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Spice up your life (or at least food) at Barre's Butterfly Bakery of Vermont

A photo of a person in a hair net standing with a glass bottle below a spigot pouring out a green substance into the bottle.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Jerry Desmarais fills up bottles with Cilantro Onion Hot Sauce for the Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, based in Barre.

On a recent Tuesday, Claire Georges takes me into the kitchen of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont. There’s a blend of sweet and spicy scents in the air. The bakery still makes baked goods, in addition to hot sauces.

Today, they’re bottling a batch of one of their staple hot sauces: cilantro onion. Georges asks if I want to taste some of the sauce, and then dips a spoon into a large vat of green sauce and hands it to me.

“You can kind of taste the cilantro, and then the onion comes in and jalapeno, and then that nice little burn kind of carries you off on the end,” Georges says.

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Georges, 42, started Butterfly Bakery of Vermont two decades ago. Initially she just made baked goods, like cookies, scones and granola. Then in 2014, Georges says she started to experiment. At the farmers market she’d trade her leftover baked goods to farmers for their leftover produce, and often she got chili peppers.

“I’d turn around, make that into a hot sauce, sell it at the next market and that always sold out,” Georges says. 

A person in a hair net smiling while standing in a door way framed by a red wall.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Claire Georges, the owner of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont.

Georges started to scale up her hot sauce production. Over the course of a few years, she went from trading for peppers to buying tens of thousands of pounds of Vermont peppers.

“Our business was growing something like 30% a year, which sounds like a big number,” Georges says. “But then the pandemic hit and we, like, tripled in size — and that was crazy.”

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont now sells hot sauce around the world, according to Georges. The company is also featured on the popular YouTube showHot Ones — an interview show where guests eat chicken wings with increasingly spicy sauces. The current season of Hot Ones uses an extremely hot sauce from Butterfly Bakery of Vermont called "Taco Vibes Only."

The heat in hot sauces comes from capsaicin oil in the skin of chili peppers. Different chili peppers, like a jalapeño or a ghost pepper, have different amounts of capsaicin oil.

Georges says making sauces that use super hot peppers — like "Taco Vibes Only" — can be a challenge. She says it can be unpleasant for her staff to work around that much capsaicin oil.

“It settles on their skin from the steam, and then their arms are burning when they go home,” Georges says. “We have full HAZMAT suits for the staff when we're working on that sauce.”

A photo of clear plastic bags full of red, green and orange peppers.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Butterfly Bakery of Vermont stores its hot peppers in a large, walk-in freezer until they're needed.

But a hot sauce can’t just be about heat; there has to be some flavor there too. Georges says in a sauce like "Taco Vibes Only," she uses flavors you can taste right off the bat, before the heat kicks in.

“We did lime and coriander and cumin and really built up those front flavors,” George says. “One of the common reviews we get on that sauce is that it tastes like Taco Bell sauce, but better.”

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Now if you aren’t much of a hot sauce fan, but want to try, Georges says start slow with mild sauces. And then, once a week, try something a little hotter.

A photo of red and green hot sauces in bottles that read "cilantro onion" and "red ghost" on a shelf.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Butterfly Bakery of Vermont added hot sauce to its list of products several years ago, to great success.

Georges says trying new hot sauces can feel like riding a rollercoaster.

“You're like, ‘Oh my god, I'm gonna die, but then I didn't,'” Georges says. “The more you eat at higher heat levels, the more you get used to that, you start building up a tolerance.”

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont isn’t done expanding. Georges says she recently bought Fat Toad Farm, a local caramel business. While the mix of scones, hot sauce and caramel might seem odd, Georges says there’s a through-line: making foods with local ingredients. That’s something she says, that ties all their products together.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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