© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Amiel and Mandy Leblanc of Glenfanning, near Cardigan, produce an extensive line of hot sauces, barbecue sauces and dry spice blends that are gluten-, fat- and preservative-free at their facility.
Things are really heating up for one Prince Edward Island hot sauce microbrewery.
Cardigan-area-based Maritime Madness Inc., which makes an impressively spicy selection of hot sauces that has tickled the tasting fancy of chili fans across the country, is all fired up about the retail grocery store market.
Its new line — a Miracle Sauce trio that comes in mild, medium and hot — is now available in Co-Ops and SaveEasys on P.E.I. and will be in over 70 Sobeys stores in the Maritimes by Father’s Day.
“I think a lot of people have the impression of Maritimers don’t like it hot. But it’s actually a pretty vibrant Chilihead community right now across Canada and the East Coast is no exception,” says Amiel Leblanc, who owns and operates Maritime Madness Inc. with his wife, Mandy Leblanc.
“There are a lot of people that are into collecting (hot sauces); it seems to be if you like hot sauces you have a dozen or even two dozen on your fridge door. So people are always looking for new stuff. So definitely there’s a decent market for it here, even though it’s thought to be a meat-and-potatoes kind of place.”
Amiel, who is a fervent foodie, brewed his first batch of hot pepper sauce in 2000 to spice up his culinary creations.
“I just always really liked cooking and creating things in general, and so I was making hot sauces and giving it as gifts. It became apparent very quickly that there was a market for it so I started selling it as retail as a sideline to my primary business (as a drum maker) and it just naturally took over,” he remembers.
In 2009, he focused his full attention on wholesaling his Maritime Madness line of sauces to about 30 retailers in the region. That number has increased to 130 retailers across Canada.
From the initial line of four hot sauces, Maritime Madness now has an insanely diverse selection of 16 hot sauces, five grilling sauces and 12 dry spice blends, the latter of which was launched in mid-April.
This dry spice line includes four hot salts made with dried and crushed jalapeño, chipotle, habanero or cayenne, blended with high-grade salt from the Dead Sea.
“The idea of the hot salts is to showcase the pepper. Because they’re the same ratio of pepper to salt, you really get to taste the actual pepper flavour. There are no vinegar or garlic or any other flavours overriding it. So it’s kind of a neat way to get familiar with each individual pepper,” Amiel says.
“We’ve got a bacon salt, which is pretty tasty, and we’ve also got three barbecue seasonings — mesquite, Cajun and creole. The mesquite is a spicy and smoky flavour so it’s good for ribs and red meat; the Cajun is a classic Louisiana-style flavour; and then the creole is quite similar in terms of spices but there’s no heat. So then you can get that Cajun flavour even if you don’t like spicy (things).”
This milder approach to their traditionally lip-rippin’ hot line is in response to requests from consumers who wanted to experience the flavour without the fire.
“That is new for us —offering things that are a little bit milder. We’ve stuck with pretty over-the-top hot over the years, but people want milder (options). So we introduced a milder hot sauce a few years ago, which is a great way to start building up your tolerance — starting with the milder ones and working your way up. You definitely built up a tolerance. The more spicy foods you eat, the more your palate becomes accustomed to it,” Amiel says.
Maritime Madness imports 50 gallon drums of habanero and cayenne peppers from places like Peru, Belize or Costa Rica, depending on their availability at any given time of the year.
Three years ago, they started growing about 1,000 pepper plants on their property in Glenfanning, near Cardigan.
“It’s just something I believe in. I like to source as much as I can locally, but it’s not practical to do all of our own pepper production. We use about 10,000 pounds of fresh peppers, so even if we could grow them all (on P.E.I.) we couldn’t. It would be a big operation,” Amiel says.
“We also only use Canadian grown fresh garlic and our Orchard Scorcher hot sauce uses local jalapeños, apples and maple syrup.”
Their fat-free, gluten-free, preservative-free products are made in small batches and bottled by hand as demand requires.
Of course, with the recent inroads made into the Maritime grocery store market things have picked up significantly at their small 1,800 square-foot production facility.
“Sobeys is putting on a push to add a bunch of local (products and produce) right now, so they are taking on our Miracle Sauce line as part of the program. I was shooting for just a few Sobeys stores, but they decided to put them in all the Maritime stores,” Amiel says.
Mandy has also been busy presenting local in-store sampling sessions.
“You get the odd person who says, ‘Oh my gawd, that’s hot!’ and then you get another person who says, ‘That’s not hot.’ So you get them all. We’ve had a really good response. We’ve sold a lot of product for the stores on sampling days. It’s just making everybody aware (that it’s Island made),” she says.
“Everybody was pleasantly surprised to hear that it was local, and that’s actually how I opened my pitch because that’s our whole point that we’re trying to get across is the local aspect.”
Being close to the customer base provides continual feedback, which means they can respond to what people have a craving for.
“If enough people say it’s not hot enough, I’m going to make a new sauce. If enough people ask for a sauce with garlic in it,
I’ll respond to that, too,” Amiel says.
“New products are generally a direct response from what people have asked for or have suggested.”
And some of those suggestions have resulted in hot sauces that are off the charts for even this consummate chili head.
“A worthy thing to note is that if your tolerance isn’t at that level it may have a lot of fine ingredients and lots of flavour, but your palate just can’t register it. I make two sauces (Giv’er Sauce and Ultimate Giv’er Sauce) that are beyond my capabilities of eating. I know what’s in them, so I know there are lots of flavours there, but my taste buds get overwhelmed,” Amiel laughs
“My hottest one is my most popular one and people say it’s got wonderful flavour. So when you’re at that level of tolerance, you can detect all the complexities of the sauce. And if you’re not, then your taste buds just go boom! You can’t taste a thing.”
PhilipPine Style Mussel Soup
The broth is the bomb, try this! It’s a great way to enjoy mussels without butter.
2 pounds mussels
One stalk lemongrass
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp pepper & salt
3 cups water
1/2 cup Sandbar Sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 cups lightly packed spinach
3 tbsp lime juice
In a heavy saucepan, sauté shallots until golden. Add garlic, and fry until golden.
Cut lemongrass in 2-inch pieces, and add along with diced fresh tomatoes and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in water, Sandbar Sauce, and fish sauce, bring to a boil.
Add mussels, and cook until open. Remove from heat, stir in lime juice and salt. Dig in.
u For a list of retailers or to shop online, visit www.maritimemadness.com.
u You can also check out their page on Facebook.