When Judith and Nick Gifford moved from the UK to France in 1991 with three young children, they gave up their successful careers in TV and film to have a better quality of life and seek new challenges and experiences, little did they know that they would become expert artisan jam makers. Judith says that she and Nick had always intended to carry on working, Nick as a camera man and Judith in TV production but things just didn’t work out that way. The film and TV industry were going through swift changes and being away from the centre of action proved difficult so they needed to find a new way to earn an income.
Shortly after they’d made the move Nick went to the Sudan to film, he was away for months. Judith spent a bitterly cold winter in France at the family’s beautiful old farm house in the village of St Rémy au Bois near Montreuil-sur-Mer. Located in the heart of this rural area of outstanding natural beauty, Judith was overseeing the renovations to the house while Nick was away.
Nick’s mother sent books and newspapers to keep Judith amused and at night, when the kids had gone to bed, she read them from cover to cover sitting in front of the big wood fire.
One of the books had a recipe for marmalade in and on a whim, Judith decided to make some. She thought it was quite nice when she’d finished and took some to the town hall in the village, she thought it wouldn’t do any harm to schmooze the town’s Mayor. He loved it and shared some with a Mayor from another village who was also impressed by the unusual taste, marmalade is not well-known in France.
The Mayors encouraged Judith to make more marmalade and to join a group of artisan producers in the area, producers of honey, cheese and sausage makers. Judith started attending fairs in local towns to sell her wares. She says that she watched enviously as the “other artisans sold bucket loads of honey and jam, I went home from the events in tears every time”. But, Judith is nothing if not determined and she learned, the hard way, what to sell and how to sell it. The biggest lesson was realising that even though her local Mayor loved it, marmalade being virtually unknown in France simply didn’t sell well, but French customers adore jam. Judith spent long hours in the kitchen trying recipes over and over again, perfecting her methods, techniques and fruit combinations. Making jams and marmalades became an obsession and her expertise grew, she tweaked, refined, amended and mixed until her creations tasted sensational.
Just four years later Nick and Judith set up a company called Tea Together, specialising in jam and marmalade made with only the finest seasonal and organic products made to authentic, artisan traditions.
Judith tells how a friend sent a pile of English newspapers for her to read and in one of them there was a feature on the top ten hotels in the world. She packaged up some jams and sent them to all the hotels to sample. The next day Judith says “I was crossing the courtyard at home followed by a goose when the phone rang”. It was the fabulously hip and trendy Hôtel Costes in Paris, one of the hotels Judith had sent jam to. They loved it and invited Judith to visit, they’ve been loyal customers ever since.
Tea Together now supply top hotels and restaurants around the world from The Dorchester and Claridges in London, to Geneva’s La Reserve, Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and top chef Alain Ducasse in Paris. Monsieur Ducasse was also influential in helping to launch the couple’s success, he heard of them through his scouts and telephoned them personally to talk jam. In fact he phoned several times as Judith hadn’t heard of him and thought “he was trying to sell something, double glazing or something like that, my French wasn’t so good then”.After he arranged a tasting of their jams at his Paris store, Judith never looked back and orders poured in from around the world.
The buyers for these crème de la crème eateries and hotels love the fact that these sensational jams are seasonal, original and utterly delicious. Chefs often think up their own recipes and send them to Judith to create a bespoke product.
The jams are made by hand in big copper pans by trained and skillful confituriers who cook by sight, scent and taste only, there’s nothing industrial about this production line. The fruit is chopped by hand, the measurements are made by eye and the cooking times are judged by the confiturier using no pectin or gel “it’s not necessary with such fresh ingredients and a ratio of 60% fruit to 40% cane sugar” says Nick.
Jam-making is an ancient tradition going back milleniums, a recipe book called “Of Culinary Matters”, written by Roman gastronome Marcus Gavius Apicius in the first century, includes recipes for jams.
In France jams were highly prized by the aristocracy. There are descriptions of magnificent feasts held at the court of Louis XIV, which always ended with fruit preserves made with fruit from the King’s own gardens and served in silver dishes, no doubt he would have been much taken with Tea Together’s jams. The jams are utterly delicious, unique and full of flavour, like “Christmas Berry” with blackcurrants, blackberries, cranberries, wild blueberries, elderberries, sugar cane and star anise.
From an almost accidental start the business has grown, now managed by the couples son Eli and employing local people and continues to thrive. Judith and Nick also run a gorgeous little tea room at their farmhouse, open weekends in the summer months from 14.00 for a fabulous cream tea and during the week by request. They serve home made scones, their own jam, cream from the farm alongside big pots of fresh brewed tea.
1 rue du Marais, 62870 St Rémy au Bois.