The Artisan Kitchen

The Artisan Kitchen is my Gloucester based artisanal preserve company, founded in 2011. My focus and goal is to produce the highest quality preserves using fresh, hand-sourced seasonal fruit and vegetables from local growers, private orchards, hedgerows and local allotments from the surrounding three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

The jams I make have a high fruit content and are soft set, as I like to work with the fruits’ natural pectin content rather than adding additional, commercial pectin. My pickles are chunky and I concentrate on ensuring they are full flavoured and textured. I also make marmalades, which complement the range and use imported organic Seville oranges when they are in season.

I am a classically trained chef and passionate lover of good food. I studied catering at Westminster College in London and worked in restaurants and hotels from L’escargot Brasserie in Soho, to Cliveden Hotel in Berkshire and the two Michelin starred restaurant, The Square in Mayfair, working alongside the inspirational chef and proprietor, Phillip Howard.

My early years in restaurant kitchens forged my passion and educated my palate for good quality ingredients and interesting flavour combinations. My passion for all things preserved and pickled comes from developing recipes with a range of foraged ingredients from near my home.

The original inspiration for my business was a wonderful Mirabelle plum tree nearby that was always neglected. Kilos of this wonderful fruit lay trodden into the pavement year after year. I approached the owner of the tree with the promise of an exchange of some lovely jam, of which he was thrilled. I made a soft set Mirabelle plum jam which tasted delicious and was so different from anything commercially available. I then designed some labels on my computer and went and spoke to local businesses {Gloucester Deli, Stanman’s Kitchen, Roots & Fruits and Primrose Vale Farm Shop in Cheltenham}  to see if they would be interested in stocking a range of my preserves. The owners of these businesses are incredibly supportive of local businesses and locally produced food as are all my other customers, and their support has been of great importance in the success of my business.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when I stumble across a good local find of fresh seasonal fruit. One day I received a call from a local lady who didn’t know what to do with all the quince fruit she had on her tree, and asked if I would be happy to come and pick them and use them in my preserves. The tree branches were full of these wonderful fragrant citrus smelling fruits, far superior to anything I had previously seen or tasted. I rushed back to my kitchen and made around 100 jars of my quince and lime jam which has a wonderful aroma and a rose pink colour. It is particularly good with a warm, flaky croissant.

The financial outlay for this type of business is relatively minimal, as I work from my own kitchen. I was lucky enough to have a prompt Environmental Health Office visit within four weeks of starting my business, which enabled me to start trading immediately. I design and print my own labels which enable me to keep costs down but also to be continually creative regarding flavours and recipes, as I do not have to worry about waiting for the printers or minimum print runs. I invested a small amount of my own savings on the set up costs which were mainly on glassware and equipment and continue to reinvest any money from the business back into the business. I have had some commercial photography shots done recently, by a wonderful local photographer.

The main challenges I face in my own business are being a one woman band and a lack of time. There never seems enough hours in the day, so I have to do some clever juggling to keep everything moving along efficiently. This does mean long working days and nights, but I find running my own business to be really fulfilling and thoroughly enjoyable. The feedback I receive from customers and suppliers really makes the hard work seem worthwhile.

I sell my products online through my own website, at local events and also through local delicatessens and farm shops. I also sell my preserves through foodie websites, Love your Larder and Flavrbox. All my customers are really happy to engage with the seasonality of my jams, and understand that some flavours are not available all year. There is always enthusiasm for introductions of new jams and pickles, which keeps the range fresh and exciting, not only for my customers but also the retailers’ clientele.

I use the Internet and social media to network, sell and get my products “out there” via Facebook, Twitter and my own blog. I also e-mail regular newsletters to keep everyone updated on new flavour introductions and other news. I love social media, it is a fantastic platform for marketing, which has been of real benefit to my own business. I enjoy meeting fellow foodies, and being able to network business to business easily through Twitter. I have met helpful people who have been a real asset and joy on my journey with The Artisan Kitchen.

For the future, I plan to grow my business in 2012 by increasing my offering, adding sauces and vinaigrettes to my range. I will continue to cook in my kitchen until we are bursting at the seams and then I am considering a small commercial kitchen extension, to help develop the Artisan Kitchen further. I will also be looking at joining a local distribution company to help sell my products further afield.

To encourage aspiring artisans, I would recommend anyone to give this type of business a go, with minimal set up costs and all to be gained. I get a real satisfaction from seeing my preserves all stacked up on the shop shelves of my local food shops and getting good feedback from satisfied customers.

Further information

Sarah Churchill’s website:

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Artisan_kitchen

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