Meg Dhamer has been pioneering her own brand of culinary magic since she was 8 years old. Left to her own devices for dinner one evening, she foraged through the kitchen and created Pizza Hash, a blend of pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese on a crisp crust of corned beef hash.
Though you won’t find the recipe for that dish on her website, you will find recipes for many of the other crowd pleasers she’s created over the subsequent years, like Chardonnay Poached Pears, Best Alfredo Ever, or Caramel Glazed Ham. Each recipe comes with a video straight from Dhamer’s kitchen as she walks you through her tried-and-true steps. Best of all, many of the recipes make excellent use of the brand of preservative-free dressings and sauces she manufactures called Pigtale Twist.
“I’ve been making the blue cheese [dressing] since I was 8 years old,” Dhamer says. “Though, in my mind [the homemade sauces] were never really salad dressings. They were a shortcut to elegant entertaining that would save me time when I was really behind; I use my Buttery Caramel sauce to glaze holiday hams, I put the Blue Cheese over a pound of pasta with jumbo shrimp.”
Local shoppers may already be familiar with her upscale brand of dressings in charming glass bottles. Pigtale Twist’s Ridiculously Garlic Blue, Beets All Ranch, and Creamy Garlic dressings and the Buttery Caramel sauce can be found on the< shelves at Heinen’s, Sunset Foods, Mariano’s, Standard Market, and Plum Market, as well as 90 locations around North America. The ethos behind Pigtale Twist is to use fresh, high-quality ingredients and no preservatives other than refrigeration. Aside from Dhamer’s affinity for using European butter, most of the ingredients are sourced from within the Midwest in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa. Dhamer’s recipes aim to be half the calories of similar products, low sodium, gluten free, and Weight Watchers friendly, and she wanted to make sure that every part of her packaging was recyclable. But Pigtale Twist has one other reason for locals to buy it over other gourmet brands: It was made, bottled, and shipped from right down the road at Lambs Farm in Libertyville. “My relationship with Lambs Farm has done more for me than I think I can ever express to anybody,” says Dhamer. Lambs Farm is mostly known for their Magnolia Café and Bakery restaurant, their petting zoo, and their pet shop, all existing on a beautiful stretch of 70 acres right off of Interstate 94. But it also exists as a non-profit organization providing vocational and residential services for more than 250 adults with developmental disabilities. Residents work in all of the industries on the property, from the restaurant to the pet store to the charming, old-fashioned Country Store. A hard working team of residents are also employed with Pigtale Twist, mixing the ingredients, bottling them, labeling the bottle by hand, and packing them up to be shipped out all over the country. From an industrial kitchen behind the Country Store, they churn out 500 bottles a week of each flavor. “But we have the capacity to do more,” Dhamer says. “So, if a Whole Foods came calling… The Board of Directors with Lambs Farm has discussed growing their facility to keep up with the growth in my volume. I can help them grow, and they can help me grow. Magic, right?” It might look like magic, but creating a brand like Pigtale Twist is a labor of hard work, planning, and maneuvering. Take the way Dhamer got her products into Mariano’s. When she heard Mariano’s wanted to move into the Chicagoland market, she contacted their real estate developer for a list of locations where they would be looking to open. With the help of her children, Daisey and Teddy, and her son-in-law, Eric, Dhamer began hosting Pigtale Twist booths in 17 farmers markets every week all throughout Chicago and the suburbs in areas from the Mariano’s list. The final weeks of the summer she printed up signs encouraging her new customer base to write to Roundy’s corporate if they wanted more of her dressings and sauces before the following summer. “There were so many emails saying ‘Mariano’s has to carry Pigtale Twist,’” Dhamer says. “That was like my coup.” Dhamer’s children weren’t the only family members to lend a hand to the burgeoning family business. Her mother, Elaine, drew the first draft of the company logo, three happy, dancing pigs, one of which dons a chef’s hat. Dhamer’s grandmother is the person responsible for naming the company. The stories she created for Dhamer before bed when she was a child all revolved around the little farmer of Pigtale Twist, a pig in the French countryside who made apothecary lamps in his barn at night and read fairytales to little piglets who would come to visit him. “Pigtale Twist was the name of my catering company, too,” Dhamer says. “It just goes with me wherever I go.” To learn more, visit pigtaletwist.com.
This story originally ran in the December 2016 Forest & Bluff magazine