LSU AgCenter Food Incubator helps turn childhood recipe into business

(11/07/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – Like a lot of people in south Louisiana, Robert Wolf grew up knowing the value of good food. He took cooking lessons, placed in 4-H cooking contests and worked in restaurants, all before he was 13 years old.

“I quickly learned the power of blending spices and seasonings,” he said.

As an elementary school student in Covington, Wolf started making what he called “potato toppers” using sour cream and various other ingredients. They ultimately evolved into snack dips, and they were popular everywhere Wolf went with them.

“I felt like the party hero,” Wolf said. “I felt like I was the most important guy around.”

Wolf, who would go on to work in information technology and as a food writer at Louisiana newspapers, always wanted to have his own business. Now he has one – Dip Me Snacks – thanks to the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.

After taking two bowls of dip to a Christmas party about four years ago and watching guests gobble them down, Wolf got in touch with AgCenter dairy science professor Chuck Boeneke, who directed him to the then-newly formed Food Incubator. Two years later, Wolf officially joined the incubator, which provides entrepreneurs the expertise and facilities they need to launch food businesses.

Most incubator tenants make their products in kitchens in Clyde Ingram Hall and the Animal and Food Sciences Laboratories Building on the Baton Rouge campus. But Wolf, the first tenant to make a dairy product, works in the creamery in the AgCenter Dairy Science Building. He made his first batch of dip for sale there earlier this month.

Wolf, who plans to sell Dip Me products at farmers markets and locally owned grocery stores, is hoping the football season and upcoming holidays will give him a jumpstart on sales and help introduce his company to the community.

The Dip Me lineup currently has two flavors: Gator Bite, a spicy dip made with jalapeño peppers and cilantro, and Creole Herb, a more delicate flavor that includes a blend of local herbs. Wolf is working on two more flavors.

Wolf, of New Orleans, said Dip Me dips are set apart by their all-natural, fresh ingredients. He uses milk from Louisiana dairy farms.

The dips’ most distinct characteristic, though, is the sour cream base. Wolf chose the recipe after a taste test of four versions that one of Boeneke’s doctoral students made.

“The one we liked was velvety; it was creamy; it was rich; it was tangy,” Wolf said. “It also was just the perfect dip-chip consistency. It just sat on the chip right.”

It takes 24 labor-intensive hours to produce a batch of sour cream, beginning with making cultures from lactic acid bacteria. Tools have to be sanitized throughout the process, or else the whole recipe can fail.

Wolf said making and selling dairy products presents several unique challenges. His sour cream-based dips are perishable and have to stay refrigerated. Their shelf life is only 45 days, so they require a faster turnaround in terms of sales.

But there are benefits, too, because new batches must be made often. “I really wanted to create a fresh, lively, delicious snack dip that’s not full of scary ingredients. I didn’t want it to be full of preservatives,” Wolf said.

Though Wolf did a lot of tinkering with his recipe as a kid, it hasn’t changed much since he joined the Food Incubator. AgCenter food scientists Luis Espinoza and Marvin Moncada helped him preserve the flavor and texture of his homemade batches while scaling the recipe up to a commercial level.

“None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for the Food Incubator and the dairy,” Wolf said. “The facilities, the expertise, the guidance are unparalleled.”

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Robert Wolf, owner of Dip Me Snacks and a tenant of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, displays containers of the Gator Bite and Creole Herb flavors of his sour-cream based snack dip on Nov. 1 in the AgCenter creamery on the LSU campus. Wolf is standing next to a pasteurizer he uses to make the sour cream in his products. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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Robert Wolf, owner of Dip Me Snacks and a tenant of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, pours heated milk into a sterilized glass jar as part of the process of making cultures for sour cream on Oct. 31 in the LSU AgCenter creamery. Wolf makes his own sour cream for use in his snack dips. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

11/7/2016 9:07:43 PM
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