What a time to be alive. Seriously. We have apps that deliver ready-to-cook meals, more access to seasonal ingredients and regional specialties than ever before, and a huge array of inventive culinary products at our fingertips.

That's exactly the idea that drives the folks who make specialty foods: we've become a culture obsessed with food, and they’re the most obsessed of the obsessed. They believe making food should be just as fun as eating it. When you restock your pantry with better basics like these—and treat yourself to snacks worth the calories—browsing your shelves is an adventure again.

From condiments to candies to soups to meal helpers, here are 10 fresh and inventive specialty foods everyone should stock up on.

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KITCHENS OF AFRICA, Raleigh, North Carolina. It's a shame Americans don't know more about African cuisine. It's sweet, savory, spicy, salty—in short, everything we tend to crave. Jainaba Jeng wanted a simple way to share her Gambian traditions (and others from around the continent) with home cooks in the US, so she created her own line of easy-to-use simmering sauces and marinades.

An amazing intro to the spirit of African cuisine is Jeng's peanut Maffé. Use it as an aromatic, deeply savory simmering sauce for anything you'd want to eat over rice, including the spicy mussels pictured above. It's actually a bit reminiscent of Thai cuisine and would be perfect with chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu or potatoes.


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BIG PICTURE FARM, Townshend, Vermont. Hard to go wrong with dairy (well, for most—sorry lactose intolerant people!). Add that everything at Big Picture Farm is produced from the milk of adorable, wiley goats and you have something really special. Whether you're into milk, cheese, yogurt, or caramels, you'll taste the difference in everything Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell send to market.

Pictured above is a seasonal riff on their famous goat milk caramels: Roasted Rhubarb Raspberry. Made from cold-press rhubarb wine caramelized with a generous portion of tart summer raspberries, they'd be perfect with a cup of afternoon black tea, but really, no one will judge if you'd like a couple with your rosé instead. Either way, definitely a sunny Sunday treat.


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THE GRACIOUS GOURMET, Bridgewater, Connecticut. Novice or expert, you can't underestimate the power of condiments. Some are so spectacular they could elevate even Wonder Bread, and we've got some right here.

The Rosemary Pear Spread above would be great on a cheese plate or spooned over high-end vanilla ice cream, but our pick is the Hatch Chile Pesto. Pesto is everyone's favorite green sauce, but this one's base is made with the coveted chile so hard to find outside the Southwest. Use it in homemade salad dressing, to top broiled fish, to stir into pasta, or to spread on a pulled pork sandwich—the mild, complex Hatch spice is pretty much perfect anywhere, though this writer's New Mexican upbringing may be bringing some bias to the table.


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NONA LIM, Oakland, California. From noodles to broths to pre-prepared soups and entrees, this brand has a flair for the Southeast Asian. Plus, everything is made fresh with local—and very few—ingredients. The final product is meant to keep you light on your feet and feeling great.

Pad Thai is certainly not an entry-level dish to prepare, but if you're up to the challenge, Nona Lim's got the fresh, chewy rice noodles to get you started. Not your speed? Keep it simple with pre-made Thai Green Curry or their Miso Ramen Broth. Just add noodles, whatever frozen veg is in the back of your freezer, or try your hand at an egg drop. Soup is the perfect way to empty the fridge.


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FRA' MANI HANDCRAFTED FOODS, Berkeley, California. Everything Fra' Mani sells is made from animals raised on family farms without the use of hormones or antibiotics—plus, the name itself means "from our hands to yours," so you know they're on the right track.

They've got all your favorite Italian butcher classics from pancetta to homemade sausage links, but try their dry-cured sausages and salume and you won't be sorry. The Salame Calabrese above would obviously be a great pick for an Italian cheese spread, but a little thinly sliced in a taleggio grilled cheese certainly wouldn't be out of line either.

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Callie's Charleston Biscuits, Charleston, South Carolina. It's not that biscuits are hard to make, but sometimes you want something a little special. In comes Carrie Morey and her mother, Callie. It all started with Callie's hallmark country ham biscuits (above), but the brand has since expanded, and everything's still made with the love that makes Southern cooking famous.

Biscuits can be a vehicle for anything, but we can't stop thinking breakfast: tear apart a Black Pepper Bacon Biscuit right from the oven, shake on a little hot sauce, drag it through your egg yolk, maybe throw some crispy bacon shards on there, add the other half to make a little sandwich... Yep, that'll do the trick.


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BELLWETHER FARMS, Sonoma Valley, California. Once you try fresh-made ricotta cheese, you'll never go back to the grocery store tub again.

Bellwether makes all kinds of famous cheeses worth seeking out, but their Whey Ricotta is truly next-level. Spread it on bread as a vehicle for summer's matchless ripe tomatoes; stir some into pasta; make an Italian cheesecake with ricotta instead of cream cheese; drizzle some with honey and eat it with a spoon. The right stuff is as versatile as your imagination, and they've got the right stuff, right here.


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STEVE'S ICE CREAM, Brooklyn, New York. If you've spent any time in those fancy bodegas around the city, you've seen Steve's. Many a Sunday night we've passed over the big-brand favorites for the crazy, inventive flavors that have made this brand such a heavy hitter.

So many of their pints taste just like what the label says (Bourbon Pecan Pie or New Orleans-inspired NOLA Coffee & Donuts, anyone??) but that shouldn't stop you from adding chocolate, caramel, or marshmallow fluff for a decadent milkshake, scooping out your own ice cream sandwiches, or adding your own mix-ins for a sundae even crazier than the flavor you started with. You're already eating ice cream, why be modest?

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LA PASTA, Silver Spring, Maryland. There's no replacement for really great ravioli, and La Pasta's got the secret: start with an awesome pasta, fill with real, big pieces (not a puree!) of great ingredients, and freeze it just right so the flavors can come alive at home.

They've got ravioli for every taste, including gluten- and dairy-free varieties, but if you can, don't miss the clean, simple goat cheese and basil. Saute some traditional puttanesca or primavera ingredients, add some butter, stir in your cooked ravioli and you've got yourself an awesome Italian dinner that belies its simplicity.


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LILLIE'S Q, Chicago, Illinois. What is there to say about barbecue that hasn't already been said these past few years?

Well, there's one more thing to add to the list: Lillie's Q. It's a favorite restaurant in Chicago, but you can buy their amazing sauces anywhere, and boy are we thankful. Try something a little different with a jar of their Ivory; it's Lillie's version of that crazy white barbecue sauce from Alabama, traditionally made with mayo, pepper, vinegar, and sometimes horseradish. Swab some on pork ribs, chops, or oven-fried chicken wings and you'll be sad you've been missing out on it all these years.


Made it through this post and now you're too hungry to think? Enter in the form below for a chance to win a jam-packed box of specialty foods that'll satisfy all your cravings! 3 winners will be selected at random. Only one entry per email. Contest will end on August 31st when each winner is notified by email. Gothamist LLC terms and conditions apply.Sorry, this contest is now closed, but keep checking back on Gothamist for more awesome giveaways!


This post is a sponsored collaboration between the Specialty Food Association and Gothamist staff.

The Specialty Food Association is a diverse community of 3,000+ artisans and purveyors focused bringing real ingredients, traditional methods, and unique recipes to the distinctive foods they create, stock, and sell. Learn more at craftcarejoy.com.