WHO'S READY FOR A PICNIC!?: Mina Feuerhaken of Nut Kreations (Photo by Chip Scheuer)

This is part of an in-depth, multi-part look at Santa Cruz's artisan food movement: Intro | Pizza | Ice Cream | Bakeries | Meat | Jam, Snacks and More

Kristen Cederquist’s Santa Rosa Plum Preserves taste as sweet and wholesome as a fruit pie home-baked by Doris Day, topped with an American flag and finished off with a swirl of whipped cream. Cederquist, who owns Santa Cruz’s Serendipity Jams, began making jams with grandma at age five and hasn’t looked back.

But like many artisan food companies nearby, it’s Serendipity’s surprising flavors that have heads turning and taste buds excited. Cederquist’s Spicy Fresno Red Pepper Jelly has a kick that lasts through each bite, while her Cranberry Jalapeño Jelly blends soothing sweetness with a stinging thrill that feels almost like bumblebees trying to get out of one’s mouth. Yummy bumblebees, though.

Cederquist isn’t the only person in the Monterey Bay blending surprising flavors into exciting new snack creations. A host of foodies have developed interesting snacks fit for any picnic and the warm weather on its way.

Jeannie’s Artisan Jams, for instance, sells 41 jams, 11 marmalades, seven pepper jellies, five tomato jams, five chutneys and two wine jellies—everything from Vanilla Spiced Pear Butter to Papaya Spiced Rum. The woman behind it all is potter Jeannie Munson (obviously an overachiever), who says she has learned not to take it personally that some of her crazier flavors get overlooked. “It would be easy if I were just making five kinds of jam, but it would be boring,” Munson says of her culinary passion. “It’s a little bit like poetry. It’s art.”

Anyway, for this hypothetical picnic you may want something besides pressed fruits to smear on your bread and crackers. Garden Variety Cheese, in Royal Oaks near Watsonville, carries five kinds of sheep’s cheese, all of them aged anywhere from two to eight months, in addition to yogurt. The fruity, buttery Black-Eyed-Susan, the company’s best-seller, was one of two Garden Variety cheeses to win a 2012 Good Food Award, based in San Francisco.

Up the coast from Royal Oaks, a well-known Santa Cruz establishment is serving up the finest for oils and vinegars, perfect for any salad dressing or baguette. Susan Pappas says she started downtown’s The True Olive Connection because her husband Mike had been saying they should open up a hot dog cart, but she worried the hot sun wouldn’t be kind to her fair skin. Olive oil was more her speed. The True Olive Connection stresses intriguing pairings—like wild mushroom and sage olive oil with fig balsamic vinegar, and blood orange olive oil with a fruity balsamic like cranberry-pear.

Fittingly, right next door is artisan destination Nut Kreations, owned by fourth-generation pistachio farmer Mina Feuerhaken. “I wanted to make a really fun shop and also fulfill my own need of making a very tasty trail mix,” 28-year-old Feuerhaken says. The store carries 120 items, and still uses her parents’ pistachios, grown in the San Joaquin valley. Feuerhaken’s dark mint chocolate-coated nuts, salt-and-pepper mango cashews, and Indian spice nuts all sell very well.

For dessert, there’s no need to load up on processed sugar when Delk’s Honey serves up tasty flavored honey harvested here in California, some of it in the Santa Cruz Mountains. “My dad was a beekeeper, so I was always messing around with [honey] because it was there,” says owner Scott Delk. “I never really used sugar.” After years of experimenting, Delk is sticking to his five best-selling flavors ginger, habanero, lemon, rosemary and jalapeno (his personal favorite that he squeezes on “breakfast burritos, pizza, whatever I’m eating,” he says).

Not everyone grew up making jam or honey concoctions, but here in Santa Cruz we know how to reap the tasty goods of those who did. —Jacob Pierce