It's never bad time for a jam session. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

Former India Joze pastry chef and California Culinary Academy graduate Tabitha Stroup of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. took a minute to talk about how a childhood favorite became cool again.  

How did your business interests grow from cheese to artisanal creations such as designer jams?

Tabitha Stroup: I’ve been private cheffing, educating, everything local, with a concentration on the food and wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and have brokered and worked with over 25 local wines. Which brought me to the conclusion that there was a huge void in the world of pairing food and wine. I work with local farmers to create unique seasonal, simple, local jams, jelly, marmalades and chow chow. Jars of possibilities that go beyond a piece of toast. Artisan? I guess by definition, like the ’90s had “gourmet”—but there is nothing designer about my approach. I create recipes thinking of the consumers of California how they eat and help simplify their eating lifestyle without compromise.

Do you think that Santa Cruz is a good market for esoteric condiments?

Santa Cruz…esoteric…hmm. I’d say yes. I’m in every local store and the huge support of people I’ve fed and educated for the past 20 years has created my success on the local arena. It’s allowed me to get a serious foothold in the food universe of the West Coast, all pretty much by word of mouth. I think we as a food community are really stepping up, and the community has been waiting with fork and knife. I love my town.

Why do people love jam?

Everyone has a jam food memory. That aunt that made the plum jelly, or the neighbor with the brandied cherries. It is a part of Americana, and we almost lost it until food became cool again. There is good out there, and there is not so good, but the best part is folks are becoming aware of where, who and how their food got to them.

What is your favorite product?  

Come on, you are asking a mommy who her favorite child is. Depends. Time, mood, what’s it being eaten with—from items on a cheese board to glazing a roast, to on your fingers with a glass of Cava.  They all are my favorites, and every seasonal turn a new jar joins the ranks. Our current offerings include lavender plum jelly with Fogline Farm plums, carrot marmalade with cardamom, fig and fennel jam with Condria white figs, and Route One golden raspberry with Jacobs farm sage.