The HVADC Cultivator
FFBA Participant Brigid Dorsey of les collines
les collines is a small batch, locally sourced jelly and preserves company founded by Brigid Dorsey, who is a participant in the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) Farm and Food Business Accelerator (FFBA) program. les collines got their start in 2013, grace of a neglected crabapple tree in Dorsey’s Craryville yard. At the time, Dorsey was working as writer, her mother had passed away the year before, and it was difficult period. One day, while looking out of her window, she saw the crabapple tree as if for the first time, and had what she describes as a “eureka moment.” The crabapple tree was quite old, had long been untended and fruited only every other year. That year the tree happened to be laden with fruit, and when Dorsey saw it, she realized that she needed to do something with her hands. And les collines was born.
Dorsey initially began with three flavors, Crabapple, Cider Sage, and Quince and began selling them at Hillsdale General Store in Hillsdale, NY. From the initial three flavors, les collines has evolved to 16, some of which are seasonal, and some of which are available year round.
Dorsey firmly believes that jams and jellies can be enjoyed in many other ways than just on toast, all of her flavors are meant to pair with cheese and meat. One of her favorite flavors and best sellers is also one of the most versatile; Meyer Lemon Rosemary, which goes especially well with salmon, lamb, and chevre. Dorsey says that she loves to watch people taste it because their face just lights up with surprise at the unique yet delicious flavor.
All of Dorsey’s ingredients are locally sourced, with the exception of the citrus, although Dorsey does grow some of that herself indoors. She also grows the herbs and tomatoes that she uses in her creations. Some of the farms that she works with regularly are Common Hands, Samascott and Thompson Finch, to name but a few.
Dorsey started on a small scale at the end of 2013, selling in only a few shops. les collines is now featured in close to 40 retail locations in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as online.
Much of Dorsey’s success has come from self-taught trial by fire. Dorsey states that some of her most successful flavor combinations have come to her by accident. The Hudson Valley is full of amazing farms with incredible produce, and while Dorsey states that it is not quite like a market street in Paris (Dorsey lived in Paris for many years) it is easily as inspiring. Sometimes she will get a bunch of fruit, look at recipes to start and then adjust it to taste and fiddle around with the recipe until it becomes her own unique creation.
Deciding where and how to get fruit locally takes a lot of legwork, Dorsey talks with neighbors and friends to find out who has what and will also call around and visit farms in order to get the best and most flavorful fruits. Dorsey knows that it would be easier to get organic fruit from California but says that she would never do that. Once Dorsey finds a farm it is, for her, a relationship. To date, she has never worked with a farm that has given her anything less than excellent fruit. The only time that she has ever to change a farmer is if their crop failed.
Dorsey does much of everything by herself, from labeling and tagging jars, to producing the delicious jam that goes inside them. Among Dorsey’s favorite flavors are gooseberry jelly because of its tart flavor and gorgeous color.
Among les collines’ best sellers are Cider Sage, Meyer Lemon, Strawberry and Plum Jelly. Dorsey is currently developing a new flavor – heirloom tomato, with her own homegrown tomatoes – to go with burgers, mayo, and other savory foods.
Dorsey defines small batch production as between 35 and 40 jars per flavor, a ‘huge’ batch for Dorsey would be 50 jars. By performing what she calls ‘a hot fill,’ the jars seal from the heat thus omitting the need for a water bath, which can sometimes cook the fruit more. Dorsey’s method allows for a fuller and fresher flavor. Dorsey makes certain jams and jellies year round, if she has a good supply of local frozen fruit like pears, strawberries and rhubarb. She enjoys the seasonality of the fruit, as being able to get all fruits all of the time might make them less of a treat.
The process and time required from start to finish depends on the fruit that Dorsey is working with – she lets some ‘hang’ overnight, like the Meyer Lemon; while Black Raspberry is ready in a just a few hours (picking, rinsing, draining, and mashing, adding sugar, cooking, sterilizing, pouring, and putting lids on). During the high season she can be in the kitchen two to three days a week for 12-14 hours a day, while in winter the schedule is much less demanding - just a couple of batches a week. Winter is more about coming up with new flavors than production, and the pace of orders is gentler as well.
Dorsey’s advice to someone who is thinking about starting their own small business in food production is to “follow the dream - if you have a dream you are the only who gets it – be true to it – if you are in it to make money it’s never going to happen. It has to be more about vision. Just do it. Life is short.”
Dorsey first became involved with HVADC while starting up les collines. She initially met with Columbia Economic Development Council (CEDC) staff about gaining access to some capital and they connected her with HVADC. She worked on her business plan with HVADC and then applied for, and received, a loan from CEDC as a result of this collaboration.
Dorsey felt that the FFBA would be a good program to become involved with as it would provide the support she needed to sustainably expand les collines. Dorsey was initially hesitant of becoming part of the FFBA out of concern that she was too small a business for the FFBA, and would therefore not extract anything meaningful from the program. As time has gone on it has become more meaningful – and she has found that the connections with the other FFBA participants have been especially valuable. “The FFBA brought a clear understanding of how to run a business, while providing experts to come and talk with the group and providing connections with other like-minded individuals in the area”. Dorsey is grateful for the support and guidance provided to les collines by the FFBA program.
Dorsey’s vision for les collines over the next five to ten years is to utilize the farm and barns behind her house, develop the farmhouse in to a business with a commercial kitchen, store and café, and eventually offer community classes in jam and jelly production. With the lessons learned through the FFBA program, this all seems possible. les collines expects to launch their crowdfunding campaign with dedicated food entrepreneur platform PieShell sometime in June. Follow les collines in social media (Instagram @lescollinespreserves, website thelifeipicked.com) for updates and launch announcements.
Find les collines at many area shops, as well as online!
If you, or someone that you know, would like to be a participant in the next FFBA program, please contact us at: email@example.com.