Interview: Dafna Kory of INNA Jam | Punk Domestics

Interview: Dafna Kory of INNA Jam

Photo courtesy Sarah Henry/Lettuce Eat Kale

Dafna Kory is the founder of INNA Jam, a small-batch artisan jam company based in Emeryville, California. She turned an infatuation with pepper jelly into a hobby and ultimately into a business. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Dafna opened her own commercial kitchen, and her efforts have born fruit, so to speak. INNA's Fresno chili jam took home a Good Food Award this past January. She took some time out of her busy schedule (no, really, it's peak apricot season right now) to talk to us. 

Have you turned your food craft hobby into a business? The submission window is open now through July 31 for the Good Food Awards.

Photo courtesy Dafna Kory/INNA Jam

Kudos on the Good Food Awards for your Fresno chili jam! What was it like when you received the news? 
Thanks! I was really excited and honored of course. The Good Food Awards are so well regarded, how can anyone be anything but flattered? The whole INNA crew cheered when we found out. I was especially stoked for the fresno chili jam to win because it's a newer jam for us, kind of like the little sister to our ever-popular jalapeño (the jam that started this whole INNA jam thing). So it was really great that it got some attention.  The Good Food Awards is a great organization of my peers, so it's really an honor to be recognized.

What got you started making pepper jam?  
I was at a friends for Thanksgiving a few years ago and someone had jalapeño jam poured over cream cheese as an appetizer. I thought it was so good and ate so much that I spoiled my appetite for the meal. Subsequently I couldn't find it in stores so I decided to make it for myself. I started to give away jars to my friends and eventually I decided to start my own jam company. Jalapeño was the first jam and others followed as I found other sources of fruit that I liked. It really happened like that, gradually. I never intended to have it grow like this from the outset.

How did you go about developing your initial recipes? What were the "aha" moments?
Well, pretty early on I decided that I prefer single varietal jams; jams that feature one fruit, not combinations or layering of different flavors. So my goal from the beginning has been to come up with recipes that really allow the fruit to shine, and to capture that unique fresh fruit flavor as best I can. I guess my aha moment was when I was still a hobbyist and experimenting with foraged fruit from my neighborhood: I realized it was only when I was preserving not-that-great fruit that I was reaching for herbs and spices and liqueurs to boost the flavor. Whenever I was working with really great fruit there was so much nuance, complexity and flavor in the perfectly ripe fruit that it needed nothing else. So I decided to work with only top-grade super high quality organic fruit grown by local farmers and really focus on the subtleties of each varietal's flavors.

Tell us about the process of taking your jams from hobby to business. What was involved? What were the pitfalls?
I think the biggest challenges of turning my hobby into a business was learning what permits I was required to have and finding a commercial kitchen to work in. It was a lot of hard work: I worked 80-hour weeks for the the first couple years (while working another job in the winters), running the business during the day and cooking jam during the night shift in shared kitchens. Now I have my own commercial kitchen in Emeryville, an amazing crew, supportive customers, and I've learned so much along the way - things are definitely getting easier. 

And now you're doing shrubs! What got you started on that?
Actually, I tasted my first shrub at the Good Food Awards in 2012 - it was the winning Wine Forest Wild Elderberry Shrub. It was totally delicious and inspiring, so I decided to start playing around with shrubs myself. The thing is that in my jam making process I don't add any acids (like lemon juice) to the fruit jams in order to keep the fruit flavor pure, so it's really nice to have another method to preserve fruit that not only uses acids (vinegar in this case) but also highlights it! We use organic apple cider vinegar from Sebastopol in our shrubs which I think is a great complement to the fruit.

I love that you have such a green sensibility in all aspects of your business. Tell us a bit about your efforts to make your business more eco-friendly, and your philosophy behind that. 
Being conservative with resources is just part of how I approach my every day life really, so being eco-friendly wasn't really a conscious choice for INNA jam - it's just an extension of my personal philosophy. All our fruit is sourced within 150 miles of our Emeryville kitchen, which is a great way to reduce our carbon footprint, support our local economy, and maintain relationships with the farmers that we work with. It also happens to ensure that the fruit is very fresh, often we are cooking fruit that was picked the day before. I choose to source organically grown produce and sugar for the benefit of our customers, the soil, and the farm workers. I'm proud to be able to support and contribute to sustainable farming practices.

Talk to us about the name. 
Sometime people don't get the joke, they think Inna is my name. So I'll spell it out. I'm in a jam, in-a jam - get it? INNA jam. I try not to take myself too seriously :)

Your packaging is gorgeous. Who designed it?
Thank you! I design all of our packaging myself. Since each INNA jam features a single variety of fruit I think the design of the jar should reflect that with a simple and clear aesthetic. I love the colors of my jams, especially when all the different varieties are lined up next to each other, so I want to show off as much as I can what's inside.  

Got any new flavors in development? What's next for INNA Jam?
We're always working on new ideas; when we have downtime we do a lot of R&D on different recipes. There is a new INNA line coming up that I'm very excited about, but it's top secret. Let's just say that it's a kind of... boozy.

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