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News & Issues May 2019


German delight, made in Vermont

Quest for gluten-free spatzle leads to specialty food business



Marty and Julz Irion started trying to create a gluten-free version of German spatzle noodles seven years ago. The trial-and-error effort led to a tasty recipe and a home-based artisanal food business. Joan K. Lentini photo

Marty and Julz Irion started trying to create a gluten-free version of German spatzle noodles seven years ago. The trial-and-error effort led to a tasty recipe and a home-based artisanal food business.Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer

On an April afternoon, Arlington’s main street was slowly reawakening after an overbearing winter, its lawns slowly returning to robust green as pastel-colored blossoms had begun to appear in front yards.

At the north end of the village on Route 7A, the Vermont Spatzle Co. was in full production. It’s a mode that’s been routine for the company’s owners, Julz and Marty Irion, since they began operation two years ago.

The Irions had spent the better part of the morning making 200 pounds of spatzle before taking a break and then returning to their commercial kitchen to package the thick, hand-crafted German noodles, label them, and eventually deliver them to area co-ops, restaurants, and farmers markets.

The company’s signature gluten-free recipe for spatzle began as a personal mission to satisfy the couple’s craving for a suddenly forbidden food they both loved.

German in origin, traditional spatzle is made primarily from wheat flour and eggs and is a textural cross between a noodle and a dumpling. Though it’s far less famous than its Italian counterparts, Marty was raised on it, and after he and Julz married nearly 30 years ago, she began cooking his favorite side dish from childhood and enjoying it too.

“I was born in Germany and spent summers there as a child,” Marty explained. “I know good spatzle.”

For many years, the couple and their sons Noah and Sam dined regularly on homemade spatzle dinners. All was gastronomic bliss until about a decade ago, when Julz discovered an intolerance to gluten.

To make cooking easier, Marty joined his wife in adopting a gluten-free diet.
“I’d been gluten-free for about six months and then tried gluten again and felt very sick,” he remembered. “It was then I realized I wanted to stay gluten-free.”

But the Irions found themselves mourning the loss of their favorite German delicacy.
“When I went gluten-free for health reasons years ago, I thought that was it as far as spatzle was concerned,” Julz recalled.

Periodically they tried store-bought varieties of gluten-free spatzle, only to be disappointed.


Trial, error, success
Unwilling to forever live without their favorite starch, Julz decided to tackle the dilemma head-on, in her kitchen, much to Marty’s delight.

The process for transforming gluten-free flours into the perfectly textured spatzle was not a speedy one, and there were more than a few duds along the way.

“It took seven years. The more I tried, the madder I got,” Julz said with a laugh.
Then one evening in March 2017, she presented Marty with a plate of her latest attempt at gluten-free spatzle for dinner.

“We both knew then and there it was a winner,” he recalled. “And we jokingly said, ‘It’s the birth of the Vermont Spatzle Company.’”

It turned out not to be a joke. The couple shared Julz’s blend of non-GMO tapioca, corn and potato flours with their friends, who encouraged them to sell it. Soon Julz and Marty were researching packaging options, labels and logos. By early summer, the Vermont Spatzle Co. was a reality and one of the headliners at the Arlington farmers market.

“The summer of 2017, we operated using a large stockpot and Kitchen-Aid mixer,” Julz said. “By the fall, we knew we had to amp up production with bigger equipment.”

At the time, the Irions both were working full-time jobs, and the spatzle-making process made their work days stretch to 18 hours and beyond with cooking, packaging, market research, deliveries, and visits to farmers markets.

As demand increased, they outgrew their home kitchen and set up a freestanding satellite kitchen behind their house.

“It’s a quick commute to work,” Julz said. “And the commercial-sized equipment makes our lives so much easier.”

On one side of the 134-square-foot space, Julz begins the process by mixing gluten-free flours with local milk and eggs, plus an understated dash of nutmeg.

“The nutmeg is what sets it apart,” she said. “People love it.”
After the snowy white batter has reached the right consistency, it gets passed to Marty, who pushes it by hand through a wire, mesh-like screen. In an instant, the batter morphs into thick squiggles and drops into boiling water.

“It’s a unique way of shaping the spatzle, and no two will look exactly alike,” he said.
The production process typically lasts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then the freshly made spatzle is left to cool for several hours. The Irions return at 4 p.m. to package and label the product before walking it to an industrial-sized freezer.

“The quality of our spatzle is very similar to fresh pasta in taste and texture, but it’s been pre-cooked,” Marty explained. “When preparing at home, all you need to do is saute it a bit in oil or butter and it’s done.”


Enticing the masses
Alpine fashions, including a green Tyrolean hat that Marty wears at farmers markets, may initially get shoppers’ attention, but it’s the aromatic, buttery samples of spatzle that sustain the burgeoning sales.

“The response to our spatzle has been amazing,” he said. “Even those who don’t have to eat gluten-free love it. I’d say 70 percent of our clientele are not gluten-free.

“At Oktoberfests, we serve it with mushroom cream sauce, but it’s also delicious with cinnamon and sugar as a dessert,” he continued. “Many of our customers love to take it camping because it’s pre-cooked. It’s also great in soups, because it doesn’t soak up the liquid.”

Julz, who grew up loving Italian pasta-centric dishes, said their spatzle seamlessly doubles as fresh pasta.

“I love to sauté it in oil until just crisp and add broccoli,” she said. “It’s just like the cavatelli with broccoli I grew up on. It also works great with Bolognese sauce. We call it the blank canvas of pastas, because it takes on the characteristics of what it’s paired with.”

The company’s website has more than a dozen recipes that celebrate the joys and versatility of spatzle – with dishes ranging from spatzle in spicy peanut sauce to spatzle mac-and-cheese to spatzle pot pie.

“People send us photos of their spatzle creations,” Julz said. “We get photos of things they make at home or on the road -- on their flat-top grills camping or at music festivals.”

Two years ago, the Irions started by selling at the Arlington and Bennington farmers markets; now they travel to markets in Saratoga Springs, Troy, Schenectady, Rutland and Manchester. They also participate in Oktoberfests, specialty food festivals, and pop-up gluten-free expos.
The popularity of their product has both pleased and surprised the couple. Within a year, they both were able to quit their full-time jobs and throw themselves into the heady but exhausting business of running a two-person spatzle factory.

“We decided we’re doing this 150 percent or not at all,” Julz said.
Vermont Spatzle is now available at more than 80 retail stores and food co-ops, including Healthy Living Market near Saratoga Springs, the Niskayuna Consumers Co-op in Schenectady, Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, and virtually every co-op in Vermont. It’s also on the menu at area restaurants including the Fire Tower Restaurant & Tavern in Stratton; the Arlington Inn and West Mountain Inn, both in Arlington; the Barrows House in Dorset; and the Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden.

A highlight of the 2019 season will be their participation in the 11th Annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, scheduled for Aug. 11 at Shelburne Farms.

“The festival is ranked No. 5 out of the country’s top 10 food events, and last year we won best artisan food,” Julz said with a beaming grin.

Spatzle is still unfamiliar to some people, and Marty said one of his favorite parts of their business is introducing the old-world favorite to the uninitiated.

“I feel we’re bringing back nostalgia to people of Eastern European decent while also introducing an entirely new cuisine to those who’ve never heard of it,” he said.

Vermont Spatzle retails for $6 for a 12-ounce package or $10 for two packages. Two-pound re-sealable bags are $12.

“Being your own boss is a double-edged sword,” Marty said. “There’s nothing better, but it’s all on you. Aside from the work of production, every day there’s an issue to tackle: Will our plastic bags seal properly? Will the equipment be OK? … It’s just us, but we love it.”


Visit www.vtspatzlecompany.com for more information about Vermont Spatzle.