Artisan food producers

Artisan Chocolate Bars
Photo by salimfadhley on Flickr

I’m commuting to Reading a couple of days a week at the moment and today on my way back, while searching for some sort of cake to satisfy my sweet tooth, I dipped into Tutti Frutti at the station and emerged with a cone of incredible Raspberry sorbet, absolutely rammed with real fruit.

Tutti Frutti doesn’t look like much from the outside, but like Oxford student staple ice cream parlour G&Ds, they make all their ice creams and sorbets in house – and the difference really shows. Their unusual range of flavours includes New York Cheesecake (topped with digestive biscuit) and Lemon and Lime Sorbet with Angostura bitters. The owner insisted I try everything before choosing.

I wonder if the proprietor is an early retiree from a highly paid conventional profession, like the owner of the Chocolate Alchemist  in Guildford (now sadly closed) who left his City job make distinctly unusual chocolate. They sold incredible Madagascan chocolate buttons which take on the citrussy flavours of the fruit trees the cocoa plants are grown alongside.

I think he must be because surely these businesses are a true labour of Love: the amount of care and attention paid to these products must far exceed what they can charge for them.

My favourite place in London at the moment is also an artisan producer of sorts: there’s so much I could say about Nightjar but their incredible cocktails are the star of the show. Not only do Nightjar make their own cocktail syrups (Grenadine and Orgeat) and unique liqueurs (Prune & Truffle, Blood Orange and Saffron) but their own versions of obscure cocktail ingredients which no longer exist, such as Kina Lillet (key ingredient of the Vesper Martini and not manufactured since the 80’s) and the even more obscure ‘Electric Bitters’. This refusal to compromise is a rare and admirable thing and gives them the edge: great cocktails are all about detail.

Do any of these businesses need to go to the lengths that they do? Surely not. In fact I’m pretty sure they could all make a more profitable business with a substandard product. But then this isn’t about the money.

When I find one of these artisan producers in a town otherwise overrun with chain stores, I’m increasingly aware that we rely on the passion of others for excellent products. In the same way that great art of music is rarely motivated by money, neither is great icecream or a fantastic cocktail.

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