Tastes just like homemade (because it is): From sauces to sweet snacks, Charlottesville makers get cookin’

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Tastes just like homemade (because it is): From sauces to sweet snacks, Charlottesville makers get cookin’

Maybe our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, but these five cooks, bakers, and concocters make an extra helping hard to resist.

It’s all gravy

No one knows the phrase “food is an international language” more than Yvonne Cunningham. The sauce-maker developed the recipe for her “Italian gravy” (so-called because it’s so thick) while living in Naples during her husband’s tour in the Navy. It was there that she met a 78-year-old grandma (“nonna” in Italian) who didn’t speak English. Cunningham didn’t speak Italian, but together they cooked and developed what Cunningham calls “a beautiful relationship through food.” The red sauce, which Cunningham has been making for 30 years, is just like they prepared it back then, with authentic ingredients (including San Marzano tomatoes imported from Naples) and produce from the summer garden. She recommends spooning it over cavatappi pasta with a pile of grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top.

Nona’s Italian Cucina red sauce Charlottesville
City Market

The real deal

After reaching for healthy snacks for her three young daughters and coming up short, Coco Sotelo decided to take matters into her own hands, producing small-batch granola with no artificial flavors or preservatives. Her artisanal treats draw on her Mexican heritage, utilizing the same ancient grains that were used by the Aztecs and Mayans. And each flavor’s all-natural ingredients—like amaranth and cacao—come directly from small farms in Mexico, which she is proud to support.

Gaona Granola Integral Yoga, ACAC Downtown, Blue Ridge Country Store, Rocket Coffee (Crozet)

Just a sprinkle

The best recipes have been developed over decades—and Cass Cannon’s Peg’s Salt blend is no exception. “My mother, Peg, was an amazing cook,” Cannon says. “She came up with a blend of salt and spices in the 1970s and gave it to friends and family throughout her life. Because it made pretty much everything you put it on taste just perfect, people couldn’t live without it.” After much nagging, Cannon finally got her mom to write the recipe down and, after Peg passed away, Cannon took over the work of preaching the Peg’s Salt gospel. The recipe’s 25 spices are sourced from all over—The Spice Diva, Old Mansion in Petersburg, SaltWorks in California—and can be enjoyed in dozens of ways: “Sprinkled on steak before grilling, scrambled eggs, in a high-quality olive oil with bread for dipping. Everything, really.”

Peg’s Salt Foods of All Nations, The Spice Diva, Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen, Market Street Market, Greenwood Gourmet Grocery

Decked-out dessert

If we’re judging by sheer numbers alone, One Creative Cookie takes the cake on buzzworthy sweets. Kelly Trout estimates that, in the eight years since she’s turned her hobby into a business, she’s baked more than 40,000 cookies out of her home kitchen. The treats range from classic drop cookies like chocolate chip to more elaborate creations such as vanilla almond sugar cookies with edible photos on top, which take 10 hours to dry “after the last touch of the decoration,” Trout says. The baker got a taste of the sweet life as a kid, when her mother, a piano teacher, would allow each student to decorate two cookies for their guests before the holiday recital. “I loved the fun of that group decorating session,” Trout says. “And I really enjoyed working on the leftover cookies after everyone else had gone home.”

One Creative Cookie onecreativecookie.com

Special sauce

With homegrown habañeros, jalapeños, and heirloom tomatoes, Catbird Kitchen’s Vahotcha BBQ and sriracha sauces are a farm-to-table dream for those who love to kick everything from salmon to soup up a notch. That’s the secret to Bridget Meagher’s line of artisanal sauces (Vahotcha mayo and Double Chocolate Caramel Sauce included): The ingredient list comes straight from the dirt of her orchard and gardens west of Ivy, and what she can’t grow, the career chef and restaurateur sources responsibly. Keep an eye out for the company’s aged (vegan!) Worcestershire and roasted tomato conserve, two new additions to the lineup.

Catbird Kitchen sauces Feast! and Greenwood Gourmet Grocery

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