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Get to know the food artisans behind 9 of CT's finest small-batch operations

Whether you need the perfect gift for the foodie in your life or a delicious addition to your holiday feast, these culinary creators will keep you happy over the holidays.

  • 6 min to read

Coffee and cocoa

Craftsman Cliff Roasters, Norwich

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Behind the brand: If you’re looking for a delicious way to start and end the day, you’ll love Craftsman Cliff Roasters. Nestled in Norwich, the company makes premium coffee that’s non-GMO, fair-trade, and certified organic, as well as micro-roasted chocolates, which use a preparation style that pays homage to the Colonial age. For owner Matthew DuTrumble, quality is key. “Our packaging is pretty unassuming, [and] that is on purpose,” he explains. “I want them to love us only for the reason that it’s the best cup or bar they ever had.”

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Order up: Can’t get enough of coffee and chocolate? Sign up for Craftsman Cliff Roasters’ subscription service, which will deliver a fresh batch on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

Where to buy: Craftsman Cliff Roasters is available for curbside pickup at 34 Broadway in Norwich. You can also shop online at craftsmancliffroasters.com.


Great cookies like grandma’s

Rachel’s Cookies and Treats, Southington

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Behind the brand: At Rachel’s Cookies and Treats, baked goods are a family affair. Husband-and-wife duo Trevor and Natasha Davenport loved to bake from a young age but, when they tried to buy something to satisfy their sweet tooths, struggled to find desserts with great taste and no preservatives. In 2019, they launched Rachel’s Cookies and Treats, which makes small-batch baked goods with real, high-quality ingredients. “Our cookies and treats are like [what] your grandma used to make,” Natasha says. “Only better.”

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Order up: The Southington-based company has everything from candied pecans to biscotti, but its cookies are a cut above the rest. “If you’re looking for the traditional American favorite, you can’t go wrong with our simply delicious chocolate chip cookie,” Trevor says.

Where to buy: Rachel’s Cookies and Treats are available in various shops and markets throughout central and western Connecticut. Find the list of retail partners and order online at rachelscookiesandtreats.com.


Craveable cheeses

Stone Silo Farm, Woodbury

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Behind the brand: As a retired neonatal nurse, Katie Gilmore never thought she would become a cheesemaker. But her luck changed when she watched a woman making mozzarella on television. “My first thought was, ‘You can make cheese at home?’ ” she recalls. After taking various classes across the country, she opened Stone Silo Farm, a micro-creamery with 24 Nigerian dwarf goats, which make milk that is easier to digest than cow’s milk. Gilmore milks her goats twice a day from April through December to create cheese that will have you begging for seconds.

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Order up: As Gilmore proves, hard work pays off. “The Valencay has many fans, and people call about it often,” she says. “It is not the easiest to make, but it is worth it to see how much people like it.”

Where to buy: Stone Silo’s cheeses are available at local stores as well as its farm in Woodbury. You can also shop online at stonesilofarmllc.com.


Bakery bites

The Craft, Bloomfield

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Behind the brand: Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Naima Craft has always been exposed to delicious, flavorful food. When she opened her eponymous bakery, The Craft, in Bloomfield, she wanted to treat her community to food made with high-quality ingredients and love. “My inspiration was based upon my desire to simply provide good baked goods that make the soul smile,” Craft says. “A world filled with amazing aromas, tender pastries, sweet dreams of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and inviting, fresh breads.” The Craft usually has a full roster of baking classes but, due to the pandemic, has since shifted to a robust delivery program in the Hartford area.

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Order up: According to Craft, you can’t go wrong with the chocolate croissants. “I have been frequently told that my croissants taste like they came straight from Paris or even better,” she says.

Where to buy: Products are available online at thecraftexperience.store.


Dairy delights

Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates, Goshen

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Behind the brand: The Goshen-based outfit might be known for its chocolates but, as its slogan suggests, the magic is in the milk. The Thorncrest farm has 22 cows to make single-cow-origin chocolate, which co-owner Kimberly Thorn defines as selecting one cow and using its milk, butter and cream to create a batch of chocolate. “We bred and feed our cows individually, so they have their distinct flavor to provide the milk that’s best suited for the chocolate I’m making,” Thorn explains. “They eat before we do!”

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Order up: While Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates has a seasonal menu that changes daily, the Daydream’s Caramels are a consistent crowd-pleaser, year-round.

Where to buy: Thorncrest Farm & Milk House Chocolates are available for barnside pickup at 280 Town Hill Road in Goshen. You can also shop online at milkhousechocolates.net.


Sweet spirits

Westford Hill Distillers, Ashford

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Behind the brand: A trip to somewhere new can provide plenty of food inspiration, but it can also lay the groundwork for a new business venture.When husband-and-wife team Louis and Margaret Chatey traveled to Kientzheim, Alsace, France, they learned about a European brandy style called eau-de-vie and wanted to reimagine the spirit in the U.S. “Our vision was to create a signature style of spirit unique to our New England appellation,” Louis says. Since its founding in 1997, Westford Hill Distillers has received national acclaim and was selected by the Smithsonian Institution to represent craft distillation in its History of Food series.

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Order up: While Westford Hill Distillers has since expanded into vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and chocolate liqueur, its New World Aged Apple Brandy, aged 14 years, put the brand on the map.

Where to buy: Westford Hill Distillers is available in select retailers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California. Learn more at westfordhill.com.


Rockin’ sauces

Dragon’s Blood Elixir, Putnam

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Behind the brand: As a former professional chef who cooked for touring metal bands in the ‘80s, Doug Crane always gravitated toward dishes with a kick. So, it was only natural that Crane began creating small-batch hot sauces when he went into retirement in 2009. “I see my sauces primarily as cooking sauces that have a kick, sourced as much as possible from my local farmers and orchards,” he says. Putnam-based Dragon’s Blood Elixir takes local ingredients seriously; Crane has even offered to make a sauce with peppers from a customer’s backyard.

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Order up: While Dragon’s Blood Elixir has several flavors and seasonal formulas, its best-selling, award-winning original sauce is a pantry staple.

Where to buy: Dragon’s Blood Elixir is available in select local shops and markets. You can also shop online at dragonsbloodelixir.com.


Stellar slices

Michele’s Pies, Norwalk

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Behind the brand: Owner Michele Stuart might have opened her Norwalk bakery in 2007, but she was passionate about pies from an early age. “I learned from my grandmother and began selling my pies locally in high school,” she says. “One of the last things I told her was, ‘Grandma, one day I’m going to make your pies famous.’ “ Today, Stuart uses fresh, high-quality ingredients that let her recipes shine. “There’s no love in opening up a can of filling, but you can taste the love in every bite of our pies,” she adds.

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Order up: Not only is the chocolate pecan bourbon pie a consistent best-seller, but it was also the first of Stuart’s supply to win a first-place award at the National Pie Championships.

Where to buy: Michele’s Pies are available in select local shops as well as its bakery at 666 Main Ave. in Norwalk. You can also shop online at michelespies.com.


Liquid gold

Red Bee Honey, Weston

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Behind the brand: Carla Marina Marchese is a beekeeper, author and honey sommelier, but it was never her plan to create a honey label. However, when she harvested her first batch of honey, she knew she had struck gold. “I could not give this rare, precious liquid gold away, so I set up a table at the local farmers market,” Marchese says. “Soon, the buzz [around] Red Bee began.” Today, she creates wildflower honey from flowers in Connecticut as well as honey in the comb and creamy honey.

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Order up: Why buy one type of honey when you can enjoy a few? Marchese says customers tend to buy sample sets and often purchase the honey-tasting gift box, complete with a sampling of four varieties.

Where to buy: Red Bee Honey is available in several local stores. Shop online at redbee.com.

This article appears in the December 2020 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.