With all the buzz these days about artisanal foods, there’s confusion over just what the term actually means. You know the definition has become too elastic when Domino’s and Burger King are claiming to offer artisanal products. (Seriously?) We define it as specialty foods made by hand or created by a skilled craftsman, using traditional methods and recipes, and fresh, unprocessed ingredients. And you can find plenty of these artisanal delights right here in Connecticut. Here’s a sampling. For more, go to ctspecialtyfood.org.
Ashlawn Farm Coffee
Lyme, farmcoffee.com, 860/434-3636
Using coffee beans from Africa, the Americas and Asia, owners Chip and Carol Dahlke create 27 blends at the roastery on their family farm. “We seek sustainable products and roast only specialty-grade coffees,” says Carol. There’s a homey café on the property where you can sample coffees such as Honduras Finca Liquidambar, with hints of chocolate and sweet citrus, or 1730 Blend, “a mocha java our New England ancestors drank.” Then pick out a couple to enjoy at home.
Where to buy: At the café at 78 Bill Hill Road; online at the website.
Lebanon, beltanefarm.com, 860/887-4709
Beltane Farm makes a variety of handmade goat-milk cheeses. The French-style fresh chèvre is most popular but customers also rave about the feta, Danse de la Lune (with a Brie-style rind), the aged Harvest Moon and Sundance Salata (a salted, pressed and aged ricotta). Goats’ spring milk is extra sweet so the cheeses offered right now are especially creamy. In spring and fall, there are free tastings at the farm and the opportunity to meet the herd of 112 “happy and healthy goats raised on local grass and hay,” says owner Paul Trubey. Check website for dates and times.
Where to buy: Online at artisanmade-ne.com; other outlets listed on farm website.
Litchfield, boxedgoodes.com, 860/967-3589
The 2010 Connecticut Specialty Food Association (CSFA) winner for Outstanding Product line creates exotic and heirloom rice and grain blends (such as Forbidden Blend, a combo of Chinese Imperial black rice and whole-bran black Japonica rice) and beans (try the black beluga lentils). There are also organic herb-and-spice grinders, blends that are combined by hand without electrical equipment. Owner Pamela Dunn is now also making Berry Nice Rice snack blends in four varieties that combine quinoa or a Persian basmati rice with dried berries, pumpkin seeds, nuts or currants.
Where to buy: Online and at farmers’ markets.
East Haven, calabrocheese.com, 203/469-1311
This family-owned operation uses a 100-year-old Italian method to make four kinds of ricotta, four kinds of mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, along with specialty cheeses scamorze, caciocavallo, burrini, smoked mozzarella, fresh basket cheese and queso blanco. Rotolini (rolled mozzarella and prosciutto appetizers) are made by hand on the premises. “We use whole milk from New England dairy cows. Cold-weather cows get fatter in winter so their milk has a higher butterfat content,” says son-in-law Christopher Carroll. The hand-dipped ricotta won first place in the 2011 American Cheese Society Competition.
Where to buy: Statewide at supermarkets and some specialty markets. Wholesale nationwide to restaurants.
Cato Corner Farm
Colchester, catocornerfarm.com, 860/537-3884
Mother and son owners Elizabeth MacAlister and Mark Gillman hand-make aged raw cow milk cheeses on-site. Choose from Hooligan, Bridgid’s Abbey, Drunk Monk, Womanchego, Myfanwy and almost two dozen more. Recipes are their own creations, based on styles from all over Europe. Their herd of 40 Jersey cows are raised without hormones or subtherapeutic antibiotics. The farm’s Dairyere cheese won third place in its class at the American Cheese Society Awards, 2010 and 2011.
Where to buy: At farmstead on 178 Cato Corner Rd.; check website for specialty stores and online ordering.
Fairfield Bread Company
Fairfield, fairfieldbread.com, 203/434-4505
Former economist Michael Mordecai tossed in his stat charts to devote his life to his first love: baking. Connecticut is the richer for it, and Mordecai makes only one kind of bread, The Flaxette, which won first place in the artisanal bread category at the 2011 Connecticut Specialty Food Awards Product Awards Competition. Each loaf takes three days to make, using a slow, complex fermentation process that balances the flavors of wheat, organic flax and wild local yeast. And while many nutritionists warn against carbs these days, this demi-baguette is rich in Omega-3s. “Fermentation improves digestibility and nutrient availability,” says Mordecai. “And it tastes fabulous.” (Watch out for his brand-new Calabrio pizza dough.)
Where to buy: Whole Foods in Fairfield County; check website for other stores and markets.
New Haven, gelatogiuliana.com, 203/772-0607
The 65 flavors offered by Gelato Giuliana are made by a traditional Italian gelato maker with 40 years of experience who uses milk from local cows. Start with All’oreo (Oreo Cookies & Cream), Almond Toffee Crunch and Amaretto, and work your way through the best-tasting alphabet to Tiramisu, Tuscan Chocolate and Williams Pear yogurt. The secret to the intense taste is the sharp reduction in fat and air, compared to regular ice creams. “It makes for a much silkier, smoother and denser product,” says owner Giuliana Maravalle.
Where to buy: Stew Leonard’s, Yale-New Haven Hospital cafeteria, Goodspeed Opera House, Whole Foods and many other small markets.
Gales Ferry, holmbergorchards.com, 860/464-7305
This fourth-generation family farm makes wines on-site from the orchard’s own heirloom produce: hard apple ciders, and fruit wines, made from apples, blueberries, peaches, pears and grapes. In production since 2006, the libations have won major awards from the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the Eastern International Wine Competition, including Eastern’s Best in Show 2009. “The fruit wines are surprisingly sophisticated,” says Russell Holmberg, who works alongside his parents Richard and Diane and sister Amy. “They are drier and more complex than people expect.”
Where to buy: At retail stand, 1990 Rte. 12, and at orchard, 12 Orchard Lane.
Michaud’s Pasta Sauce
Simsbury, michaudfoods.com, 860/408-0907
These all-natural sauces contain no water, paste, added sugar or frozen ingredients. Instead, you’ll find fresh onion, fresh garlic, sea salt, black pepper and imported Italian Parmesan cheese. There are currently four types—tomato basil, roasted red pepper, portobello mushroom and roasted garlic. “The unblended texture and fresh, simple ingredients give our sauce an authentic homemade feel,” says owner and creator Robertson Michaud.
Where to buy: Big Y and many specialty stores; online at website.
Nuovo Pasta Productions
Stratford, nuovopasta.com, 203/380-4090
Using mostly tristate-area produce, Nuovo Pasta uses traditional Italian pasta-making machines that simulate the handmade process, says owner Carl Zuanelli. Products include spinach tortellini, lobster ravioli and carbonara-filled ravioli. Gluten-free is also available. Winner of the 2011 National Association of Specialty Foods Gold Award for Outstanding Pasta, Rice or Grain for its spinach, portabella and Grûyère ravioli.
Where to buy: Whole Foods, BJ’s, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market and some Costcos in Connecticut. Wholesale to restaurants nationally.
Peace Tree Desserts
Ridgefield, peacetreedesserts.com, 203/448-8927
Dessert caterer and self-proclaimed sustainable pastry chef Robyn Eads has created a line of Mexican-style dessert sauces for retail sale. Made with local goat’s milk (including that of Beltane Farm) and other organic ingredients, Cajeta Caramels are to die for on ice cream, French toast or as a dip for sliced apples. Flavors are applejack, rosemary, curry and cinnamon.
Where to buy: Markets listed on website.
Wallingford, drinkripe.com, 203/927-1726
Co-founders Michel Boissy and Ryan Guimond have vastly
improved on typical commerical cocktail fruit mixes loaded with concentrate, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. Made in small batches to ensure quality, their bar juices (Pure Squeezed Bloody Mary Mix, Pure Squeezed Margarita Mix and Pure Squeezed Sour Mix) blend fresh-squeezed, flash-pasteurized fruit. The last two are sweetened with agave nectar. “We take great pains to distribute our products cold. When our products reach the shelves, they are as fresh as possible,” says Boissy.
Where to buy: At Whole Foods and many liquor stores, or order online.
Sunset Meadow Vineyard
Goshen, sunsetmeadowvineyards.com, 860/201-4654
“We hand-prune and harvest our 40 acres of grapes,” says vintner George Motel, who earned his enology certification at the University of California, Davis. The on-site production facility features a barrel room, fermentation room, automated bottling line and quality-control laboratory. The family-owned operation has won top awards from CSFA and Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Wines include Blustery Blend, Cayuga White, Merlot, St. Croix, Sunset Blush, Twisted Red, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pyrhha’s Passion, New Dawn, Midnight Ice and Rose.
Where to buy: At the winery (tasting room open year-round). Or go to website for stores and online ordering.
Wave Hill Breads
Norwalk, wavehillbreads.com, 203/762-9595
Every chewy loaf is made using age-old European methods and a French poolish (starter) of organic spelt, rye berries stone ground for every batch, King Arthur wheat flour, sea salt and yeast. “We have to make it by hand to get the right texture. It’s not the recipe that matters so much as the timing, the temperature and the touch,” say owners Margaret Sapir and Mitchell Rapoport. They produce Pain de Campagne (country bread), Three-Grain Olive & Roasted Red Pepper Ciabatta, American Whole Grain Multi-Grain and croutons. Food writer Michael Stern places the ciabatta “among the top three on my Great Breads of the World list.”
Where to buy: At its new café at 30 High St., Norwalk, Whole Foods and other outlets listed on website.
Woodstock Hill Preserves
Woodstock, woodstockhillpreserves.com, 860/830-JAMS (5267)
Woodstock Hill Preserves is strictly a one-woman operation. For 30 years, owner/jam-maker Maureen Estony has created her own recipes, using only local ingredients and nothing artificial. She hand-inspects every piece of fruit! Even the pectins are pesticide-free, some of which she creates herself. Treat your toast to a slather of Plum with Vintage Port, Wild Maine Blueberry with Sliced Lemon Peel, Blackberry with Spiced Ginger or any of 11 other selections. (Or skip the toast and just lick it off a spoon!) She’s currently working on a Jam-Boree program that will make her jams available for school and group fundraising efforts.
Where to buy: Order online at website.