• Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Every now and then, I wonder what life would be like without any small farms. If Vermont’s diversified farmers were to pack up and sell out. If there were no longer a neighborhood farmers’ market to wander through on a Saturday morning. If those of us who regularly buy local food had to go back to fondling Chilean apples and freakishly large carrots at the grocery store.

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  • Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    I’ve spent years walking past any dandelion greens I see for sale, on the grounds that I will not pay for something that’s growing everywhere I look all spring and summer. Granted, I never stop to pick those free dandelion leaves, so inevitably, a vegetable that I won’t buy because it’s too common ends up not being at all common on my plate. It’s the Dandelion Paradox. This past winter, I wanted to unravel it.

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  • Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Last year I was excited when the Burlington-based weekly Seven Days published an insert featuring restaurants participating in Vermont Restaurant Week. I couldn’t wait to sample dishes from some of the highly touted localvore eateries I’d read about since moving to Vermont three years earlier.
    When I opened up the insert, however, the number of advertisements featuring photos of hamburgers and fries surprised me.

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  • Fired Up on Local

    Fired Up on Local

    Given that chile peppers—the main ingredient in hot sauce—are relatively easy to grow in Vermont, it’s possible to make hot sauce a highly localvore product. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ben Maniscalco, who launched Benito’s Hot Sauce in 2009, goes out of his way to source ingredients from local farms.

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  • Flourishing in the Fields

    Flourishing in the Fields

    Tucked into a scenic hillside just off of Route 5 in Westminster is Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Founded 120 years ago, Kurn Hattin is a charitable year-round home for boys and girls from around the Northeast whose families—for whatever reason—are unable to care for them.

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  • Horticultural Therapy

    Horticultural Therapy

    The day is warm and clear. I am in my work uniform, which consists of shorts and a tank top; this is all I can stand to put on, for the heat of early summer is strong upon us. My supervisor, an elderly woman who needs the assistance of a walker to get around, is wearing a light sweater and long pants. “Aren’t you cold?” she asks suspiciously, as she watches me turn the soil in a bed designated for the season’s heirloom tomatoes.

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  • Fields, with Geese

    Fields, with Geese

    In an email sent just before our first date, in February of 2013, Wesley Bascom posed a multiple-choice question. “Are you interested in serving goose...?” he asked. The choices he provided for my response were: a) “Totally down to pluck!” b) “Maybe. I will take a gander at it.” c) “Foie gras? More like foie naw.”

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  • From Nano to Micro

    From Nano to Micro

    The day I went out to visit Bret Hamilton’s new microbrewery, Stone Corral, on idyllic Taft Road in Huntington, the 32-degree weather felt downright balmy. It was early January, and we’d just had one of the coldest snaps I’d ever felt in Vermont—wind chills down in the 30-below range.

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  • The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    At a wedding last summer, I sat next to a neighbor who buys her Thanksgiving turkey from our farm. She described her daily drive-by dose of the farm, and her ritual of slowing down to see where the goats, pigs, and poultry had been moved. She said, “I’ve gotten to the point I think I should pay a toll to pass your place!” I joked, “In order for us to survive it might come to that!”  The conversation awkwardly fell off. But it has preoccupied me since.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    As I look out my window in early January at my beehives, I’m in awe of how bees do what they do. The temperature is well below zero, the wind is blowing, and snow is falling. Yet if I bundle up to brave the elements, go outside, and put my ear against the side of one of the hives, I can hear the low rumble of my bees.

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  • Good Food, Good Health

    Good Food, Good Health

    I’m a farmer, and my favorite place in Vermont is a farm—one that has a surprise at its core. The surprise isn’t the lovely old farmhouse on the property or the 11 acres of organically farmed vegetables, but the fact that the farm and its bounty are part and parcel of my doctor’s office: Sojourns Community Health Clinic in Westminster.

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Fired Up on Local

Ben Maniscalco
Ben Maniscalco

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

February 21 , 2014

Local hot sauces are popping up around Vermont faster than it takes a 300,000 Scoville-unit pepper to sear your tongue. (Those are the units by which the heat of spicy food is measured.)
We’re seeing hot sauces in restaurants, such as The Mad Taco in Montpelier, where a blackboard enlightens (and warns) you about the latest homemade concoctions. And we’re seeing them at farmers’ markets, such as the Capital City Farmers’ Market, where you can pay in advance for a “hot sauce CSA” run by Claire Fitts Georges of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont and pick up a new flavor of hot sauce at every market.
Given that chile peppers—the main ingredient in hot sauce—are relatively easy to grow in Vermont, it’s possible to make hot sauce a highly localvore product. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ben Maniscalco, who launched Benito’s Hot Sauce in 2009, goes out of his way to source ingredients from local farms.
His hot sauces that include habanero, jalapeño, fatali, rocotillo, Chinese paper lantern and chipotle peppers incorporate 50 to 75 percent local organic ingredients (lime, ginger, and mangoes being hard to find around here), while his certified organic chipotle-infused and habanero-infused maple syrups are 100 percent local (made with organic maple syrup from the Davis family in Underhill). All his hot sauces make use of local peppers, except for his seasonal Carolina Reaper sauce, as the Carolina Reaper has a 150-day growing season. He also runs into shortages when attempting to locally source the infamous Indian bhut jolokia “ghost pepper,” another longer season variety.
For local peppers, Ben turns to a handful of Vermont organic farms, including Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney (200 lbs. of jalapeños a year) and Foote Brook Farm in Johnson (200 lbs. of habaneros a year). He obtains cayenne peppers from Maple Wind Farm in Huntington, Chinese paper lantern chiles from Littlewood Farm in Plainfield, and rocotillo and fatali peppers from Half Pint Farm in Burlington. His dedication to buying local currently makes Ben the largest value-added purchaser of Vermont-grown chile peppers.
Some of his sauces are quite novel, reflecting the creativity of many small-scale hot sauce bottlers in Vermont. He incorporates butternut squash and onions from Rockville Market Farm in Starksboro, Honest to Goodness apple cider vinegar from South Washington, pure maple sugar from Palmer Lane Maple in Jeffersonville, and organic cilantro from Cate Farm in Plainfield. He says the fact that the sauce is made with fresh vegetables and local (often organic) ingredients sets him apart in the marketplace.
“If you walk into a co-op and you look at most hot sauce on the shelf, the ingredients are not locally sourced ,” he says. “And they use ambiguous terms like xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, or pepper mash. I need to offer the highest level of quality and transparency, otherwise I could not be the face of this product.” He adds with a laugh, “Maybe it’s a Sicilian guilt thing.”
Ben lives in Montpelier but “sauces” out of a tiny commercial kitchen in Winooski. You can find Benito’s year-round at the Burlington farmers’ market and other select events throughout the state. In 2013, Ben handcrafted more than 20,000 bottles of hot sauce, and the Benito’s brand is found in more than 100 stores in Vermont and 40 stores in 12 other states and Canada. Safe to say, he’s on fire.

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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