One year ago, at a Fourth of July celebration at Ridgefield High School, pastry chef Robyn Eads was walking the grounds, hawking a tray of her organic cupcakes to picnickers. Today, she's on a fast track to sweet stardom with her handcrafted line of Peace Tree Cajeta caramel sauces.
"I can't believe it," she said of her quick rise to commercial success. "The last few months have been a whirlwind." For years, her confections have been a sweet tooth's dream, featured on local menus like that of the high-end, farm-to-table-focused The Schoolhouse in Wilton, in New York restaurants like Gotham Bar and Grill, and at the Relais & Chateaux property Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. "I was really trying to push my baked goods, and everybody loved them, but it just wasn't working from a business standpoint, so I decided to launch a retail product to carry in specialty markets … something different you can't find anywhere else."
Eads, a devout organic chef, was experimenting with the use of goat's milk, a trendy alternative to cow's milk whose local sources include Beltane Farm in Lebanon and Griffin Farmstead in East Granby, near the Massachusetts border. She decided to try making cajeta, a Mexican caramel-like confection also known as dulce de leche. "It was delicious and when I looked around, I couldn't believe no one else was doing it." With an affinity for what she calls "funky flavors," the chef took the sauce to another level by blending in unusual profiles like curry, rosemary and applejack, along with standards like cinnamon and lemon. All her ingredients are organic and sourced from area farms where possible.
Once the sauces were perfected, Eads set about the daunting task of packaging and marketing her product. She created the logo herself, found a packaging design company in California whose style appealed to her, enlisted the help of local sustainable food guru Analiese Paik of the Fairfield Green Food Guide, and launched her product.
A big fan of transparency of sourcing, Eads ensures that every jar of Peace Tree Cajeta caramel sauce comes with a small tag that notes where the goat milk came from. A code on the label takes the consumer to a video of the actual goat that provided it. The small-batch production sauces are now being carried at specialty stores countywide, including The Pantry and Fairfield Cheese Company in Fairfield, Double L Market and Collyer Market in Westport (where Eads rents her commercial kitchen space), Village Market and Babycat Milk Bar in Wilton, and Sport Hill Farm in Easton, to name a few.