A chat with... the Freys
NEW CANAAN — For the Freys, butter is more than a commonplace spread mindlessly applied to bread or thrown carelessly into baked goods. Rather, a stick of butter is something to be treasured and, with the launch of their New Canaan-based startup, Churncraft, it is the vehicle through which they hope to reach a large culinary audience.
Churncraft is comprised of Kristin and her husband, Hannes, a Swiss former finance executive, and two of their five children, Kiki and Jojo. As of June, the quartet launched their flagship product, a modern take on a classic butter churn that, with just one ingredient (cream), can churn butter in under 15 minutes.
A surprising business venture for some, the Freys have built on their decades of churning butter to develop a product in which they believe.
Kristin grew up in a farming community south of Albany, N.Y., where, as a teenager, she learned to milk her family’s Holstein cow, Tranquility, and, along with her seven siblings, eventually learned to churn butter using an antique wooden churn from around 1910 that came into the family’s possession.
She took a quick liking to churning and, even when she moved away from home to attend college and then moved to Europe for a stint, Kristin would not relinquish her butter churn.
How to buy one
The butter churns retail for $240 plus shipping and are available for purchase at churncraft.com.
“I left that whole world, but I kept that little butter churn with me. It was like one of my little keepsakes from my childhood,” she said, seated in her Elm Street office on Tuesday alongside her husband and two daughters.
Her butter churn in tow, Kristin lived in France, Germany and Switzerland, learning about the distinct culinary traditions of each of the regions and building a relationship with her future husband, who was in Switzerland at that time.
A family tradition
Once Kristin and Hannes married and started a family,
Designing their own
Unsatisfied with their options, Kristin and Hannes decided, on a whim, to create their own modern butter churn.
After three years of trial and error, the Freys settled on a design, the parts to which they now assemble piece-by-piece in their Norwalk workshop. Business is conducted out of their New Canaan office.
“Those old churns were very limited because production methods were not as sophisticated as they are today,” Hannes said.
According to Hannes, the modern churn capitalizes on more sophisticated production methods and is more easily used and more soundly built than its predecessor. The design allows for a number of resting points for the non-churning hand. It features a four-quart glass jar and a paddle shaped specifically to create maximum turbulence — necessary to break the membranes of the fat molecules in cream that coalesce to form solid butter — and precision gears that allow for maximum power with each rotation of the hardwood crank.
In comparison to the Frey’s old churn, which required roughly double the time and vastly more effort, the new model makes the butter-making process look easy.
“It takes a little bit of wanting to do it. You have to engage with it a little bit, but then it’s an amazing thing you can do in 10 or 20 minutes,” Hannes said.
“I call butter churning the gateway drug to homesteading,” Jojo added.
Though they don’t sell the butter, the Freys have enjoyed experimenting with different flavors and each has discovered their favorite flavors: Lemon basil for Kristin, roasted cherry tomato garlic for Jojo, shallot tarragon for Kiki and plain, slow-churned for Hannes.
“It’s like painting. If you mix too many different flavors, it’s interesting, but it’s a bit of a mish-mash. But if there’s a resonance, if you strike the right chord, then it turns into something else,” Hannes said, of his simple taste.
A group effort
The Churncraft operation itself is a carefully measured family recipe, with each of the four members playing his or her distinct part.
Kristin — the “boss lady,” according to her bio on churncraft.com — and Jojo — who interned briefly at a film studio in California after college but ultimately decided to return to New Canaan and has since taken charge of developing the Churncraft brand — are the two full-time employees. Hannes, who still does financial consulting part time, stepped into a leading role during the development of the model. Kiki is a mother of two, but still works in the office part time.
In the two months since the churn has hit the market, already Luke Venner, the chef at Elm Restaurant, has become a client. The Freys hope to continue to draw the attention of a community of foodies and capitalize on the farm-to-table trend that has many Americans thinking more seriously about where their food comes from.
“Everyone gets so excited about food now. Chefs are kind of like the new rock stars,” Jojo said. “I think there’s such a commitment to ingredients and sustainably sourced foods, and this is kind of just one way to engage in and be part of that movement.”
Unlike many families who might succumb to fighting if forced to spend every day at work together, the Freys said they’re enjoying the closeness.
Jojo said this allowed her to see her parents as individuals, rather than simply the people who raised her.
“This has given me the opportunity to see them as people and to work with my dad, who has such an impressive background, and my mom, who has so much to share,” she said. “It’s been a really unique, extremely beneficial learning experience to work with them and develop my own professional skills.”