop or restaurant that also offers a unique setting and experience for the consumers, product recognition magnifies.

What is emerging in the craft food and drink world?  High on the list of beverages are craft spirits (Greeley’s own Syntax Spirits fits in this category), carbonated drinks, and hot beverages (chocolate coffees and teas, anyone?).  Other craft cuisine includes such goodies as condiments, salsas, spices, snacks, sweets and more, all on abundant display at the Greeley Farmers’ Market.

It is fair to say that the U.S. is the birthplace of the craft beer movement and has the best framework that defines the label.  What about other craft foods?  A peek at two of terms published by the Ireland Food Safety Authority, offers some guidelines for the benefit of consumers.

To be considered Artisan, food must be made in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople by a process that is not fully mechanized and follows a traditional method made at a micro-enterprise at a single location.   In addition, ingredients used in the food are locally grown or produced where seasonally available and practical.

Traditional foods are those which use an authentic recipe which can be proven to have been in existence for at least 30 years without significant modification or has not deviated substantially from the traditional food processing method associated with that type of food.

It may be time to double check that favorite family recipe handed down over the generations.  You may just have that next irresistible craft food sensation!

About AgriCULTURE Fest and Feast
Connect to Greeley’s local agriculture heritage on September 16 by taking part in Ag Fest and Feast.  Experience a free daytime family-friendly fest of agricultural treasures while attending the weekly Farmers’ Market at the Depot in downtown Greeley. Additional booths, displays, a petting zoo, and an abundance of food and entertainment will be available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Later that evening, from 6 to 9 p.m. across the street at Zoe’s Café and Event Center, you can view professional chefs craft locally sourced cuisine into unique dishes that will be served in an informal family style setting for a one-of-a-kind dinner.  In addition to dinner & dessert, dinner tickets include locally brewed beers, wine and/or locally-distilled libations. Live entertainment will continue throughout the evening while guests enjoy dinner, a silent auction of unique gifts, and related activities that celebrate the area’s strong and diverse local agricultural bounty.   Tickets are now on sale and cost $50, proceeds benefit the Greeley Creative District.

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