Matt and Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld are the brains, the laborers, the everything behind Quince & Apple, a year-old small-batch preserve business. Both are 2004 graduates of UW-Madison, with degrees in English and Biology respectively. But it took them four years after graduating to discover their passion for preserving.
After graduating, Matt took jobs at several Madison-area restaurants, attended culinary school at MATC, and worked at Potter's Crackers as sales and kitchen manager. Clare was part of a touring band, taught piano lessons, and worked for the Madison Audubon Society. The couple became involved with the board of the now-defunct Mifflin Street Co-op, where they both became hooked on the local food scene.
In the fall of 2008, Matt began experimenting with making fruit preserves. His culinary training and various food-related jobs inspired this endeavor, but he adopted it as a personal project. "I have memories of making preserves with my mom," notes Matt, "so I knew the basics of the process. I was interested in the tradition of preserving, and learning the different and interesting ways it could be done." Matt gave away and sold his successful batches to family and friends during the 2008 holiday season. When he couldn't keep up with demand, he decided to leave his job and take this project on full-time. Quince & Apple was born, and in business that spring.
What exactly constitutes a small-batch preserve? "When we say small batch, we mean that we've never made more than 250 jars at a time, Matt explains. The couple takes pride in the fact that they are behind every step of the process, from developing recipes (which can take up to three months) to putting labels on filled jars. By being so involved, Matt and Clare can be sure to meet their standards of high-quality. "It is a lot of work," says Clare, who is the full-time manager of the business end of Quince & Apple, "but we don't mind because our jobs are our hobbies. We both have exactly the jobs we want."
Quince & Apple's flavor combinations are unexpected but pleasing. Their most popular preserve, Figs with Black Tea, is rooted in earthy flavors and accented with a slight sweetness from the figs. It pairs well with Gouda cheese or cured meats, and tastes great spooned over ice cream for dessert. Other flavors include Pear with Honey and Ginger, a Shallot Confit with Red Wine, and Orange Marmalade with Lemons. All flavors are sold in a 6 oz. size for $8 or a 1.5 oz. size for $2.50. Several gift basket options are also available.
"We want our flavors to make intuitive sense even though they're something you probably haven't tasted before," says Clare. They strive to honor the traditional preservation methods of executing each step of the process by hand, and build on those methods with complex flavors and local ingredients. The business name goes all the way back to ancient Rome, where quince is said to be the fruit used in the earliest preservation processes. Apple is a reference to Wisconsin and its abundance of orchards.
Many of the ingredients in Quince & Apple preserves are sourced locally. The strawberries for the Strawberries and Rosemary preserve that made its debut on the market last week come from Schroeder Produce in Cambridge, Wis., just thirty minutes east of Madison. Matt and Clare's business is good news for our local fruit industry -- by preserving food that only grows during several weeks each year, they do help to extend the local fruit season.
Quince & Apple products can be found in many grocery stores and smaller boutiques in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. They're even sold in select stores in cities like San Francisco and New York.
"We both love Madison and Wisconsin," says Matt, "and as we grow nationally we want to remain a Wisconsin business and take advantage of the farms and people who are here." Their focus will likely remain preserves, but the couple has considered expanding their line to include other artisan, fruit-based products.