Sure, Michigan is known for fresh products like honey, fruit jams and the like. But tortilla chips – and salsa? You bet: One local company in Ferndale churns out batches of fresh-made chips and other products to the delight of a growing number of families and fans across the country. You can count me among them.
I first spied Garden Fresh Gourmet blue corn chips at my local deli. Decent blue corn chips are often hard to find – usually they’re either too expensive or flavorless (or both!) – but these were neither. So, along with buying several more bags over the last few weeks just to make sure that first sample wasn’t a fluke (I know, kudos for my diligent research work, huh?), I also started looking more closely at the bag. I expected to find it shipped from some company in the west, maybe a town in New Mexico or fresh-mex hotspot Austin. Instead, I found the story of Garden Fresh Gourmet in Ferndale.
The company all started with the salsa, which Jack and Annette Aronson sold from their restaurant Clubhouse BBQ (again, in Ferndale). A local grocery store owner got hooked on the fresh flavor and asked – or demanded, as the story goes – the pair to bottle it to sell in his stores. Thirteen years later, the company’s fresh salsa is America’s most awarded.
Garden Fresh Gourmet isn’t shy about saying what sets their products apart – fresh ingredients and small batches. Michael Griffin, a representative for the company, helped explain more about why both are important – and shared this Mexican tortilla chicken recipe from the Garden Fresh files.
"Although we’re the number one fresh salsa in North America, we still make our salsa in five-gallon buckets! You read that right; we produce 55 tons of fresh salsa every day in our Ferndale, Michigan plant, 5 gallons at a time. We’ve found through trial and error that this micro-batch approach using only the best ingredients is the only way to achieve the breakthrough flavor profile that sets our salsa apart and creates raving fans."
"I know our chips are what initially triggered your interest, and there’s a real story there, as well. Our tortilla chips are made in our Grand Rapids, Michigan tortilla chip plant – and, like our salsa, there are a couple of key differences in the way we make them that accounts for their extraordinary deliciousness.
"First, we use real whole corn, not a reconstituted corn powder like most nationally distributed tortilla chips. In fact, we take delivery from growers right to our own silos atop our plant near downtown GR.
"Second, we grind our corn the ancient way, using real volcanic stones. Most corn for tortillas and tortilla chips starts with a masa or mash that’s ground with stainless steel wheels. Using stone creates ‘flavor blisters’ that you just can’t get any other way. Again, it’s a lot of trouble – we have to keep a volcanic stone ‘library’ and they constantly need care and maintenance – but the results speak for themselves. Or at least our devoted followers do!"
"A word or two about our hummus: It’s made with dried chickpeas (not canned) and the finest-quality tahini sourced from the Mediterranean region. Also, we double-whip it so it comes out extra-smooth and creamy. I think it’s the best on the market."