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For this Chapel Hill company, home comes in the form of hot pepper relish

hot sauce contest.jpg

In September of 2019, Cottage Lane’s Cape Fear Pepper Relish won best N.C. Verde Hot Sauce at the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest in Oxford. Photo courtesy of Samantha Swan.

For Samantha Swan, business is about more than hot sauce — it’s about home.

Swan is the owner and founder of Cottage Lane Kitchen, and her family has been making hot pepper relishes with the same recipe for four generations. 

Before she asked her father to teach her the time-tested recipe in 2009, it had only been passed down orally. When Swan decided to begin canning and selling the relish, Cottage Lane was an obvious choice for her company's name.

“We thought that name would be a testament to not only our location and our history in Chapel Hill, but also our homestead on Cottage Lane,” Swan said.

In September, Cottage Lane’s Cape Fear Pepper Relish won best N.C. Verde Hot Sauce at the North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest in Oxford. The latest award adds to a total of over 25 the company has received, including having been a finalist in Martha Stewart’s 2015 competition for American-made products.

For Swan, whose great-grandmother’s recipe “Get Me a Switch” won the contest’s Critic's Choice award back in 2012, this win brings her business full-circle. 

“That was our first big award for our relishes, so we were really happy about that,” Swan said. “Here we are seven years later where our modern-day relish, 'Cape Fear,' wins the Verde [contest].”

Although the recognition is nice, Swan said she has known she had something special from the moment the company sold its first hot sauce at a farmer’s market in 2009.

“I realized when we started taste-testing that a lot of people, their families made the same thing,” Swan said. “Kind of less spicy or more spicy or making it a little bit different, but it is a regional canned product, so people identified with it when we took it to market.”

Although Swan says many North Carolinians identify with her product, Cottage Lane does not make what many consider to be “traditional” hot sauces or relishes. Both of the company’s flavors are pepper relishes and, as Swan says, they’ve got a kick.

“People from the South know pepper jelly with cream cheese and crackers, this is kind of a relish,” Swan said. “It’s more pepper and less sugar."

Swan suggests trying the relish on everything from collards to hot dogs to pinto beans to pizza. The relish is currently sold in most of the Whole Foods in the Triangle, as well as at Southern Season in Chapel Hill and Weaver Street Market in Carrboro.

Swan, a 1996 graduate of UNC, said she hopes other Tar Heels will enjoy her product.

“We’re very proud to be where we are, and we have always been based in the heart of Chapel Hill and Tar Heel country,” she said.

The company, which is family-owned and operated, has experienced rapid growth since it was founded in 2009, Swan said, and she’s grateful for that.

“We’re a very small business, and we’ve been very fortunate for the exposure that we’ve gotten,” Swan said. “But we’re still trying to keep it a small, family-based business.”

As the company looks forward to further growth, its founder remains focused on tradition, flavor and Cottage Lane’s namesake: home. 

“Family history surrounds me on Cottage Lane — a street I have known all my life,” Swan said in a press release about the contest. “We are proud of the lineage of our recipes; our homestead; the quality of the ingredients used in our products and the bold flavors we continue to preserve.”


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