Made in Chico is the spot to go for all things locally jarred, canned and bagged
Made in Chico was offering a “shop local” experience far before the idea became mainstream. The store, which opened in 1982 and recently relocated to a much larger space on Third Street, is filled with handmade crafts, from jewelry and glassware to greeting cards and books. Along the right-hand wall, though, is where the stomach starts to rumble.
Made in Chico has a large selection of uniquely local foodstuffs. The jams, honeys, stuffed olives and pasta sauce line the shelves with their range of colors. The store’s owner, Jackie Headley, mentioned that Made in Chico even has its own line of food products—mostly nuts—that have been given local names, like Yahi Trail Mix, with descriptions of what that means on the back of the package.
The move to the large spot formerly occupied by Nantucket Home has given Headley an opportunity to expand, adding more items and displaying them in more wide-open spaces.
“We were having trouble taking on any more product lines,” Headley said of the old store. “It’s really fun because now we have baked goods from Mim’s—she has an incredible reputation, and now she’s supplying us with pettifores, tarts and mini cakes.”
But as delicious as Mim’s is, it was the aisle of pre-packaged goods we were eyeing. A short tour, guided by Made in Chico manager Katherine Dietz, revealed some true gems of local food manufacturers.
Cindy and Maurice Penna, a husband-and-wife team, have known each other since the third grade, when Maurice came to Orland from Australia and Cindy was asked to lead him around school. Now they run a 90-acre farm, which Maurice’s parents bought in the early 1950s, and offer a wide array of olive-flavored goodies, from tapanade and olive oil to pickled vegetables and their own Dirty Martini Mix.
“We got into this business as being olive growers,” Maurice Penna explained. “Then we went into produce, then food service. From there it evolved into retail and copacking for other people.”
The Penna brand is found locally in Made in Chico, Maisie Jane’s and Raley’s, and Penna said they’re now looking to expand into wine country and eventually farther into the Bay Area. As for copacking, the 12-person team, headed by the Pennas, also creates a number of products for specific restaurants and individuals, including Made in Chico.
Dave and Mary Moss live on a large estate on Chico Avenue, in the orchards. Many people know it from the pumpkin patch that’s popular in October. Others have celebrated their weddings or gone to farm camp there. For the Mosses, it’s all in a day’s work.
The TJ Farms label can be found on products ranging from jams and vinegars to dressings and pickles. Dietz pointed to the Kiwi-Poppy Seed Dressing as being a bestseller.
“We had a big almond orchard that went through the floods in the ’80s, and then we had to figure out how to make a living,” explained Dave Moss. “We grew kiwis, and we started thinking, what can we do with kiwis?”
To this day, the Mosses run the business themselves, with Mary making most of the jams and salad dressings herself in their commercial kitchen. Dave works mostly with growing the cucumbers and dill pickles. Dave says they haven’t tried to grow, and “Local is fine with us.”
“It’s nice because we have stayed small,” he said. “We don’t keep a big inventory, so when somebody orders something, they get it fresh.”
Bella Sun Luci
Dedicated to “California Inspired Mediterranean Cuisine,” Mooney Farms is one of Chico’s larger food manufacturers. The company specializes in sun-dried tomatoes, which is actually an understatement, being that it’s the largest producer of sun-dried tomatoes in the United States—and even has drying facilities around the world. All of its products are kosher.
One look at the Bella Sun Luci-brand Tomato and Artichoke Pasta Sauce is enough to make your mouth water. Dietz confirmed, “It’s good enough to eat with a spoon.” In fact, walking into Mooney Farms’ recently expanded facility by the airport is like walking into Little Italy, as it’s filled with the aroma of fresh pasta sauce.
Earlier this month, the company, which employs five Mooneys (who were away at an olive oil convention and couldn’t be reached for comment for this story) and almost 50 others, celebrated its 20th anniversary. In addition to sun-dried tomatoes and pasta sauce, Mooney Farms also produces olive oil from its olive plantation in Gridley as well as the Basque Norte sauces.
Richard Bordin’s grandfather came to Chico from Italy and moved into Chapmantown. Back in the day, his father and grandfather peddled vegetables downtown “when it was a dirt road.”
These days, Bordin, along with his brother and sister, runs a large vegetable farm about three miles west of Durham. But beyond the veggies, they also create honey, which they sell at Made in Chico. All their products are a staple of all the local farmers’ markets.
“We have people who put their heart and soul in it,” he said.
“I got into the bee business with one hive as part of an FFA project, and now I’ve got 50 hives,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of agriculture being cut from the Durham schools.”
The honey comes in a variety of flavors—sage, clover alfalfa, yellow star thistle, blackberry—making for a unique range of tastes. The Bordins raise queen bees, fill all the jars and label them by hand. In addition to the Bordin family, Richard has a number of longtime employees. “We love the work here.” That’s evident, considering that, at 68, he’s still putting in 12-hour days.
“We believe in local products, dealing locally and keeping the money local,” he said. “We already rely on foreign countries for our fuel—if we cannot produce our own food, it’s over. They’ve won.”