‘Alabama-made’ offers much to celebrate

Published 12:57 am Saturday, February 20, 2016

Robert Armstrong aims to make a million dollars with his Gammy Momma’s cookie recipe.

The Selma native and UA grad quit his job in Birmingham in 2009 and moved home, where he took an $8,000 loan against his vehicle and started a company.

In his first effort, his cookies were successful he couldn’t manage the growth. He paused, regrouped, and relaunched his product as G Mommas Cookies. The bite-sized chocolate chips and buddascotch oatmeal cookies are in 35 Alabama stores, 253 Wal-Marts and 700 Cracker Barrels across the United States.

Robert was just one of the vendors who attended an Alabama Press Association showcase of Alabama products this week. Also on hand were representatives of both Evergreen-based Conecuh Sausage and Elba-based Kelley Foods, who were serving up tastes of sausage. With samples from Montgomery-made Alaga syrup and Selma’s Revival Coffee Company nearby, we surely needed a plate and some biscuits.

The event reminded us of all the homegrown products and companies we have to be proud of in Alabama, and of the creativity of our fellow citizens.

Jala Jala Foods in Huntsville started when Jay Short’s neighbor grew a bunch of jalapeno peppers one summer. He started experimenting with salsas and pepper jellies, and created 350 jars of red jalapeno jelly and medium salsa, which they sold out of in less than six months. The next summer, Jay, whose business card identifies him as the “head pepper,” produced 3,500 jars of jelly, and Jala Jala foods was born. He now has several flavors of jalapeno jellies, including Fire Red, Mean Green, Black Widow (blackberry), Blue Flame (blueberry) and Fresa Fire, a whiskey cinnamon apple jalapeno jelly, and markets them all over the place.

Belle Chevre Cheese, located in Elkmont, has been winning national awards since 1989. The company has five women who work in their North Alabama creamery. Their fresh cheeses aren’t pressed or aged. They are, however, yummy. They distribute their chees in Kroger and Costco, as well as Whole Foods, but also have products in high-end gourmet shops.

It was almost supper time, and obviously, the food vendors had my attention. But Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center from Camden displayed a lovely array of handmade art, truly a jewel of region. And who knew that in Fairhope, a company called Sonic Suitcase fashioned custom speakers with an interesting twist – they are built into vintage suitcases.

John Emerald Distilling Company in Opelika was the first legal whiskey producer in the state since the start of Prohibition. Owner Jimmy Sharp said his company was born of a desire to travel less and spend more time with his family. His company not only produces gin, vodka, single malt whiskey, aged rum, and spice rum, they also open their facility for tours, which end with samples.

In Birmingham, Joel Lockridge has a different use for bourbon barrels – he uses them to make custom pens turned from the wood of bourbon barrels.

The is the year of “Made in Alabama. “ These are just some of the many home-grown products we celebrate.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.