August takes us to the beautiful Litchfield County and to this month's Tastemaker, Cornwall Soap Co. A husband and wife team based out of Cornwall, CT, Cornwall Soap Co. produces natural and sustainable beard, soap and leather products. If you love all things #madeinCT as much as we do, you can check out their website, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram.
So I came across Cornwall Beard Oil about a year ago in Hartford Prints!. I bought it for my friend for his birthday and he loves the beard oil and said it makes him smell “woodsy and fresh.” So why did you guys decide to start making these products and how did the company come to be?
Tommy: Firstly, Thank you for purchasing our Beard Oil for your friend! It actually all started while I was at Community Table Restaurant. I have always enjoyed having a beard and my fellow chefs and I decided to let them grow out one fall/winter season of 2013. We all came from strict kitchens were beards were frowned upon so we were very excited to let them grow. As my beard was growing in, I noticed that my alkaline bar soaps that I used on my face, were actually drying out my beard and causing frizziness and most shampoos were irritating to the skin on my face. So, I started doing heavy research on facial oils and on centuries old beard maintenance regiments. I mixed various nut oils, such as almond and argan oil to help condition my dry beard and sea buckthorn seed oil for its health benefits as well. I have used these oils so often in the kitchen that it felt very natural making certain blends. I would experiment with different oils with different properties and I developed a great mixture that conditioned well but absorbed quickly into the hair and skin. Coincidentally, as I was growing my beard, I started experimenting with steam distillation and making essential oils for possible use in diffusers as part of a dessert or palate cleanser at the restaurant. We have always been huge fans of foraging in CT so I started steam distilling essential oils from juniper, spruce, white pine, and rosemary. I had no real use for them in the restaurant my wife decided to use them in our home-made cleaners. We started mixing in the essential oils to my beard oil blend and decided on rosemary for its antioxidant properties and spruce & balsam fir for their anti-fungal and anti-septic properties (and incredible aromas!) Before long my friends started using the oil mixture and then the popularity just grew..Hence Cornwall Beard Oil was born!
Your products are known for being 100% natural, where do you get the ingredients for everything?
Tommy: We source our ingredients like we would source as chefs. We try to source only the highest quality ingredients. Our almond oil comes from Spain and Tunisia, our Jojoba Oil from Israel, and our Spruce and Balsam Fir oils from Canada. We are passionate about using sustainable ingredients as well. We proudly make our Oatmeal Bar Soap with sustainable, locally sourced beef tallow from Fleisher's Butcher shop in Westport/Brooklyn and from local farms right here in Cornwall, CT, such as Hurlburt Farm and Ridgway Farm. Beef Tallow has not only been used for centuries in soap making but it is incredibly more sustainable than many plant based oils like palm oil, for example. It essentially goes to waste because there is not much use for the suet (fat). In restaurants I learned that it is incredibly important to use every part of the animal and soap is the perfect product in which to make sure that fat does not get tossed in the trash. And most importantly, it makes an incredible bar of soap! It makes a hard soap that conditions well and leaves the skin feeling soft. Many people don't realize that animal fat is often used in commercial soaps. Next time you purchase a common brand of soap, check the ingredients for “sodium tallowate”. That is saponified beef or sheep tallow. So with our soap, you at least know that the beef fat is coming from the hard working farmers in our region!
Who are some of the retailers that sell your products?
Briana: We have a few retailers throughout Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. But we also take a lot of pride in the fact that many of our retailers are based right here in Connecticut. There is definitely a lot of local support. We sell to a few Whole Foods Markets, as well as internationally. For a full list, you can visit our website.
So Tommy, you’ve worked as a pastry chef at quite a few notable restaurants, including ON20 and Community Table, both in CT, and are now the General Manager of Burgers and Frites, opening in September in Lakeville. How have your culinary experiences helped you with this business?
Tommy: Well being a chef at such high end restaurants has really taught me to only use the best ingredients sourced with care and sustainability in mind. As a chef, health is also immensely important. We never want to use any synthetic or artificial ingredients in our food so why use them in our soaps and beauty products? Being a chef also gives me the knowledge of ingredients as well as techniques such as emulsions, for example. I make soap like I would a cake or ice cream, using well thought out “recipes," precise measurements, and even using high quality kitchen equipment such as immersion blenders, induction burners, silicone molds, and all clad pots. The standards of these high end restaurants resignates in my business. I treat my workshop like I would my pastry kitchen- organized and CLEAN. I also want to see this “farm to table” movement not just be exclusive for restaurants. Whether it is soap, cosmetics, cleaning products, clothing, leather shoes, and leather products, our farmers are working hard, so I believe other industries should try to source locally as well.
Briana, you are also a bartender at the White Hart Inn, which just made Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant nominee list. What is a seasonal drink that everyone should make tonight?
Briana: Sadly, I recently left the White Hart, mostly to spend more time with my family, and also to focus on my day job. However, the staff there is amazing and they definitely deserve that recognition! As for a seasonal drink, I would recommend the Solbeso Caipirinha and the Seasonal Fruit Collins, both of which are found on the house cocktail menu. The Solbeso is this delicious new liquor made from the outside of the cacao bean. It’s naturally caffeinated and insanely refreshing! With a little bit of muddled lime and raw sugar, it makes the perfect summer drink. The Fruit Collins changes with the seasonal fruits but most recently was made with blueberry and cucumber. Muddle both together and mix with some lemon juice, housemade blueberry simple syrup, and locally made Berkshire Mountain Distillers Greylock Gin. The collins is served on the rocks in a tall glass and YUM! -- another amazing summer drink.
Now you both have personal Instagram accounts as well as one for Cornwall Soap Co. so I would qualify you as “very active” on the platform. What do you think is the most instagrammable restaurant in CT?
Tommy: I think Millwrights in CT is always picture perfect, with the old building and waterfall.
Briana: Roia has a beautiful interior.
Tommy: ON20 has a pretty spectacular view, and insanely good lighting. 116 Crown in New Haven for the drinks. And we have to say Lobster Landing in Clinton.
Briana: We lived right next door and spent a lot of time in the summer walking down to the marina for fresh lobster rolls.
How have you seen the local, “made in CT” movement change since you launched in 2013?
Tommy: It has been really inspiring to see new CT “makers”. The guys over at RIPE Bar Juice in New Haven and ALL of the craft breweries are very inspirational and are all creating amazing products. There are also so many craftsmen and women producing high quality items. We are big fans of CT based fabricators like New England Speed and Custom and Grade 8 Cycle and Speed that are making awesome parts as well. The guys at Hartford Denim Company produce some incredible products and they were really the forerunners to us. We have seen many craftsmen pop-up but to be honest we are still unfulfilled. We would love to see the glory days come back when CT was home to so many manufacturers. So many companies have left, there are empty factories being turned into luxury apartments, and we feel that CT is losing its soul as a manufacturing state. We would love to see more small companies like Hartford Denim, converting old factories back into workshops and actually making things by hand!
Litchfield County is known as a quiet, getaway destination. Why do you love living there and what are some must see/eat places for people to go to?
Tommy: I love living here for so many reasons. I am a born Nutmegger true and true. I was born in New Haven and I truly love my home state. Northwest CT is an ideal place to raise our two young daughters. They are growing up with a true connection to food, whether collecting eggs from our chickens, picking tomatoes, or visiting all of the farms in our area.
Briana: Litchfield County is so much more than people expect! I personally work with the One Eleven Group, a marketing and PR agency in Cornwall, and we are working on revamping the Northwest CT website and overall tourism campaign, so I’m constantly learning a lot about this area. The dining, lodging, and local attractions are really wonderful and completed underrated. I personally am finding that the natural beauty of the area is what I appreciate most about Litchfield County. Driving along the Housatonic River is always a beautiful experience. You can hit Mount Riga in Salisbury, the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, and Kent Falls all in couple of hours, and get some great food along the way. You won’t believe you’re in Connecticut!
What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
Tommy: I can’t say...there’s so many. I cannot really pick one. I love food, so some of my all time favorites are eating at Katz deli in NYC, Archie Moore’s wings in New Haven, and eating an obscene amount of boquerones (spanish anchovies) whenever I can. Our wedding reception was a definite stand out for me. We had a 5 course dinner at Union League in New Haven with a full raw bar, passed hor d'oeuvres (foie, quail, etc.), amazing company, and a carrot cake wedding cake in a beautiful setting right in my home town of New Haven. Nothing really tops that.
Briana: The best meal I’ve ever eaten was a duck confit and frisee salad from Caseus. After I had our first daughter, I was in Yale New Haven Hospital dying of hunger and exhaustion, and only being offered jello and assorted hospital food. Tommy left and snuck me back a giant bag of assorted snacks, drinks, and that salad. I’ll always remember the feeling I had while eating it only hours after birthing a baby…..pure bliss. Also, any and all of the gelato that I ate while I was in Italy. That shit is ridiculous.
If a chef was making a Cornwall Soap Co. dish, that emulated the brand, what would it be?
Tommy: That is a difficult question, ha. Something simple, maybe locally sourced beef with foraged items and fries fried in BEEF FAT!! Because it is sustainable! And everything sourced from right here in our beautiful town of Cornwall CT.