Among the fifty-some local food artisans I talked with in 2012, there were some real standouts, products I purchase again for myself and as gifts. Some of them are straight-out-of-the-package delicious, while others play a shining supporting role in preparing other foods, but they're all pretty spectacular.
Best Breakfast: Farm to Table Oatmeal
Farm to Table sells organic "ancient grain oatmeal." It's nutritious, full of interesting grains that are purchased from responsible farms, and delicious. Comfortingly familiar with a bit of maple syrup and milk, but still a little unusual.
Best Hot Sauce: A+B American Style Pepper Sauce
There are a lot of small-batch hot sauces on the market, but A+B is my favorite. Their motto is "Flavor, not just heat," and the product backs it up with thoughtful pepper choices and plenty of vinegary tang.
Best Snack: Pipcorn
Pipcorn's signature rosemary flavor hits a lot of my personal high notes: I love a reasonably healthy snack, I like my popcorn nongreasy, I love rosemary, and I have a soft spot for sibling-run businesses.
Best Meat: Charlito's Cocina
All the truffle flavor in the Charlito's Cocina Black Truffle Salami comes from the truffles themselves, not oils or extracts. Even those who don't fetishize truffles succumb to its fragrant, savory charms; those who do will flip out.
Best Non-Meat Product: Monk's Meat Seitan
I actually thought I hated seitan until I tasted Monk's Meat Chipotle Adobo Seitan—a pox on all the fake duck in Chinatown! Now I use it at least a couple times a month, sautéed with vegetables, on pizza, or in soups.
Best Cookies: Servus Cookies
I love Servus Cookies, especially the almond hearts. They're the kind of straightforward, simple cookies that I can eat any time of the day. Plus they keep remarkably well.
Best Spice Product: Chulita's Famous
I use Chulita's Famous sofrito in maybe half the things I make these days: beans, soups, salad dressings. A spoonful of sofrito adds a savory brightness that really lifts a dish up.
Best Pickled Product: Mrs. Kim's
Specifically, Mrs. Kim's Soy Pickled Peppers, Radish and Garlic. The jalapenos and garlic in this jar are the closest thing I have to a secret cooking weapon; one pepper and a couple cloves of garlic chopped finely and mixed into a pound of ground beef makes the best burgers I've ever had at home. The brine has some real heat too, which makes it handy for adding to all sorts of things. (Mrs. Kim's kimchi's no slouch either.)
Best Pasta Sauce: Spicy n Sweet
Nonna's Spicy Sauce from Spicy n Sweet. Unlike Mrs. Kim's products, this sauce has a gentle heat that should be safe for all but the absolute weeniest of the people in your life. I could eat it with a spoon.
Best Sweet: Sucre Mort
Butter and sugar and pecans in the form of Sucre Mort pralines: what could be better?