December Staff Picks

The first staff-person I spoke with this month was Celeste Lourigan, who has been working at the Co-op as a Produce Stocker since July. Celeste recently moved to the Palouse from her native Wisconsin, and while she is adjusting to being here, she felt she needed to give a little nod to her homeland and recommend some cheese.

Celeste’s pick this month is the Country Classic Cow Milk Feta that is packaged in Co-op tubs in the “cut and wrapped” cheese cooler. Celeste says she loves the saltiness of feta and finds it to be a great addition to just about any food. She also likes that this feta is packaged in the brining liquid, which contains beneficial enzymes, and that the price cannot be beat.

The Country Classic Feta is distributed to the Co-op by the Peterson Company in 28-pound blocks. The Co-op uses this cheese in nearly all of the dishes in the Deli that feature feta, and also packages it into smaller portions for the sales floor. The Peterson Company is a well-known specialty food supplier in the Pacific Northwest, and was established in 1947. They are a family-owned and operated importer and distributor of products including cheese, meat, fruit, and pasta. They started their business in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle by focusing on the import of Scandinavian cheeses, which were virtually unknown in the local markets. The business later expanded to meet the growing demand for a wider variety of specialty cheeses from Europe. They get their Country Classic Feta cheese from Kronos, a Mediterranean food wholesaler out of Illinois that initially produced gyro meat cones for Greek restaurants around the country. Over the years the Peterson Company expanded their offerings to other Greek products such as pita bread, tzatziki sauce, spanakopita, phyllo dough, and feta cheese.

The next staff-person I spoke with was Sasha Wong, who has been working at the Co-op as a Grocery Stocker for about a month. Sasha’s recommendation is the Equal Exchange Mint Crunch Chocolate. She says it is one of her favorite treats not because it is chocolate, but because of the mint that has been added to it. Sasha thinks that the mint flavor adds a brightness to the chocolate, while also making it seem smooth and creamy. She said that the peppermint crisps are perhaps her favorite part because they give this bar a really nice crunchy texture.

Equal Exchange is a company that has been around for over 25 years and was started by three fellows who were co-managers of a New England food co-op. They met once a week over the course of three years to discuss how they could best change the way food was bought, sold, and grown around the world. In the end they formed the Equal Exchange Company, which had a mission of helping farmers and their families gain control of their economic futures while also providing consumers with high-quality foods that were produced under fair trade standards.

According to the “History of Equal Exchange” section on their website (equalexchange.coop), the company struggled to succeed initially, and didn’t even break even financially until their third year. In the beginning they focused on fair trade coffees, backing a Nicaraguan-grown coffee that they called “Café Nica” in solidarity with the people’s movement in Nicaragua, which was under an embargo by the United States. The Reagan administration tried to stop Equal Exchange from distributing their coffee, seizing the product as soon as it arrived in the U.S. The government’s attempt ultimately failed, and the company and their legislative supporters were successful in establishing their business.

Equal Exchange’s coffee business eventually expanded into cocoa products, which led to the establishment of fair trade chocolate bars beginning in 2004. The chocolate bars were produced using the same rigorous standards of quality and social responsibility that defined the coffee portion of the business, and new partnerships were forged with global cocoa, sugar, and dairy cooperatives. Equal Exchange really is a company that tries to “walk the walk” and make sure that their business success is a result of the fair trade practices they employ to help enrich the farmers who grow their coffee and cocoa (equalexchange.coop, 2015).