Deb Rock guarantees she has never eaten a dish without a chile pepper, much like her grandfather, whom she remembers biting into a fresh jalapeño at every meal. She also believes she may be the only Latina in the United States producing her own line of hot sauce, Sonoma Hot Sauce, which is about to celebrate five years in the North Bay market.
And in July, Sonoma Hot Sauce will be available on the shelves of all four Oliver’s Market locations in Sonoma County.
Rock, 51, said she grew up dreaming of the opportunity to harvest her own food.
Her parents are originally from Nuevo León, Mexico. They were farmers, but their American dream was to abandon their work in the fields. They eventually entered the U.S. military, so Rock ended up confined to military base yards without gardens, where the possibility of growing seeds was a fantasy.
In 1993, she created her first hot sauce in Seattle, where she moved after leaving her parents’ house. Rock lived there for 20 years, learned about agriculture, grew her own food and led community agricultural programs.
Rock spent some of her childhood at military bases in Louisiana, where the famous Tabasco sauce was created. “It was on every table,” she said. “To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a meal without hot sauce on it. So I started to make my own hot sauce.”
At first, she called it Deb’s Hot Sauce and gave it away to family and friends. When she arrived in Sonoma County in 2013, she started an agropreneur program at Santa Rosa Junior College on Shone Farm, just outside of Healdsburg. There her business plan was to produce, sell and distribute Sonoma Hot Sauce.
Now, with almost five years in the North Bay market, Rock is positive that she is creating a new cross of chiles, which she calls the Sonoma Chile. “I started growing about 20 kinds of chiles, but in the field these seeds would cross,” she said. “Doing this every year for many years, a new chile has been refined. ”
This “field blend” that she grows for hot sauce is a selection of sweet and spicy chiles, which results in a spicy hot sauce, Rock said. “I use a blend of peppers, everything from sweet to a medium hot. It’s not a super hot, hot sauce, but it’s not moderate. It’s hot sauce!”
Harvesting in Sonoma County, on a farm located in the fields of Rohnert Park, substantially improved the product, she said.
“Because of the closeness to the ocean, we have this slow maturation of the peppers, just like the local wine grapes,” she said. “Moving here improved the flavor of my hot sauce dramatically, definitely because of the Mediterranean climate and the incredible soil that this farm has.”
Rock said there’s nothing like it out in the local market. The hot sauce is all organic, vegan, and only prepared with three main ingredients: peppers, salt and vinegar — no water added.
The next step in Rock’s fiery career is to create the “Chile Collective,” a group of local farmers who harvest chile peppers to produce Sonoma Hot Sauce, and which encourages passionate urban or rural gardeners to plant and sell their own chile products, in what she calls the “community condiment.”
Sonoma Hot Sauce is available for sale at Big John’s in Healdsburg, El Gallo Negro in Windsor, Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, and all four locations of Oliver’s Market, starting July 10, Rock said.
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