5 Must-Try Local Food Products

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Our readers’ favorite artisanal food products are ready for their close-up

By Matthew Lardie | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Durham doesn’t lack for choice when it comes to delicious foodstuffs. The five winners for artisan food products in this year’s Best of Durham poll run the gamut from roasted coffee to homemade salsas to sweet, sweet toffee. If you haven’t had an opportunity to try them all, here’s your chance to get to know these products and the people behind them. Although trust us – the ultimate verdict is the taste test – go seek them out ASAP!

Durham Toffee

• Founded 2016

• Mission This “home-based family adventure,” as founder Rebecca Burnett puts it, is dedicated to “stirring up sweet gifts and inspiring connections throughout our hometown and beyond.”

• Most Popular Product Its original and bestselling product is, of course, toffee, which Rebecca describes as “buttery-crunch caramel goodness drenched in organic 72% cacao dark chocolate and sprinkled with slivered almonds.”

• What’s Next? With demand for the toffee currently outpacing their ability to make it, Rebecca and her husband, David Burnett, are taking some time to plan next steps. “We hope to expand both our capacity and our impact in Durham simultaneously over the next few years.” It’s likely their children, Sophie BurnettHannah BurnettGabby BurnettBlaise Byrd and Brooks Byrd (ages 16 to 24) will continue to pitch in as well.

Cilantro Artisan Foods

• Founded 2015

• Mission Create and deliver fresh high-quality Mexican food and salsas crafted with care and respect for Mexican culture and tradition. “We are committed to serving the local community by creating a space where all [its] members feel welcome,” says owner Maria Pacheco.

• Most Popular Product Salsaverde. A staple in every Mexican kitchen, salsa verde simply means “green sauce” in Spanish and is crafted primarily from Mexico’s naturally tart tomatillo, a distant relative of the tomato. Blended with only a few fresh ingredients – serrano peppers, cilantro, onion and garlic – Cilantro’s salsa verde is zesty and tangy, with a heat level that can range from mild to medium, depending on the spiciness of the peppers.

• What’s Next? Maria is currently looking for space and funding to open Cilantro’s first brick-and-mortar in Durham sometime in the next six to nine months, and is also seeking to grow the brand through regional and national distribution of its jarred salsas.

Isaac’s Bagels

• Founded 2021

• Mission “We strive to make the best traditional bagels we can, rolling by hand and using locally milled organic flour from Lindley Mills,” says owner Isaac Henrion.

• Most Popular Product The everything bagel. “It’s generously seasoned with sesame, poppy, garlic, onion and flaky Maldon sea salt,” Isaac says. Crisp outside with a fluffy interior, the bagel benefits from a 48-hour fermentation process.

• What’s Next? Isaac’s will open a storefront this September on West Chapel Hill Street near the Durham Co-op Market serving up its fresh-baked bagels, plus coffee, pastries, salads and deli items.

Little Waves Coffee Roasters

• Founded 2017

• Mission An out growth of Cocoa Cinnamon, owners Leon Grodski Barrera and Areli Barrera Grodski infused Little Waves with the same ethos as their coffee shops. “We are a Latina majority-owned and women- forward company,” Leon says. “Our team is composed of people of different cultures, genders, languages, faiths and beliefs. We are small, independently owned and operated, and quality-, service- and heart-driven.”

• Most Popular Product Little Waves has two bestsellers. First is the Amor Prohibido blend, named after the famous Selena song. Then there’s the limited-edition Edwin Enrique Nureña Pink Bourbon, a collaboration with Colombian coffee farmer Edwin Enrique Nureña that Leon says was instrumental in Little Waves winning the 2022 Micro Roaster of the Year award from Roast Magazine.

• What’s Next? The roastery is working toward a larger space and coffee lab as it continues to broaden wholesale and coffee subscription sales. In the past year alone, Little Waves shipped to more than 2,000 zip codes in every state in the country.

Melina’s Fresh Pasta

• Founded 2010

• Mission Founder Carmella Alvaro’s goal is to honor the traditions of Italian food and, simply, to make the best and most delicious pasta. “Fresh, local, seasonal,” she says. “Our pasta is like a hug from Nonna.”

• Most Popular Product The jumbo ravioli, which comes in a variety of flavors, from traditional spinach and cheese to a North Carolina-inspired pimento cheese filling.

• What’s Next? Melina’s is going to keep on keepin’ on. “We are happy with our little pasta shop and selling directly to our customers at farmers markets along with some local stores for added convenience for customers,” Carmella says. She also notes that she hopes to offer expanded pasta-making classes soon.

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