Ava's Caramel Popcorn
Is there anything better for munchie goodness than caramel popcorn? Buttery, crunchy, sweet and salty. In case you didn't know, the Boston area has a source for some of the best handmade caramel popcorn around made by Ava Vatsky of Ava's Caramel Popcorn. Not only does she make each batch from scratch and uses the best ingredients, she is constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations so there is always something new to try.
I recently worked with Ava to photograph some of her flavor varieties and ask her some questions about her popcorn know-how.
In addition, read on to learn more about how to enter our giveaway to win a two bag gift set of Ava's Caramel Popcorn for yourself...
How did you get started with gourmet popcorn and why do you think caramel popcorn is so appealing to people?
I grew up eating amazing caramel popcorn with my midwestern grandparents (the midwest is home to fantastic (and famous) caramel popcorn); it was a treat that figured in prominently in my childhood. I had always loved food and always wanted my own food business and everything came together in one big "aha!" moment when I realized I could recreate a cherished childhood memory in a big, creative way. Caramel popcorn appeals to people because it's nostalgic and comforting and - at least in terms of the caramel popcorn I make! -- also novel and unique. The fact that it's sweet, salty and crunchy doesn't hurt either- it's absolutely impossible to stop eating!
What makes your caramel popcorn stand out from others?
Handmade caramel popcorn is completely different from what you'll find in those ubiquitous, mass-produced tins. My product is a genuine confection, prepared carefully by hand with highest quality ingredients that you actually feel good about eating (European butter, pure cane sugar only (no corn syrup), locally sourced sea salt, Valrhona and Taza chocolate) in flavor combinations not seen anywhere else. My small-batch process means that I can prepare my popcorn fresh-to-order for each and every customer -- the full buttery flavor in freshly prepared caramel popcorn is unrivaled.
All of your varieties are made by hand - how do you come up with and test new flavors?
I am a voracious reader of cookbooks - I keep them on my nightstand! -- and am heavily influenced by various pastry chefs and their innovative flavor combinations. Whenever I read a recipe -- even if it's not obviously related to caramel or popcorn -- I ask myself how the flavors or technique might work for a new flavor. I also make a point of sampling new foods wherever I go, near or far, and apply the same thought process. Sometimes the leaps are obvious (the notion to try orange in my caramel was inspired by Joanne Chang's addition of fresh orange in her Ooey Gooey Caramel Nut Tart) whereas other times they are more circuitous (my Hazelnut flavor is modeled on a fantastic chocolate bar I sampled in Italy).
The testing process itself has proven to be amusing- my signature Sea Salt Caramel flavor took a solid year of testing to get exactly right (I tinkered with every single component to get it just right-- how much salt exactly? madagascar or bourbon vanilla? more butter? always more butter!), whereas the testing for the Chocolate Sunrise and Sunset was complete after roughly 15 minutes. I literally said to myself, "hey, why don't I add a fresh orange to this batch of simmering caramel?" and boom! a new flavor was ready.
Can you tell me something about popcorn or caramel popcorn that people may not know?
We tend to think of popcorn as a blank canvass of sorts, a vehicle for butter, salt, seasoning, or caramel (of course!), but in fact the popcorn itself has a very strong flavor. I've come up against this time and again when testing new flavors, where the caramel sauce on its own will taste rich and full-flavored, but once combined with popcorn, will lose the nuances because the flavor of the corn is so robust. It's a lot more challenging to work with than you'd think!
How does the New England region influence your products or business?
We are so lucky here in New England to enjoy such an emphasis on and respect for local, handmade goods. The community of local makers is robust, creative, and inspiring, and I feel grateful to be part of that every single day. My favorite part of owning this business -- apart from making people really happy with my caramel popcorn! -- has been meeting my wonderful fellow makers whom I'm so lucky to call my friends.
What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy caramel popcorn? What is the craziest or most unusual way you have heard people serving your popcorn?
I absolutely love pairing my popcorn with a really good vanilla ice cream and doused with Fat Toad Farm's goat milk caramel sauces (any of their incredible flavors!) for an over-the-top caramel sundae. As far as unusual, I know a farmer who sprinkles my caramel popcorn on top of salad! I guess though, when you think about it, it's not that different from candied nuts...
Learn more about Ava's Caramel Popcorn and order any of her flavors at
Photos and Animation: Melissa DiPalma