Tea Together, a producer of artisanal jams based in northern France, has just opened its first retail store in Millburn, New Jersey.
I caught up with owners Nick and Judith Gifford when the shop opened last month.
The British couple started their business 12 years ago after leaving busy careers in film and television production for country life in the northern French village of St. Remy au Bois. Before long, they traded film for food and tried their hand as culinary entrepreneurs.
"We wondered what the English could do better than the French" said Judith, and they hit upon British traditions of breakfast and tea time as their angle. "You see," she explained. "The French do everything based on lunch and dinner."
Seizing an opportunity, they started out baking scones (what could be more British?). When they set up shop at the market, the scones attracted a lot of curiosity from the locals, but few sales. Judith recalled that her French customers were bewildered about what to do with them. "'But, when would you eat these?' they would ask." The scones never took off.
They eventually found success at making jam, building a substantial wholesale business with 5-star hotels in major European cities (in the U.S., you can find them at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles). French mega-chef Alain Ducasse is a fan.
Though the jams may be produced in France and use French ingredients, Judith says they are completely British in style. "French jams tend towards finesse with all sorts of infusions. We wanted our jams to be strong, clear, and intense."
And, they are.
Pure lemon marmalade, made from the whole fruit, is tart -- bracing even -- but delicious.
They may be the best jams I've ever had. Apricot and lavender jam is excellent, as is the syrupy Summer Pudding, brimming with raspberry and black currents, and sweet and tart Damson, blended from the typically British plums the company imports from Kent. Tea Together also makes chutneys, savory blends of fruits, spices, and herbs. Unlike traditional chutneys, these contain no garlic or onions.
There are 45 flavors of preserves in all, made mostly from organic fruit, unbleached organic cane sugar, and no pectin or preservatives. The small company is comprised of only 10 people (including the owners), and just four people do all the cooking.
Squeezed out by high rents in Manhattan, the Giffords have set up shop for their first retail store in tony Millburn, New Jersey.
In addition to preserves, the shop also sells imported olive oils, mustards, varietal honeys, salts, vinegar, and pasta. Dividing the store is a long communal table at which the couple hopes to serve coffee, tea, and bread in the future.
Tea Together, 356 Millburn Avenue, Millburn, New Jersey 07041 (973.218.6769).