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On A Jelly Roll

Maui Community College students and professors hope to turn winemakers’ waste

Take a wine byproduct, some Maui sugar, a pinch of ingenuity and a $45,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Add pectin, lemon juice and a lot of hard work. The result? A new jelly-making business housed at Maui Community College and a wealth of experience for culinary arts students. Here's the full recipe.

In September 2002, Tedeschi Vineyards president Paula Hegle called the Maui Community College with an intriguing offer for the culinary arts program to use lees left over from batches of raspberry wine. Lees are the fruity sediments that settle out during some winemaking processes. "They were basically dumping it as fertilizer. We were thrilled," says Chris Speere, an associate professor of culinary arts at MCC.

STARTING TO GEL: Jennifer Maskrey, Theresa Shurilla, culinary arts associate professor Chris Speere and Traci-Lynn Yamada have developed a marketable product from winemaking waste. Photo : Ron Dahlquist

Speere brainstormed with students and fellow instructor Theresa Shurilla. The group settled on a Maui raspberry wine jelly. "Jelly-making is an art that is slowly disappearing, so we thought it would be educational," says Speere. They perfected the recipe, making batch after batch, with different levels of pectin, lemon juice, lees and Maui sugar. Along the way they learned that the age of the lees strongly impacted flavor, with younger lees imparting a cleaner, raspberry taste. "It's not overly sweet, but has a real intense raspberry flavor," says Speere.

The class tweaked the recipe to maximize stability and shelf life. The Hawaii state Department of Health helped by testing the batches for bacterial contamination. Students and instructors also researched jar and lid makers, as well as label designs and marketing plans. They settled on a retail price of $11 per nine-ounce jar and a wholesale price of $6 per jar. Both MCC and Tedeschi will sell the jelly, although Speere hopes to convince other outlets to stock the sweet, sticky stuff.

Production costs per jar total only $2.16. Speere figures he can create a profitable business, with the help of the $45,000 USDA grant. MCC will use the grant to fund a new production kitchen, purchase some jelly packaging equipment and pay for marketing to publicize the jelly. "Hopefully this is the start of many research and product-development projects," says Speere. For the students, the lesson is both sweet and simple. Says Mary Ann Lyons, one of the MCC students who worked on the jelly project, "I learned you can take what someone is going to throw away and make something fabulous from it. You can turn lemons into lemonade."

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