The white oak is Connecticut’s state tree. It is handsome and strong.
White Oak is also the name of the nearly 3-year-old gourmet and specialty foods company created by Renee DuMarr Hooper. Mixing her passions — fresh food and local farmers — she has cooked up a flavorful, all-natural line of fruit spreads, mustards, grilling and finishing sauces, salad dressings and marinades that is drawing raves, and winning awards, throughout the Northeast.
White Oak Farm and Table is based at Christie’s Country Store. Her husband John Hooper owns it, and the combination — a neighborhood market/ gathering spot offering high-quality, locally grown and produced food — is a grand slam.
Renee — who spent years as a Manhattan clothing designer — started cooking fruit spreads in the back of Christie’s. She got tired of “seeing water and sugar listed as the first ingredients” on every label.
She and John created recipes together. Renee’s 1st jams — blueberry basil, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry and mixed berry — drew raves from customers.
Barbecue sauces were next. The rest is history.
Production has moved out of Christie’s — it now takes place in New Haven and Maine — but the “secret sauce” remains. Small batches. The best, farmers market-type ingredients. Surprising combinations. Renee’s “borderline obsessiveness” about remaining “stubbornly artisinal” and all-natural.
Earlier this month, the Connecticut Specialty Food Association held its 13th annual competition. Nearly 200 items were entered, in 36 categories. White Oak products won 4 awards. Grabbing gold were Marple Hall ketchup (“Connecticut Grown” category), Champagne Dill Wasabi mustard (“Savory Condiment”) and Black Olive tapenade (“Tapenade”). Tuscan Vegetable sauce placed 3rd in “Connecticut Grown.”
And Yankee Magazine named Wild Blueberry Basil the Best Fruit Spread in all of New England.
White Oak foods — did I mention the Cajun Peach grilling sauce, artichoke Parmesan salad dressing or savory Sun-Dried Tomato tapinade? — are sold far beyond Christie’s. They’re at 37 Whole Foods stores in the Northeast; Mrs. Green’s; the Chelsea Market, and specialty stores all the way into Canada.
Recently, Renee shipped an order to Taiwan.
Next up: White Oak represents Connecticut’s natural foods at a Congressional luncheon, with 350 guests.
“I’d rather you eat a little bit of something awesome than a lot of something mediocre,” Renee says.
When you bite into, spread or taste a White Oak product, though you may eat a lot of something awesome.