Lauded for her exquisite French treats, Bridget O’Sullivan is now delivering a sweet taste of Italy
Bridget started small by selling her macarons at a farmers’ market stall and quickly became known for her perfectly formed baked goods.
Cantabrian Bridget O’Sullivan’s macaron empire started small at the Christchurch Farmers’ Markets in 2008. After selling out most weekends, she and her then-business partner signed a year-long lease for a store.
Now, the mother-of-two has a sideline in Tusca making Italian treats such as festive panfortes, which she started in 2020 while on maternity leave with her daughter, Florence.
You were originally a lawyer. Was it hard to make the switch?
My background is in commercial law but I decided to leave London, where I’d worked for five years, to follow my passion. Most people think it’s a huge leap from law to a small business. Actually, I felt like I had some commercial experience, and started applying it to an industry I felt passionate about. By that stage, I had the courage to follow my intuition and was lucky to come across macarons, which were at that stage new to the New Zealand market. It had the hallmarks of something special in terms of quality, style and flavour.
How did you fall in love with macarons?
I was always fascinated with them while travelling in France, but it wasn’t until I got back to New Zealand and was looking for sweet treats that appealed to my style of eating (smaller portions, beautiful flavours and quality ingredients) that I started thinking about them. Then I met my then-business partner, Amanda, and we formed a business that took off at speed.
What’s the best macaron you’ve ever had?
My personal favourite flavour is French pastry chef Pierre Herme’s Ispahan, which is a combination of raspberry, rose and lychee. It’s so delicate, rich and thought-provoking – and very pretty to look at. It’s like a work of art.
When you started, were you making every macaron yourself?
At the beginning, it was my then-business partner and I. We did everything from ordering the ingredients, making the fillings, piping, filling macarons, cleaning down, boxing them, couriering them, answering emails, working in our store – it was a lot. We used to think seven batches, which is approximately 700 macarons, was an insanely busy day. Now that would be considered a side dish compared to our normal volumes.
Bridget’s French and Italian fine offerings can be found at her retail store in Merivale, Christchurch or bought online via their online store.
What’s your distribution like these days?
We have a very beautiful retail store in Merivale, Christchurch, which is the face of our business. Then we have a busy online store and also supply to selected New World supermarkets across the country and selected cafes and delis.
How many people do you have working for you now?
Across our retail store, office and kitchen, we have the equivalent of eight full-time employees.
Who are your baking heroes?
I love Pierre Herme. He is our macaron inspiration. Also, Yotam Ottolenghi, who helped me fall in love with baking, new flavour pairings and presentation in London, as well as Erin Clarkson of Cloudy Kitchen for quality, everyday delicious baking.
Bridget’s personal favourites include the classic rose macaron and marzipan panforte.
Of all the products you have, which is your particular favourite?
We’re about to launch Toffee Butter Crunch, which is dangerously addictive. I’m always a sucker for our classic rose macaron. And in terms of Tusca, my new delicious morning routine is a slice of marzipan panforte and an espresso. I’m spoilt for choice at work and have to restrain myself.
You’ve recently expanded into Italian Christmas products. What’s been the reaction to them given we’re a land of Christmas mince pies and pav?
Our Tusca and Traditionally Tuscan products have a small, niche following from anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in Europe and understands the heritage nature of these products. In New Zealand, we’re doing a lot of education, such as how best to serve, pair and enjoy.
Panforte is made for anyone who likes to entertain, but we have to show people how best to enjoy them. Inside the wrappers are pairing suggestions. Once people try our products, it’s an easy sell from there, but encouraging people to try something new (especially in a cost of living crisis) is a challenge, so we have to ensure it’s worth their while. I think they are.
Bridget and her team’s cakes unite the best of Italian heritage with top-quality, locally sourced ingredients.
The marbled packaging on the panfortes is beautiful. How did this come about?
We work with a very talented designer, Denise Faraco, who found examples of hand-crafted marble paper from across the world. We felt the marble symbolised the swirl of all the ingredients of our panforte and there was also a beautiful connection between the traditionally crafted paper and our traditionally crafted panforte. It seemed fitting to marry the two. Each marble design has colours to match the ingredients of the panforte inside.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m up at six for a quiet cup of tea before my girls get up, then it’s a whirl of everyone getting ready, missing socks and so on, before pre-school for Florence and a nanny for Rose. Once I’m at work, it’s always a different mix between business strategy and e-commerce as I take care of our online store, team support, cash-flow management, and planning ahead for the next few months. At the moment I’m hands-on in the day-to-day running of the business, but have a very skilled team who help deliver everything to such a high standard.
Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert made of fruit and nuts.
What are some of the traditions you and your family have around Christmas?
I’m creating some lovely traditions with my girls around Christmas baking and gifting (they love baking but have a bit to learn about giving it away). Regarding food, we enjoy a beautiful baked ham with steamed new potatoes and salad on Christmas Eve, a glass of bubbles on Christmas morning and a menu that is a mix of traditional and nostalgic and something new and trendy. Oh, and of course, leftover trifle for Boxing Day breakfast.
Traditionally we are always with extended family for Christmas, but now that Rose’s birthday is on the 22nd of December, we will be finding some new traditions to mix her birthday celebrations with some Christmas cheer with friends.
How many panfortes would you all get through on Christmas Day?
What else do you have in the works?
We have some beautiful new products in the design phase for Tusca, and a beautiful re-brand ahead for J’aime les Macarons.
We’ll be adding your macarons to our cart in time for Christmas! Where can people buy your products?
Our store is in Merivale Mall, Christchurch. Our macarons can be bought online (as well as out other sweet treats) from Tusca and J’aime les Macarons both have e-commerce stores. Tusca and Traditionally Tuscan are in specialty grocery stores and delis and J’aime les Macarons are also sold in selected New World stores. Delivery is available nationwide.
Photography Sarah Rowlands