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Hilmar-made beef jerky competes at Fresno Food Expo

Hilmar-made jerky competes at Fresno Food Expo

Aubrey Lim talks about making jerky with beef hearts at the Snackmasters plant in Hilmar, Calif., on Thursday, July 21, 2016. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)
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Aubrey Lim talks about making jerky with beef hearts at the Snackmasters plant in Hilmar, Calif., on Thursday, July 21, 2016. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)

College student Aubrey Lim has taken beef jerky, that staple of mini-marts everywhere, to a new place.

Her gourmet version with beef hearts, made at the SnackMasters jerky plant on Lander Avenue, is one of 10 finalists for a new-product award at the Fresno Food Expo next week.

The sixth annual event will showcase food and drink from the San Joaquin Valley to about 750 buyers for grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses around the world.

Lim is up for the Buyer’s Choice Award, to be determined by an expert judging panel. All 33 entries vie for the People’s Choice Award, based on online voting by the public until Thursday. Top Line Milk, bottled on a dairy farm near Winton, is among the latter.

Lim just finished her sophomore year at California State University, Fresno, which included a spring internship at SnackMasters. The Fresno native created a major for herself called food systems entrepreneurship.

During a Thursday morning visit to the plant, Lim said her interest in jerky grew out of her enjoyment of rock climbing, with its need for lightweight but nourishing food. She said hers is the first version with beef hearts on the market.

“The heart actually lends itself to a really tender jerky that isn’t as stringy as traditional jerky,” she said.

SnackMasters makes jerky out of beef, turkey, salmon and tuna – a total of about 120,000 pounds a year. The products are low in fat and contain all natural ingredients. The beef and turkey have teriyaki and hot-and-spicy versions along with the original recipes.

The heart actually lends itself to a really tender jerky that isn’t as stringy as traditional jerky.

Aubrey Lim, jerky entrepreneur

The company employs 10 people now but will triple that later this year with a second plant in Madera. It was founded in 1983 by Jim Rekoutis and now is owned by Bob and Nancy Weeks.

The process takes one to three days, depending on the type of jerky. It starts with slicing the raw meat or fish, followed by marinating and heating to 160 degrees to kill pathogens.

The result is “artisan craft jerky,” Nancy Weeks said. It costs more than the mass-market stuff – about $5 for a 2-ounce package. Shoppers can find it at Raley’s, Whole Foods, natural food stores and dozens of other retailers. It’s also at the plant’s storefront, 6332 Lander Ave., and at www.snackmasters.com.

Weeks said the second plant, in a former building for the Madera Tribune newspaper, will have a jerky tasting room. That should fit right in with the Madera Wine Trail, which connects 11 wineries in the surrounding countryside.

The beef-heart jerky will find plenty of samplers at the Fresno event, which includes a Thursday evening portion for the public.

Expo spokeswoman Lauren Meckstroth passed along some of the comments from the judges who put the jerky among the finalists.

“Lean, tender, flavorful,” said one. Another said “very unique … very inexpensive part of a cow, so jerky is well-priced.”

Top Line Milk, the other entrant from the north valley, is a new venture by dairy farmers Paul and Sonya van Warmerdam. Their product is not homogenized, meaning the cream rises to the top. More information is at www.toplinemilk.com.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

Fresno Food Expo

When: Wednesday and Thursday

Where: Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center, 700 M St.

Day 1: Tours of local food producers for buyers representing grocery stores and other companies around the world.

Day 2: Daytime trade show for food producers and buyers. Public event from 5 to 8 p.m. to taste various foods and talk with producers. The $50 tickets are at www.fresnofoodexpo.com/registration/public-tickets.

Online voting: The public can vote for the People’s Choice Award for the best new product by 3 p.m. Thursday. Go to www.fresnofoodexpo.com.

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