posted October 26, 2021
by Cherie Hans, VLCE
I first learned about California Balsamic’s vinegars when I started the Chef AJ Feel Fabulous Over Forty group, a whole foods plant-based program without SOFAS (salt, oil, flour, alcohol, or added sugar).
While I was only using one tablespoon of oil to stir fry my veggies, now, on Chef AJ’s plan, I was not going to use any oil at all. In addition, the pre-made marinades I’d been using were high in added sugar and salt, so those had to go as well.
I started with the Chef AJ sample set from California Balsamic—I’m now an addict and regular customer. I wanted to share California Balsamic’s phenomenal products with everyone else. They are a small, nine-employee business owned by Tom and Ethel Allen in California.
Of their 55 flavors, I’ve tried many, and they’re all delish. I use Strawberry Blonde, Lavender, and Island Pineapple on my salads. For my vegetables, I’m addicted to Sweet Heat and Teriyaki. And Pumpkin Spice goes on my sweet potatoes. The sugars are all-natural from grapes—not added sugar—and little bit goes a long way.
As it’s a matter of personal taste, I recommend ordering the 1.6- and 3-ounce smaller varieties to see what works well for you. When I discover one I love and am ready for commitment, I order their 12.7-ounce bottles (in bulk). I pour the bulk vinegar into one of their capped 3-ounce bottles with a tiny hole for a spout so way I can easily drizzle the vinegar over my food.
For the entrepreneurs out there, I was curious to know how Tom had started this business. After living in Japan, teaching American Cuisine and English as a Second Language 25 years ago, his college roommate invited him to come to visit him in the San Francisco Bay area. Tom started looking for business for sale and came across an ad for a specialty gourmet company, Tres Classique Specialty Foods, selling salad dressings and marinades.
While selling Tres Classique Specialty Foods products at farmers’ markets, eleven years ago, Tom was asked if he would be interested in selling olive oils. He replied “No, thank you,” because he didn’t like the flavor. The woman offered, “I will help you and get them in bulk,” so Tom agreed. Then someone asked, “How about balsamic vinegar?” At age 40, he had never tried it, so why not? Tom first experimented mixing balsamic with some sundried tomatoes, parsley, and oil. Then started to mix other flavored balsamic with oils and they became popular. He discontinued the original line of dessert sauces and dressings as he had not made a profit with those in seven years.
The original balsamic vinegars were tart, not sweet, so he rarely used his own product. Then ten years ago, Tom’s balsamic supplier was franchising, so he had to find a new line. This new balsamic was better quality, with a much better taste. And California Balsamic was born.
Three years ago at a small festival in California, a woman asked for a product without processed sugar, or salt, and no oil. Tom replied, “all thirteen of these flavors are sugar-, oil-, and salt-free.” This customer told Chef AJ about these incredible balsamic vinegars. Chef AJ told Tom, “If you send me samples of Teriyaki, Garlic, and Sweet Heat, I will use your product in a cooking demo live online. You’ll get more business.” He thought “Sure, why not?” (He had never heard of Chef AJ before, so his expectations weren’t high).
A few weeks later, Chef AJ contacted him and said, “I just made an episode with your product so get ready!” Only a half-hour after AJ’s video on YouTube, California Balsamic had 50 new orders! Tom had only sold at festivals on the West Coast with minimal mail orders. He’d never had any customers from the Midwest or East Coast, but now they make up 70% of his customer base.
If you want a delicious way to enhance your veggies and salads (or any recipe), and are looking for a company with a personal touch in customer care, I highly recommend California Balsamic. You may get hooked on them, too, just like me!
Cherie Hans is a retired teacher and vegan since 2007. She became a vegan for the animals but found the health benefits an added bonus. After graduating from the Main Street Vegan Academy, Cherie became certified in the Starch Solution program with John McDougall, M.D. and Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s Plant-Based Nutrition program at Cornell University. She grew up in New York City, but now lives in New Jersey with her husband and eight rescued cats.