“Lights, camera, action!”
That’s all I can think of as I look around the Galloping Cows shop in Port Hood. Lining the walls are photos of movie stars posing with owner Joanne Schmidt as they hold her pepper jelly products at the Oscars gifting suite in 2011.
From a Port Hood farm to Hollywood gifting suites, the last 18 years have been one heck of a ride for Joanne and her husband/partner in crime, Ron Schmidt.
Enter scene: Ron
Newly married, Joanne and Ron went in on a partnership with the family farm and started their own business running a farm market on the side. They grew huge market gardens and acres upon acres of berries. One day Joanne decided to get creative and made jam with leftover product to sell at the market. Her jam making skills turned out to be quite popular among locals and the products flew off the shelves. She experimented with a few more flavours, and they were popular too. Before long, the jam sales themselves were outweighing those of the actual market and it was clear what direction they would head. Hollywood here we come!
Their story makes for a heartwarming film of a start-up business gone wildly successful. Perhaps new connections William Shatner and Terri Hatcher could act out it out and title it “Desperate Farmwives”, or “Star Trek: Voyage to Port Hood”.
Act II – In a Jam
They started making jam in their own home kitchen then soon graduated to making jams and jellies at night in the kitchen of a restaurant in Port Hawkesbury (45 minutes away). Their need for space was growing and this was a creative way to momentarily solve the issue. If everyone in Hollywood had even half Joanne and Ron’s ambition they would ALL be on the “A-list”.
After about two years of successful jam and jelly making, Joanne and Ron went into the wholesale business – first with Pete’s Frootique, followed by a plethora of other large-scale stores, farmers markets and specialty shops across the country. Initially they started with standard, but delicious flavours like strawberry and blueberry, and gradually moved to more unique flavors like strawberry-banana, blueberry-peach, blueberry-rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb and peach melody.
These wild combinations have certainly set Galloping Cows apart as being quite unique in the jam making industry. Not to worry though – if you’re more of a purist you can still find blueberry and strawberry jam both in the shop and online.
Although I shouldn’t really be calling them jams – they’re “spreads”. Galloping Cows doesn’t use enough sugar to legally call their products jam so you can eat it by the spoonful knowing there are lots of antioxidants and a very natural flavours with just enough sugar to help it from becoming too tart. The spreads are even made with natural spring water from the stream out back – the jellies too – all six kinds of them. They started with a basic red pepper spread, then moved to hot jalapeño pepper spread, orange, cranberry, garlic and most recently – wild blueberry pepper spread which was highlighted in Reader’s Digest as a great topping for burgers.
All the Galloping Cows products are very natural, so if you think you’re destined to Hollywood fame yourself, fear not – these jams and jellies shall not stretch the waistband before auditions.
Act III – The TLC
When I got to see where Joanne and Ron create the magical concoctions, I was shocked to find only two stoves with four massive pots bubbling like crazy in the steamy kitchen.
I was expecting to see conveyer belts, tubes and pipes full of jams and jelly pouring automatically into bottles and capping themselves, with tons and tons of staff running around in little chef hats. What I did not expect to see was Joanne’s husband Ron stirring all four pots himself; adding the sugar, and bottling the spreads by hand with only the help of one other person.
I have goosebumps now writing this as I think of such a small group of people lovingly bottling the products with their own hands before the goods are shipped around the world. For those of you reading this, I hope you enjoy this fact as much as I do. There’s nothing more pleasant than knowing how much TLC goes into the food you eat.
Act IV – The Tasting
First I tried one of the specialty pepper jellies – the hot jalapeño pepper spread. The in-laws happened to be in town when I was starting to go through all my delicious products. For an evening snack I whipped up the very quick, family-favourite snack of cream cheese and Triscuits. It’s a perfectly good snack by my standards, but I knew what would make it a sinfully delicious treat.
Yes, that’s right. Some Galloping Cows pepper spread dribbled over the cream cheese and cracker combo. This is nothing new – it’s quite a popular snack in fact. But to my Philadelphian in-laws who hadn’t tried it before, the spicy jelly concoction may have to be a treat I smuggle through the border on visits to the south from now on. As my father-in-law said (with his cute muddled Philadelphia-North Carolina accent) – “That stuff is flat good”.
Next on the list of things to try was the roast chicken recipe that I got from the Galloping Cows website which called for the cranberry jalapeño spread. Combined with grainy mustard, garlic, and some of my left-over hot jalapeño spread (not found in the recipe, I just wanted to try it), it created the best roast chicken I have ever made.
The jellies soaked into that little 4lb bird and created a deliciously moist inside, with a fruity and crispy exterior that was simply to die for. I would be proud to call myself a chicken if this were my fate. With garlic mashed potatoes and roasted veggies it was a meal fit for any Hollywood celeb. Who knows, William Shatner might be eating the same thing right now!
For lunch the following day I already had 12 grain bread, old white cheddar and bacon to make grilled cheese sandwiches. As I examined my Galloping Cows collection I decided some cranberry chutney would give the sammie just the zip I wanted. And zippy it was. I made one for my husband first and ended up eating half before I even gave him the plate. The addition of the cranberry chutney made me powerless – grilled cheese and chutney sandwiches may just be my kryptonite.
Since baking is my forte, I looked at all the yummy jellies, chutneys and apple butters and wanted to make something for my sweet tooth.
I decided that I was enjoying my Galloping Cows gravenstein apple butter in its natural state and I would continue to enjoy it with my English muffins and toast until the jar was empty. I opted to bake some savoury cookies (*gasp*! No sugar!), and found a simple recipe for cheddar cheese thumbprint cookies using the wild blueberry pepper spread for the jelly thumbprint. Holy Galloping Cows they were amazing!
Act V – The Hollywood Ending
I for one am thrilled that Joanne and Ron’s accidental business has reached Hollywood heights. Their products are deserving of a spot on the walk of fame and I would tap dance (or ride a galloping cow) all the way to Hollywood Boulevard just to get more!