Artisan ice cream gets scooped at Santa Cruz's popular Penny Ice Cream. 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

When even Round Table says they have an “artisan” pizza, you know the term has been co-opted.

But Heather Wagner-Jauregg thinks Santa Cruz can take it back.

“You keep hearing ‘artisan’ and it kind of gets muddied. What defines it?” she admits. “But these food producers are artists.”

The artisan food movement has exploded in Santa Cruz, and Wagner-Jauregg has had an inside look at it over the last year. As the head of Homegrown Specialties Marketplace, she acts as a broker for many of the area’s culinary artists, helping them to establish and market their brand, and get their product into stores.

Though the current wave of food artisans here is approaching Mavericks-like dimensions, Wagner-Jauregg points out that Santa Cruz has long been ahead of the curve.

“I think it’s always been here,” she says of the local appetite for old-school, small-batch culinary techniques that emphasize handcrafting. With this new generation, though, “I knew there was kind of a niche for a broker who helps the small producer, and that’s how I started,” she says.

Some of Santa Cruz’s artisan producers are now established enough to take their products to another level, which can raise tricky questions that Wagner-Jauregg helps them navigate.

“Where do you want your products to be? If you’re in Raleigh’s, are you still an artisan producer? A lot of these companies, they tell me where they want to be,” she says. “Like ‘no, that’s not a good fit for my product, I’d rather not be in that store.’”

In this issue, we take a look at some of Santa Cruz’s most interesting food artisans across a range of categories—pizza, ice cream, baked goods and more. One thing that became abundantly clear is that people have their own definitions of “artisan,” and even some of the producers we talked to had to think hard about whether their own products should be described like that.

But even with its fuzzy boundaries, the artisan movement in Santa Cruz is impressive. It’s a true community here, powered by creative people who, besides their techniques, share some personality traits as well.

“I look for passion, and I look for commitment,” says Wagner-Jauregg of her artisan clients. “They have to have patience, because everything in the food industry takes a long time. It’s going to be challenging, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”