Some like it more than hot: Red Shed Farm launches new hot sauce line packed with local flavor
October 31, 2017
Stephanie Stevens was eating spicy food before she was using a fork, according to her family story.
"I love peppers. I always say that they have a lot of personality for a plant. They've got attitude, as if they know they're hot," she said.
Stevens is the owner and brains behind Red Shed Farm, a new line of hot sauce she launched last Saturday at Nevada City Farmers Market.
She's also the Market Manager of the downtown open-air market. Her new business combines her two food loves, spicy and locally grown.
Red Shed Farm offers two hot sauces, Roasted Red Jalapeno and Roasted Green Jalapeno. Ripened longer on the plant, the red is spicier as it's richer in capsaicin, the spicy chemical found in the pits and ribs of chili peppers. The green sauce is more mellow, tangy and crisp.
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Stevens grows peppers in Rough and Ready for her hot sauces, made in small batches. She never uses synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Using three simple ingredients, peppers, vinegar and salt, her recipes require no additives.
"As a lifelong hot sauce lover, I've always lamented how most available brands focus entirely on the 'hot' and lack the complex flavors that make peppers so delicious," she said. "Flavor is often sacrificed to maximize the shelf life and appearance of the product.
"I wanted to make hot sauces that tasted amazing because the peppers were grown with care and harvested at the perfect time."
The technique she uses to roast and flash cook the peppers is tedious but worthwhile because of the resulting flavor. While she can't compete with the prices of large-scale commercial hot sauces, she knows she doesn't have to: In Nevada County, customers want more.
She assures her customers that every pepper was inspected for quality and harvested hours before bottling. She knows which plants went into what bottle and how that may have altered the flavor.
"To me, hot sauce can be as nuanced as wine," said Stevens. "The subtle changes in flavor and color throughout the season are exciting and what nature intended."
She must be on to something. She nearly sold out on her opening day.
It took Stevens two years to hone her skills — select the pepper varieties, fine-tune the recipes, set up the legal structure of the business and work her way through permitting obstacles.
"It was like peeling a regenerating onion. Every time I completed one crucial step and thought I was almost done, five more layers appeared underneath," she said.
A local operation
Her friends and loved ones have supported her along the way. She grows her peppers at K & E Ranch, owned by Eric Dickerson and Kindra Hillman. They provided land, guidance, tools, and helped with marketing and labels.
Luckily, firefighters, air tankers and a wind shift kept the Lobo Fire from devastating the Rough and Ready homestead and the precious pepper crop. Neighbor Cathé Fish loaned equipment and Stevens' sister painted the logo.
Her fiancé Devin Torrez will become co-owner when the couple weds next year.
As the manager of the Nevada City Farmers Market, Stevens has learned a lot talking with other vendors. Farmers markets help young businesses keep overhead low and get products in front of an audience.
"That initial feedback can be the difference between investing in a failed idea and adjusting your product or service before you make an irrevocable mistake," said Stevens.
She is also familiar with the harder realities. Markets aren't always lucrative at first and it can take time to build a solid customer base.
"I feel like managing a market has helped me remove my rose-colored lenses and make shrewder business decisions," she said.
For now, Stevens wants to keep small, focusing on sales at farmers markets and a few local retailers and restaurants.
In five years, she hopes to have completed the certified organic process. Her big dream is to have her own farm and certified kitchen some day. And maybe, just maybe, her hot sauces will be as ubiquitous as Tabasco on the tables of Nevada County restaurants.
"I believe communities hold most of the answers," said Stevens, "and we just have to start investing more of our collective capital in local food and local solutions."
Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Contact Freelance Writer Laura Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
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