Maggie Foard has a table next to me at the Marin Country Mart Farmers Market. She's a fairly new vendor there, but we're such a tight-knit vending community that when there's some down time in the morning hours, there's chatting and catching up and networking... and lots of coffee. Perhaps most importantly, there's time to try each others' treats. So after sampling Maggie's decadent goat's milk fudge, I knew I wanted to learn more about her process, the evolution of her company, and where she sees herself in the next few years.
First it must be said that there's a bit of a stigma surrounding the word "fudge." For so many, it conjures images of an overly-sweet, gooey confection. Often you really can't even taste the cocoa or chocolate, and it ends up seeming overly processed and fake. But Maggie's fudge is the exact opposite. The flavor profiles are complex, the cocoa distinct -- this is a very special product. I fell in love with the Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge right away. It's fantastic to slice off slowly with tea in the afternoon or to sneak into the kitchen late at night for small slices to accompany fruit or sliced peaches. Maggie's goats butter shortbread cookies are also noteworthy: they're a little more subtle in flavor than cow's butter shortbread which tend to be decadent with a rich butter flavor. These have the same texture and crumb, but are lighter and quite lovely, especially when dipped in Maggie's goat milk caramel sauce. The product certainly speaks for itself, but Maggie's passion and drive certainly help, too. A product and a face to get to know if you're not yet familiar.
1. Tell me a little about your business and how/why you decided to start it.
I had an epiphany with goat cheese a few years ago. After avoiding dairy products in general for many years, I discovered that I could eat goat cheese and goat milk products instead of cow's milk and I felt better. That sent me whirling into a whole new food group and the next thing I knew I was under contract to write my cookbook, Goat Cheese. This brought me into the local wonderful world of cheese and milk. The fudge came about in a flurry of desserts -- making up for all those years of avoiding sweets because they all had cow's milk in them! I began making goat's milk fudge for my local goat dairy a couple of years ago and it was so popular that I decided to take the fudge to the big city! That is how Kidding Around with Chocolate was born, just last September. Cheese Plus on Polk Street and Rainbow Grocery were my first two customers.
2. Do you think living in the Bay Area allows your business to flourish? If so, how so?
I am a native of San Francisco so I can't really imagine living too far from the city for very long. I do live in the coastal mountains an hour south of the city where I keep a few goats and chickens of my own. So I am not a city dweller any more but still crave the hustle and bustle of the city. It's in my blood. The entire Bay Area is such a "melting pot" and people are so open to trying new things. The newer the better, in fact, kind of like little food thrills. It's a foodie mecca.
3. What have been the highlights of being a small business owner in the Bay Area thus far?
Getting to meet other small food producers and gaining an appreciation for just how much work goes into really good products. It's mind blowing when you find out how much time it takes to produce real food. How much milk it takes to make that pound of goat cheese and how much work it took to get to produce that gallon of milk that went into it. Thankfully somebody is producing the goat milk that I use to make the fudge and caramel. I can't imagine having to run a dairy farm AND produce food from it. Cheese makers have a hard life. They are an interesting bunch.
4. What challenges are you facing right now in terms of growth or vision?
Moving product around is the hardest part. I have driven 5 hours round trip in the pouring rain to get a pan of fudge to a new grocery store customer. You lose money by the time you pay for the gasoline, but you need every new customer you can get. I am hoping to get picked up by a local distributor that serves the specialty food and cheese shop world so that I can focus on making the product and on new product development. Right now, there just aren't enough hours in the day.
5. What inspires you, day to day?
Nothing puts the smile on my face more than when somebody tastes the fudge for the first time. They say things like "Oh my God, that's the best thing I have ever tasted." And the kids love it, too. Their eyes go wide. They drag their parents to my booth at the farmers market. This really keeps you going.
6. What are your goals for the future of the company?
I can see myself producing a whole line of goat milk confections & sweets as there are so many people like me that truly love goat dairy products. You can see this now in just about any grocery store. Whole Foods in Mill Valley, for instance, has 4 different brands of goat milk side by side. Several brands of goat milk yogurt, goat milk kefir and even goat butter. And the front and center stars of the cheese dept -- the local goat cheeses. In the last few years, goat cheese has gone from being an obscure little known gourmet only food that used to be only imported from France to a local everyday staple in many households. California goat cheeses are world class. People really want a variety of foods made with goat dairy and that includes desserts made with goat milk!