Of course I was interested mainly in food items, but there were also furniture, jewelry, pottery, soaps, music CDs, t-shirts, photographs and cards, toothpicks made from porcupine quills . . . the creativity of Montanans is as wide as our vast blue sky and, well, just plain unique.
The purpose of the annual two-day show is to introduce Made-in-Montana products to retailers (Friday) and then to the general public (Saturday). I found that the vendors treated the general public, who appeared to have maybe more interest in sampling than buying, with as much generosity and enthusiasm as they must have shown to retail representatives who could buy their products in vast quantities.
The fabulous thing about this show is meeting the people who actually own the companies. Often they are the entire staff, creating products, cooking things in small home or commercial kitchens, marketing, selling, etc.
These were also the people who could and did explain the details of how mead is made, exactly where cherry trees grow in Montana, their personal experience using non-gluten products, how beekeepers survive the challenges of their industry, and so much more.
The following is a quick tour of some of the foods I found.
Proudly Made in Montana
Becky's Berries from Absarokee produces jams and jellies from a wide variety of Montana-grown berries and fruits. Favorites include hot jalapeno mixed with berries or apricots or other sweet fruit. Spread this on a cream-cheese-topped cracker and you are in snack heaven.
Stevensville is lucky to have the Charbonneau's Chocolate Company.
Cream of the West, located in Harlowton, has, among other things, delicious wholegrain hot and cold cereals, a flapjack mix, and a breading mix. New flour products will be introduced soon.
I fondly remember my visit last summer to the Helen's Candies shop in Libby. Huckleberry makes its appearance in truffles, and their novelty shaped chocolates (my favorite being the foil-wrapped state of Montana) make delightful gifts.
I learned that the meads made by Hidden Legend Winery in Victor consist of fermented honey, fruit juice, and a touch of water. They are a sweet treat indeed. My favorite: the peach!
Ravalli's High Mountain Huckleberry jams and sauces were delectably served on freshly made waffles.
There were several coffee roasters, but I liked the cute labels of Hunter Bay Coffee of Lolo.
Another company in the well-represented huckleberry category was Larchwood Farms, located in Trout Creek. They sell candy, syrup, pancake mixes (including gluten-free), and a very, very tasty line of jams, which include mouthwatering fruits and berries like huckleberry, strawberries, pie cherries, and apricots. My friend who loves tart tastes found their huckleberry products to her liking and was especially pleased to find the rare pie cherries in a product.
Oh what fun to meet the proud owner of Lissie's Luv Yums in Great Falls. Lissie, an Assiniboine Native American, said her profits go right back into her business, with a percent given to charities fighting fetal alcohol syndrome. Lissie has received numerous business awards and is a well-traveled speaker at self-employment development conferences. Her dog treats are handmade from Montana-grown products. If you have a dog, you must buy some of these for him or her. You just can't go wrong with a product made with 100 percent love! (In the photo, Lissie is shown with her foster mother, Sister Johnelle Howanach.)
An unusual gluten-free product was offered by Montana Gluten-Free Processors, in Belgrade: Timtana flour. Go to the Web site to learn more. The baked sample I tasted was like a light wholewheat bread. Very nice. I bought a 3-pound bag and am looking forward to experimenting.
I have used Montana Grassland Mixes of Nashua and was happy to meet the women behind the product. They are a happy bunch! Today they were serving samples of their Indian frybread mix. I mentioned that I avoid deep-frying -- what a mess! what a greasy result! -- and I was told not to be afraid. Just make sure you use a pan about 3 inches high, with grease at the proper temperature. It sounds easy. I might try it someday. Meanwhile, I'll just keep using their plain bread and biscuit mixes.
I think the first made-in-Montana product I consciously bought was a package of dried cherries from The Orchard at Flathead Lake. The dried cherries are not currently available, but the chutney, syrup, and jams are. The apple butter is amazing. The Orchard, like most Montana cherry orchards, is located near Bigfork on the Flathead Lake. Thus, Montanans will refer to "Flathead" cherries, which designates them as unusually tasty fruit, but this is not a cherry variety, rather a geographic reference. I also learned that any cherries you buy within Montana are probably from this area. The season is a brief two weeks in late July/early August, so get them while you can!
Pauline, of Drummond, was enthusiastically serving up samples of her lively BBQ sauce and proudly pointing out her BBQ sauce fountain. What a clever idea! If you see Pauline's Rocky Mountain Premium Barbecue Sauce for sale, grab a bottle and have a party!
Smoot Honey is an almost-50-year-old family-run business in Power. They provide bees and honey where needed. Although you may not see their brand name or even the word "Montana," Smoot honey is used in many products across the nation. Montana honey is light and Southern honey is dark, so the two are often mixed to a happy medium and sold generically.
Last, but by far not least, is Western Trails Food in Glendive. I have enthusiastically reviewed their Niterider Chili mix and baked beans made from their Rustler BBQ Bean Sauce and Buckaroo BBQ Bean Mix. I also wrote about my tour of the factory. I can't say enough good things about this small company and their products.