Nikki Gillig, left, and Shilo Clouse have hit on a winning flavor combination: their sweet and spicy jalapeno jam. The jam was such a hit at the family business, Gillig Winery, that they started selling it by the jar. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF

Staff Writer

Things heat up when Shilo Clouse gets in the kitchen.

The Findlay woman has created a winning recipe for jalapeño jam.

And while it may sound strange to add hot peppers to something that’s traditionally sweet, the addition creates a savory combination that keeps customers at Gillig’s Winery happy. It’s often paired with cream cheese and crackers for an appetizer, or used to complement a sandwich.

“It’s got a little bit of hotness at the end,” said Clouse. “But it’s definitely not spicy, as if you were just to eat a straight jalapeño.”

A physical education and health teacher at New Riegel Schools by day, Clouse takes to the kitchen at the local winery on evenings and weekends. The business is owned by her sister, Nikki Gillig.

“I do a lot of the cooking. I do a lot of the wine and food pairings, and then a lot of the menu items that we have,” said Clouse.

Gillig said her sister really should have been a chef.

“She is a teacher and she enjoys teaching, don’t get me wrong. But she has a very keen eye for cooking,” said Gillig.

A native of Tiffin, Clouse has been interested in cooking since she was young.

“I was always in the kitchen mixing up something,” she said.

Grape jelly was a favorite, using her great-grandmother’s recipe.

“My grandma still makes grape jelly,” she said, adding that she still makes it with her mom.

“I just enjoy doing that and thought it would be fun to do jalapeño jam one day,” she said. “I had seen other people try it before (making jalapeño jam) when I’ve been to the farmers’ market or things like that. And I just thought, ‘I’m going to try and make my own.'”

Then one summer they planted jalapeños with thoughts of adding them to salsa.

“So I kind of fiddled with that, and then kind of had some ideas of what to do, and voilà,” she said. A jam recipe was born.

“Everybody fell in love with it and away we went.”

When the winery opened three years ago, they created an appetizer that’s always on the menu. And occasionally a “Tickle Your Tastebuds” sandwich is available that features four types of cheese topped with jalapeño jam and bacon. (Tickle Your Tastebuds is also the name of the sisters’ business which produces the jam.)

She even added the jam to salsa and entered it in a competition at the farmers’ market last summer. Everyone liked the combination, and the salsa took first-place honors.

The peppers are grown in a garden tended by the sisters.

“We have an organic garden that we use, no pesticides or anything,” said Gillig.

They usually include 20-30 plants that produce extra-large jalapeños, along with green beans and a large variety of tomatoes. They cut, seed and freeze the jalapeños, then use the produce throughout the year.

“Nikki’s daughter and son, they enjoy coming in when they have time and they’re not at their sports,” Clouse said. “They help cut. My parents will help cut and chop jalapeño, so it’s definitely a family affair. Everybody’s working together.”

Gloves are required when seeding and chopping the peppers, she added.

“We’re always washing our hands. It will definitely burn,” said Clouse. “We make sure we have a couple of pairs of gloves on, actually — two or three. It will definitely burn your skin, for sure. It’s not fun if that happens.”

Clouse uses the seeded peppers to make jam.

“We have played around with batches making it spicy, but we don’t really offer that,” she said. “The majority of people like it sweet, with a little bit of heat.”

Once they started serving jalapeño jam at the winery, people asked to buy it for home use. Eight-ounce jelly jars can now be purchased for $8 at the business, 1720 Northridge Road.

“We sell a lot, so people really like it,” said Gillig.

Clouse said it takes about four hours to make a batch of jam. Gillig helps out when she has time.

“It has to cook down, so it does take a long time,” Clouse explained.

She said she enjoys cooking because it gives her a chance to use her imagination.

“It’s just fun to create. And it’s really fun because I get to serve and see people enjoy it as well,” said Clouse. “When you see people enjoying and just having a good time together, it makes me feel good seeing that they’re happy.”

Wolf: 419;427-8419

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