Small-business origin stories are almost always interesting, but not many trace back to multiple U.S. senators. Azuluna Foods was an initiative started by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy back in the early 2000s to secure grant money for New England farms. With such a small amount of farmland for the disproportionate number of people who live here, they felt it was critical to preserve that land and ensure farmers get paid what they are worth.
Tufts University secured the grant and began to work with local farmers to raise high-quality meats. Azuluna was also one of the first New England brands to find its way into Whole Foods with its premium eggs. “In the beginning, Azuluna was very popular because of the quality,” says executive chef and co-founder Rachael LaPorte. “The high-end chefs in Boston and parts of New York were purchasing a lot of the high-quality meats.”
But farming isn’t easy, and making money from farming is even tougher. The brand began to wane, and LaPorte and her co-founder, farmer Ken Rapoport, purchased it from Tufts and began selling fully prepared meals nationally in 2019 from their Windham kitchen. LaPorte owned a chef-prepared, meals-to-go company prior to the inception of Azuluna and would purchase her chickens from Rapoport, who owns a 275-acre farm in Woodstock.
“What makes our company very unique is that we work with whole animals directly from the farm,” LaPorte says. “All of our meals are fully cooked, so you can put them in the microwave for three minutes or the oven for 30.” While the Johnson & Wales grad knows plenty about packing in the flavor, the nutritional aspect is clearly what’s most important to LaPorte. She says all the meals are macro- and micronutrient balanced and that making everything from scratch is absolutely critical. “I toast and grind our peppercorns in small batches,” LaPorte says. “Our taco spice has 11 different spices that are all ground by hand.”
Meals rotate weekly, and must be selected by noon on Thursday. LaPorte then orders the produce from her network of farms and butchers the meat. On Friday the produce arrives and the meats begin to marinate. Sunday is cooking day, and then all the meals are cooled and packaged to be shipped out in refrigerated boxes on Monday.
One-day shipping is free in Connecticut and for most of the Northeast. There’s free two-day shipping as far west as Michigan and down south to South Carolina. Two-day shipping is $50 for the other 29 states in the contiguous U.S. While Azuluna never freezes anything, customers can put meals into the freezer when they arrive.
Meals are shipped out in quantities of six ($15 per meal), eight ($12) or 16 ($11.25) every week or every other week. The menu at the time we spoke with LaPorte included chimichurri chicken, pineapple shrimp stir fry and local winter squash crepe. Some of the signature dishes are garlic and herb roast chicken, teriyaki salmon and the Azuluna burger.
LaPorte, who grew up on an organic farm in nearby Lebanon, has a registered dietitian on staff and says she lost 100 pounds eating this way. All the ingredients used are sourced from within the closest distance possible from the kitchen in which they are prepared. LaPorte says that during the summer sometimes there’s only 2 or 3 miles on the food. In the winter, Azuluna may have to get its sweet potatoes from Tennessee, for example, but they are organic and LaPorte trusts the farm. She says she’s physically been to 95 percent of the places she sources from, with a maple shack in Vermont an example of somewhere she has yet to visit.