Photo © Fran’s Chocolates
by Nancy Mueller
Scratch the surface of passionate Northwest chocolatiers and soon you’re in free fall down a rabbit hole of fascinating facts and mouthwatering sensations.
Blame it on a foodie community steeped in coffee bean culture, artisan beers and distilleries. Or a region’s flair for innovation and technology. Whatever the reason, the Northwest’s chocolatiers are rocking the culinary scene with award-winning adventures in subtlety, layering and complexity.
For Kevin Buck, the path from would-be electrician to chocolatier began on a trip to Canada. There, after tasting “my first real chocolate,” he wondered, Why has this been kept a secret from us in the States? What makes it better? Then came his epiphany: I wonder how good it can get?
Buck became a man on a mission to discover the world’s best chocolate. “Quality chocolate is all about taste and texture,” he explains, “and the cocoa butter gives chocolate the smooth, silky finish that melts on your tongue.”
Tracing the Canadian chocolate trail led Buck to Callebaut, the world-renown Belgian chocolate maker, then onwards to Italy for pure pastry liqueur and Tahiti for vanilla.
An educator at heart, he admits: “The funnest part of what I do is having people experience the best chocolate in the world!”
Tip: “Experiencing the fullness of chocolate begins with grabbing a generous mouthful.”
For more information, pop into one of the Chocolate Necessities Bellingham, Washington, stores or go online at chocolatenecessities.com.
How about a bite of black fig pistachio in dark chocolate? Or a snap of agave quinoa sesame in milk chocolate?
Jcoco, the new couture line from Seattle Chocolates, promises fun flavor profiles using premium chocolate and all natural, local ingredients, packaged in fashion-forward, vibrant designs.
Owner Jean Thompson’s passion for the sweet treat started early. “My mother hid Hershey bars around the house,” she says. “But my brother always found them first. So I secretly nibbled on Nestle’s morsels from a dixie cup while watching TV.”
After becoming “the accidental CEO” of Seattle Chocolates in 2002, Thompson won the coveted manufacturing contract for Frango. She sums up her company’s philosophy on its signature gourmet truffle bars: chocolate is “what happiness tastes like.”
Tip: “Chocolate needs to melt in your mouth to get the full taste experience. Chocolate has a 92-degree melting temperature so it melts easily if its high-quality, real chocolate with no added waxes or preservatives.”
For more information, visit seattlechocolates.com.
Start with premium chocolate sourced from South America. Throw in a dash of worldly sophistication with Brazilian co-owner Ana Willenbrock and her husband Jason who honed their confectionary training in New York, Spain and Provence. Add their knack for evocative flavors and artisanal techniques. Set up shop in Missoula’s Art Deco Florence Hotel.
The result? Award-winning chocolatier, Posh Chocolat, whose handcrafted creations capture comfort, beauty and luxury in a single creamy bite.
The Willenbrocks blend their global influences with locally sourced ingredients to infuse their products with unique flavor combinations. Flathead cherries, Tipus Chai, lavender, honeycomb and coffee are among the company’s regional sources.
But why limit your chocolate fix to only eating the heavenly treat? Posh Chocolat offers a thick sipping chocolate to ward off winter chills or splashed over ice for a refreshing summer drink.
As Ana says, “Chocolate makes everything better in life, period.”
Tip: “Drink water between truffle tastings to cleanse the palate.”
For more information, visit poshchocolat.com.
It’s hard to imagine the artisan chocolate craze in the United States without the woman widely credited as its founder, Fran Bigelow. In 1970, Bigelow walked into a Parisian chocolate shop an accountant but walked out a budding entrepreneur dazzled by her heady encounter.
Believing that “chocolate is the ultimate indulgence that should feel like a special treat for yourself,” Bigelow opened her first Seattle store in 1982.
Say the words “salted caramels” today and Fran’s Chocolates take center stage. Cherished as exquisite works of art and brilliant mastery, the chocolate-dipped buttery caramels paired with gray and smoked sea salts attract a loyal following, including President Barack and Michelle Obama.
For Bigelow, presentation matters as much as the quality of chocolate. Her aromatic shops and gift boxes hand-tied with luxurious satin ribbon create a magical experience that peaks in each delectable chocolate bite.
Tip: “Remember, you’re tasting the chocolate, not eating it. Let it just dissolve in your mouth. Let the flavors blend together. Savor and enjoy the experience.”
For more information, visit franschocolates.com.