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Pennsylvanian Artisanal Food Producers Feed People's Choice Crowd

by on July 11, 2015 7:00 AM

Just like any festival worth its salt, People's Choice offers the usual array of funnel cake, sausage sandwiches, and chicken on a stick.

But in a tent on the Pennsylvania Military Museum lawn, there's an alternative selection of locally-produced cuisine.

From homemade balsamic vinegar to fruit jams to a line of hot sauces, the tent offers a wide variety of artisanal food items produced in the commonwealth.

Scott Nuhfer is manning the Torchbearer Sauces this table, displaying the Mechanisburg company's selection, which ranges from sweet barbecue sauces to the standard buffalo sauce to a few that will have you breathing fire.

"When you can’t find a hot sauce with flavor in it, you make your own," says Nuhfer, who has been friends with the company's owners since college. "And when everybody tells you it’s good enough to make into a business, apparently you make it into a business because that’s exactly what they did."

Torchbearer was founded by three friends who made a habenero preserve with some extra peppers in their garden. It tasted so good that they took time off from work and drove roundtrip to Texas over 72 hours, picking up 666 pounds of peppers in the southern state. Soon enough, the Pennsylvanian line of sauces was born, and they've gone local.

"All the ingredients are locally sources except for a few of the fruits," Nuhfer says. "I really love what they did with this tent, having it filled with Pennsylvanian food vendors. I personally love this festival. There's such a variety. There's some of the same stuff and some really different stuff and it's cool to try what everyone has to offer."

One out of every three customers heads straight for The Rapture, a sauce made with trinidad scorpion peppers and ghost chilis. It's the hottest sauce in the world made exclusively with real peppers and not extract, according to the company. And better yet, it's actually good for you.

"Pepper-based foods are actually good for your heart and your digestive system, and everything we make is 100 percent all natural, so it’s really healthy," Nuhfer says.

A lot of the festival-goers at People's Choice seem to appreciate the mentality of locally sourcing food ingredients. Pat Tarney made his way through the food tent and was impressed with the selection.

"There's just some real great stuff in here, things I wouldn't know were being made nearby if I didn't come by," he says. "I liked pretty much everything I tried. If I had to pick one that I liked best, it'd probably be the syrup."

Tarney is referring to hickory syrup produced by Tom Radzwich out of Hazleton. Radzwich is one of about ten people in the country selling hickory syrup, which he discovered about six years ago.

"I read an article about an old recipe that was found, and the characteristic of hickory syrup is that it’s light and smoky, and I thought that would be great on my spare ribs," he says.

His wife told him to "knock himself out," and so Radzwich collected some bark from shagbark hickory trees and got to work, spending two months on the recipe before he perfected it. 

"We started sampling it and people really enjoyed it and liked the fact that it’s unique," he says. "It’s not just for pancakes and waffles. Because it’s smoky, it’s excellent over pork chops, salmon, mushrooms. There’s so much you can do with it. We give recipes to encourage the customers."

Radzwich has attended People's Choice for years, so it was only natural for him to become a vendor once he moved into the food business. 

"We always used to come up to this festival. We love the fact that it’s family oriented," he says. "What they did with this tent is a great way for people to experience new and unique products. I think people love it."

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Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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