Nc Specialty Foods Association Awards


The NC Specialty Foods Association is a great resource for locating local product across the state of North Carolina. And, As you know I am a big fan of spreading the word on how to eat local in North Carolina.

Food Writer Heidi Billotto sharing a sweet bite of local flavor as she introduces you to the 2021 NC Specialty Foods Association award winners.

In this week’s round up, I’m bringing you a list of award winning local flavor. These products, ranging from baked goods to snacks, plant based products, condiments, confections, dairy and more are all first or second place winners of the 2021 NC Specialty Foods Association annual awards. The NC Specialty Foods Association is a division of the NC Department of Agriculture.

This Eat (Award Winning) Local Post is just the Beginning

All of the winners of the 2021 NC Specialty Foods Association Awards are listed here with photos of product and links back to their websites.

It is always my pleasure to share what I write with television viewers across the state. On Thursday Sept 23, I shared a taste of all you will find on this post with my friend Ken Smith at WRAL in Raleigh.

For Your Viewing Pleasure, Direct from HBTV…

You can watch the WRAL segment here on below from my Vimeo channel or what I now call “HBTV” ( get it!?) Ha, Ha. Enjoy! You’ll find lots of food and recipe videos there as well as links back to many of my televised food and travel segments.

Then, on Monday Sept 27 I was about to share a look at 7 more of the winners with my friends, co-host Mia Atkins and Eugene Robinson at Charlotte Today on WCNC in Charlotte.

In Case you missed the Charlotte Today segment, here is the link to the Charlotte Today segment, or you can watch it below…

Sharing the local love with Mia Atkins, co -host of WCNC’s Charlotte Today in Charlotte NC

Follow my social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and I’ll let you know as soon as the WCNC segment goes live; then in case you miss it, come back to this post where I will share the link as soon as the segment is up online.

But that’s not all. I truly love each of these products, Producers were generous to share samples so I feel sure you’ll see lots of these popping up as ingredients in fall recipes I post over the course of the next several months.

But it doesn’t stop there.

In mid October, I’ll be hosting the GotToBeNC cooking Stage at Dorton Arena at the NC State Fair. On stage, a line up on North Carolina chefs, sharing how they cook (and how you can cook) with local NC product, produce and proteins. In the building, lots of the members of the NC Specialty Foods Association with lots of local product for you to try and to take home. Several of these award winners will be on hand, I can’t wait to share more. But in the meantime, save the date and plan a trip to Raleigh. The state fair takes place October 14- 25, 2021.

2021NC Specialty Foods Association Awards Go Virtual

The judging for the competition took place in July. All told, 147 different GotToBeNC products entered this year’s competition in one of 9 different categories. Products had to be a member of the Association to enter in any one of 9 different categories. A talented group of 14 food writers, bloggers and other food-centric folk, judged the competition.

Then, In August, it was my pleasure to act as guest host of the virtual award ceremony. The results: a first and second place winner in each category and a grand overall Champion of the competition. So many delicious ways to eat local.

Where to buy, how to order?

Many, but not all, of these food products are available in local markets and grocery stores across the state. Major NC chains like Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter and Ingles all have GotToBeNC sections or Kiosks on their grocery aisles.

If you can’t find what you are looking for in a store near you, the great news is that all of these products are available to purchase online. In fact, it might be the one redeeming factor of the pandemic. Everyone has gotten better at supporting local by selling and shopping online. Buying direct continues to be a great way to support local vendors and producers. Follow the links below for ordering shopping and other where to find info.

You’ll be as impressed with the packaging as you are with the product. Each of these locally owned businesses, packs their product with as much love as goes into the cooking and baking. Bottles jars and delicate baked goods were carefully wrapped, and painstakingly packaged to insure the products get to you in the same condition that they leave the producers.

And the NC Specialty Food Award winners are…

Nine Different Categories, 18 fabulous products

In the NC Specialty Foods Association Baked Good Category:


2nd Place honors go to Sweater Box Confections in Nags Head for their Salted Chocolate Espresso Shortbread.

These tiny shortbread cookies weigh in big on melt in your mouth flavor. The Salted Chocolate Espresso is a divine blend of sweet and salty you will love. In addition to the product itself, I also love the Sweater Box story. The company has the name because owner Chris Carroll’s grandmother used to bake cookies and then, pack the baked goods in sweater boxes to take to friends and family. The inside of Chris’s cookie boxes is a tribute to her other grandmother and is as beautiful as her cookies are delicious. The floral design is reproduced from a hand embroidered kitchen towel her grandmother made and is a lovely family memory for all of us to enjoy.

Other flavors include the best selling lemon lavender and Chai Shortbread; and there is even a Confetti bite, because everyone loves sprinkles on cookies. For more info and to place your order, visit them at sweaterboxconfections.com

1st Place and Grand Championship honors go to Anna’s Gourmet Goodies from Wake Forest for their BIG Chocolate Brownies. Anna’s is a unique retail operation that they focus on the corporate gift market, although you can absolutely buy these delicious small batch, hand crafted brownies for personal gifts as well. The team at Anna’s are happy to add your logo or greeting to any packaging to give it that personal touch.

It’s the only brownie I have ever seen to come with heat and eat directions, but the concept is brilliant. Unwrap the brownies and heat on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 2-3 mins for that homemade “hot out of the oven” comfort food feel. No wonder Anna’s also was awarded top honors as the Association’s Grand Prize Champion this year as well. Owner Chris Duke with his Grand Champion ribbon and a brownie, below. For more info and to place your order, visit them at annasgourmetgoodies.com


In the NC Specialty Foods Association Beverage Category:

Alley Twenty Six, a locally owned bar and restaurants in Durham NC sweeps this category with their homemade cocktail syrups. If you are a long time reader or subscribe to this blog, you may remember that in one of my very first eat local round ups, I told you about the Alley Twenty Six homemade Tonic Syrup. It continues to be a go to for me for cocktailing and cooking.

Now, I am delighted to see the creative forces at Alley Twenty Six coming up with lots of locally sourced fruit based cocktail syrups as well. If you go to see them in Durham, you’ll see all the syrup bottled lined up on display. Taking top honors this year, in second place, the Alley Twenty Six homemade grenadine or Pomegranate Syrup and in first place a seasonal favorite made from whole local fruit, the Alley Twenty Six Fresh Strawberry Syrup. Its a taste of spring in a bottle, the possibilities, from homemade sodas to salad dressings, cocktails and marinades, too, are endless. For more info, to buy syrups or to make reservations at Alley Twenty Six, visit them at alleytwentysix.com


In the NC Specialty Foods Association Condiment Category:


2nd Place Honors in this category go to Kitcheneez in Burlington, NC for their Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix. Salad dressing may be the most used condiment in the world.

The beauty of this homemade ranch is that it not only dresses a salad; but steps in as a dip for grilled or raw veggies or adds a burst of flavor when you need to season your a favorite seafood fillet or omelet, or marinade chicken or pork for the oven, stovetop or grill. Learn more and place your order now at kitcheneez.com

With all the BBQ sauces in the state of NC, you know for a BBQ sauce to wine top honors in this category it must really be something. And, it is. Julz’s Creations from Durham is the creator of Julz’s Best BBQ Sauce. This little bottle packs a big flavor reminiscent of a well crafted steak sauce, rather than just for BBQ. Mix it in your burgers, drizzle it over steak or use it for dipping fries as well. More at julzscreations.com


In the NC Specialty Foods Association Confections Category:

It’s chocolate for the win and a sweep in this category by Dew Drop Chocolates of Fuquay Varina. You’l go nuts over this sweet line of confections, just as the NC Specialty Foods Association Judges did.
2nd Place honors went to Dew Drop Chocolates’ Chocolate Nut Lovers Clusters ( photo above) while the 1st Place award in the confection category goes to Dew Drop Chocolates’ Peanut Butter Yummies. Yummy! Order these and other Dew Drop Chocolate sweets at dewdropchocolates.com

In the NC Specialty Foods Association Deli and Dairy Category:

As you take a look at the two winners in this category, think dips for Fall tailgating and football fun.

Second place honors go to Boxcarr Handmade Cheese from Cedar Grove, NC, a North Carolina Cheese maker I have told you about before in a cheesy pair of posts. They were recognized in the competition for their rich and creamy, chive studded Doeling, Farmstead Goat’s Milk cheese. Like all bloomy rind cheeses, Doeling is best served at room temp. Let the rind be your container, cut a square or round out of the top rind, carefully lift it out and simply dip or scoop out the creamy goodness inside. For more on all the Boxcarr cheeses, where to buy info or to place a direct order, visit them at boxcarrhandmadecheese.com

First place honors in this category do to Big Delicious Brand in Raleigh for their equally creamy Carolina Sausage Dip. Flavors of local sausage, tomatoes, peppers and caramelized onion pack a punch here, Not only is a great hot or cold dip, but a wonderful topping for baked potatoes, over eggs on toast, alongside a steak or stuffed into a baked or broiled chicken breast. Its also delicious with pasta or rice. For more info or to place an order for the sausage dip or other Big Delicious Brand products, visit them at bigdelish.com

In the NC Specialty Foods Association Honey and Preserves Category:

I am always on the lookout for local honey wherever my travels take me, so this category is one of particular interest to me and I’ve loved getting to know these two local producers.

2nd Place honors in this category go to the Turmeric Zone is Morrisville, NC. If you don’t already know about the health benefits of consuming turmeric, then we have a lot to talk about. If you are already aware, then you need to know about this online and brick and mortar shop. Suffice to say this delicious award-winnin Turmeric Honey enriched with Ceylon Cinnamon & Cloves is a great place to start. Take a look at all of their fabulous products, read more about the health benefits and shop at turmericzone.com. Then, stay tuned for more.

The youngest certified beekeeper ever in the state of North Carolina is Layla Hunt.. She took community courses with her parents back in 2016 and became a certified beekeeper when she was nine. The result: a family run honey company in Lincolnton, NC. The Little Beekeeper, took the first place spot in this category for their deliciously simply local raw honey; but don’t miss their line of gold label flavor infused honey as well. For more info , to shop online and see all the other honey and elderberry products The Little Beekeeper produces, visit them here.

In the NC Specialty Foods Association Pantry Category:


In search of the perfect blend of chili, cumin and other organic spices to bring out the best Mexican-style flavors for tacos, chili and more? Turn to Flavor Seed in Charlotte for the perfect blend of spices to do the job right. Their “Rock Yo Taco” blend takes 2nd place honors in the pantry category and spices things up in the process. The family run company makes a host of other organic and very delicious spice blends as well. Check them all out and place an order at flavorseed.com

Wondering what all the buzz is about with the first place winner in this pantry category? Here’s the scoop, this second award-winning BBQ sauces of this year’s competition has a flavor you love, but can’t exactly put your finger on at first. Until you realize, its strawberries, and bourbon and roasted red bell peppers!

Rising Smoke Sauceworks from Efland, is a well-know entity among hot sauce lovers, but its not surprising that they take home the gold with their mild, but oh, so delicious, Buzz’N Berry BBQ Sauce. Delicious on pork ribs and just about everything else as well. Buzz’N Berry is also a 2021 Scovie Award winner, an international award competition recognizing the top fiery foods, barbecue and savory products from around the world. For more info on Rising Smoke Sauceworks and all the hot sauces they make, and to order online, visit them at risingsmokesauce.com


In the NC Specialty Foods Association Plant-Based Foods Category:

I’ve written about Norm’s Farms in the Raleigh/Pittsboro area several times before. They are the front runners in the elderberry game, because they actually grow the trees and work with farmers who grow the trees as well as make the syrups and other elderberry products. You can ready more about them here and here.

This year they took both top place awards in this category for another sweep. Their Wellness Syrup took runner-up honors; while their new Elderberry gummies took first place. Delicious and good for you too! Together both plant-based products are keeping us all healthy and well through winter cold and flu season. Please note, these are adult formulas; but Norm’s also makes a children’s variety of each of these two award-winners, as well.

In the NC Specialty Foods Association Snack Food Category:

Gotta love a snack food category and you’re gonna go nuts over these two 2021 winners! 2nd Place honors go to The Durham Toffee Company in, you guessed it, Durham for their Durham Toffee Mash Up, a delightful mix of sweet and salty with nuts, pretzels, chocolate and creamy tasting homemade artisan toffee.

And, just in case you are a person who doesn’t like your flavors “mashed up” you can also buy the toffee and the nut and caramel mixes separately – brilliant, simply brilliant. Shop and learn more with a visit to their website and online store at durhamtoffee.com


1st Place honos in the snackin’ category go this year to another brilliant concept brought to you by Sippin Snax in Greensboro. These talented and creative women make nutty snacks that pair with your favorite adult beverage.

The winner this year? Belly up to the bar and enjoy a stein of Chocolate Porter Craft Peanuts. Coated with a hit of chocolate and espresso, I found them to be equally as delicious with a glass of port or generously sprinkled over ice cream, as they are with a stout beer. Check out all the crunchy goodness at sippinsnax.com

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