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Beyond family kitchens: Local amateur bakers and cooks sell their delicious goods thanks to cottage food laws

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If you look closely at the farmers' markets, on the "local" shelves at the corner stores, and even on the gingham tablecloth on a collapsible table at your local school fundraiser, you'll be seeing foods made in someone's townhouse or apartment kitchen. Look for the labels: "Made in a Home Kitchen" or "Repackaged in a Home Kitchen" in 12-point type. These are cottage foods.

MADE IN MOM'S KITCHEN Stay-at-home mom Katie Hoffman of Cupcakes by Katie took advantage of the Cottage Foods Act of 2013 to prepare and sell homemade cupcakes made out of her home kitchen in Los Osos. At the late August Gourmet Expo in Paso Robles, she offered samples and sold her goodies for $3 each or four for $10. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KATIE HOFFMAN
  • Photos Courtesy Of Katie Hoffman
  • MADE IN MOM'S KITCHEN Stay-at-home mom Katie Hoffman of Cupcakes by Katie took advantage of the Cottage Foods Act of 2013 to prepare and sell homemade cupcakes made out of her home kitchen in Los Osos. At the late August Gourmet Expo in Paso Robles, she offered samples and sold her goodies for $3 each or four for $10.

Passed in 2013, the Cottage Food Bill—aka the California Homemade Food Act—allows ordinary folks to make and package food in their own kitchens and sell it at local farmers' markets and food co-ops. This law helps amateur cooks and bakers—from stay-at-home moms to college students to caretakers—make ends meet. And they can even make a pretty good living.

Katie Hoffman, who runs Cupcakes by Katie out of her Los Osos kitchen, was among many cottage food operators (CFOs) from all over California sharing their wares at the Gourmet Expo in Paso Robles. Her booth at the late-August expo stood alongside wineries and other slightly bigger family outfits, including Mehlenbacher's Taffy and Best Ever Salsa Company.

The process to become an official CFO is fairly simple, but it's definitely not for hacks or corner-cutters—it takes savvy, business sense, and a dash of organizational prowess. Cottage food operators still need to meet the California Safety Code requirements before sticking a homemade label on those Mason jars—all labels need to be compliant with the state and federal guidelines.

Aspiring CFOs also need to register, get a permit, and self-certify; then they must complete a food processor training course and implement the sanitary operations. And cottage operations can't make too much money—no more than $50,000 per year. A CFO can have one employee, not counting family members.

MY KIND OF MAMA Two of Cupcakes by Katie's top sellers are chocolate with salted caramel drizzle and lemon with blueberry buttercream. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KATIE HOFFMAN
  • Photos Courtesy Of Katie Hoffman
  • MY KIND OF MAMA Two of Cupcakes by Katie's top sellers are chocolate with salted caramel drizzle and lemon with blueberry buttercream.

There are two classes of CFOs. Class A goods can be sold directly to the consumer at farmers' markets or temporary events like school fundraisers. Class B items can be sold both directly to the consumer and indirectly to markets, restaurants, bakeries, and delis. Class B operators have to have a home kitchen inspection from the local environmental health agency.

"It was pretty simple getting my CFO certification," Hoffman, of Cupcakes by Katie, said.

She is the quintessential CFO, catching up with me between domestic mom duties.

"I went with the Class A certificate because I primarily sell like a catering company where the client orders ahead of time and I deliver the day of the event," she said. "I did have to take a food handlers course, but that wasn't too difficult either, and it has to be renewed regularly. So not too bad!"

Hoffman's made-from-scratch cupcakes taste like fluffy angel clouds. She uses only fresh fruit to make her flavors and swears by pure vanilla. She told me she can always taste the alcohol in extracts in other people's cupcakes, so she has banned them from her selective grocery list.

She said she's very happy with her brand-new oven, which paid for itself once she got back to business after a brief hiatus. She began picking things up after being the main caregiver for her 92-year-old grandmother with severe dementia.

Hoffman has been baking her whole life, but she started being a CFO when her husband was deployed overseas, right around the time the Cottage Food Act became law. The mother of two kiddos (now 5 and 9 years old), chose cupcakes.

She now sells her baked goods for fundraisers, birthdays, pop-ups, graduations, showers, weddings, and whatever community event comes her way. Guinness cupcakes on St. Patrick's Day, pink Shirley Temple cupcakes topped with maraschino cherries—her creativity goes on and on.

I tried two of her best-sellers: the chocolate with salted caramel drizzle and the lemon with blueberry buttercream. There is nothing better than frosting from scratch, and Hoffman knows how to top those cakes with just the right amount of melt-in-your-mouth swirl.

CHIPS AND FAMILY The Twisselmans have been selling their Best Ever Salsa locally for almost 20 years. Here is Curtis—a heavy-equipment operator by day and salsa-maker by night—and full-time salsa-maker and mom Karli Twisselman with their children (from left) Kaysee (age 7), Aidan (12), and Taylor (10). - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KARLI TWISSELMAN
  • Photos Courtesy Of Karli Twisselman
  • CHIPS AND FAMILY The Twisselmans have been selling their Best Ever Salsa locally for almost 20 years. Here is Curtis—a heavy-equipment operator by day and salsa-maker by night—and full-time salsa-maker and mom Karli Twisselman with their children (from left) Kaysee (age 7), Aidan (12), and Taylor (10).

Another dynamic local food maker I met at the recent expo is Karli Twisselman—not a CFO but a great example of a successful, local "perishable food" maker. She and her husband, Curtis, started their small, locally owned business in 2015 selling jars of Best Ever Salsa.

The Paso Robles family's Best Ever recipe was passed down from Karli's great-grandmother, who used to own a Mexican restaurant in SLO. For nearly two decades before they started their business, they'd been giving jars of their homemade salsa as Christmas gifts.

YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS Twisselman boys Taylor, left, and Aidan, right, spot their family's Best Ever Salsa Company jars on the local grocery shelves. Aidan, nicknamed "Salsa Man," loves being part of the family business. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KARLI TWISSELMAN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Karli Twisselman
  • YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS Twisselman boys Taylor, left, and Aidan, right, spot their family's Best Ever Salsa Company jars on the local grocery shelves. Aidan, nicknamed "Salsa Man," loves being part of the family business.

With three children in tow (now ages 12, 10, and 7), they leapt into the food production business and found instant success. The Twisselmans sell the salsa at Food 4 Less stores throughout SLO county, J&R Natural Meats in Paso Robles and Templeton, Oak Hill Market in Paso, and many other SLO county markets. They also sell at festivals, expos, and other community events.

Karli said she keeps checking to see if salsa has made the state's list of cottage foods because even though her product is made with farm-fresh produce, it must be labeled to indicate a 90-day shelf life so it needs to be refrigerated and made in a commercial kitchen in Paso.

She said it would be a lot easier if her family salsa qualified under the Cottage Food Act.

NEED ... MORE ... SALSA This is how much Best Ever Salsa my son Luke would eat if we let him. I make salsa from the tomatoes in my garden, but my youngest son will only eat the Twisselman Best Ever Salsa Company salsa over my homemade blend. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF KARLI TWISSELMAN
  • Photos Courtesy Of Karli Twisselman
  • NEED ... MORE ... SALSA This is how much Best Ever Salsa my son Luke would eat if we let him. I make salsa from the tomatoes in my garden, but my youngest son will only eat the Twisselman Best Ever Salsa Company salsa over my homemade blend.

"Trying to find out where to start was challenging," she said, noting that the county Health Department directed her to the state Health Department to register as a fruit product. She had to be inspected by the state on ingredients sourcing, process, labeling, and facility to get her permit.

Karli sources her preservative-free ingredients from The Berry Man and Jordano's, "for the ease of it," she said. "They use a lot of local farmers."

The 16-ounce Mason jars of fresh salsa come in three varieties: the mild family style, medium original, and hot "SLO Burn." My salsa-loving son vouches for the perfection and balance that make it "The Best Ever Salsa Company."

"The name is because that's what everybody called it," Karli said with a laugh.

Both Karli and Hoffman recommend taking the plunge when it comes to starting up a food business, be it as a CFO or renting a commercial kitchen. Listen for the inspiration; Twisselman's gift-giving got her moving, and Hoffman said her business started with a cupcake cookbook she received for Mother's Day. Δ

New Times contributor Beth Giuffre is living her best ever life. Send chips and foodie story ideas to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

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