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The Secret’s In The Sauce
Several innovative recipes and backstories dot Ocala's roster of homegrown sauces and spreads.
By Brett Ballantini - Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Not a day goes by without consuming some sort of sauce, be it a spread on a sandwich or a dip for a snack. Several of the most delicious spreads to touch your lips are made right here in Ocala. Here’s a glimpse at some of the producers of Ocala’s most popular spreads.
455 Sauce: The BarbaCuban Revs It Up!
Before Live with Kelly and Michael, before becoming the BarbaCuban, Jose Juarez was just a dude with an addiction.
And his unlimited devotion to the pit now has placed him among the biggest surprises in the culinary world.
“I always did a bourbon barbecue sauce I’d smoke for eight hours—it was my special-occasion sauce,” Juarez says. “I never wanted to sell it, because the barbecue market is so saturated.”
But Juarez’s wife, Kelly, knew there was something more for Jose to contribute than just a one-off hobby sauce—especially for a guy who was grilling all the time. So she pushed him to enter 2015’s America’s New Grill Star contest hosted by Live with Kelly and Michael.
“So I entered a combined Cuban sandwich and hamburger that I called the Cuban Missile [pulled pork, sweet ham, ground rib-eye steak, Swiss cheese and grilled pickles],” Juarez says. “I used to put mayo and mustard on it, but I knew I needed something unique to put me over the top.”
Enter the 455 Sauce.
“I started playing around to find the perfect sauce, and after three days, I had it,” Juarez says. “And once I came up with it, I wanted to use an automotive theme to name it.”
Juarez loves his 1971 Pontiac GTO convertible and its 455 engine, so with four parts mojo sauce, five parts mustard and five parts mayo, the revved-up name fit. (The label on the sauce is pulled right from the air cleaner as depicted in his GTO manual.)
The mojo was the magic.
“There’s nothing in the market like the 455 sauce,” Juarez says. “The sauce had to work with a Cuban sandwich, and mustard and mayo are already staples of a Cuban. The mojo—it’s a complex sauce, with lots of ingredients—gives it a twist.”
It’s actually a little more complicated than adding the Mojo Marinade, which now sells alongside the 455 Sauce. “The Mojo Marinade gives it a kick, but the second secret is the ghost pepper,” Juarez says. “I’ve been messing with ghost peppers for a few years now. They have a reputation for being scary-hot, but when used correctly, they don’t kill the flavor of the food. They’re called ghost peppers because the heat eventually goes away without overwhelming the food.”
So, you can guess how this story proceeds: Juarez, the “BarbaCuban,” became America’s New Grill Star, and sales have taken off for the 455 Sauce. Although Juarez didn’t start producing his bottled sauce until last October, he sold 1,700 bottles in his first four months, with 95 percent of the sales coming from Marion County.
“Next is my 455-HO (high output) sauce. So many people wanted a supercharged version of the 455, [so] we’re doing it,” Juarez says. “Eventually, we’ll add a mild version of the 455 as well.
“And I’ve got another sauce I’ve been playing with—but it’s a secret sauce for now. It’s scheduled to launch in November.”
After a whirlwind year or so, what continues to bubble to the surface for the gregarious BarbaCuban is pride.
“The cool thing is, I’ve got 1,000 followers on my Facebook site now,” Juarez says. “I already had a day job with my marketing company [Victory Solutions]. Cooking was a hobby, and it turned into something big.”
Buy it › Jose Juarez’s 455 Sauce is available online at 455Sauce.com and is in Ocala stores, including Ocala Fresh Produce, Your Heart’s Desire, Florida Grub Hub, the Olive Obsession and Marley Mae Market & Paperie.
A Long Time Coming
Derrell Croft was still in North Carolina when he toyed with a few old family recipes and started producing barbecue sauce that tingled the tongue. Those tongues took to wagging—and requesting and demanding—and soon all of Derrell’s gift-giving came in pint-sized jars full of the good stuff.
Years later, a friend told him it was about time he stopped giving and started selling.
After a move to Dunnellon and wowing the owner of Prima Foods in Ocala with his flavors in 2000, Croft Farm House BBQ Sauce was born.
“We’d sell our kitchen-made sauces at flea markets, but people wanted it more and more,” Croft laughs. “It was hard to keep up.”
Eventually, Croft built a stable of sauces: Original, Hot, Bourbon, Mustard and Wing Ding. The first three sauces are all tomato-based, and the Mustard is fashioned for South Carolina-style barbecue. Per Croft, his Mustard is great with chicken, and a half-Mustard half-olive oil mix is a great salad dressing; Bourbon is good for steak and meatloaf; Hot is perfect for shrimp and oyster dips; and Original “is good on everything.”
All five sauces mix about 20 ingredients together, often including tomato, mustard, celery and molasses.
“There may be a few secrets in each jar I’m not going to tell you about,” Croft smiles.
Sales have been consistent over the past couple of decades, including a predictable bump in October, when Croft burns though 20-30 cases a day (250-350 bottles) at the McIntosh 1890s Festival. (Original and Mustard are his biggest sellers.)
The stable may be growing soon, as Croft is tinkering with a North Carolina vinegar sauce. “I’m about halfway there,” he promises.
Buy it › Croft Farm House BBQ Sauces cost $4 per bottle and are found in around 20 local stores, including Discount Quality Meats in Ocala. To order call (352) 445-4567 or visit CroftFarmHouse.com.
Spring is usually a very busy time for a beekeeper, moving houses out to the orange groves so thousands of tiny, buzzing workers can crank up their yearly honey production.
And what might be called a real-life enactment of the 1997 drama Ulee’s Gold plays out in Crystal River, home of Bee Happy Aviary.
Bee Happy’s heartbeat, William Mashburn, finally is less a bee mover and more a honey bottler, however.
“It got too hard for me. Moving the bees, bottling the honey and delivering was too much,” says Mashburn, who turns 72 this year. “It’s hard to keep on top of everything, so I had to make some choices.”
Increased spraying in the groves has made a beekeeper’s job ever more arduous.
“It’s a whole lot more work than it used to be,” says Mashburn. “The [chemical] spraying causes a lot of problems. We used to put the bees in a grove and just leave ’em. But now, you’ve got to really stay on top of the spraying.”
Another huge factor in honey production is the weather.
“You’ve got a Tupelo honey shortage these days,” he says. “The past few years, the Panhandle has had bad weather, so there’s hardly been any Tupelo production.”
As Mashburn says, he’s been “messing” with bees ever since he got out of the service and “really got into” beekeeping in 1992. His Bee Happy online products include raw orange blossom and wildflower honeys, cream and crystallized honey, and a variety of hot sauces.
Honey is well established as a miracle substance, whether ingested or used topically. Its antioxidant qualities make honey a valuable beauty aid, dental aid, first aid and medicine.
Even more popular is honey’s role as a sweetener. It isn’t an empty calorie like corn syrup, thus becoming a “health sweetener” for coffees, teas and water.
Mashburn has two favorite ways to take his honey: in beverages, like iced tea, or spread over a simple biscuit.
Mashburn’s other sauces (including Swamp Sauce and Mustard Sauce, with Datil peppers from St. Augustine) have one key ingredient: honey. How’d he make that jump?
“Winn-Dixie stopped making the barbecue sauce we liked, so we had to make up our own,” Mashburn laughs.
His wife, Shirley, has always run the paperwork side of the business, while William was in the field. But in a wrinkle reminiscent of Ulee, there’s a new addition to the Bee Happy family: granddaughter Savannah Barnes, who has started working full-time at Bee Happy.
“She’s just 20, and she’s working hard,” Mashburn says with pride. “The business will be hers, if she wants it.”
Buy it › Bee Happy Honey is in three Rural King stores in the area, among other shops and stands. Mashburn also sells all of his products, in various sizes, at beehappyhoney.net or by calling (352) 795-5578 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Pepper Kings Of Marion County
It’s not easy to write a story about a hot sauce that hasn’t even been bottled yet. But Captain Caliente doesn’t come from the usual sources.
That’s because Captain Caliente is borne of peppers grown in a most unusual way: aquaponics.
David Howard—known as “Mr. PC” on the farm—runs EasyPonix, which produces hot peppers for sale, as well as other produce, in his aquaponic beds in Citra.
Howard’s pepper farm runs on fertilizer and recirculating water and produces gorgeous peppers, including Douglah, Scorpion and Habanero varieties that are among the hottest in the world. Howard claims his bounty makes EasyPonix “the hot pepper kings of Marion County.”
“In many cases, aquaponics is the only way forward for agriculture in America,” Howard says. “The water conservation alone is why, but it’s also pesticide and fungicide free.”
In an agricultural world where farmers are driven to efficiency and greater yields every season, it’s no surprise that the race to breed the hottest peppers and concoct the fieriest sauce is the norm. Howard looks at his mission differently.
“I love to cook, so I find ways to incorporate these hot peppers into dishes in such a way as to dull the heat enough to get to the flavor,” he says. “The variety of hot peppers these days is extraordinary. I’ve been experimenting and cooking for the past decade, and I’ve compiled a specific list of peppers for my hot sauce to create a unique flavor.
“The true value of what I produce is in using it as a seasoning for the average person, who may never taste anything like this otherwise, because many people are simply afraid to try something super hot, let alone cook with it.”
Yes, that’s right, just a few drops of hot sauce in a batch of chili or a stir fry adds enough spice to flavor an entire dish.
And there’s a bigger bonus.
“Capsaicin from fresh chili peppers is one of the healthiest things you can ingest,” says Howard. “The health benefits [including digestive and cardiovascular health benefits, as well as cancer prevention] are crazy cool.”
Howard’s sauces consist of fresh veggies and dashes of honey and garlic, marinating in apple cider vinegar. Each batch yields a hot pepper vinegar to bottle once the sauce is finished soaking.
EasyPonix is in the process of adding additional grow beds to expand its pepper sales and produce its initial run of Captain Caliente, available later this year.
“The hot pepper business is one of the fastest-growing in the country right now,” Howard says. “More and more people are getting hooked. People love them.”
Right now, EasyPonix may be just a little ol’ pepper-producing farm north of Ocala, but its self-sustenance and innovation points to bigger things to come.
Buy it › Order fresh peppers, check in on the status of Captain Caliente or inquire about an aquaponic setup of your own at easyponix.com or by calling (352) 789-6093.
There are working farms all over Florida, but what about one on the outskirts of Ocala, populated by… goats?
At Windmill Acres Farm and Goat Dairy, that’s just what you get. Alan and Yvonne Hart started their journey eight years ago, with a goat bought as a family pet.
“We really enjoyed the animals,” Alan Hart says. “Yvonne is lactose intolerant, so we added a pair of milking goats, and pretty quickly we ended up with more goat milk than we could use.”
From there, a farm sprung.
Windmill Acres is not a petting zoo by any stretch, but a working farm centered on and catering to the goats (who, it so happens, are pampered enough to get their own indoor milking bar!). And although it’s rare for visitors to physically interact with the goats, the feisty animals outdo your favorite aquarium or bird watching with their sheer antics.
In addition to a large variety of goat milk-based dairy products, Yvonne produces her own line of jarred jams and jellies, with a huge variety constantly in stock: Strawberry Fig, Mixed Berry, Strawberry Jalapeno, Apple Butter, Cinnamon Pear, Citrus Trio, Hot Red Pepper, Strawberry and Strawberry Kiwi. Most flavors are available without sugar.
“We keep the standard, favorite flavors in stock, with some varieties [Strawberry Fig or Peach, for example] from season to season.”
A few years into founding Windmill, Alan Hart was nominated by Florida A&M University for the Florida Innovative Famer Award, which he won for the innovative methods the farm employed to reduce its carbon footprint and protect natural resources, among other things.
A love of goats has grown Windmill into a burgeoning family farm, one that’s making life happy and healthy for every customer who steps onto the grounds.
Buy it › Join Windmill Acres Farm for its Mother’s Day tea on May 6 and for monthly gatherings throughout the year. The farm operates its store at 13323 SE 114th St. Rd. in Ocklawaha Tuesday through Friday from 10am-5pm and Saturday from 10am-4pm. Products are also sold at the Ocala Downtown Market. All items (including your own pet goat!) are also on sale at windmilldairies.com.
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