Just over 2 years ago, while living in Madison, I remember one of my friends getting a small care package/gift that one of her family members had put together for her after the holidays. The package included local items from small shops, the farmers market around the square, and specialty stores. Yes, mostly food. I remember there being quite a few items, but the ones I remember most were salsa, some homemade crackers, honey, and preserves. The preserves (jams) are what stick out most in my mind, and not because I got to help her finish the jar. Quite the opposite.
We had planned a girl’s night after I returned from the holiday. I brought the wine and she had the snacks from her package. I knew she had already tasted many of the items before I got there because she messaged me, raving about the preserves. I don’t remember the flavor (perhaps something with cranberries), but I do remember it was from Quince & Apple. By the time I got to her house, the jar was empty, literally licked clean. And my heart has been heavy ever since.
Well, ever since two weeks ago when Quince & Apple sent me some of their new flavor preserves, Tart Cherry & White Tea! It. Is. Delicious. It even won the 2017 Good Food Awards! The description on the jar literally sums it up perfectly:
Door County tart cherries float in a delicate jelly of jasmine flowers and white tea.
Seductive with a creamy bleu or full-fat soft rind cheese.
Dainty on a shortcake with fresh whipped cream.
There are three things I am passionate about: entrepreneurship, locally sourced products, and foods with amazing flavor. You could say I am passionate about Quince & Apple and their Tart Cherry & White Tea preserves. AJ and I went through the few jars they sent pretty quickly, but you can imagine how excited I was to be filling that void I’ve had for the past two years.
We tried pairing the Tart Cherry and White Tea preserves in so many different ways, but always came back to our favorite pairing. Smoked gouda. Hands down. We even bought different flavors of gouda (original, bourbon, red pepper, etc.), but the smoked was our absolute favorite. Throw some Black Forest ham on there with a cracker and you have an amazing appetizer or snack. I would say goat cheese paired with the preserves on top of toast was my next favorite!
Now that the jars are empty and I can’t be distracted with creating amazing recipes with it, or eating it on crackers with a slice of ham and gouda, I thought I would take the time to tell you all a bit more about the unique story behind how Quince & Apple started and its success over the last 7 years.
I had the opportunity of speaking with the owner, Matt, and I got some amazing insight from him on how he and his wife, Clare, built their business around their passion for the products and their commitment to quality. Their story is so admirable, and his outlook on following one’s passion is so inspiring! I hope you all enjoy as much as I did!
When and how did your passion for making jams develop?
When I was really young, my parents bought a house in Chicago from a woman who was English. She had moved from the UK with her husband, and when she got to the US in the 50’s, she wasn’t able to find a really good red currant jam like she was able to get in the UK. So, she tore up the backyard and planted her own currant bushes and made the jam herself. When my parents bought the house, it was one of the conditions that the new owners would have to harvest the currants and make jams out of it. I would spend every summer making jams with my Mom and it just became a hobby of mine. I eventually went to culinary school, worked in restaurants, and always continued to make preserves on the side. I started selling to friends and family for the holidays and it slowly grew from there.
Your preserves aren’t quite as sweet as many on the market. What was your reasoning for going that route?
The decision was very intentional and it’s been a really important part of how Quince & Apple preserves are made. There’s really 2 things. First of all, I personally don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I couldn’t find preserves that I really liked- ones with a forward fruit flavor, but not overly` sweet. Second, we really like to do savory pairings with our preserves. It’s kind of a British thing. I lived in London awhile back, and in the UK they pair a lot of preserves with cheese and meat. I fell in love with that. When you’re pairing preserves with cheese, you don’t want something overwhelmingly sweet. Our preserves have interesting flavors but are still approachable, subtle, and they are really well-balanced. It’s been really important for how we approach each recipe.
Which Quince & Apple preserves are your favorites? Do you have a favorite way to eat them?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, because they are all my recipes. But the one I am most proud of is the Tart Cherry and White Tea. It was the hardest to get right. There was a really long product development process where we made batches over and over until we got it right. I think it took just under 70 batches to get there. It was hard to get to a fine balance with the teas and fruit.
My favorite way to eat them is with a giant hunk of cheese or with a spoon.
Can you tell me a little more about the process and how you and your wife are involved at this point? What are each of your responsibilities in running the business?
We are both very involved- it’s our full-time jobs. We each work anywhere between 40-80 hours a week, but our roles are very complimentary. I really like the product development side of things; coming up with new ideas, products and recipes. But we develop and refine those together. In terms of running the business, I do the sales, marketing, and social media. I also taste every batch that comes out of the kitchen and work closely with the production team. Clare does a lot of the day-to-day operations, hiring, planning, inventory, and finances. It was just her and I for the first 3 years, but now we have 8 full-time people, which has been really great.
You and Clare also have two children. What does your typical day look like and how do you balance your time between family and running a business?
Yes, we have a 3 1/2 year old and an 11 month old. It’s a little crazy! People always say there is nothing to prepare you for parenthood, but I think starting a business kind of does. It’s 24/7; you have the illusion of control, but it’s really only an illusion; it keeps you up at night; and you’re probably going to cry. But, it also gives you a sense of fulfillment and joy that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
As far as a typical day, there really is no typical day. You have to be super flexible. Our family life and work life blend together a lot. They really aren’t separate enough to balance. We’ll usually split our days between working from home and working from the office. We actually end up having a lot of our work meetings at home in our pajamas when the kids go to bed. It’s a lot to juggle and we are always doing something. But the upside is that we have total flexibility. When the kids were super little I could just bring them to work. I switched to a standing desk and just put them in a carrier. Now, our kids are able to be a little more involved and it’s something that Clare and I really value. They’ll come hang out and the 3-year-old will help pack boxes. It’s really awesome for us to have them be a part of it.
Tell me a little more about the growth of Quince & Apple over the past years and where you see it going in the years to come.
We currently sell in nearly all 50 states and 800 stores nationwide. While it’s a lot, it’s also just scratching the surface. We are no longer really small, but yet we are nowhere close to being really big. Right now we are going through another phase of trial and error like we did when we started. It’s a whole other layer of learning and figuring out what it means to be a bigger, growing business.
I do think there is a limit in how quickly we grow. It’s really important to us that we do all of our own production in-house. Many times, companies will get larger accounts when they grow and end up outsourcing to keep up with the production. We made the conscious decision not to do that and to keep the production a hands-on, artisan process. We feel like that really allows us to have excellent quality. Everything is still hand done. And with that, you need highly skilled and well-trained people in the kitchen to do it. So, I would say that is our limit- to grow slowly and steady so that the quality doesn’t suffer.
What type of advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a business?
You have to start with an idea that you’re excited and passionate about. It has to be something that really motivates you to put in long hours and do all the things that need to be done. It’s very stressful to be an entrepreneur. It’s hard not to take everything personally, especially at first. A lot of people will say “no”. You have to be able to navigate that, so having something that you’re passionate about and resonates with you will help you get through those hard times.
On the other hand, you don’t want to be too tied to the specifics of exactly what it will look like because, inevitably, your vision will be wrong. You have to be willing to try things, fail, learn, and try something different. It’s a funny balance. You need to have an unshakeable commitment to it, but also be able to notice when things aren’t working well and be willing to change. Know up front what things you are willing to change, and what things you will be more stern on. Being flexible and adaptive is an important foundation to starting a business.
When we had just started, we got inquiries from a couple bigger chain stores. We ended up saying no to them because we didn’t want to compromise our commitment to quality. We were flattered, but we just were not ready yet, and they respected that. We work with those same stores now because we have the ability to do it. We had to stick to our guns because if our reputation for quality would have been damaged, we wouldn’t have been able to get it back.
What are some reasons you think Quince & Apple has been successful?
It comes down to being really passionate and believing in our products. I’m just really passionate about making great preserves! I think it’s really important to have that, particularly in food world. It’s long hours and hard work. We are selling to a lot of places that didn’t give us any attention 8 years ago. We’ve had a lot of patience and discipline, and we keep moving forward, knowing we will eventually get there. If we didn’t really believe in it, we would’ve run out of steam pretty quickly.
Where can people find Quince & Apple products?
We are in many stores, but 3 places in Madison are Fromagination, Metcalfe’s, and the Willy Street Co-op. You can also find us on our website at quinceandapple.com. There is also a big upcoming event in Minneapolis called Cheesetopia (info here) on April 9th. It will be amazing!
And that’s a wrap! Aren’t you incredibly inspired to follow your own passion now? Right now my passions align with eating more of those Tart Cherry and White Tea preserves. I think I will go explore that passion now. Thanks so much to Matt for taking the time to chat!