Your Feeble Grasp of Dialect Is Costing You Money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet)  What I know as "gravy" much of the rest of the country would never consider gravy, and that distinction comes with a price attached to it.

The United States has spent roughly the last year in a dialectic about dialect. A dialect quiz conducted more than a decade ago by the Harvard University Linguistics Department gave way to dozens of dialect maps, a New York Times quiz, an Atlantic experiment and renewed debate over the pronunciations of "route," "pecan" and "merry/marry/Mary."

What that discussion didn't include was a definition of "gravy" that the Times' business section alluded to earlier this month in a series about Carlos Vega, a Guttenberg, N.J., pizzeria owner who sold his business and focused on producing, marketing and selling a line of tomato sauce called Jersey Italian Gravy. With help from the folks at Cornell University, Vega began making the sauce in 500-gallon batches, jarring it and distributing it to partners including Whole Foods Market and Bed, Bath and Beyond . While Vega focuses primarily on the New York Metropolitan area, he also targets regional expatriates in California, Arizona and Florida.

And he sells it for $8.99, or more than double the cost of Borden's Clasico sauce or three times the cost of Unilever's Ragu brand.

"Last year we offered samples to over 20,000 people and possibly one percent questioned the cost," Vega told the times.

That's not entirely surprising. More than $6 for a six-pack of beer seemed unthinkable before craft beer charged a premium for different styles and more expensive ingredients. A $4 cup of coffee is still cause for complaint among drip drinkers, but became an accepted norm once Starbucks made espresso a java for the masses.

But there's a little more to Jersey Italian Gravy's premium price than its cooking process. Vega notes that it's a slow-simmered, small batch sauce with only five ingredients -- including California tomatoes as expensive to procure as those from Italy's San Marzano growing region. It's also just a little bit of home coated in code that outsiders just don't get.