What's the difference between a good meal and one that's truly great? A foolproof recipe doesn't hurt. A cook with a deft hand and a knack for seasoning helps, too. But the universal factor is using great ingredients: an incomparably creamy ricotta, a fresh and flavorful pork chop, an artisanal chocolate to linger on the palate after dinner.

Such remarkable products can take a little digging to find, however. So when our food editors discover a purveyor they love, they buy from it again and again. On these pages, you'll meet nine of our favorites from around the country. A few are continuing long family traditions. Others are trailblazers in their chosen culinary fields. But the common thread among them is passion. Whether they're brewing beer, baking bread, or growing tiny, addictive tangerines, all are perfectionists; they do one thing (or a few), and they do it very well.

With a focus on quality rather than quantity, many of these purveyors limit their production. While some are able to ship long distances, others are necessarily local. If you can't find these particular products in your area, don't be discouraged.

Seek out a tastemaker near you. Ask around for recommendations, or sample items at a farmers' market. The producers you develop relationships with might just become your best friends in the kitchen.


Sullivan Street Bakery

The story: "Really good bread is an expression of the potential of the flour," says Sullivan Street Bakery founder Jim Lahey. Spoken like a true artist, which Lahey (who trained as a sculptor) has always been. He turned to bread after falling in love with the rustic peasant loaves he encountered on trips to Italy. Then came apprenticeships with bakeries in Tuscany. By the time Lahey opened his bakery in New York City, in 1994, he had already mastered his no-knead bread style -- an almost-effortless approach that has revolutionized the art of baking bread at home. Over the years, he has expanded his repertoire to include pizzas, pastries, and panini, and his appeal has widened along with his menu.

Why we love this bread: The whole-wheat loaf is deeply flavorful, with a wonderful, crackly crust. It elevates even the simplest sandwich.


McClure's Pickles

The story: After growing up making pickles each year as Christmas gifts with a pickle-loving father and grandfather, brothers Bob and Joe McClure decided to give the pickle business a try. Using their great-grandmother's recipe, they launched in 2006 -- Bob in New York City, Joe in their hometown of Detroit. Success came quickly, but they've kept their small-company philosophy. "We still cut every cucumber and pack every jar by hand," Bob says.

Why we love these pickles: Whether you choose spicy or garlic-dill, the pickles are deliciously seasoned, well balanced, crunchy, and fresh.


Salvatore Bklyn

The story: There's probably a Salvatore somewhere in Brooklyn, New York, whipping up his own ricotta, but you won't find him at Salvatore Bklyn. Betsy Devine (a chef) and Rachel Mark (a wine importer) named their business after a friend in Italy who inspired their entree into ricotta-making. "He had an enoteca and served us the cheese," Devine says. "It was dense and milky, and we couldn't find anything like it at home." Salvatore carries on the tradition in the New World.

Why we love this cheese: It has a silky texture, a lemon undertone, and none of the graininess you find in grocery store varieties.

Learn more:


S. Wallace Edwards & Sons

The story: Dry-cured, hickory-smoked, and aged for 18 months in Surry, Virginia, Edwards Surryano ham is akin to prosciutto or serrano (hence the name) and meant to be enjoyed the same way: uncooked and sliced paper thin. Sam Edwards III follows the same curing methods used by his family for 84 years (his grandfather sold ham sandwiches on a ferryboat), with a little help from modern technology. Climate-controlled rooms maintain proper temperatures and humidity for the aging process, which lasts more than 400 days.

Why we love this ham: Pasture-raised Berkshire hogs -- not too fatty, not too lean -- yield great meat that can keep for months in the fridge.

Learn more:


Fleisher's Meats

The story: Vegan-turned-butcher is not a typical path to success. But for Joshua Applestone, who founded Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats with his wife, Jessica, the transition made sense. Disturbed by what they knew of industrial-farm practices, the pair opened an old-fashioned butcher shop, developing relationships with farmers who specialize in organic, pasture-raised meats.

Why we love this meat: Everything, from the bone-in rib eye to the ground meat, tastes great and supports responsible farmers in the bargain. It's also what our food editors serve their families. (Our favorite ways to prepare Fleisher's meats are featured here; see Recipes.)

Learn more:


Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

The story: In the early 1990s, as the craft-beer buzz was building, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione chose to do things differently. "Rather than reference European styles, I wanted to explore beers that had no stylistic heritage," he says. Looking to the wine and culinary worlds for inspiration, he began creating beers with food pairings in mind. In 1995, he and his wife, Mariah, opened their tiny Delaware brewpub. Today their beer is sold in 28 states.

Why we love this beer: Most Dogfish Head brews have six ingredients, as opposed to the typical four (water, malt, hops, and yeast), adding to the depth of flavor. In any given beer you might find hints of honey, Pinot Noir grapes, coffee, or maple syrup.

Learn more:


Churchill Orchard

The story: Jim Churchill calls himself a "farmer by accident." The Ojai, California, native always dreamed of returning to the rural town, but wasn't sure how he'd make a living there that didn't involve mass-market oranges. So he decided to give tangerines a shot. The pixie variety, in particular, seemed fabulous -- reliably sweet and juicy, easy to peel, a real kid-pleaser. Today Jim and his wife, Lisa Brenneis, grow 14 kinds of fruit, all certified organic.

Why we love these tangerines: Harvested at exactly the right moment and never kept in cold storage, they are truly seasonal.

Learn more:

Fran's Chocolates

The story: Fran Bigelow launched her business after a visit to Europe, where a Parisian chocolate salon sparked a passion for fine confections. She returned home to Seattle and, in 1982, opened a tiny storefront selling small sweets. "It's always been my goal to get people to sit down and really taste the chocolate," Bigelow says. In 2000, the company began producing its remarkable caramels, enrobed in chocolate and sprinkled with gray salt.

Why we love these caramels: Sea salt enhances the sweet, buttery flavors of the caramel and chocolate, and the packaging is equally alluring. No detail is overlooked.


Mad Mac

The story: The French-style macaroon is a tricky little cookie. Made properly, it's a revelation -- with a shell that's light enough to shatter at first bite yet slightly chewy inside and a filling that's rich but not too sweet. Many chefs would like to offer macaroons on their menus, but few bother making them. That's where pastry chefs Florian Bellanger and Ludovic Augendre come in. After working together at Fauchon New York for five years, they started Mad Mac, in Paterson, New Jersey, primarily to supply hotels and restaurants with madeleines (mad) and macaroons (mac). They also fill retail orders from their website, for anyone looking for an indulgent treat or party showstopper.

Why we love these macaroons: These are French delicacies done really well. Try the traditional flavors or less-expected seasonal varieties, such as pumpkin, Earl Grey, and whiskey-chestnut. They're the next best thing to the ones you'll have in Paris.

Learn more:


Be the first to comment!