This past weekend I had what in retrospect will be considered my launch event, Meet the Makers at Milkfarm LA in Eagle Rock. I really can't say enough good words about Leah and her staff there - not only were they warm, welcoming and supportive, but they've curated an incredible line of products in their store. I spent half of my time there distracted by the fresh italian burrata, the honey made by bees feeding on flowering carrot plants, the house mix of olives, the gluten free sourdough bread straight from San Francisco... the list would be endless if I continued.
It was also the first time I was able to talk to the Los Angeles market about my product, which was at once heartening and a dose of reality for me: though samples were universally beloved, I faced many of the same perception issues as New York. Here is what I learned!
- The first reaction of most people when Leah told them that my flavored marshmallows were being sampled in the corner: "Flavored marshmallows?" Vanilla is so pervasive as a marshmallow flavor that you'll often see other products marketed as being Marshmallow flavored - Smirnoff's Fluffed Marshmallow Vodka being the strangest example (note that the tasting notes are vanilla and caramel; caramel being essentially burnt sugar, ie what you get when you toast a marshmallow). How does one globally change the perception of a product? What do I need to do to get Chris Pratt to eat some beer marshmallows in the next Jurassic World?
- Related - the second question was again "What do I do with them?" My stock answer was a little negative: "I think that the reason that vanilla marshmallows are so often used as an ingredient for other recipes is that they're kind of boring on their own - these don't really run into the same issue. I've yet to find a recipe where the end result is better than just eating one, but..." and then I'd launch into my list of S'more ideas and recommend the Mint Chocolate Cocoa Krispie treats (recipe a little self explanatory but regardless coming soon!).
- Multiple multiple questions as to whether the marshmallows were vegan or vegetarian. I understand this: one of the few cultural touchstones people do have regarding marshmallows is that they're made from gelatin which is made of horse and pig hooves. This, of course, is not true; gelatin is actually made mostly from bones and connective tissue. If you're avoiding animal products, is absolutely a no-go. If you're not, isn't it better to be using the entirety of the animal? But here's the rub: we were in a cheese shop. And cheese? I would say a decent majority of them are not vegetarian. You see, a large part of what makes cheese cheese is a product called rennet. To Wikipedia:
"Natural calf rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of harvested young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production. If rennet is extracted from older calves (grass-fed or grain-fed) the rennet contains less or no chymosin but a high level of pepsin and can only be used for special types of milk and cheeses. As each ruminant produces a special kind of rennet to digest the milk of its own species, there are milk-specific rennets available, such as kid goat rennet for goat's milk and lamb rennet for sheep's milk."
Oh my. Now: I'm not trying to turn you off cheese. On the contrary - cheese is perhaps my favorite thing in the whole entire world (ask the staff of Murray's Cheese Bar in NY, who would often see me with a notebook and pen in hand ordering a flight of cheese of a Monday evening). But this misperception is a byproduct of our increasing distance from the reality of how food is made and where it comes from. Patrons that rejected my marshmallows for containing animal products didn't bat an eye at turning around to order a mac & cheese without inquiry. I wasn't about to be the one to burst their bubble. But I won't lie, I'm a little bitter that I get the short end of the misperception stick!
- The beer flavored marshmallows did well! I was a little worried there, after encountering a number of people for whom the beer flavor was off-putting. I'm particularly proud of my beer marshmallows (you may have noticed by the name of the company!) and glad to see people are enjoying them as much as I do.
- There is a critical mass of toothpicks in the "used toothpicks" cup that will then cause customers to reach into said cup assuming that these are unused toothpicks.
- I can finally cross olives off the "List of foods I hate"! The list was previously: Wasabi and Olives. Now it's just Wasabi. I think I'll still need convincing when it comes to the sliced ones that end up in salads and on Subway sandwiches, but nice artisanal olives? Killer. Loving it. In like flynn!
- If you're in Eagle Rock and it's lunchtime, stop into Milkfarm LA for a sandwich. I had 2 over the course of my event, and both were crazy tasty.
So the event is over, but the availability of marshmallows is not: if you go to Milkfarm you should be able to find the full packages beneath my new favorite olives, and the mini packets by checkout. I'm excited to see Leah & the crew again at Artisanal LA in October, in which I just learned last week I'll be participating! Today is national S'mores day, by the way - Artisinal LA is celebrating with my favorite creation: Wheat Thins + Apricot IPA + Fromager D'Affinois. ;)