Benito’s Hot Sauce: Warmth on a Winter Day
Vermont’s cold winters find most of us seeking ways to stay warm, whether it be a roaring fire, a cup of hot chocolate or multiple layers of sweaters and heavy socks. What might not be so obvious is ramping up the heat with delicious and sometimes eye-watering hot sauce. That is where Benito’s Hot Sauce can help. It can warm your insides on one of Vermont’s coldest days, and it seasons well.
I connected with Ben Maniscalco aka Benito in a simple large room in what had formerly been the kitchen of an old factory in Morrisville, Vermont. It didn’t take long to recognize that creating really good hot sauce is about the quality of the peppers and a commitment to locally sourced certified organic ingredients. Add hard work and passion, and you have the perfect formula to create nine mouthwatering sauces and two certified organic chile pepper–infused maple syrups: one smoky flavored and one with some serious heat. All under the clever label BENITO’S!
Minutes into our interview, Ben handed me a bottle of one of his favorite sauces, called Old Coy Dog. The attractive 5 fluid ounce bottle bore a graphic of an almost-filled-in chile and the words “Very Hot.” Ben explained that there are actually four degrees of heat in his sauces that range from medium to “extremely hot!” As someone who appreciates hot food, I knew I could handle this one. Ben encouraged me to take it home and try it, and then poured some from another bottle to show me the thick, rich texture.
Benito’s hot sauce business started in the dirt. Back in 2007 with a backyard chile garden, some truly amazing friends and a strong passion for saucin’, Ben describes his early beginnings on his product label.
In his job as a waiter at a New Jersey restaurant called Mexicali Rose, Ben thought the hot sauce was decent but felt it lacked something key—heat. His large supply of fresh organic cayenne habanero and jalapeño peppers in a vegetable garden behind his house was readily available. Why not try using some of the chiles to create his own sauce with heat? His first creation, “Benito’s Orange Pepper Sauce,” was an instant hit with friends, family and his Mexican restaurant coworkers. As positive feedback continued, Ben pumped up the volume and renamed the vegetable hot sauce “Benito’s Naranja,” known now as Original Naranja.
After a solid run the first few years in Jersey, Ben relocated his now official hot sauce business in 2008 to the Green Mountain State. A state known for an emphasis on locally made products and supporting the local economy, a state he knew was committed to sustainable organic agriculture.
Ben recognized Vermont’s strong focus on small business and the economic opportunity it presented for his fledgling company. Initially, he started cooking and bottling his sauce at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Fairfax, Vermont. In September 2011, Benito’s Hot Sauce was produced in its own small commercial kitchen, a space Ben shares with another local Vermont food producer.
“All of the sauces have an extra-fresh flavor that is nothing like anything else out there. Over the past few years we have been able to develop a strong relationship with local farmers throughout Vermont,” Ben shares. A growing list of farms that supply Benito’s include Foote Brook Farm, Maple Wind Farm, Rockville Market Farm and Half Pint Farm. Ben sources more than 4,000 pounds of organic chile peppers, fresh vegetables and maple syrup from six local farms. Most of his sauces are verified non- GMO with a growing list in progress.
Benito’s sauces are sold in co-ops, grocery stores and smaller independent health food stores around the state, and beyond Vermont’s borders throughout New England. His products are also available for sale through his website. Ben serves up samples at the Burlington and Stowe farmers’ markets.
The morning after I interviewed Ben, I broke open my bottle of Old Coy Dog and slathered it on my eggs, and wow, it definitely brought heat to my breakfast. With eight more flavors to try, the Chipotle Grande, a distinct smoky-sweet maple garlic flavor, or the Mango Habenero, described as a tropical garden in your mouth, are next on my list.
Ben has clearly embraced Vermont as a place he wants to continue to grow his business. He strongly desires to support local farmers, many who grow non-GMO organic produce, one of the key factors that led him to Vermont. His long hours creating interesting delicious sauces from a multitude of orange, red, yellow and green peppers and assorted vegetables in an old renovated factory kitchen have many rewards.
For Ben, the reward that means the most? The countless customers he meets at the weekly farmers’ markets in Burlington and Stowe. There, he is a happy man chatting up Benito’s, with samples of his latest, hottest creation.
An adventurous cook, Laurie looks forward to trying all of Benito’s sauces and syrup products, adding some spice and heat to her soups, stews and eggs with appreciation that local farmers are supported.