CAROLINA CREOLE, HOT AND SWEET AS A LOWCOUNTRY SUMMER
By: Kathleen Curry
What is the perfect complement to freshly caught Lowcountry shrimp this May? Carolina Creole (CC) sauces, a South Carolina Certified product and a Luquire family tradition. CC makes lunch and dinner nearly effortless-- just five steps and it’s time to eat! 1. Cook the rice or grits, 2. Boil the shrimp, 3. Warm the sauce, 4. Pile the rice/grits, shrimp and sauce on a plate, 5. Serve! Be forewarned, though: there will be little if any conversation. The back of every CC jar promises a ‘heads down meal’ because no one wan`ts to stop and talk until they’ve cleaned their plate.
CC’s official sauce recipe was created in the early 1960s by Josephine “Jo” Luquire, family matriarch and an authentic French Creole. The sauce is made using a small batch process, meaning the taste is as close to homemade as you can possibly get; it is also a vegetarian-friendly, all natural, and gluten-free. Jason, Jo’s son and the company co-founder, says during the product development phase, it was taste-tested by French chefs and what he calls "creekside critics"--the local, regular folks who know a good thing when they taste it. Chefs and critics alike will tell you it’s a winner, even if the chefs can’t really confirm or deny these use it in their dishes! Jason says true Creole sauce was created to help flavor "meat on hand": venison, duck, chicken, pork, dove, shrimp and/or fish, or a combination of one or more of those. In the last year, CC’s fans have suggested that CC sauce is tasty on pizzas and mixed into mashed potatoes.
Creole comes from the Latin "criollo" or “child of the colony"; it is a word that applies to people born in the New World with French or Spanish ancestry. While many Creoles are found in Louisiana, Creole ancestry can be found all over the country. Furthermore, Creole and Cajun are not synonymous terms, ‘while Louisiana food is characteristically very hot, the Luquires’ recipe is hot and sweet. Creekside critics tell Jason they typically shy away from hot foods, and were pleasantly surprised at the flavor of the sauce; a toddler who sampled some at SEWE this year had Mom pick up multiple jars.
‘Where did it all begin? Originally from Greenwood, the Luquire family had farmed for generations. When his father got a job in Georgetown, they relocated when Jason was still a toddler. The family eased into the hunting and fishing culture of the Lowcountry--especially shrimping-- like bare feet into pluff mud. Luquire graduated from the Citadel with a degree in Business Administration, and he worked for Wall Street firms for several decades. The last few years have been the realization of a lifelong dream, though, bringing his mother’s signature sauce to market for all families to enjoy. Jo is thrilled that CC has been so well received so early in its product history. Jason adds that it is not easy getting a food product to market and keeping it there. To use a baseball metaphor, he says, it is like pitching the perfect game; only 1 in 100 products make it to the market in this $75 billion dollar industry and manage to stay there.
A crucial ingredient in the business plan was joining the National Association of Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), a non-profit that has recognized exceptional food and beverage products since 1952. For a product to be in the NASFT, it must be voted in by existing members, it must have at least five retail clients, and it must be at least a year old. Once inducted, the product is evaluated by the NASFT on quality, ingredients, price, flavor, packaging, and the innovativeness it brings to the sales’ shelf. CC received above average marks—an overall 4.1 score where most products score only a 3.1. NASFT also gives out annual Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation (Sofi) Awards. At the end of April, CC was named as a silver finalist for a Sofi. This summer, they will go for the Gold in June at NASFT’s Fancy Food Show. They are among 110 finalists, out of a total 1,935 submissions, spread over 30 different categories. Other South Carolina food companies in attendance at this summer’s show will be Scales The Skinny Cocktail Company, Callie's Charleston Biscuits (also a 2012 silver finalist), Tidewater Foods & Catering, Terressentia Corporation, Heritage Shortbread, Mother Shucker's Original Cocktail Sauce, Sallie's Greatest, Simply Southern Gourmet, The Sweetery, Dotties Toffee, and Nine Sons Rising.
Jason says they are very excited about where CC is going and could go. Right now, they are composing an official gumbo recipe and a bold and hot variety of CC. For the latest news, consumer recipe suggestions and other news, see carolinacreole.com. ‘Year round, you can find jars of Carolina Creole at Kudzu Bakery and Market in Mount Pleasant, Newton Farms on Kiawah, Caviar and Bananas and Charleston Cooks! in Downtown Charleston, all Piggly Wiggly locations, and at the SC State Museum in Columbia.
Bon Appétit, y’all, and let the good times ‘creole’…
Kathleen Curry is a Lowcountry native an alumni of C of C, Carolina and Greenville Tech. In addition to contributing to Eat This! , Curry has a blog at bakingkookys.com; she is on twitter @BakingKookys and @ Currying_Favor.