Every Tuesday morning, hums of banging pots and warm chatter reverberate from La Residence – an upscale French restaurant in Chapel Hill. It’s the sound of mother-son duo Amanda and Alex Fisher feverishly preparing some British delights for a new American audience.
Amanda is the graphic designer-turned-chef behind the Blakemere Company – a specialty retailer of artisanal English recipes. Since founding her business in 2012, she’s prepared her jams, scones, cakes and creams in the kitchen of La Residence before its evening dinner service. She’s employed two dedicated assistants – one of whom is her twenty-one year old son Alex.
Though she made the move from Britain to America nearly thirty years ago, Amanda continues to maintain a strong connection with the cuisine of her childhood. The Blakemere is the only company in the states to sell clotted cream – a thick spread often served with biscuits.
“Clotted cream is extremely popular in England. It’s synonymous with Wimbledon and Downton Abby,” jokes Amanda. “It’s a tradition, especially in the West Country, to go out for a cream tea of jam, scones and clotted cream.”
Though its exact origins are unknown, many believe the cream was first created on accident over a thousand years ago, when British monks left cream sitting out by the fire. The ancient delicacy calls for fatty cream that has been pasteurized at a low temperature. Once cooked and chilled overnight, it develops a rich yellow crust.
Amanda buys four to eight gallons of cream a week from Maple View Farm in Hillsborough. She’s found that its richness often varies seasonally, with most flavors coming through in the springtime when Maple View cows have lush grass to feed on.
“We support a smaller, more sustainable and still very progressive way of making our product. Maple View Farm treats their cows very well and I think happy cows make for better cream,” she says.
Blakemere cream’s freshness translates to a relatively short shelf life, with most batches lasting no longer than three or four weeks. This, combined with the product’s relative novelty in America, presents a sales challenge. Potential partners can be hesitant to buy a perishable product that isn’t a guaranteed sell. However, this hasn’t stopped Amanda from getting her creams onto shelves across the Triangle into major retailers like the Washington Duke and Southern Seasons.
The company’s customer base has played a large role in its success and Amanda is optimistic that word of mouth will help it grow into specialty retailers like Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca. But ultimately, Amanda thinks her company’s unique employment model could comprise its legacy.
“My youngest son, Harry, is autistic and we’re trying to develop jobs for people with autism. Some of the laborious, repetitive things like labeling the jars and taking inventory could absolutely be done by someone with autism. Instead of having to retrofit our business plan to accommodate this population, we’re actually developing it to include them,” she explains.
Amanda’s memories of childhood may have inspired the Blakemere Company, but visions of a future for her own kids are what will keep it alive.