There was also another festival going on over the weekend; La Feria del Gustico. In a nutshell the festival provides a place for artisan producers to present their products. A wide range of categories were represented: beekeeping, beverages, coffee, chocolate, preserves and sauces, personal hygiene, processed fruits, dairy, marmalades, pastry, tourism and crafts.
The aspect I love about this festival, which started last year, is that a face is put behind each product and you can personally get to know who makes the jelly or bread that you like. It gives small producers a chance to get noticed and it places product quality at the top of the list of priorities.
Many of the products are to be expected: artisan cheese, handmade chocolates, organically produced coffee and natural fiber fabrics. I always have my eye open for the products that are new or less common. When I visited, I encountered a handful of very interesting items with equally interesting individuals behind them.
Rosa Rodriguez, a shy but friendly woman is working on expanding her home business of preserves and pickles. Conservas La Rosa has a wide range of products including pickled onions, pickled cucumbers, chiverre (Malabar gourd) preserves, pineapple orange marmalade and many others. I tried several of her products, all were extremely tasty, but my personal favorite was her naranjilla marmalade. Naranjilla is a curious little local fruit that is usually juiced, quite delicious with a citrusy flavor, I had never thought about the possibilities of naranjilla in anything other than a beverage.
Carnes Argri is an exemplary company that other enterprises could learn a thing or two from. While the company is quite large their structure rests on the backs of small local farmers. They select farms with good quality animals and then ensure that the farmers are educated on what to feed the animals, how to raise them and how to be sustainable. Apart from offering a reward system for the farmers, they also buy the meat at a fair price and ensure a market demand. You might think that the price for consumers is high due to this middleman management of sorts, but the prices are extremely fair, the meats very high quality and concern for a system that benefits everyone involved is refreshing. Apart from their incredible work ethics and practices they caught my eye because they are selling water buffalo meat!
There were many local artisan chocolate producers at the Feria del Gustico. One stands above the rest and with good reason. Sibu Chocolate is the only company processing their own chocolate, their technique is unparalleled and truly a pleasure to look at in the final quality of their product. The men behind the chocolate, Julio and George are very much the Costa Rican parallel of Dave and Nat from Madre Chocolate in Hawaii. No detail has been left out when it comes to their product. The name pays homage to a local indigenous culture (be sure to inquire about the legends behind the name when you visit SIbu Chocolate). Their carbon footprint is small due to recycled packaging, sustainable agricultural practices and local ingredient sourcing. As if all that wasn’t enough, the chocolate is so decadent it should not be legal. My personal favorites are the coffee cardamom chocolate bar and the Sibu signature truffle spiced with cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and chili. If you find yourself down here book a tour or tasting; something I hope to do soon and report back to you all on.
Industrias Arco Iris is the name of a company built on Christian values and seeking to improve work opportunities and better quality of life in a small community in Guanacaste. Seidy Perez Barquero flabbergasted me with her marañon pasa, which for those non-spanish speakers is a cashew fruit raisin more or less. She explained in detail how she presses the cashew fruit (known in English as a cashew apple) to remove some of its juice, sun-dries it and then proceeds to saturate it with a raw sugar syrup. The final product tastes like an exotic prune. Very healthy the cashew fruit is rich with nutrients and has loads of vitamin C, the process that Industrias Arco Iris subjects it to removes much of its inherent astringency leaving a product that is agreeable to the palate and an interesting new ingredient that I can already imagine in multiple dishes.
Alexandra Peralta Vasquez has the sunniest disposition I have ever seen. A beaming smile with a gracious personality to match, she sells sustainably farmed oysters. Very eager to increase her market pool we spoke about donating product for classes or culinary articles and reviews. She had a lovely shell display that showed different varieties of shellfish found in our waters both edible and non-edible. I look forward to working with her in the future.
Moringa Costa Rica brought a new herb on to the scene I was unfamiliar with. The curious little leaves have an herbal flavor with a bite reminiscent of watercress. Highly nutritious and very versatile, I investigated this leaf further online and quickly learned it can be cooked similar to spinach (although the leaves are miniscule in comparison), made into a tea, mixed into salad or even dried and ground as part of a spice mix. The diverse applications are quite encouraging and will hopefully find their way into my kitchen experimentations.
Milena Cervilla was friendly and full of information. She represented a locally produced grapeseed oil and the company products made from it which included a skin cream, dietary supplements and the oil. Again every product was of the highest quality and while there were a little on the pricey side, they are well worth it.
The Feria el Gustico was much better the second time around, they increased the amount of edible products to about 70% in comparison to the first year where it was well below 40%. The organizers provided training conferences for several months to enable the small producers to get the most out of the festival. I still think they could do a better job at marketing to the general public, but other than that a complete success.
Until next time…