The family heritage in Mouth of the South’s fresh salsas shows up all over the company. Tony and Andrea McGowan both have Southern roots, and it’s an evolution of Andrea’s family recipe that forms the company’s line.
“It started with my family, but over time we have perfected it,” says Andrea.
Tony’s family is originally from Virginia, and his relatives are scattered in South Carolina and Mississippi. He grew up in Sierra Vista. Andrea was born and raised in Patagonia, and her grandparents are from Texas and Mexico.
For five years, the couple — sometimes assisted by their sons, 15-year-old Jaden and 9-year-old Peyton, “the salsa princes,” Tony calls them — has produced their never-cooked salsas in an inspected commercial kitchen at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 545 S. Fifth Ave. In the beginning, they made 1 or 2 gallons a week; today, they’re making 40 to 50 gallons a week, and as much as 80 gallons a week during the winter.
All the ingredients for Mouth of the South’s line are chopped by hand in that kitchen. Whatever its flavor or heat level, the ingredients are simple and transparent: chilled salsa, lime and salt.
The salsa company is Tony’s full-time job, while Andrea splits her time between the company and work as a retirement and financial planner. “We’re determined not to go into debt with the salsa company,” she says.
The entrepreneurial couple are upbeat and enthusiastic. They love to come up with slogans and catchphrases — “Want some? Get some!” is their primary slogan — and label their salsas’ heat index so customers can choose from lame, tame, flame and insane. “It’s all about the experience and the showmanship,” says Tony, whose outgoing personality and flashing smile make him a natural for both.
Sold at Rillito Park Heirloom Farmers Markets, Mouth of the South salsas are also available at other outlets around town, including Tucson Local, Food and Root, the Food Conspiracy Co-op on Fourth Avenue, Viva Coffee House on Valencia, and Dickman’s Meat and Deli.
“At Sonoita Mini Mart, it flies off the shelves,” says Tony.
The company also ships its fresh salsas, which have a shelf life of up to three weeks. “We had a shelf-life testing done at the University of Arizona,” says Andrea. “We stopped at three weeks because it cost more to keep extending. But the fact is that it’s usually gone long before that time.”
Fans in Phoenix who tasted Mouth of the South’s salsas at My Nana’s Salsa Festival competitions in 2015 and 2016 — where the company has won best-in-show and business categories — beg the company to deliver to Phoenix outlets, Tony says, but so far, they haven’t been able to figure out how to fit that into their weekly schedule.
The salsas are packaged in glass jars that aren’t heat-sealed — “because we don’t want to cook the salsa inside,” Andrea says. At $6 to $8 a jar, customers get a rebate when they return their empty jars, Tony says; he likes the recycling aspect of that, and glass jars are expensive. “At Rillito Park, customers can also always ask about discounts and promotions,” he says.
For the “don and diva of salsas,” as they refer to themselves, the insistence on hewing to the family’s recipe is key to their success, they say. “There are ways that we could make this cheaper, but it wouldn’t be right,” Andrea says. “We’re just not willing to cut corners if it affects flavor or texture. There are lots of cooked salsas out there. That’s just not us.”
Arizona Layered Bean Dip
Makes 16 to 18 servings
Unless you prepare your own refried beans, this refreshing dip is totally no-cook — and its bright flavors reflect that. Pickled nopalitos, guacamole, roasted poblanos, crumbled Cotija cheese, crema and fresh salsa give it Sonoran flair. It’s a great dish for a party. Be sure to drain the salsa well.
2 16-ounce cans refried beans
2 tablespoons chili powder, mild, medium or hot
1 tablespoon cumin
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 cups fresh salsa
1½ cups pickled nopalitos
2 cups guacamole
1½ cup crumbled Cotija cheese
5 to 6 roasted poblano peppers, diced
2 cups crema or sour cream
½ cup sliced black olives
1 cup sliced green onions
Lime wedges, for garnish
Put refried beans into a large bowl. Add the chili powder and cumin and stir well to combine. Spread the beans into a 9-by-13-inch dish. Scatter the lettuce over the refried beans.
Drain the salsa well, then spread it in a layer over the lettuce. Spread the nopalitos over the salsa, then spread the guacamole over the nopalitos.
Next, scatter the Cotija cheese over the guacamole, the poblano peppers over the Cotija cheese, then spread the crema over that.
Scatter the black olives and green onions over the dish.
Refrigerate two hours or overnight for flavors to meld. Serve with lime wedges and tortilla chips or toasted pita wedges.
Next week: Brian LaPrairie of B-X Ranch in Cochise sells his farm-raised Katahdin lamb as well as beef, pork and chicken.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at www.thefeastofthedove.com.