Peanut butter appeals to couple

Packing in professional life for peanut butter

SARAH CATHERALL
Last updated 13:25 22/01/2014
peanut butter couple

Nutty couple: Roman and Andrea Jewell in their garden.

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When Roman Jewell quit a high-paying job as a law lecturer to make peanut butter, his friends, naturally, thought he was nuts. After all, he and his wife, Andrea, also a lawyer, had a new mouth to feed in the form of baby Otto, who is now 6 months old. With food allergies on the rise, too, nuts have had bad press.

The couple had met in the United Kingdom while studying masters degrees. Andrea was from Cambridge, and both specialised in commercial law. They returned to New Zealand, and both worked in law in Wellington, with Roman teaching the law professional course to final-year lawyers at Victoria University.

It wasn't a natural thing for them to leave this safe, high-paying world behind to launch their peanut butter brand, Fix and Fogg. It wasn't as though they were peanut butter fanatics either. Andrea remembers a childhood of peanut butter containing chocolate swirls, while Roman spread crunchy peanut butter on toast.

Instead, they're "massive foodies", who love nothing better than making their own food from scratch. Both pescatarians, they're concerned about what they eat. Says Roman: "We thought peanut butter was a healthy natural product, but we found a lot of brands were full of added emulsifiers, preservatives, sugar and too much salt. Not enough attention was being given to the colour and taste of roasted peanuts."

In their Aro Valley home, they began making homemade peanut butter, keen to make it both simple and healthy, "and it all started from there".

It tasted good but they couldn't get it as smooth as the peanut butter sold in shops. They got slightly obsessive, though, and decided to import a nut grinder from India, which took four months to arrive – after the painstaking process of getting a license for it too – but it turned out to be a dud.

So they commissioned another grinder to be made, and "an obsession turned into a business", says Roman. He spent his days teaching law students and his nights in a kitchen at the Hataitai Bowling Club, grinding nuts and turning them into peanut butter. They were making peanut butter to order, sold through the General Store in Aro Valley, and also at craft fairs – about 400 jars a week.

Says Roman: "I was grinding peanuts the night before Otto was born. I had this crazy existence of working during the day and making peanut butter at night."

Roman also delivered jars to local homes. "I felt like a peanut butter tooth fairy. I'd leave the jar on the doorstep, and it felt kind of weird saying goodbye to the jar."

The operation got too big for the bowling club kitchen, and they had no room to store the bags of hi-oleic nuts imported from Australia, so Roman can now be found grinding nuts at a commercial kitchen in Elsdon. They've hired a nut roaster, too. Crunchy and smooth batches are produced separately, and the peanut butter (ground nuts and a sprinkling of Marlborough sea salt) is handblended and put into jars by hand.

They've had their peanut butter lab tested and found that the fat, sugar and salt content are much lower than standard peanut butter. Each batch has a grind number stamped by an antique perforator on the back, and every batch is slightly different in both colour and texture. And in an exciting development, Moore Wilson's began stocking and selling Fix and Fogg smooth and super crunchy jars last week.

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Apart from trying peanut butter on just about everything in their house, the Jewells are also considering blending it and introducing new flavours, like peanut butter with smoked paprika. Andrea's favourite snack is a spoon of peanut butter and cottage cheese on rice cakes, while Roman loves a dollop of peanut butter on top of yoghurt. They're adding peanut butter to smoothies and muffins, and concocting recipes, like peanut butter with mushrooms.

Just as coffee barons hunt for the perfect bean, Roman gets excited about peanuts. "I feel like peanuts have been underappreciated. We need to have a better appreciation of the nut."

Adds Andrea: "We're doing something that is ours, that we're thoroughly into."

TRY THIS AT HOME

Fix and Fogg peanut butter and caramel slice, by Andrea Jewell

For the base:

1 cup raw hazelnuts

1 cup desiccated coconut

½ cup almond meal

½ cup Fix and Fogg Super Crunchy or Smooth Peanut Butter

100g unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Agave, rice malt syrup, or honey – sweeten to taste

For the caramel:

2 cups pitted dates

¼ cup Fix and Fogg Smooth Peanut Butter

¼ cup coconut cream

½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Soaking water as needed

For the chocolate:

¼ cup coconut oil

¼ cup cacao butter

½ cup cacao or cocoa powder

Agave, rice malt syrup, or honey – sweeten to taste

20cm square tray.

Start by soaking the dates in warm water. Leave for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the base.

Whiz up the nuts in a food processor until semi-fine. Add the remaining base ingredients and whiz again to combine. Press into a lined and greased tray. Bake for 8-12 minutes at 160C until starting to turn golden. Remove and allow to cool completely.

Drain dates, reserving the soaking water. Add dates to a food processor along with all other caramel ingredients, except for soaking water. Blend on high until dates are smooth. Add soaking water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is a smooth paste. Not too runny or it won't set. Spoon mix on top of the nut base.

Melt coconut oil and cacao butter in saucepan and then stir in the cacao/cocoa powder, and sweetener if you need it. Pour over the caramel and refrigerate until set. Slice at room temperature, and then keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

- The Dominion Post

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