TOWNSHEND -- Vermont is known across the world for its record breaking maple syrup crop, award-winning cheese and bountiful apple harvests.
Now the state is going to have to make room on its trophy case for goat milk caramels as well.
Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell of Townshend's Big Picture Farm walked away with top honors at this year's National Association for the Specialty Food Trade show which was held last month in Washington D.C.
Big Picture Farm won the gold award for Outstanding Confection for hand made caramels, which are made with milk from a small herd of goats that live at the Peaked Mountain Farm in Townshend.
The high-profile award brought immediate attention to the fledgling business and new accounts have been streaming in since the bestowal of the honor.
"It's been a little overwhelming," Farrell admitted Monday while taking a rare three-day weekend at his family's home in Maine. "Now we are trying to meet demand instead of trying to create demand."
Conrad and Farrell started their business less than two years ago when they were trying to come up with an original idea, other than making cheese, for their goat milk.
Last year they won $5,000 in the Strolling of the Heifers-Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Business Plan Competition, and earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the couple a $49,000 USDA Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant.
They entered their caramel in this year's Fancy Food Show competition and went to the event in Washington not quite knowing what to expect.
Jill Collins, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, said Conrad and Farrell went up against more than 90 candy makers from across the country, some of which are much larger and have been in business for many more years than the Townshend couple.
Collins also said Big Picture Farm was not singled out as best small business or best new confection.
"They had the best candy. Period," she said. "It is the most amazing product. Everyone who tried it thought it was extraordinary."
The specialty food show brings together producers with representatives from retail and wholesale outlets across the country.
With increased focus on natural and locally produced food, National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Communications Director Louise Kramer said Big Picture Farm has found itself in the right place at the right time.
Pictures of young goats frolicking in a Vermont pasture, the hand-wrapped candies, and the company's commitment to sustainable packaging, appeal to food buyers looking to reach consumers who want to know more about the food they eat.
And, Kramer said, the caramel is delicious.
"It boils down to creativity and taste," she said. "There is a real human touch to their candy. You can feel the people behind the product. There is a reason they rose to the top."
Along with winning the award, Conrad and Farrell came home with a handful of new accounts. They are now taking steps toward getting their candy into the national Whole Foods chain, and they were followed around the show by a reporter from Business Week.
"Just being at the show was exciting, but coming home with the award made it memorable," Farrell said. "It really created a buzz around our caramels."
The couple is also close to purchasing the Peaked Mountain Farm from Ann and Bob Works, who have been making their own cheeses on the Townshend farm since 1999 and have been working with Big Picture since they started making the goat milk caramels.
They have purchased a second caramel cooker, are looking for a candy wrapping machine and now employ two full-time and four part-time workers.
Their sales have tripled in the past year and they are producing about 5,000 caramels a week.
"We are trying to prepare for the fall and the holidays come right after that," Farrell said. "Right now we have a limited milk supply. We don't want to say no to anyone, but at the end of the day it is better to turn people down than it is to try to find interest. There is not a lot of time. We'll see what we can do."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279