New Thursday Vendor: Nana Joes Granola

March 21, 2013

Michelle Pusateri started making granola almost three years ago, when she became fed up with blends that were stale, processed, and loaded with sugar.

“I started researching what keeps your energy levels up,” says Michelle, who had been working as a pastry chef at Nopalito. “You need the fats, but you have to take out most of the refined sugars and processed stuff.” Her goal was to create a healthier granola using ingredients sourced from local and sustainable farms. From this idea, Nana Joes Granola was born.

“When I started this business, I wanted to provide people with a great breakfast, one that I would want to eat myself,” she says. Hearkening back to a time before processed foods dominated the shelves, she named her new business after her grandparents; Nana is what she called her grandmother, and both her grandfathers were named Joseph.

A Healthy Alternative

Though often marketed as health food, many store-bought granolas and bars are chock-full of sweeteners. Michelle, who is hypoglycemic, wanted a sweet and flavorful granola that wouldn’t raise one’s blood sugar too quickly.

Nana Joes granola bars and eight granola blends are sweetened with maple syrup, which falls lower on the glycemic index than the sugar, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup contained in most commercial granolas. Michelle sources certified organic grade B maple syrup from Butternut Mountain Farm in Vermont, although she’s in the process of switching to Crown Maple, a small artisan producer in New York that prides itself in its sustainable forest management and the purity of its syrup. “The maple syrup is key, because it gives the granola a bit of sweetness, but you don’t have to use too much of it,” she says.

Another important health concern for Michelle and many customers has been gluten. Making an entirely gluten-free product became a priority after her mother was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, and Michelle began seeing the same symptoms in herself. She made the Nana Joes kitchen gluten-free, ensuring that none of the ovens, trays, or other surfaces ever touch gluten-containing products. Her oats come from Central Milling and are certified gluten-free.

Fresh, Local, and Artisanal

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market regulars will recognize many of the farms that provide ingredients for Nana Joes granolas. Michelle buys citrus from Bernard Ranches, almonds from Kashiwase Farms, and dried fruit from Bella Viva Orchards and Blossom Bluff Orchards.

Michelle produces each batch of granola from scratch, by hand. Every Monday morning, she spends three hours scraping vanilla beans and juicing citrus.

With such fresh ingredients, the granola has a relatively short shelf life of seven weeks. “After that, you start losing the flavor of the cinnamon, and the buttery warmth of the maple syrup starts to dissipate,” she explains. “Why would I spend so much time grinding spices and scraping vanilla beans if I wanted my product to sit on the shelf for nine months?”

Staying Close to Home

In keeping with her ingredient sourcing philosophy, Michelle limits her sales outlets to Bay Area retailers and farmers markets. Already a loyal farmers market shopper, it was only a small leap for Michelle to begin selling at them herself. Farmers markets have given her a platform to test new recipes and interact with customers. “I absolutely love farmers markets,” she gushes.

Michelle debuted her limited edition Chef’s Choice granola yesterday at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. For the past month, she’s been working with Nopa chef Laurence Jossel to develop a signature granola blend that features pistachios, almonds, TCHO chocolate nibs, and Bella Viva Orchards dried cherries and apricots. She will feature a new Chef’s Choice blend every two or three months.  

Michelle says that she plans to keep her scope small and local, so she can retain full control over her product and ensure that it reflects her values and original intention. “I’m not interested in a co-packer making my product for me, because where would they get their nuts from and where would they get their fruit? Not my farmers.”

Find Nana Joes Granola at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Photos courtesy of Nana Joes Granola.

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